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A plunge into pure, ice-cold Tasmanian water is a natural winter high…if your body can handle it.

During the island’s Off Season, droves of 'Taswegians' dunk themselves into body-numbing waterways: beaches, rivers and crystal-blue alpine tarns. Plucky locals thirst for the two minutes of torment that only a cold plunge can provide.

Matt Wesley is one such serial plunger. He co-owns Walk on kunanyi – a Hobart-based company leading guided tours through the lush kunanyi / Mount Wellington wilderness year-round.

But during winter, the tours get a little…weird. Wesley leads walking groups to the clear, cool North West Bay River, flowing down the back of the majestic mountain. Here, guests get in the zone for cold immersion in the winter wilds – practising guided meditation and breathwork with a Wim Hoff instructor before sinking their bodies into the snowmelt water.

A man jumps up from beneath the surface of a small, rocky pond situated within a forest, splashing water.

It's especially fresh when it's been snowing, the water can get down to about six degrees [or] four degrees.

What's the point of these goosebump-inducing exploits?

"It brings you right into the present moment," Wesley says. "Science tells us that there's a whole lot of benefits to do with the body and the nervous system and [regulating] stress."

From US neuroscientist Andrew Huberman to Dutch extreme athlete Wim Hof, cold-plunge enthusiasts the world over have claimed to experience reduced pain and stress, stronger immunity, and higher levels of dopamine – a chemical producing feelings of motivation and pleasure.

"You can't be anywhere else than right there in the cold with yourself," Wesley says.

"It's [the] ultimate presence of mind and it makes you feel very alive."

This twisted (albeit therapeutic) ritual doesn't happen as naturally in other parts of Australia. The winter water in Tasmania is particularly bone-chilling, which Wesley says is ideal for heightened health benefits.

What's Wesley's secret to committing regularly to this uncomfortable ritual? The answer, it seems, is peer pressure – courtesy of some "crazy friends".

"We like to go swimming in the ocean during winter," he says. "We don't think we're crazy, of course."

A man stits under the surface of clear water in a still, rocky stream.
Walk on kunanyi co-owner Matt Wesley cold-plunging in the North West Bay River.
Francois Cumunel

When he's not able to access a natural waterway, Wesley swaps the plunge for a cold shower.

But wait – it gets weirder. Every year on the shortest day of the year, he partakes in the Nude Solstice Swim during Tasmania's mega winter festival, Dark Mofo, alongside thousands of stark-naked locals and visitors.

As outlandish as cold plunging sounds, Wesley says it has to be tried to be understood – and the empowering post-plunge feeling is always worth it.

Nobody regrets a swim.

"It may be cold at the time, but it's really like a metaphor for life. Life is going to throw the stress at you, but if you can get in and you can show that you can handle it, you’ll come out a much calmer person."

Besides, Tasmania has plenty of cosy cafes and pubs to make thawing out an enjoyable experience. You might find Wesley grabbing a velvety hot chocolate from Lost Freight Café on kunanyi / Mount Wellington, or settling into a comfy spot beside the fire at the Fern Tree Tavern with warm food and a rich stout.

Tasmanians may do things a little differently, but perhaps they're onto something.

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