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Published: July 18th 2016
Only a few months ago, the third anniversary of our move to Tasmania whizzed past almost without my realising it. Those three years - by now, almost three and a half - have been an incredibly busy time of making friends, finding jobs, doing said jobs, buying houses (well, a
house!), building houses (for chickens) and, it goes without saying, an awful lot of bushwalking.
Opportunities for overseas travel have been fewer and further between since we moved here - work has the irritating habit of getting in the way, and Australia the habit of being rather far away from everywhere else - and mostly limited to visits to the UK to visit friends and family once a year or so. Opportunities to visit the extraordinary diversity of landscapes on our very own doorstep, on the other hand, are almost unlimited. They say that you could do a different bushwalk every weekend of your life and still leave some tracks unwalked: this is quite likely true. One of the real delights of living here, and possibly one of the biggest contributors to our quality of life in Tasmania is that beaches, lakes, mountains and forests are all only
a few hours' drive away from our home. An hour or two in the car from Hobart will take you to untouched wilderness ripe for exploration, bushwalking, rafting, kayaking, diving and camping.
Day walks number in their hundreds and can be truly spectacular, but for us the real fun comes in the form of longer, multi-day bushwalks. There are dozens and dozens of such overnight trips to do Tassie, the most famous of which must surely be the Overland Track, a five-or-so day walk through the heart of the island's wilderness between Cradle Mountain and Lake St Clair. The Overland, as it's called, has become one of Australia's best known walks, easily rivalling Torres del Paine's famous "W" trek in Torres del Paine National Park or New Zealand's Milford Track. A longer, more remote extended walk is the South Coast Track, an 85km, 6-8 day trip along - you guessed it - Tasmania's wild and rugged South coast. And it is this South Coast Track that Alex and I - together with three friends - decided to undertake between Christmas 2016 and New Year 2017.
The South Coast Track lies within Tasmania's Southwest National
Park, which is itself part of the UNESCO-listed Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area - one of the world's last expanses of untouched temperate wilderness. Part of this walk's very special appeal is that the start of the track (or the end, depending on how you choose to do it, and most people walk the track one-way only) is located in Melaleuca, which sounds like a town but in fact consists of a corrugated iron park ranger's hut or two, some public toilets and, most importantly, a gravel landing strip. All slap bang in the middle of nowhere. The only way out...is to walk.
The walking party of five meets bright and early on Christmas Eve at Cambridge Aerodrome, a short drive from the city centre, for a pre-flight briefing. A small but very successful little Tasmanian airline runs regular charter flights between Cambridge and Melaleuca throughout the bushwalking season. The flight - on a 10-seater Britten Norman Islander which had been flying for twenty years by the time I was even born - is a short but incredibly scenic one. From the air, Hobart's extraordinary geography - wedged as the city is between towering Mount Wellington and
the sea - is even more impressive. After flying almost directly over our house (!) the plane heads west and within in frighteningly few minutes roads give way to unsurfaced logging tracks, and soon enough even these disappear to give way to virgin forest, mountain tarns, lakes and valleys. Within a short time we are flying past Federation Peak, one of Tasmania's most iconic and formidable summits, almost within touching distance it seems. Landing in Melaleuca is exhilarating, sharp turns needed to line the plane up on a runway surrounded by hills. We are greeted on arrival by typically cheery Parks and Wildlife park rangers - after a brief but charmingly to-the-point briefing ("don't hurt yourself: there's nobody to help you", "look out for poisonous snakes", "have fun!") we pick up our canisters of cooking gas (none allowed on the plane, of course), fill up our water bottles, slather ourselves with sunscreen (it's a hot and sunny day in Melaleuca - not something which happens every day, even in summer!) and set off in the direction of Cockle Creek. 85 kilometres (excluding side trips) and over a week's walk away.
There are enough blow-by-blow accounts of the
South Coast Track available to make another one here unnecessary. Beaches, forests, cliffs, river crossings, up mountains, down mountains, swampland, mud, mud, more mud - the South Coast Track has it all: the terrain is as varied as the views. At times it's hard going: a wet, windy and cold Boxing Day, complete with multiple deep creek crossings. A thousand-metre ascent up the steep Ironbound Range, followed by an equally steep descent through beautiful but treacherously slippery primeval forest, in a bone-achingly tiring 13-hour walking day. A whole morning of wading through mud, ankle-deep at best, waist-deep at worst. Leeches. Rowboat crossings across a river lagoon in the shadow of the marvellously-named Precipitous Bluff. Steep sand dunes. Wading along an estuary looking for where the track continues. More leeches. Rudimentary squat toilets. Rudimentary squat toilets with leeches. And all this with twenty kilograms on your back. Tent, sleeping gear, clothes, fuel, stove, food.
The food on such a trip could easily be a low point: daily 2-minute noodles and cereal bars. Not with this group, oh no. It may have meant carrying a few extra kilos, but gastronomically speaking we certainly lived it up. Chicken tagine, pasta
with Italian ragu, smokey chilli beef stew, Christmas pudding (with
custard) on Christmas Day, home-made biltong, flapjack - amazing what can be cooked up in a few minutes on a portable gas stove, with a little advance planning and a little love of food.
New Year's Eve - the sun is out, the sky is blue. Sore legs, sore backs, sore knees, sore feet. We stumble out at Cockle Creek, with its azure waters and blindingly white sandy beaches, amazed that we have walked
all the way here. And indeed we have. It's one of those experiences you never forget.
We finished the walk on 31st December 2015. Today it's 18th July 2016 - the toenail on my right big toe, which fell off shortly after we completed the walk, has only just grown back. Thought you might like to know...
Tot: 0.15s; Tpl: 0.055s; cc: 13; qc: 26; dbt: 0.0167s; 1; m:saturn w:www (126.96.36.199); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.3mb