The great south-west of Tasmania. For so many keen hikers, it’s a dream come true to be walking across this particular patch of earth. It draws people from all over. Like the other wild, truely remote places of the continent – the Top End, the Kimberley, the arid centre, the Bight – there’s something ultra special about the place. This is a hiking mecca of Tassie, and in the Tassie Wilderness World Heritage Area a (rather diverse and sizeable) jewel of the crown.
Length: ~85km, taking 7-9 days on average to complete.
Camping: The hike is roughly divided into 7 parts, each consisting of a typical days walk. However there are a myriad of intermediate campsites outside of this. Campsites are simple, at most with drop toilets. FYI Water is from creeks and rivers, and not always readily available.
Map: The TASMAP South West Walks (Scale 1:100,000). You can purchase online or at various camping stores around Tassie/interstate. Also recommend South West Tasmania by John Chapman, for full hike breakdown.
Distance to capital city: 125 km south of Hobart, ~1.5 hours drive.
Areas of interest: Southwest National Park.
What’s it like out there?:
Today was wet. Yesterday was wet. Tomorrow is wet. Apparently it rains 10 months of the year, and for the other two months the water drips from the trees. Not heavy, or not necessarily heavy anyway. Just consistent soakings. It also snows and hails in summer. It’s truely wild! The mountains and landscape can disappear around you in the transient mist in seconds, then loom up ahead of you out of the weather as quick as they disappeared.
On a wet trail, chances are you’ll wake with confused wet feet, slightly sodden from the mud and creek crossings the day(s) prior. In the morning all is damp, and from those first footsteps that kickstart the day, until setting up shop at the next camp, you feel the presence of moisture.
If the weather doesn’t clear up, over the course of the hike you’ll be able to watch the creeks, rivers and pathway swell as each coastal catchment drains itself to the sea. Timing is everything with making a crossing; like at South Cape Rivulet, give the water the appropriate observation (a good 15 minutes), checking the current and watching the oceans swell and how it’s interacting with the rivulet. If no good to cross, you can always set up camp and watch it pour on out into the ocean, sometimes furiously, kicking up little whirlpools of tannin rich water.
Set up in the rain, chow down dinner, recap on the days terrain, and be surrounded by soaking stuff – likely inside and outside your tent. The floor’s damp, so’s your bag, your cooking gear, your hiking clothes.
Highlight: Despite what the weather throws at you, this track and environment is extremely special. The landscape you traverse is unlike any on earth – home to dense and special collections of plants, scenery, and endangered species like the Orange-bellied parrot. Be you solo or with group, the track will test your skills and capacity to embrace the environmental conditions, but all part of an incredible visit you won’t ever forget!
Where you are:
You’ll be smitten by the landscape at once – it’s colour, the treeless and tough landscape, and a full horizon of mountain peaks and ridge lines. Distances are warped – everything feels closer and somehow smaller, whilst simultaneously seeming to take longer to reach. The clouds that power across the western ranges cast awesome shadow displays, sometimes shading the entire range yet leaving the buttongrass valley in full early sunlight. The contrast is spectacular.
Like much of the continent, the track and it’s associated beaches are unique and gorgeous – deep stretches of sand of white and grey swirls are exposed at low tide, dense coastal melaleuca, banksia and acacia scrub, a flurry of bird life mostly out of view getting a feed, and always brilliant mountains as your backdrop. The sheer sides of the cliffs plunge into the deep ocean blue with a hint of white cap. Each pass, ridgeline, spur and saddle cast its own spectacular shadow.
There’s the Ironbound Range. What an industrial name; a name you’d expect from the dwarves in Lord of the Rings. They’ve got a reputation that precedes them these peaks. They’re a fantastic range – exposed and blasted by the prevailing southwest gales, rapidly rising up out of the Louisa Valley (a place where everything there and in the surrounds is named after Louisa – creek, river, beach, point, bay etc). It’s a steep, steep, and exposed climb over them; and very exciting!
Journeying up the range is pretty straightforward, a great path leads the way from the west. Like all great ascents each spur leads you to a ridge and reveals another spur to take on. This occurs a few times until the gnarly quarts rock faces appear, glistened in the light whenever it’s been free to do so. It’s jagged layers jut out like a ships stern and bow cast into stone and thrown into the side of the mountain, the rest of the ship shattering and littered around the main chunks. Winding up and through these abandoned rock faces, the vegetation shifts to more alpine, cooler weather species including a few old favourites like stunted scoparia. Come the cover of the trees and heading south east, the path plunges (quite literally) into a brilliant beech forest. Going is slow, the path often switching to ephemeral creek as it overtakes you on its decent. The bush is otherwise impenetrable. Tree trunks piled on top of each other for eons, embedded in moss and a myriad of other cool rainforest species. Every patch of earth and even the larger trees, are taken up by growth. The place looks, and feels, ancient.
One step, then another:
How was the mud? Was it good? Excitingly, the trail is more than mud, being a blend of: beach – sand and large pebbles – solid dirt, two board plank or metallic grid boardwalk, wooden steps, path of white quarts base, or thick, water drenched dirt (aka ‘mud’). The quarts is common, and rather compacted and porous. So if the path where you’re about to place your foot is white, chances are your decision is a pretty solid one. Rarely, and usually found at the top-and-tail of muddy patches, a bit of fine quarts gets washed over the mud, giving the illusion all is fine. You find out a split second too late every time that it’s deep mud hiding below – from ankle to sometimes knee or even waist deep, though the later is rare.
You’ll find the mud portions are mostly by-passable throughout; no problems. Hiking poles do come in handy for testing depth, gauging the grounds consistency prior to dropping you and your 15kg+ pack into it!
Highlight: A path of mud is a path none-the-less, leading you through some spectacular countryside. Coastal fringes and dense wattle growth blown over in the gale, buttongrass plains in semi-flower with dark, snow capped doleriye mountain peaks as backdrop, the beautiful stretches of different forest. Walk slow throughout, and between looking down at the mud, look up and be continually amazed at the landscape around you and its varied composition.
Variety, in all its forms, is the spice of multi-day hikes.
You can view our full collection of images from the South Coast Track, here.
The South Coast Track – where these photos were taken – is the traditional lands of the Lyluequonny & Needwonnee nations. I respectfully acknowledge the Traditional Owners of these lands and waters on which I was able to traverse, learn, and appreciate – and pay respect to the First Nations Peoples and their elders, past, present and future.