Man at His Best

The Line of Beauty

Tasmania's pulchritude is so fine it can be inhaled. Where to draw the line on ecotourism?

BY Jason Tan | May 14, 2018 | Travel

Somewhere out there, in Freycinet, Tasmania: underneath the same big sky.

Malaysia, bless, has the world’s oldest new prime minister in history: Dr Mahathir Mohamad is (again) headline news at 92. Then there’s Jacinda Ardern, 37, pregnant prime minister of New Zealand and viral video star. She’s banned new oil exploration in her country, and the world is in the grip of Jacindamania. Tasmania, on the other hand, is the smallest province in Australia.

But pay Tassie the Heart-Shaped Island some attention, because it has 1.58 million hectares of stunning Tolkien-esque wilderness “recognised through the World Heritage Convention as having natural and cultural heritage of Outstanding Universal Value”.

They could have filmed Lord of the Rings there instead of in New Zealand. And movie moguls might buy up lakes and hillsides to build their armageddon sanctuaries, just like they used to… in New Zealand (before Jacinda curbed property speculation). Here's a bandicoot from Tassie's Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary. Straight out of a movie.

The state government’s management plan for the Tasmanian World Wilderness Heritage Area highlights its “conditions of integrity and authenticity and the application of a robust system of protection and management, as defined in the Operational Guidelines for the implementation of the World Heritage Convention.”

Plus, it’s “one of only two World Heritage properties that meet[s] this many listing criteria [that] are part of the cultural heritage of Tasmanian Aboriginal people [for whom] the landscape, seascape and skyscape of the TWWHA have deep spiritual meaning and significance.” Here's Freycinet again, for perspective.

Where lies beauty, arise brute questions of utility, i.e. how is this contributing to the economy? Who pays for the opportunity cost of keeping mineral deposits in the earth and old-growth forests intact? It’s a logical outcome of labelling nature as ‘natural resources’.

State Premier Will Hodgman wants to turn Tasmania into "the eco-tourism capital of the world". (What would Jacinda say?) As of April this year, the state government estimated that there is AUD1.07 billion in total investment on projects that would add 4,182 hotel rooms around the island. (Some context: Tasmania is roughly one-fifth the size of Peninsula Malaysia. It has a population of 519,050; Peninsula Malaysia, circa 26 million.) In 2016-2017, 1.27 million visitors spent a total of AUD2.26 billion during their stay in Tasmania, according to an estimate by Deloitte.

Also in April, Hodgman revealed the draft plan for the popular Frenchmans Cap area in the Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park. He was joined on stage by businessman and philanthropist Dick Smith, reports the ABC. Smith’s "extremely generous contribution” made possible a new public hut for bushwalkers on Lake Tahune at the base of the Cap (pictured), and an upgrade of the walking track into the area, said Hodgman.

Deftly, he added that “the Frenchmans Cap Recreation Zone Plan … will outline future possible uses for this remarkable area and how people can interact with it, but also importantly how we can preserve and conserve it into the future. A lot of people have a keen interest in our wilderness areas. Some would see them locked up forever and not have anyone enjoy them.”

Just the day before Hodgman’s announcement, the ABC revealed an area at Lake Malbena, in the Central Highlands, had been reclassified by the state government from Wilderness Zone to Self-Reliant Recreation Zone which allows for structures and commercial aircraft landings.

Tasmania is spectacularly beautiful, and beauty is its own peril. "Are we slowly but surely causing some of the most beautiful, previously out-of-reach, unknown and hard-to-find locations to die a slow [or in some cases, a very, very quick] death?" asks as the thoughtful photographer Jason Futrill a.k.a. Tassiegrammer. Below is his photo of Chasm Falls, which prompted this self-reflection.

Esquire recommends this guideline by the nature management body, NRMSouth: “DO YOU COLLECT PHOTOS AND/OR SHARE THEM ON SOCIAL MEDIA? ...sharing or collecting nature photographs should make a positive contribution to conservation, art, general awareness or appreciation, and should not place the subject at risk through greater exposure or desire to photograph amongst others.”

The good news is that you don’t have to trample on nature in the name of Instagram because you can literally inhale Tassie’s evanescent pulchritude from the aliveness of its food and drink. The island’s beaten track doesn’t have the trophy-post potential of its wilderness, but it’s still far and away from the madding crowd. For now. Tap here for some super-sexy food. (Did someone say drink? Just a minute...)

Picture credits: Tourism Tasmania, Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary, Tasmanian Government, Jason Futrill