One of the places on my Tassie bucket list was the Styx Valley, near the entrance to the Southwest National Park. The car rattled along the last of the gravel road into the car park of the Styx Valley Reserve. I parked beside an archway created by giant ferns, seducing me to peek through.
Rotted tree trunks, covered in rotting leaves and moss, were sinking, bit by bit, back into the earth. Large trees with tiny leaves loomed up out of the dimness of the forest floor and zoomed into glimpses of pale blue sky. Birds twittered and there was a strange buzzing I couldn’t quite identify, underlying it.
It was another realm, a bit medieval. I roamed through here as a child with the Brothers Grimm. I half expected to see a line of little white pebbles (or was it breadcrumbs?) left by Hansel and Gretel. I chose not to enter, afraid I might disappear down a rabbit hole, Alice-like, into a parallel world.
I crossed the road onto a walking track and up a hill. Something was following alongside me. I took a minute to realise it was the trunk of a fallen tree, but not like any tree I’d ever seen. Its girth was enormous. I looked behind me to find its root base but all I could see was trunk. In front of me, the same thing. The tree was so long I couldn’t see where it began and where it ended.
It was then that I looked up. I came to the valley to see tall trees but I had no concept of how tall they were going to be. One of these eucalypts has been measured at 92 metres; that’s a 25 storey building.
I sat for a while, goggle-eyed, at the massive base, some five metres around, of one of these giants.
A sign explained: Their incredible size is due to their efficiency in moving water and nutrients through a central tube known as a xylern, in a way that’s a bit like drinking through a straw. Brilliant. As the trees age, the flow declines, causing death of, at first, the upper limbs and later, the whole tree. Not unlike humans. Gradual rotting of the base makes the trees vulnerable to collapse under their enormous weight, along with storm-force winds. Decomposing trees add to the nutrient-rich soil.
Back at the car, a sign pointed to a track through the forest to the river. It was a pleasant, easy walk, until the track narrowed and all but disappeared and I was fighting my way through scrub, low tree branches scraping my face and dragging at my hair. It was with a touch of relief that I heard the rippling of the rusty water.
These waters are coloured a reddish-brown by tannins, leached from the button-grass plains of the World Heritage areas. There’s a rumour that the name of the river was inspired by Greek Mythology, the River Styx being the boundary between the Earth and the Underworld of Hades. It was so respected by the gods, that they would take binding oaths just by mentioning its name. If a god gave his oath and failed to keep his word, Zeus would force him to drink from the river. The water was so foul, he would lose his voice for nine years.
Nothing so menacing in this lovely spot. The trees here are smaller, less regal – gentler: dogwood, myrtle and sassafras. Dead branches and tree trunks littered the river bank. I sat on a log at the river’s edge and breathed in the cool, pure air. Two brown and grey robins bounced around me, picking under the leaves at my feet as if I wasn’t there. I brushed at a mosquito and they darted away. The cackle of a kookaburra rippled gently, rose in a crescendo of joy and triumph, then ebbed, eerily, back into the forest.
This is an excerpt from The Edge of the World, the first book in my travel series, Planning to the ‘Nth’, now available as an Ebook through Amazon.