Western Australia: It's hard to top this lot off mate

By Robin Esrock

Robin Esrock holds his nerve to conquer a forest fire lookout.

The Dave Evans Bicentennial Tree is a lookout for the adventurous. Photo / Robin Esrock
The Dave Evans Bicentennial Tree is a lookout for the adventurous. Photo / Robin Esrock

Thin metal rods are poking out of a giant tree, spiralling up and up (and up) towards a wooden platform, 75m above in the Western Australia sky. These karri trees are among the tallest hardwoods in the world and this particular tree, the tallest in the forest, was once used as a fire lookout.

It seemed like an innocent enough roadside attraction, just 15 minutes drive from the town of Pemberton, where I had refuelled on gas and a beef pie. I had wandered into Warren National Park out of curiosity, captivated by a sign directing visitors to the Dave Evans Bicentennial Tree. Playing on my iPod was U2 that, in a strange way, was a sign of perfect synchronicity. Dave Evans is the real name of guitarist The Edge, and his namesake tree - a pure coincidence apparently - seemed destined to deliver the same.

At the top of this lookout tree stands a large platform. To get there, I would have make my way up 130 erratically staggered thin black rods, thrusting myself up between ever widening gaps.

From the bottom it looked harmless enough, because I couldn't see just how high I had to climb. I started eagerly, one pole at a time, a little unnerved by a thin wire safety net that looked like it could maim more than save. It didn't take long before I looked down and my knees began to feel as wobbly as a Central African government.

It was one of those beautifully dangerous things I love about Australia, where the world's most poisonous snakes and spiders might be living in your pillow. I read an actual headline: "Man Breaks Leg Kicking Spider."

About 25m above the ground, I realised whoever built this tree path must have had one too many drinks. I was clutching on to the thin poles so tightly my muscles were cramping, my toes clenched so hard you could crack a bullet between them. Higher and higher, and just when I was sure I might actually wet myself with fear, I arrived at a small wooden platform. A truly unhelpful sign read: "That was the easy bit, mate!" Aussie, oy, oy oy vey.

A sturdy tanned Australian fellow crawled down from above, drenched in sweat. "C'mon mate, once you're this far, you may as well go all the way to the top," he said, in that typical Australian drawl which makes any stranger seem like a close friend.

This encouraged me to continue my climb, cursing the damn Australian flies, relentlessly exploring my nostrils and ears. I reached another rest platform, and another, and then another, until at last, I was on top of the tree, dripping in sweat, staring out above the lush forest in all directions. The sea cast a blue glow in the distance.

My knees were still swaying, but that might have had something to do with the tree itself, dancing in the wind. Cautiously, I made my way down, wondering why they don't sell T-shirts at the bottom of trunk: "I survived the Dave Evans Bicentennial Tree."

I wondered how many people had slipped and if the safety net worked. I wondered who Dave Evans was and whether he was the unfortunate chap who could answer both questions.

The ordeal took an hour, scarier than any tree I had ever climbed. There wasn't even an official around to call an ambulance should you drop out of the sky. If there was, he might tell me: "It's just a big tree, mate. We have spiders bigger than this."

CHECKLIST

The Dave Evans Bi-Centennial Tree is located in the Warren National Park close to the town of Pemberton. There are two other famous fire lookouts you can climb in the area; the Gloucester Tree in Gloucester National Park and the Diamond Tree. Both are located a short drive from town, as part of the 86km scenic Karri Forest Explorer Drive. There is no charge to climb the tree, but you should only attempt it if you're feeling particularly adventurous.

* Robin Esrock is the star of the Travel Channel series Word Travels. You can find him at robinesrock.com.

- NZ Herald

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