South Coast Track – Tasmania – Solo winter trip report

Solo hiking in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage area?
A fantastic mix of coastal and inland hiking over 85km (53 miles)
Wild oceans with the next land mass south the Antarctica?
Challenging bushwalking with harsh weather conditions, no huts, minimal infrastructure that requires experience and thorough planning?

If all (or some) of the above get you itching for a great adventure then read on…..

In this guest post, Larry Hamilton returns with a wonderful trip report following his recent completion of the South Coast Track in Tasmania’s far south west.

View South Coast Track in a larger map

The following is Part One of Larry’s South Coast Track trip report from Melaleuca to Louisa River.

This walk was originally intended to be combined with the Port Davey Track and completed in 2008. Unfortunately last year I struck some unusually bad weather and took longer to do the Port Davey track than planned because I had to wait out bad weather and high stream levels. When I got to Melaleuca my resupply food wasn’t waiting for me and took another three days to arrive. Prudence led me to cut my losses and fly out from Melaleuca rather than continue with no buffer of spare days for bad weather or high rivers. So the South Coast Track and the completion of my planned walk waited until this year when I managed to find another period of leave to do it.

My goal for this year was to do the South Coast Track in winter, allowing for sufficient food, fuel and time to accommodate the vagaries of the weather and flood levels. Accordingly I kept a period of three weeks available to undertake the walk had had my fingers crossed that the weather would not delay a Par Avion flight into Melaleuca longer than a week. I therefore planned to have available sufficient time, fuel and food for 14 days on the track, hoping of course to be able to complete it in shorter time.

In winter you don’t get long daylight hours and you have to be prepared to wait. I started the South Coast Track on 19 June when it doesn’t really get light enough to walk until 8 am and it is almost dark again at 5pm. I ended up going over the Ironbounds on the day after the winter solstice and took 8.5 hours but I started before dawn and walked into Little Deadman Bay in the dusk. Short daylight hours are I think the biggest limitation in winter walking, much more so than is the weather.

I’d planned to be very flexible with my itinerary and looked forward to taking some side trips. I particularly wanted to get into Louisa Bay as I’d read that this is a pretty spot. As it happened though, the good weather enticed me to get past the problem rivers while the water was low so in the end I didn’t take any side trips and instead took rest days and poked around the main campsites along the track.

Trip Report
The weather was kind to me approaching the date of my leave and my booking with Par Avion for an 18 June fly out wasn’t delayed. I flew into Melaleuca with five tourists doing a visit to Melaleuca combined with a trip out on Bathurst Harbour with the Par Avion pilot. I decided to go out onto Bathurst Harbour with them, stay at Melaleuca for the night and begin the South Coast Track the following day.

Day One 19 June
Towards Point Eric

Despite having some overnight rain the day dawned clear and cold and I had a beautiful day walking in to Freney Lagoon. I was at the beach early and had lunch at Point Eric. Because of the time I decided to push on to Buoy Creek, arrived there early in the afternoon and whiled away the afternoon sitting in the sun, eating scroggin and drinking cups of tea. I had knee deep water in rounding Black Cliff even though it was just past low tide but that was the only tricky spot for the day. An easy and enjoyable day!

Looking back towards Point Eric

Day Two 20 June
Another clear and cold day with lots of dew. It was quite muddy going up alongside Buoy Creek across the buttongrass plain and I slipped and fell a couple of times. In one fall the branches of a bush flicked my glasses off and despite some earnest efforts and about half an hour looking I couldn’t find them. It didn’t help that the frames were a similar colour to the buttongrass stems and that I my acuity wasn’t flash without my glasses so I ended up giving up without finding them. I always carry a spare pair of reading glasses but would have to manage without glasses for distance work for the rest of the trip. I’ve got quite severe astigmatism and while I can cope without glasses, my capacity to deal with detail is significantly reduced. I found it interesting that I coped well without glasses when the light was good but in dim light I found myself peering myopically at the track. So at each end of the day and under heavy tree cover particularly when it was cloudy, I suffered a bit.

Buoy Creek campsite

The Red Point Hills were the first ascent of the trip. Foolishly I tried to take these quickly and ended up suffering as a result. My preparation for the trip was interfered with by a busy work schedule and too much work travel which cut into my training. When I started panting on the way up Red Point Hills I worried a bit as the 200 metre ascent was tiny compared to what was ahead. My concern was unnecessary as it turned out as I quickly got my second wind and got into a groove with climbing at a more sensible pace. The view from the top and the desire to linger and enjoy it helped as well.

Looking back towards Buoy Creek from Red Point Hills

The day was a significant one as three potential delay points (Faraway Creek, Louisa Creek and Louisa River) were passed without incident as the water was low and the crossings trouble-free. I was both surprised and impressed by the extensive boardwalk that had been installed over the wet buttongrass plain approaching Louisa River. Along the way there were many packs of boards that had been airlifted in and were awaiting a construction effort. It would have been a very muddy and damp section without the work already done and the upgrading of the track is going to be pretty extensive.

I found this a fairly tiring day, probably because it was the second day of the walk which I always find the toughest and the first day with vertical ascents and mud. Because of this I was pleased to get into the campsite at Louisa River. During the day the wind had picked up and some gusts were quite strong. I kept eying off the dead branches of the forest trees I was camping under and was careful to pick a site that was not just level and dry but without branches likely to come off in a high wind.

Louisa River Crossing

Just on dusk I surprised a young Eastern Quoll determined to investigate my tent. I had to work hard to discourage his interest. Because of his determination to check out my food supplies, I was a bit anxious about him returning and damaging my gear in his enthusiasm to get at my scroggin supplies. Despite my worries and some careful listening in the dark I don’t think he returned. Maybe my snoring scared him off.

Day Three 21 June
I decided to have a relaxing day poking around Louisa River, partly because the forecast was for strong winds and some rain but also so that I would be rested for the anticipated long day over the Ironbounds. John Chapman had provided me with the locations of the interim campsites on the Ironbounds so I was prepared to make the trip over the Ironbounds a two-day trip but for obvious reasons I wanted to do it in one day. As a result I had a rest day on the winter solstice and used my little radio to listen in to the broadcast football matches.

Related Posts
Larry’s Port Davey Trip Report– great reading
Gear List for Wilderness Bushwalking Trip – Larry Hamilton’s excellent gear list
Stuck between Louisa and Faraway Creeks – Our adventure on the South Coast Track
Hiking the South Coast Track – our first (and last time)

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