I’d been told I had to see the dead hills on the way out of Tasmania’s old mining town of Queenstown. All vegetation had been killed off years before by the felling of the trees to burn in the mine smelters and the sulfur fumes from the smelters themselves.
I looked up at the narrow road hanging from the side of the cliffs, curving and climbing its way into the distance and cringed. I’d been giving myself challenges for a while in an attempt to cure my fear of heights. It hadn’t worked though, and there was no other way out of town, so I gritted my teeth, quoted some cliched affirmation about confidence in my abilities and pressed the accelerator.
I hugged the cliff, my hands glued to the steering wheel, pouring with sweat. I couldn’t look around me. If I did I’d drive off the edge – I know I would. A caravan glided toward me from the opposite direction. I couldn’t believe this road was wide enough for the two of us and I waited for the thump that would knock me into the valley.
It passed without incident, though I’m not sure how close it came because I think I had my eyes shut. Five kilometres later, my muscles screaming with tension, I entered the forest on the other side of town.
I navigated mile after mile of mountainous corners. I should have thought to come along the Lyle Highway from the other direction, to leave this challenging section of my trip till last, when I’d had more practice on the roads. I had checked everything, though. I researched. I sat in the bath for hours staring at maps and tourist guides. This terrain is not on the maps.
At least I had the cliff face beside me and, thinking about it, I couldn’t have come from the other direction. My fear of heights would have become a self-fulfilling prophesy. I would have disappeared over the edge to become permanently ‘World Heritage’ Listed.
The scent of the forest wafted through the open window and I started calming down. There was no rush after all. I didn’t have to be in Hobart till the next day. I could take this slowly and enjoy what I was doing. The huge trees filled every part of my landscape and my situation dawned on me. I was in one of the most beautiful places in the world. This was what I came for. I relaxed back into a sea of green.