Environmentalists in Tasmania are hoping to prove that tourism in old growth forests is more profitable than woodchipping.

Environmentalists are hoping that Australia’s largest temperate rain forest, the Tarkine, does not one day follow the fate of the aboriginal tribe after which it’s named. The indigenous people who inhabited this northwestern swath of Tasmania for some 10,000 years were wiped out by conflict and disease in the wake of 19th century colonial settlement. Today, their former home rich in ancient groves and pristine water courses may be under threat from the island’s logging industry, which intends to process the trees into wood chips and pulp. Granted, the Tarkine, spanning 450,000 hectares, is not going to disappear overnight and felling is now mostly taking place on the forest’s periphery. But large sections of the Tarkine’s heart a 100,000-hectare area known as the “myrtle corridor” have been earmarked for logging in about five years’ time. That’s why environmentalists are racing to prove that ecotourism can be both more sustainable and more lucrative than chopping down trees.

In the vanguard is Tiger Trails ((61 3) 62343931), a tour company that offers guided walks through the Tarkine’s interior. “Nature-based tourism is part of a new generation of thinking, offering another option for these forests where industry and conservation can work together,” says Mike Thomas, a member of Tasmania’s Doctors for Forests lobby group and designer of a spectacular Tiger Trails walk that takes trekkers though a Tarkine river gorge that is home to the forest’s threatened myrtle trees.

Thomas’ four-day Tarkine Trail ($470, including gourmet organic meals, transport from Hobart or Launceston and tent accommodation) skirts the ridge above the magnificent Eason’s Creek, before plunging into the wooded gorge. It took Thomas more than 100 days to pick out the trail, following animal tracks that zigzag through giant ferns across the forest floor and following the natural contours of the land a practice that reflects his commitment to causing minimum disruption to the environment. Along the way, walkers encounter the Tarkine Falls a majestic, three-tiered wall of water, partly veiled by fern and the magical Octopus’ Garden, a natural clearing of native grasses, with the gangly arms of thousand-year-old myrtle trees dangling overhead.

Once the official itinerary is done, Tiger Trails occasionally drives groups through areas of the Tarkine that have already been clear-cut and defoliated. The contrast could not be more horrifying. Its end may not come as quickly or be as inevitable as that of the aborigines who once roamed it, but the Tarkine is evidently fighting for its future. Every paying ecotourist is a foot soldier in the cause.

This article appeared in December 2004 issues of TIME Asia and Europe.