Tucked away amongst an ancient pencil pine forest beside Lake Ball in Tasmania's wild Central Plateau, is a small wooden slab-and-shingle hut which houses a reflective story.
Known simply as Lake Ball Hut, it was built in 1968 as a secret retreat by Ray 'Boy' Miles. This respected local bushman increasingly sought solace and healing in the high country of his childhood after returning from World War 2 and three harrowing years as a prisoner of war on the Burma railway. A plaque in the hut explains the importance of the place and its wild surrounds: "Here he left behind the cares of the lowlands and found a relationship with the land that he was unable to replicate in the human world."
Surely all of us, often for much lesser pressures and traumas than must have plagued men who returned from the horrors of the Burma Railway, can understand and also crave the need for a secret retreat in the wilderness. Seeking a "relationship with the land" is certainly at the heart of all my expeditions to wild places. But, a four-day loop walk through the Walls of Jerusalem National Park to Lake Ball Hut, in late-February this year, turned out to be more like a head-over-heels love affair.
From the Walls of Jerusalem car park, at the head of the Mersey River Valley, we begin the walk heading up through steep stringy bark forest towards Trappers Hut (another simple wood hut, also built by 'Boy' Miles). The forest is home to green rosellas and currawongs who dart through the canopy above us. It is overcast but muggy so still warm enough to walk in shorts and a t-shirt until the first drops of rain begin just 15 minutes in. Within seconds the rain is pelting down but walking with our Gortex rain jackets on is sweaty stuff and I feel as wet inside as out. By the time we reach the first plateau of lakes, known as Solomons Jewels, the rain has stopped but the clouds are low and within reach. We pass snowgums with rainbow wet bark and a small Bennetts Wallaby hiding with perfect stillness in the shrubs off the track. It is pretty stuff, very "Tasmanian" looking, with pencil pines surrounding each dark tarn.
When we eventually reach the camping platforms at Wild Dog Creek Campsite our clothes are wet from either sweat or rain. It is overcast, no views to be had and so we pitch camp while a few little pademelons graze on the grass beside us, completely nonplussed by our presence. We change into dry, warm gear and wait for tomorrow's forecast sunshine but, by 3pm, the clouds are lifting. We decide to wander up to Herods Gate and poke our heads into the next valley. Not being a religious person I find the names within this park difficult to remember and overly self-conscious – a forced nomenclature that seems to lack relevance to the mountains nature. Anyway, on we go, up through Herods Gate to the Vale of Bethesda in the mist and low cloud, admiring the cushion plants and the brilliant red seed-heads of mountain rocket.
We run into a nice couple from South Australia Standing on the boardwalk track and start chatting. Then, mid-conversation, the cloud lifts and the remarkable, jaw-dropping Western Wall is revealed before us like a curtain raising show. The huge cliffs tower right above us and we all turn to take in the impressive view. Our conversation is reduced to a few inadequate sounds, like wow and ooo and ahh. This is the sort of solace and healing I imagine Boy Miles was seeking – it made me feel lucky and joyous to be caught in the moment, amidst such a beautiful landscape.
We spent two nights within the Walls of Jerusalem, climbing to the summit of The Temple for a clear and colourful sunset, and the next day climbing onto Solomon's Throne. These two walks have some amazing track work on display, with large rocks in the scree slopes rearranged to form flat steps. The track up to Solomon's Throne is particularly fun - a short sharp little route that leads up through a narrow chute in the cliff and ends in spectacular views along the Western Wall to King David's Peak and even further afield to Cradle Mountain and Barn Bluff, Mt Oakleigh and Mt Ossa in the distance.
Another highlight for me is the walk from Solomon's Throne around to Dixons Kingdom hut. The tracks winds through a forest of pencil pines, which must be pushing a thousand years old (this is one of the largest remaining forests of its type on the Central Plateau). Some of the trees are huge trunked things, none of them very tall but nicely bent or leaning or huddled in dense clumps. We remember to look back a few times and the pine trees frame some great views back to the impressive walls framing each side of the Damascus Gate.
Late on our second day we climb Mt Jerusalem and are rewarded with an unexpected, stunning view. As we walk there is a layer of high, wispy cloud dulling the sun but it is still nice and warm. Pineapple grass lines the track and grasshoppers with black legs explode from the path as we walk. Halfway up we catch sight of Cradle Mountain in the distance and its little mate, Barn Bluff. But it is the summit view to the north-east that is truly amazing – there are so many lakes, four thousand apparently, and they shimmer beneath the afternoon light like silver coins scattered across the high plateau.
On our final day, the morning is a shifting kaleidoscope of light and fog with sun breaking through the low clouds and giving tantalising brightness to mist rising off the high tarns below Mt Jerusalem. It is time for us to move on and we walk out of the Walls of Jerusalem by taking a circular route – down the valley to Lake Ball to join a marked track to Lake Adelaide, then up the next valley past Lake Loane to rejoin the inward route above Trappers Hut.
The first section, from Dixons Kingdom to Lake Ball, is not signposted but is well used and straightforward. We keep to the edge of the beautiful pine forest rather than walk down the open heath and scoparia covered valley. The footpad comes and goes, quite distinct in some spots and braiding out and fading in others. There is a nice campsite on the edge of the buttongrass plain when we reach Lake Ball and we sit for a quick snack before picking up the track markers and heading west into the rainforest. It is another change in terrain, with fagus and myrtle and the track a mess of exposed roots as we skirt the edge of the dark lake. Then we stumble into the pine forest that hides 'Boy' Miles little hut.
"Boy Miles is regarded as one of the more accomplished bushmen of the twentieth century, an almost mystical figure due to his prowess in the bush, his survival of brutal war experiences and an eccentric and reclusive character" the sign reads. Boy Miles died in 1978 while building another remote hut nearby. He would have been aged just 58. I wonder what he would think of the current popularity of his secret mountains. There are even discussions underway for commercial operators to be given permission to build their own accommodation huts within the Walls of Jerusalem National Park. New toilets have also been installed at Dixons Kingdom to cope with the increasing number of walkers already visiting this special place.
We set off from the hut and continue along the track to Lake Adelaide where we turn right and head up the Junction Lake Track to complete our loop. The walking here is different again. It is boggy in patches and rocky in others. The valley rises in tiers, each one holding a shallow lake or swamp and then we walk up over a scrubby rise and onto the next tier. We pass Shelter Lake off to the west and it looks like a pretty spot – secluded and tempting, a perfect hideaway for another night of solace in the mountains, should we choose to stay.
But, the weather forecast is turning and rain is expected, so we decide to continue on. It is a difficult place to leave though and at Lake Loane we linger again. There are boulders on the lake's edge covered in a pretty patchwork of green, white, orange and black lichens, all reflected perfectly in the still, black water. We stop and boil some water for a cuppa and admire the view of Clumner Bluff at the top of the valley and King David's Peak opposite. The walk is nearly done and the "cares of the lowlands" are only an hour or so away but, the love affair is not over yet.
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