Saturday, 26 April 2014

Way down south - Southwest National Park, Tasmania

Here, where the world is quiet,
Here, where all trouble seems dead
Winds and spent waves riot
- A.C. Swinburne

Unstable weather forced our small plane to take a coastal flight path from Hobart to Melaleuca and so before we even walked a step along Tasmania’s South Coast Track we got an aerial taste of what was to come. As we peered out the plane window we glimpsed the track snaking along the plains and mountainsides: we saw stunning mountain scenery to the north, idyllic empty beaches, the promising solitude of a remote destination and signs of the track's renowned muddy swamps.

Located within the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, the 85 km long South Coast Track takes walkers through some beautiful and isolated country. We walked the South Coast Track from west to east, beginning at Melaleuca and heading to Cockle Bay (although it is possible to travel in either direction) so on day one for us, the track skirted the base of the long and grand New Harbour Range as we walked from the Melaleuca airstrip to the coast. Low hanging cloud drifted across the ridgelines and revealed tempting rocky peaks and dazzling white outcrops of quartzite.

Of course, the most famous mountain scenery on the South Coast Track is the Ironbound Range and from day two, after a short sharp crossing of the Red Point Hills, the Ironbound Range was in view. At a height of 1061 metres the high point of the Ironbounds seems to catch the weather but we lucked it. Whoever came through the day after us, did not. Our ascent, on day three, was straightforward; steep, with plenty of steps and excellent track work. The summit was spectacular. The views were breathtaking, the cold southerly wind equally so. We could see Federation Peak to the north and the ragged Eastern Arthurs cut the horizon like an old saw blade. Even out to sea there were spectacular rocky pinnacles including De Witt and Maatsuyker Islands.

The South Coast Track is also famed for its mud and swamps. Caz and I had agreed that if one of us ended up waist deep in mud (as we had heard was a possibility) the first thing that person had to do was hold tight while the other one took a photo.  Bushwalking where we live has nothing like Tasmania’s famed bogs. The mud sounded like a fun challenge.

It was with great anticipation and excitement that we attacked our first small stretch of bog behind Black Cliff Beach on day two. I managed to get nearly knee deep but for a split second only.  Possibly because we were on the track fairly early in the summer, or maybe Tasmania had had a dry year, but that was as deep as we got the whole trip. A lot of the bogs were squishy yet firm. Careful and quick placement of our feet was important, but it was easy to see how the track could get trodden into a deep black quagmire with just a few good showers of rain and dozen more plane loads of walkers.

There was also the non-bog mud: the sort of sticky, slippery stuff that crept up my legs on the washed out descent of the Ironbound Ranges and the South Cape Range.  This was certainly taste enough to dampen my enthusiasm for falling waist deep in a sloppy bog hole and stumbling into camp black and wet and filthy.

And speaking of stumbling into camp, the South Coast Track has to have some of the most stunning camp sites on offer in Australia; starting with day one, tucked amongst the gnarled ti-trees on the edge of the beach at Point Eric. Louisa River was the only campsite not on the beach but even it offered a rewarding and relaxing haven, nestled beside the caramel waters of the Louisa River. Little Deadman’s Bay was the only messy affair being completely full with big tarps strung everywhere and several lobster boats off shore. The crowded campsite redeemed itself with the appearance that evening of a friendly quoll. It was also surrounded by some truly stunning coastline with narrow rocky coves only metres wide cut in along the shore and the South Coast Track winding its way through strange forests of fallen branches and peeling bark. 

After Deadman's Bay we stopped to camp at New River Lagoon behind Prion Beach while most other walkers from our plane load continued on to Osmiridium Beach. Stopping at New River Lagoon made it a short 9km day and we got into camp early enough for some real R&R. That evening we had one of our most memorable camps on the track, spending the long afternoon exploring the banks of the lagoon, watching dozens of black swans float silently under the impressive backdrop of Precipitous Bluff. In camp a mother pademelon, with a joey at foot and one in the pouch, kept us company. 

At each campsite we encountered different wildlife – pademelons at most, a gingery furry echidna at Granite Beach, a baby tiger snake at South Cape Rivulet, the quoll at Little Deadman's Bay. Then there was the wildlife on the track – a flock of 26 yellow tailed black cockatoos at Red Point Hills, an orange bellied parrot at Melaleuca, hooded plovers, a ground parrot as we walked out along Blowhole Valley, crescent honeyeaters, scrub wrens and silvereyes.

From wildlife to wildflowers and the South Coast Track could be renamed the Leatherwood Trail. In the pretty forests around Rocky Plains and the South Cape Range the track was carpeted with fallen leatherwood blossoms and the air was thick with their distinct fragrance. Every opening between the trees gave us views of more and more flowers covering the forest canopy.

We took seven days to complete the walk and with the stunning mountain scenery, the mud, the idyllic camping, the wildlife and wildflowers it was hard to leave the simple beauty of long days spent in the wilderness, carrying all you need on your back, quietly pacing along through this wild landscape.

I don’t know what it was precisely – maybe the combination of remoteness, vast horizons, the hard walking, blissfully long daylight hours and each nights exhausted, rewarding sleep – but I have never returned from such a short holiday feeling I had been away for such a long time.  


  1. Great report. Craig has outdone himself with the photos. I'd be interested to know how his photography kit for multi day walks like this looks like?

    I definitely want to get down here sometime.

    1. Hi Cameron, Craig here. Glad you enjoyed the story and pics. Camera kit for most multi day walks includes a tripod, a digital SLR with one wide angles lens (10-22mm) and a zoom lens whose focal length has changed over the years but on this trip was a 100-300mm (all Canon). And the South Coast Track is well worth the effort, good variety of landscape to walk through and the flight in is a bonus.

  2. Wonderful trip report and thoroughly amazing photo's. Thank you. Doing the track in January 2019

    1. Thanks for the comments and good luck with your own South Coast adventure in 2019. Hope the weather is kind!