Tasmania is breathtakingly beautiful. When I first visited in December 08 I vowed to come back and hike. So in february 09 I planned a month long hiking adventure with the Overland Track as a warm up to the South Coast Track. I'd been warned of the dangers of hiking in Tassie and spent a lot of time making sure I had everything I needed...I would recomend anyone considering a first time hike in Tassie to seek out local advice and check out this great forum Bushwalk- Tasmania
Here is my (somewhat longwinded!) account of my first 'proper camping' hike in Tasmania
The South Coast Track
Starting a Melauca in the west and finishing at Cockle creek in the East the South Coast track is one of Tasmania's most famous walks. The 85km long track winds it's way through the mountain, plains and coastal areas of the wild south west. While relatively tame by Tasmanian's standards this drought adjusted West Australian hiker still hasn't gotten over the mud!
Day 1 Hobart-Melauca- Coxbight
I start my journey in Hobart, having enlisted Jonas, a young and keen German backpacker, as a walking companion . To get to the start of the South West track we must fly in to Mellauca, an old alluvial tin mine with no access roads. We arrive at the Par Avion airport on the outskirts of Hobart, I’m limping a bit having badly sprained my ankle on Cradle Mountain a few weeks prior. In the airport’s small waiting terminal it soon become apparent that we are the only two setting out on a hike today, everyone else are daytrippers. The pilot explains where we’ll be flying over. He talks about the South West track and glancing sideways at us comments that day 3 is the hardest “at least 8hrs to get over the Ironbournd range, and there’s no turning back after that”. Jonas looks at me slightly horrified; maybe I neglected to tell him about that part…
They pack us into an impossibly small plane and we fly over the bay of Hobart and into the wilderness. The pilot makes conversation as we go, pointing out places of interest. He gets very excited at one point having spotted a group of hikers on the track below “ I wonder how long it took them to cross the range” he ponders “ they would have done it yesterday, I reckon 10 hrs”. We fly on and the trip gets rough through some clouds, ahead there are some mountains, I’m betting they’re the Ironbournds. I’m correct. The pilot starts his commentary again, “These are the Ironbounds, there’s only one way over them, a tough 12 hour day when there’s snow”. Jonas looks over at me again, worried. “8,10,12hours?…snow?” I smile and placate him with an unconvincing “Don’t worry, that won’t happen to us”.
Arriving in Mellauca we are fare welled by the day trippers. So here we are all on our own and 7days on the track stretches out ahead of us. The first day, I have read is easy, with board walks through most of the muddy sections and ending with 2km along a firm sanded beach. True to its description the walk to Cox Bight is a pleasant 12km, we stop frequently to take photos and barely raise a sweat. The camp is set right on the beach at the corner of a large bay. We make camp by 2:30pm and spend the afternoon scrambling on rocks, strolling along the beach and swimming. Water is found up the beach at a small creek, teeming with the sound of birds, it’s idyllic.
Day 2- Coxbight- Lousia Plains
We awake to a heavily overcast sky and a distant rumble of thunder that matches the noises coming from out stomach as we cook breakfast. The first 2km of the day lull us into a false sense of security as we stroll along the beach chatting, spirits high. All too quickly the track makes a hard left and we leave the beach and enter button grass plains.
The dreaded but spectacular buttongrass plains
It doesn’t take us long to realise that button grass it not our friend. Low and spiky it grows only in the acidic peat soils of the south west, prone to erosion, flooding and mud. Walking through these plains is slow going and we manage only 2.5km in an hour. At first we hop and jump over huge mud puddles but eventually we give into the inevitable as our feet plunge into the icy mud, water rushing in soaking our once dry feet and socks. Jonas is amused by the mud “at least its flat” he rationalises as he plunges knee deep into the quagmire. I look up and see a big hill in the distance and what appears to be a vertical white path, “uh yeah…flat, sure”
In an hour we reach the hill. By now it’s pouring with rain there are cracks of thunder and flashes of lightning all around, we’ve picked a great time to be climbing an enormous, tree less hill. By the time we get to the top we can’t tell where the sweat ends and the rain starts but the view it affords over the plains and the beach is amazing, this is truly one of the most beautiful places in the world.
The day’s hike continues over more agreeable terrain, slightly hilly and wet but pleasant. There are a couple of river crossings, but their levels are low and our feet are already soaked so we don’t mind. The final crossing gets us to our camp for the night, its flooded but we manage to find a couple of dryish spots and disappear into our tents for the evening, knowing full well that tomorrow is the dreaded day three…
it's ok the cold numbs the wet...
Day3 Lousia Plains – Little Deadmans bay via the Iron bound range
The next morning I awake to the roar of the Louisa river, grateful we’d crossed it yesterday, it’s risen 2 metres overnight and is impossible to cross today. From all the hype we’d heard from our pilot we started this day with a feeling more ominous than the clouds over head. I repeat the vital statistics of the day’s hike to Jonas as I make him wake up at 8am “ 13 km long but we start a sea level, climb 900m up the ironbounds and then 900m back down through rainforest to the ocean”.
As we wind through the forest and out onto the plains the morning drizzle clears up and the mountain comes into view. It doesn’t take long before we begin our assent. It’s not difficult and we enjoy ourselves climbing a series of steep rocky slopes and steps. Its overcast so we can’t see the top but it’s getting colder the higher we get, not cold enough for snow thankfully! The slope gets a little steeper, sometime requiring us to pull ourselves up with our hands on particularly high steps. We marvel at what appears to be an alpine crayfish living in the mud on the track, bizarre!
The moist air and yesterday’s rain mean my shorts are soaking, the cold wind stings my legs and I am eternally grateful for the very expensive but very effective rain and wind jacket I purchased just before the trip. As we continue to climb the clouds clear every now and then allowing glimpses of the views beyond before they’re lost into the clouds again. Sometimes we can’t see 2m in front of ourselves. I lose Jonas in the clouds, and can hardly shout out to him, my lungs aching, the cold has stolen my voice. Finally at the top the wind is unbelievable. Chilled to the bone we can’t move our fingers well enough to open our water bottles so after stopping briefly for a photo we power on, eager to regain some warmth into our bodies. It‘s taken 2 ½ hours to get to this point and we’re pleased with our efforts, ha! 12 hours, whatever!
victory at the summit!
The decent begins in a civilized manner with wooden board walks and steps leading the way down the mountain. All too quickly however these luxuries run out and the reality of a 900m decent through rainforest sets in. The beauty of the rainforest, with its greener than green hue and delightfully soft piles of moss only aid slightly in relieving the pain of this new hell. Buttress roots and rocks make up the downward path. Yesterday’s rain has turned the track into a river with hundreds of little waterfalls cascading down the slope. The water hides the uneven ground underneath and my sore ankle screams out in pain as it hits some awkward ground. There is no easy way down this mountain; every step requires total concentration as I negotiate the best place to step and tress to grab hold of. Dry feet are a distant memory and I am cursing the 20kg pack on my back. Sometimes I have to stop and figure out how I’m going to get down a particularly large drop, often it means sitting in the mud on the edge of the step and lowering myself down into a muddy puddle, grabbing on a tree trunk to steady myself.
Spot the path..it's right in front of you!
Out of the wind it’s warm and humid in the rainforest and the decent is relentless. At 2pm we decide it’s time for a lunch stop, even though there’s nowhere dry or pleasant to stop. Jonas is eager to get to camp and decides to go ahead, “it can’t be far now right?”
Three more hours of the same, soul destroying downwards climb, I can hear a loud roar as I approach a river. There I find Jonas sitting by the side of a river with a series of vicious rapids and waterfalls, the path on the other side. “Oh” I say .Prodding the river with my walking stick I search for a flat rock we can use as a safe foot hold, there is one, right on the edge of a 2m drop. This is going to be really dangerous, but there is nowhere to camp and no way I’m turning around and climbing back up that awful mountain path, at this stage I’d rather fall into the river. So taking a deep breath I thrust my left foot into the river, finding my rock. I feel the extreme power of the river trying to force me off my safe footing. Knowing that it’ll succeed in doing so if I hesitate any longer I leap with my right foot (this would be so much easier without 20kg on my back) propelling myself forward towards safe ground. Slipping only a little and wincing in pain I land hard on my sore ankle. I exhale heavily, realizing that I had stopped breathing quite some time ago, “yep could have done with a safety rope for that one…”
With Jonas also safely across we take the path to the left. This was not the path to take. Half an hour and several slips, falls and tree branches to the face later we realise we’re lost and so it seems was everyone who had come before us judging by the boot marks in the mud. Fighting our way back to the river, this is where we must have gone wrong, we should have turned right. It’s 6pm now and I’m getting anxious, the sun goes down at 7:30pm and we’ve been walking for 8 ½ hours. The track has become very muddy as the rocky steps have been replaced with a slippery root laden slope. In 20 minutes I fall three times, hard and it hurts. Each time I fall my sprained ankle cries out in pain and I being to swear. Surely we’re close… We trek on exhausted and sore. An enormous tree lies across the track, it’s about 2m high and has to be climbed. Someone had cut a small foot and hand hold. Groaning as I hurl myself up, I stand on top of the tree and survey what is around me. I can see the ocean and for the first time in 6 hours I smile. Surely we’re close, its 7pm! I fall four more time before we reach camp, one time I hurt myself so badly I sit and cry for a few minute nursing my now split shin and enormous bruise. Sitting there, crying and covered in mud I unleash the mother of all hissy fits, cursing the mud and the mountain I scream at the tree root that has recently tripped me up. Jonas looks on bemused at my outburst, trying not to laugh. I’m hysterical as I pick myself up and am secretly pleased when he falls face first into a mud puddle shortly after, his first fall for the day.
Mercifully the slope gets less extreme and the track becomes a flat, open leaf strewn path through coastal banksias. We see a sign for the toilet and smell a campfire. It’s 7:30pm the sun is setting and we have just walked 13km in 10hrs up 900m and down again, time to sit down. As we sit by the fire in warm dry clothes we regale the day with four fellow hikers who we had met the day before. They too had found it awfully tough and were pleased that we could return their pair of Crocs we had found on the track. I ate my warm dinner and watched the moon rising over the bay and was so glad to be there nothing feels as good as knowing the worst is behind you and dessert is ahead of you.
Day 4 Little deadman’s bay to Prion Beach
Next morning I awake to a beautiful clear sunny day. I get a good look at the campsite, it’s perched on a little cliff over a turquoise bay, there’s a spotted quoll running around the camp and little birds twitter around my tent. We don’t rush to leave such a beautiful place, today is only 9km of flat easy walking. So we soak in the sun and enjoy the breeze as we begin our stroll at 11:30am to the next site. There’s a bit of mud but nothing we can’t handle and it soon gives way to small coastal trees. It’s a pleasant walk, although the slightest of downhill and our quads scream out in pain, still not forgiving us for the previous day of torture, Arrival at the next campsite is via a 200m boat crossing. There’s a boat on each side of the inlet with oars and we are lucky that someone is rowing over as we arrive, it’ll save us from making the three trips required to finish with two boats on either side and us on the opposite bank. Amusing ourselves with failed attempts at rowing straight we eventually beach ourselves on a sand bank and have to jump into the water to bring the boat to shore, we’re hikers not sailors! It’s a lazy day and just what we needed.
Day 5 Prion Beach - Granite Beach
The track note makes this day sound easier that it is. Soon after leaving the beach once again we find ourselves in button grass country, as far as the eye can see. It’s a badly eroded track and sometimes we end up in a 2m groove looking up wondering what happed to the ground! Other times there is nowhere to go as dozens of boggy paths lead off a huge quagmire of deep deep mud and I being to think I should have bought my snorkel. The trudge through the button grass is made worse by the hilly terrain, legs now aching from continued assault and the slippery muddy path slow us down, we manage 4km in two hours before we enter a forest. It’s nice to be in the tall timber for the first time on the track. The path is soft but not muddy and winds its way through the trees. Wait did I say no mud, It seems I have spoken to soon, there’s mud, plenty of mud it seems among the trees. The track begins to undulate, gently at first and then to some extraordinary extremes as we hike up some seriously steep hills only to go directly down them again and then up another. We approach the beach again and there are great views across the ocean. We reach Surprise bay and have lunch, quick map check: 4km along this beach over a hill across another beach and we’re at the next camp. The beach is scattered with debris, including a wetsuit with an arm missing and a deflated life raft, we make up outlandish stories about how these items might have got here. Reaching the end of the beach Jonas inquires about this ‘hill’ I had mentioned earlier, Looking at the map we see it’s an extreme version of the previous experiences, 200m up and 200m down only this time it’s over a space of 1km, that’s one seriously steep hill. This soon becomes apparent as we start the assent with a rope ladder off the beach, great. Up the top of the hill the view is well, impossible to see and that frustrates us enormously, you’d hope that all that effort to climb a hill perched over the ocean you’d at least get an awesome view, unfortunately no! However as we descend , the next bay comes into view with magnificent cliffs that rise up like a cathedral out of the sea, it’s truly spectacular and worth the effort to get to them. A the end of the next beach there is a cliff and a waterfall running of the edge, I walk up to the base of it , fill my water bottle and have a cool drink, does it get any better than that? Climbing up the cliffs we arrive in our new home for the night. Here we find Chris, the German- Sydneysider who’s come from the opposite direction but his soles have fallen off his boots, both of them, and he has to turn around. “ The mud, oh the mud you would not believe” he tells us about our next day’s hike. We go to bed worried there may be a repeat of day three.
Day 6 Granite Beach- South Cape Rivulet
Reading the track notes today is marked as medium/hard and includes the ominous description “crossing the South West range is arduous, with long boggy sections and buttress roots to negotiate” Brilliant even the overly optimistic map makers couldn’t find a kind word to say about it, I’m beginning to wish they’d said nothing at all! The day starts with the biggest climb, its steep but steady and there are some good footholes to climb up the muddy track efficiently. We reach a false flat and it’s about here that it all goes to bad. The mud Chris had forewarned off come up out of nowhere, it’s endless and deep and impossible to negotiate. I find myself up to my upper thighs in the quagmire, I cannot move as the suctioning force of the mud threatens to remove my shoe, I have to yell out for Jonas to come and rescue me. A few minutes later and I rescue Jonas from a similar situation.
can't go over it..can't got around it...have to go through it
We begin to climb again, a total of 500m and wow the view is amazing. Forgetting the mud for a minute, I stop and look around me, as far as the eye can see there are hills, plains, oceans and river and the colours are amazing. Deep blue water, a myriad of greens and cloud dotted cerulean sky. I could have stayed on top of those hills for hours, alas as I turn to look to the north I slip and find myself face down in the quagmire and my muddy reality comes screaming back. As we finally reach the top of the hills, it’s 1:30pm and we’ve been walking for 4 ½ hours, I look at the map and we’ve walked 4 km, yep less than 1km/hr.
It’s about here that the ‘character building’ is supposed to begin, Jonas swears loudly and heads off down the hill. The torture of downhill is still fresh in my mind as I begin the descent and this is truly ridiculous. The track is completely eroded, there are buttress roots everywhere, mostly at shin height, this is not so much a walk as a never ending obstacle course, in mud. There is a point where I find myself standing over a deep chasm of mud, there’s a huge step down and nowhere to hold onto, which means I must lower myself down into the mud, jumping up and down as to avoid getting stuck before leaping onto a rock at the side of the track. This maneuver is not done with grace and I manage to splatter mud in my eye. Jonas laughs at me and takes photos; I crack up at the absurdity of it all and kick mud at him. As I trudge on I think of a few things Tasmania can do with its world heritage mud, none of which grandma would approve of. We finally get to the bottom of the hill and the worst of the mud is over. I look down at my clothes and feet and laugh, I am a mud monster, it’s good for your skin right? People pay a lot of money for a mud bath…
The day ends with a series of hills that raise the sweat but are mercifully mud-free, the track traverses a cliff over the ocean and there are lookouts along the way. I slow my pace and enjoy the relaxing stroll to the camp. As we come out of the forest onto the beach we must cross the south cape rivulet before getting to the campsite. Its waist deep so I have to carry my pack over my head but I’m glad for the wash, I linger in the water for a few minute trying to cleanse myself of the thick layer of drying mud. We check the time, it’s 3:30pm, so that’s 9km in 8hrs, wow, what did the map say? Arduous? Yes that would be correct!
That night we camp on the beach and for the first time we can see the stars. With no lights and no trees we can see everything. It’s our last night and we’re sad for it. For the first time we allow ourselves to imagine a cold beer, a good meal and a shower. Happy thoughts with which our dreams are filled.
Day 7 - South Cape Rivulet - Cockle Creek
The walk out to cockle creek is civilized and easy. It’s a popular day walk and so we meet a lot of people along the way. There are board walks over most of the button grass and wooden steps down steep slopes, its heaven. I have to laugh when I overhear one day tripper cursing the small amount of mud she has on her shoes. We reach cockle creek by 11:30am and few hours to wait for our bus to Hobart. Taking off my pack and shoes I wander onto the beach and paddle in the water. An elderly man walks up beside me smiles “lovely place isn’t it?” he asks “aren’t many place like this in the world” I smile back knowingly “oh I know of a few around here, but it’s a bit of a walk”