Port Davey Track – Trip report

On one night when I was bunkered down in Watershed Camp I was woken up by what I thought were earthquakes but figured out finally that it was the roots of the trees moving in the gale (which worried me somewhat)

I couldn’t find anyone at Melaleuca and spent my time waiting for the re-supply wandering around, staying out of the weather and watching the birds and a fairly tame wombat. As the days passed without a plane the wombat was starting to look very appetising.

These quotes from Larry, our guest blogger, set the scene for his fantastic trip report on the Port Davey Track. He faced tough weather, loads of rain and swollen creeks and did it all solo. We have never met Larry but would love to catch up for a yarn one day. Check out his bio at the end of this post.

As background, the Port Davey Track runs for about 70km between Scotts Peak road (near Lake Pedder and the Scotts Peak Dam) and Melaleuca. It is often completed in conjunction with the South Coast Track, both of which are in the Southwest National Park ,within the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area.

Below is a screen shot of the route using Larry’s GPS points laid over a Shonky Map. We have previously posted about Shonky Maps and how great they are with a Garmin GPS


Here are Larry’s reflections on his trip:

Intentions

This walk was originally intended to be combined with the South Coast Track and because of the time of year I scheduled what I thought was plenty of spare time into my available period of leave. I figured that 20 days should give me sufficient time to provide sufficient spare days for rough weather and flooding. As it happened the Port Davey Track took longer than I thought it would and then I had to wait on my resupply food at Melaleuca which caused me to re-evaluate my intention to do the South Coast Track. Prudence led me to fly out from Melaleuca.

So my first lesson in the South West was not to set strict schedules.

The Port Davey Track can be done in three days in summer. It took me eight days and could have taken longer had I not been able to cross Bathurst Harbour when I did. I didn’t hurry but I didn’t slouch along either, hitting median times from those estimated by John Chapman in his walk guide. In winter you don’t get long daylight hours and you have to be prepared to wait. I started the walk on 24 June when it doesn’t really get light enough to walk until 8 am and it is almost dark again at 5pm.

As it happened I struck a period of rough weather which prevented Par Avion flying into Melaleuca for over a fortnight so after completing the Port Davey Track, I had to wait for a few days for the re-supply food. This cut my margins down on time and in the end I decided to fly out with the plane rather than continue on. In hindsight I could have continued on as there was a spell of really good weather and I wouldn’t have needed the insurance of spare days but I wasn’t to know that at the time. It now gives me an excuse to go back to do the South Coast Track.

Despite some very wet days I had a great time and the scenery and environment really impressed me.

I’d been corresponding with John Chapman and his new guide – South West Tasmania was very helpful and I was very grateful for his efforts in getting it to me before I went. One of the little but significant things that made a difference was his recommendation that I take a small radio to get weather reports from Hobart ABC. That was a last minute purchase and was it was reassuring to know how the weather was evolving. I struck a period where there were almost constant gales from a strong westerly stream with periodic fronts passing over the west coast.

On one night when I was bunkered down in Watershed Camp I was woken up by what I thought were earthquakes but figured out finally that it was the roots of the trees moving in the gale (which worried me somewhat).

I took food for eight days and had to spin out my emergency supplies for a further three days while waiting for the Par Avion flight. I always take more than I need and usually grumble at the end of walks when bringing back unused food. This time though I was glad I’d done so.

Trip Report
Day one wasn’t a full day and I walked into Junction Creek. I camped about a kilometre past it in a campsite John Chapman recommended.

On day two I walked to Crossing River. It was a fairly wet day so I wanted to get across the river before it came up too far which I managed. I couldn’t find the log or rope that is in John’s guide despite having a good look up and down the river from where the track meets Crossing River.

I figured I’d have to swim the river but it was (just) wade-able without my pack and so I did so and towed my pack across on a rope after getting to the other side. I camped at what John indicated was a dry campsite on the next creek but woke to a very swollen creek and water lapping at each end of my tent which galvanised me into action in the dark. The creek had come up over a metre overnight.

Day three to Watershed Camp was an amazing day. It blew a gale and I got a tremendous amount of hail which carpeted the ground. I couldn’t believe the lightening and thunder. I’m not unfamiliar with some big storms but with some of the close strikes, the clap of thunder made me jump even when the lightening alerted me to its inevitability. I was glad to get to Watershed Camp which was very damp and muddy even in the cleared patch deeper in the forest where water was streaming across most of the cleared area.

I spent Day four there also while I waited out the storm. I’m not very good at waiting and watching leeches crawling over the outside of the inner tent trying to find a way in palls after a few hours.

Day five (Watershed camp to Spring River) dawned very windy but rain free. It was cloudy but with fairly long patches of blue sky. That was a really nice day of walking and the scenery was majestic. The creeks were very high and I had to swim a few times. At the end of Lost World Plateau I could see the Spring River boiling (I could even hear it surprisingly despite being at least a kilometre and a half away). There was an awesome 200m waterfall on the other side of the river pouring down a big face and I was very upset I didn’t have my camera working.

Because this was a day without rain I figured I’d be able to cross Spring River and pushed to do so thinking I could camp in Forest Camp further down. When I finally got to Spring River I had a waist-deep wade though strongly flowing water even to get to the river bank and there was no way I was going to be able to swim it. It was really roiling and I couldn’t see the log which John’s guide indicated was there. So it was a retreat to a campsite and another day wait.

The enforced rest day was relatively rain free (only intermittent light showers) and when I hit the track the following day (day seven) I was amazed that what was previously a waist deep wade to the river bank was now only a normal calf-deep mud slosh. The river had dropped I guess an impressive three or more metres and not only was the log apparent but there was a rope tied about a metre and a half higher. I managed to cross without even getting my boots wet by river water.

It is a really nice walk down to Bathurst Harbour from Spring River and I had a relatively nice day to do it. There was a howling Northerly wind at my back but not that much rain and the clouds were only obscuring the higher peaks and then not all of the time. I knew that another front was coming and I could see the dark clouds gathering to the west so I pushed it down to Bathurst Harbour thinking to cross using the Northerly wind before the front hit and it turned westerly. I managed to do so with the smallest of margins. Just as I was securing the boat from the final crossing the front hit with a bang and a big hail storm. Within fifteen minutes I wouldn’t have wanted to risk the crossing. I had to get water from the next creek and had a wild time trying to stay on the track as the gale tried to dump me off the isthmus.

If I hadn’t been able to cross when I did I think I wouldn’t have been able to do so for another two days at least.

Day eight saw me push through to Melaleuca in a wild storm. I couldn’t believe the amount of water on the track and I had to swim a few creeks and fight the wind-chill in the hail storms and rain. I know about mud but I’ve not had to fight it before like I did on that day. I had a few falls and damaged one of my walking poles in one of the mud holes which worried me for the South Coast Track as I now rely on poles a lot.

It was nice reaching the walkers huts at Melaleuca and to be able to dry off and get into warm clothes. I couldn’t find anyone at Melaleuca and spent my time waiting for the re-supply wandering around, staying out of the weather and watching the birds and a fairly tame wombat. As the days passed without a plane the wombat was starting to look very appetising.

All in all I had a great time. In the eleven days down in the South West I never saw anyone else and had the track to myself. I’m really looking forward to coming back to have a go at the South Coast Track and will have to find some time to do it as soon as I can.

I lost the track a couple of times, never seriously but it cost me some time figuring out where I needed to go. The first time was on the third creek below the Lost World Plateau. Approaching this creek is a braided track where previous walkers have tried to skirt mud holes. With the water on the track this was a thigh-deep wade at the time. Someone has created a relatively recent but very distinct track through scrub to the river east of the main track which I took thinking it would re-join the main track. Instead it leads to a deeper part of the river which had me swimming the river but finding no track on the other side. I had to back-track and find the proper route to the creek crossing where it was only a chest-deep wade across the creek.

Those reading John Chapman’s Guide will identify the creek I mean. The other time I lost the track was just south of the Bathurst Harbour crossing down from Joan Point as the track along the isthmus enters the forest. Someone has gone to some trouble putting tape along a track down to the creek where water is available but it is not at all clear where the track on goes. I stumbled around for about half an hour looking for the track on and finally resorted to the map and my GPS.

Interestingly I navigated to where I thought the track should be without seeing it. As I normally do I tried then to figure out where I would have put the track if I was making it and discovered that I was standing within two metres of it but couldn’t see it until I was almost on it.
Above is a Google Map image of the final leg of the trip. You can see the airstrip at Melaleuca in the bottom right hand corner.

Background on Larry by Larry:
My first solo walk was as an 11yo when my parents allowed me an overnight walk up the Gascoyne river east of Carnarvon and I’ve been walking since then, never avidly as walking itself has usually been a means for something else, photography, bird watching, getting into country that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to see etc.
I’m 56 now and the most strenuous walks are or soon will be out of my reach so I have a bit of a schedule to do what I can while I still can. I’ve been eyeing off the south west of Tasmania for a number of years now, having made winter trips to the Labyrinth, the Walls of Jerusalem, the Overland track, and one precious one with my wife from the Walls down to Junction Lake, through the Never Never to Lake St Clair.

I don’t mind walking on my own and prefer not to combine wilderness with crowds so off-season walking appeals. I’m from WA and my favourite walks in that state are the ridge walk of the Stirling Ranges and the Point Nuyts Wilderness Block.

 

Related Posts
Larry’s Gear Ideas for the Port Davey Track
South Coast Track
Food suggestions for a 9 day hike

Comments

  1. Robin Freestun says

    Thanks so much for Larry’s blog about Tasmania’s Southwest. When I was probably 14, in 1969 or 1970, I went on a walking trip with the Friends School Scout Troop, under the leadership of John Chick, as I remember. (I was to meet John Chapman in the Hobart Walking Club several years later). Larry’s story took me back to that walk (along with ‘dodgy’ maps – the Tasmanian 1:125,000 Ordinance Maps, if memory serves). 10 of us walked from Scotts’ Peak down to Bathurst Harbour, rowed the narrows, met Denny King at Melaleuca, then walked out the South Coast track via the Ironbound Range to South Cape Rivulet. A fantastic trip, that has stuck with me for nearly 45 years. I would love to revisit the area. I’m sure it has changed a huge amount since then.
    Best Regards,
    Robin Freestun, of Geilston Bay, Tasmania, now living in the Dandenongs in Melbourne, but on an extended holiday in the UK.

    • Frank says

      Hi Robin,
      Thanks so much for leaving a comment about your adventures. What a great trip you all went on. What a great adventure!

      The area would have changed but I suspect not a lot. The tracks would be wider and there might be more “infrastructure” about.

      I am not sure what year the area was made World Heritage . Not much would have happened after that.

      Would love to hear more about your adventures. Contact me any time
      Frank

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