Australia

Cast away on Tasmania’s South Coast Track

DSC01663I didn’t plan much time at all for Tasmania but was looking for a proper hiking adventure. Via internet and the hostel in Hobart that I stayed at, I found three highly motivated companions: Lionel (22 yo from Belgium), Simon (19 yo from Germany) and Clemens (26 from Germany). Any clich├ęs served here? Yes, I know, I’m soooo old and yes, just as New Zealand, Australia is full of German travellers. This configuration proofed actually quite interesting for everybody language-wise. Obviously the common language was English, but since the level of English varied and didn’t always bring the point across, I acted sort of as a translator whenever necessary and kept changing between all three languages (English, French and German) constantly, while picking up quite a bit of new French vocabulary. It ended up as a pretty good training for everybody.
DSC01584For our hiking adventure we chose the South Coast Track, a 6 to 8 days wilderness experience in Tasmania’s so-called weather frontier. The region in the Southwest National Park got its name from the ever changing weather conditions with 300 rain days a year and frequent storms. Furthermore it can only be reached by a little propeller plane, making this remote hike a very lonely one, too, a fact we were all very keen on. There are no huts, no villages, no wardens, basically no sign of civilization but the track itself and the wilderness campsite at the end of the day. We were also attracted by the wild landscape and by the difficulty of this fairly muddy bush walk.

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I thought I could change the format a bit from the previous hiking posts. Here comes a short diary.

Departure -2 days:
Our team has 3 members. Booked the flight to the start of the track (Malaleuca). Created a food shopping list.

Departure -1 day:
Hey, a 4th team member! Oh no, flight is fully booked. Later: second plane available, 4th member is in. Quick, he needs hiking trousers before the outdoor shops close. Food shopping done. Picked up emergency beacon. Oh no, 4th member doesn’t have a tent, ah well he can sleep in mine. Oh no, 4th member doesn’t have a mattress. Phew, the hostel’s storage room has a few spares that others have forgotten there. Backpacks packed.

Day 1 (Melaleuca to New Harbour Beach):
At the aerodrome they make us weigh our luggage. 26, 22, 21 and 19 kg means overweight! We’re throwing away all our water and even out the weight and get just under the limit. Ready for departure.
We are only 6 people plus the pilot in a little propeller plane, bringing us in 45 minutes from Hobart to Melaleuca, a super short sand airfield in the middle of nowhere. We are flying over a wild mountain range with beautiful lakes, vast grasslands and the sea shimmering through some little clouds in the distant horizon.
Once in Melaleuca we get greeted by a lovely elderly couple doing volunteer work at the airfield camp, reading us the weather forecast and giving us some tips about the water along the way. There are no rain water tanks, but the water can be taken straight of the little streams without further treatment. Nice!
The track starts off easily. A mixture of sandy path and wooden planks leaving over a wet moor-like vast valley. Eventually the planks sink a few centimetres into the water and it turns out I’m the only one wearing boots! What? On a muddy wilderness track? Really? Oh well, my companions say they will be ok walking in wet shoes. Their problem.
The target for the day is “New Harbour”, a campsite on a lonely beach outside the actual track route and therefore a one day detour. On the way we discover some huge mud pits and my three team members sink in up to their knees. Once at the beautiful beach it’s sunny and feels surprisingly warm and we’re all going for a swim and try to ride a few waves. Later we start a nice camp fire and enjoy our first dinner. A wallaby pays us a visit but hops away once we try to get closer.

 

Day 2 (New Harbour Beach to Cox Bight):
The first night was calm and mostly warm and we leave fairly early in partly cloudy weather. Since we know part of the track already, we try to cut across the “New Harbour Range”, climbing up through dense bushes and steep grassy hills to 500m and have a beautiful view over the Cox Bight Bay. After a scenic lunch we start our adventurously steep descent and continue to our 2nd campsite at Point Eric.

 

Day 3 (Point Eric to Louisa River):
It’s very grey up in the sky and when we start our hike on the beach the drizzle kicks in. Everything feels wet and once we leave the beach we walk through grassy moorlands that are soaked with water and sprinkled with mud pits (or as the rangers said “a path with dry patches”). My boots soon start to get a little wet inside, but luckily the drizzle stops around noon, they keep reasonably dry. We’ve got some nice views from the top of the hills. The track leads us over a wide grassy valley away from the sea and over two rivers to our next campsite. The rivers are only knee deep but have a security rope in case of sudden flood waves and we try to climb along it to cross the river with dry feet. It’s like an adult playground.
Once our tents are set up, we have a quick refreshing bath in the cold river and have to chase a quoll away that tries to steal our bread. A beautiful animal but it doesn’t really seem to be afraid of us, as we wave our arms and shout at it.
Later that evening Lionel and Simon discover that their toenails have started to become blue underneath, surely a result of their constantly wet shoes and socks. We keep our fingers crossed that it doesn’t get any worse.

 

Day 4 (Louisa River to Little Deadmans Bay):
The next day the weather slowly turns sunny again as we get ready for the trek’s highest ascent up to 900m. It’s a steep but well formed climb to the peak and we enjoy stunning views to either side of the coast and far into the desolated backcountry. We have an early lunch at the peak and look forward to a quick descent and a relaxed afternoon at the next campsite. But once we start the descent and get into the dense rain forest, the track turns into a slippery, mud-packed adventure trail and we take ages to climb down big rocky steps and winding tree roots, seeking hold at all the branches we manage to grab. It turns out to be a very tough day, especially for the knees that suffer a lot under the heavy load of our backpacks.
Eventually we arrive at the campsite around 6pm, just in time to build up the tents and have a rushed bath in the cold ocean. Surprisingly there are already 4 other hikers and they have started a warming fire and invite us to join in. We start preparing our dinner and listen to their stories. It turns out they are locals and have done the trek already a couple of times. They warn us of snaked and some upcoming major mud pits.

 

Day 5 (Little Deadmans Bay to Rocky Plains Bay):
We have finished all of our fresh bread and open up the packaged bread for breakfast. It turns out it has all become mouldy and we’re slightly shocked and worried, having to cut down on our daily rations. We bury the bread under a thick layer of mud along the path and start the day’s hike. We’re all very tired from the previous day, yet have to find our way around and across some big mud pits again. Sometimes it’s like a labyrinth of mud with some rare grassy islands and we jump from side to side and from patch to patch in order to keep our feet dry.
Eventually we reach the next beach and follow it for several miles until arriving at the “New River Lagoon”. After a sunny lunch, we get to the next highlight of the trek: a rowing boat crossing over a lake-like river that proves too deep and too wide to attempt a crossing by foot. It turns out to be a fun variation of our everyday hiking experience. Next we climb up and down on some steep dunes, along the shores of the river and then away from the sea towards the next campsite. We arrive again fairly late, find our way to the slightly hidden but absolutely gorgeous beach and can’t help ourself but to jump in.

 

Day 6 (Rocky Plains Bay to Granite Beach):
Yet another sunny day and we manage to start early and have another visit to the beautiful beach. The track is fairly muddy again, but it feels like a rather easy hike and we soon reach the next beach that we follow for quite a while. It’s a short day and we arrive quickly at the next campsite, which is stunningly located above “Granite Bay”. Next to the campsite we find a little perfectly clear stream that falls down a steep rock cliff directly onto the pebble beach and forms a cold, yet very enjoyable natural shower.
Later we meet Sam on the campsite, a lonely hiker from Melbourne and we prepare a joint dinner and dessert and grab some interesting hints from him about a few other places in Tasmania.
The sunset this evening is rather beautiful.

 

Day 7 (Granite Beach to South Cape Rivolet):
We wake up to a grey morning sky and start our last major ascent to 460m. The trail is full of mud again and keeps going up and down, tiring us out quickly. Later the sun comes out again and the path continues on wooden planks, providing an easy finish to the next campsite. We build our own little bridge over a small river and arrive and at paradise-like beach. It feels warm and sunny and we grab a left-behind body board as we jump into the rather impressive waves. We all give the body board a go and have a few nice rides. Later we do another warming campfire and enjoy a lot of food on the last evening of the trek. We are all in a good mood, happy about the last 7 days out in Tasmania’s wilderness.

 

Day 8 (South Cape Rivolet to Cockle Creek):
The last day of the hike starts with a little drizzle as we walk along the beach towards the end of the track. We get to see the well known lions rock, the most southern place people can hike to in Australia. A banana that seems to have been washed ashore on the beach serves as a little highlight as it’s still closed and pretty yum, if not a little brown.
The last few kilometres towards Cockle Creek (the end of the track) are again on wooden planks and we arrive at the road to Hobart around lunchtime. Our idea is to try and hitchhike all the way back (120km), but the very few people we see either have no space or they are unwilling to help us. So after 3h of waiting we start walking towards Hobart, trying to get to the next bigger road. The tarmac and gravel is an unwelcome change, certainly tiring, but we make another 20km before we get picked up by a German in the dark. We feel unbelievably lucky. He takes us to a campsite and promises to take us further towards Hobart the next morning.

 

Day 9:
We wake up early after a pleasant night on a well equipped campsite with hot showers. In the car the German tells us a lot about all his travels. He’s a freighter captain, having as many months off as he’s working and even at nearly 50 years he’s still using all his holiday to travel and explore the world. We ask him about his favourite places and any recommendations. Nepal, India and yes he still enjoys his life as a nomad a lot.
Later we take a bus for the last 2h to Hobart. We choose a hostel opposite the Woolworth supermarket and the latter proves to become our destination every few hours for the next two days. Toast, butter, cheese and ginger beer have never tasted as good as then. Plus loads of chocolate and all in large scale quantities. The hostel dormitory at night feels super comfy. Life’s great!

Food:
DSC01693Such an important topic on an 8 day hike. The luxury of freeze dried meals was not an option, as it’s too expensive, especially over the course of 8 days. They are pretty yum and offer a lot of variety as I had discovered in New Zealand already, but it does somehow feel like cheating.
So we took all the food for three different meals per day. Simon and I went 100% vegetarian, whereas Lio and Clemens had a big salami and some tinned tuna to add onto their meals.
In the mornings we had bread and peanut butter, plus a bit of butter and cheese for the first few days. Fresh bread from the bakery for the first days and packed supermarket bread thereafter. The lunch usually consisted of muesli and oats plus milk powder and water. The most important meal, where we actually took the time to cook properly, was the dinner. I cooked most of the meals myself, as I was by far the most experienced one and as I got a little annoyed after both spaghetti and rice had severely burned the bottom of my shiny pot on their first Viking attempts. Yes, I’m a grumpy old man, being too worried about my camping equipment.
Anyway, I was pretty happy with my food creations, given the limited resources we had and Simon had -quote – eaten much better food during our trek than anything he had prepared himself during his last three months in Australia. So what did I do? Lentils! Any really, green, orange or a lentil soup mix with added wheat. With onions, garlic, curry powder or Thai spices and sometimes tomato concentrate. And it’s quite amazing how much sauce those lentils will get you, I can only recommend it! Along with rice, spaghetti or couscous it’s a full dinner!
Sometimes we had a dessert, too and one thing I came up with before the trek, was creamy rice made with milk powder. Add some sugar and cinnamon and it’s perfect to fill up the hungry stomachs after a full day of hiking!
Along with all that, we had quite a few nut mixes and banana chips plus about three pieces of chocolate per person and day to keep us happy.
And finally some fresh fruit for the first few days to get the vitamins going.

 

ACT_0968So much… about this adventure of ours. Despite the luck we had with the weather it was a very demanding trek, but it was well worth it. Being so far off the grid, having beautiful deserted beaches and wonderful mountainous views, being able to enjoy the ocean every day, all that made the weight on our shoulders and the constant fight with the mud easily bearable, if not a fun side effect.

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