Hospitality is… looking after your guests when the chips are down, when they might otherwise feel alone and friendless. Like the time in Naples, Italy’s most notoriously lawless big city, when my wallet was lifted on a crowded city bus. Police were totally disinterested, but the support of our host at a small family-run hotel got me through that experience – and ensured I would return to Italy once again.
Last Thursday, May 12, Tasmania’s Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair national park felt decidedly inhospitable. Fog and drizzling rain, and freezing temperatures lingered all day as our party of six struggled up towards the base of Cradle Mountain, picking our way through patches of snow which all too often masked a thin layer of ice formed over the rocky track beneath.
Ice, rock, snow and fog defined our horizons on all sides.
At midday we squeezed into a spartan shelter hut as Brian and Michele, our guides from Pure Tasmania, brewed up hot chocolate. If the chocolate warmed one’s insides, the feet remained irredeemably sodden.
With the summit attempt abandoned, we picked our way back downhill towards glimpses of Crater Lake and its century-old boat shed, and the yellowing leaves of Fagus, Tasmania’s native deciduous beech.
Back at Cradle Mountain Chateau, we peeled off sodden shoes and socks, and layers of waterproof clothing. In a stern whisper, Brian called me over. Had I in some way offended this veteran outdoorsman’s code of ethics?
No. He simply wanted to pass on an urgent message from home (my own mobile network being effectively useless in this part of Tasmania). It was every traveller’s nightmare – a family bereavement, that morning.
How could I possibly get myself from this remote national park to an airport and onto a Melbourne-bound flight? The group were bound for Strahan that night – two hours further west through the forests. But my hosts were more level-headed than I. Quickly and without fuss, they had booked me a berth on the overnight car ferry across Bass Strait; another staff member would knock off early to get me to the port town of Devonport in time.
That evening, northern Tasmania seemed a much warmer place.