If golf is the best way to ruin a good walk, a bushwalk must be the best way to ruin a good day spent eating food and drinking wine and sitting down.
Sure, there are plenty of people who like to don thermal tights, strap bladders to their backs and hot-foot it off into the wilderness with two walking poles.
To them I say, fill your mud-filled boots, I hope you don’t get your funny rolled down plastic socks (what are they called?) stuck over your fulsome calf muscles.
Traipsing through the bush is just not for me when compared with the epicurean options Tassie is renowned for.
Give me a Tamar Valley red, a King Island blue and a beach reached by a road twisting through farmlands and forest – particularly if driven in a vintage car – any day.
But plenty of people are loving Tasmania’s wilderness and walking scene with figures released this week showing a record number of visitors are experiencing our wild areas.
The government says a 7 per cent increase with highlights including a record 310,000 visitors to Freycinet; a 13 per cent increase in visitation at Launceston’s Tamar Island Wetlands; 9 per cent more visitors to Highfield House at Stanley and the Mole Creek Caves bouncing back from 2016 floods to a record a record 63,000.
In fact, close to half the state’s visitors said it was the parks they came to see.
This week the Tasmanian Walking Company launched its latest guided walk the Three Capes Lodge. The four-day, 46 kilometre trek takes in the Three Capes Track along the precipices of Tasmania’s remote south-east.
The lodge, constructed by Devonport-based builders, sounds impressive. It features Australia’s first recycling showers, which recirculates five litres of water and needs 80 per cent less energy, and wind energy generated by bird-friendly turbines.
But not everyone was impressed.
Greens leader Cassy O’Connor and the Wilderness Society panned the development as diminishing one of the state’s coastal wilderness areas. Commercial activities do not belong in national parks, they say.
The TWC would counter that the best way to protect parks is to allow people who would not normally visit, the ability to do so: to spread the word further.
The average TWC walker is a 52-year-old mainland woman. She is well off financially, well connected and would not have experienced Tasmania’s bushwalking otherwise.
It is an interesting argument from both sides that would make Joseph Heller contort himself: we want more people visiting the parks because getting the message out is part of the insurance policy, but we don’t want too many people that they ruin the area’s appeal. The perfect catch-22.
So where is the balance? Because we cannot have extremes at either end.
For years environmentalists have been saying that Tassie’s future is not in the rip it up and chop it down economy but in tourism, hospitality and unique experiences.
It is an interesting argument from both sides that would make Joseph Heller contort himself.
Now people are finally starting to recognise that and coming, those deemed unworthy are being told not to come. Build it and they will come has been replaced by don’t build it and mind your own business.
It reminds me of a trip to a remote part of the West Coast. The hosts, fairly committed environmentalists, had booked some accommodation for a party and brought an amplifier, speakers and a musician along.
It became incredibly embarrassing when those who had made the journey to the location had the silence they had sought broken by loud music.
Here were visitors trying to have a genuinely secluded experience disturbed by a group claiming their environmental worldview gave them some sort of high moral ground or higher rank.
It was their place not visitors.
Visitors should not be made to feel that way whatever manner they choose to experience our state and wild areas.
Yet I agree that we must not love these areas to death and we must be clearer about who has been given the privilege to operate in these regions and why.
The government should be open with expressions of interest and details of deals made in national parks.
They are our parks and we should be told in full the details in which people have been able to gain commercial access.
We also need to be aware of elitism on both sides – that wilderness should be for the true believers or the very wealthy.
It should be for everyone.
Just not me. Now where is that red?
- Mark Baker is Fairfax Tasmania managing editor