The Tall Trees Drive winds its way along the south-eastern coast of Tasmania weaving and climbing through some of the most spectacular scenery in the state.
The road may not be officially named and marked as such on the map – well at least as a major highway of note – but all the same it represents a must-see, and feel, tourist experience.
Although the road has been promoted in the past as the Wielangta Forest Drive, it largely remains a hidden treasure and is known only to those prepared to negotiate its rutted, pot-holed 30 kilometre-route. A four-wheel drive, like my trusty old Jeep Wrangler, is not required but is recommended.
The first time I drove the route I was so inspired by the spectacle it presented, I dubbed it the Tall Trees Drive and set out to share the secrets of this largely pristine slice of nature only 50 kilometres from the centre of Hobart.
I wrote of its wonders more than a decade ago, urging for the road to be paved, but my plea fell on death ears. I am pleased to note that others have now taken up my call, especially on the letters page of the Mercury.
The route links Copping in the south to Orford on the lower east coast. The route and the Wielangta Forest it encompasses reveals a wildlife hotspot, with all of Tasmania’s endemic birds found there, plus rare mammals and species of plant found nowhere else on earth. There is also an insect found only in the forests, the Wielangta stag beetle.
With the recent publicity surrounding upgrading and renaming of the Tasman Highway from St Helen’s to Orwell, the Great Eastern Drive, there are now calls for this to be extended along the Wielangta route to link the east with the Tasman Peninsular. This would save motorists who do not want to risk their cars on the unsealed road making a lengthy detour via Sorrell.
Previously, the Wielangta area has been known for lengthy court battles involving the then Greens leader Bob Brown and Forestry Tasmania over logging of old-growth forest, largely prime swift parrot habitat. When I made my latest journey the swift parrots were nowhere to be seen because these migratory parrots had already left for the mainland, but nonetheless less I clocked nine of the state’s 12 endemic species.
I was also treated to the sight of a soaring white-bellied sea eagle.
The rarest bird found in the area, the forty-spotted pardalote, eluded me, but one of its last strongholds was in sight – Maria Island – off the coast. For two other endemic birds, the Tasmanian thornbill and the black currawong, I would have to search higher ground to the west.
For those wanting to go in search of most of our Tasmanian species, my first stop, the Marion Bay lookout, and then the Sandspit Forest Reserve embracing the Sandspit River mid-way along the route, revealed all four of Tasmania’s endemic honeyeater species, plus green rosellas, scrubtits and scrubwrens.
At my next stop, the Three Thumbs lookout, I heard dusky robins and then nearer Orford the ubiquitous native-hen came into view.
I’m often contacted by mainland birders asking how they can find our endemic species for their lifelists of birds spotted but I tend not to mention the Wielangta route simply because of its state of repair. Hire car firms ban their customers from using unsealed roads, and I would not recommend drivers of standard non-four-wheel-drive cars to tackle it.
There’s much talk of exploiting the tourist potential of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area but for me the Tall Trees Drive cries out to be developed, without political fallout on the international stage. Calling the new tourist route the Tall Trees Drive might also free us from the divisive domestic environmental politics of the past but the name Wielangta will always capture this area in spirit – the Tasmanian Aboriginal name for tall trees is Wielangta.