South Coast Track – Louisa River to Cockle Creek

In this post, Mark continues his reflections on our South Coast Track hike in the far south of Tasmania.

The “Track” extends from a place called Melaleuca to a tiny hamlet, Cockle Creek (the furthest point south you can drive in Tasmania).  It is 85km and can be very challenging with a lot of mud, river crossings and hard climbs.

From the Park’s Website:

The Tracks lies entirely within the Southwest National Park and take you through the heart of over 600,000 hectares of wild, inspiring country. It is more remote than some other walks in Tasmania, such as the Overland Track. It is recommended that you gain experience on other Tasmanian walking tracks before attempting them, as you will be a long way from help should you need it.

There are no roads to Melaleuca, so walkers must either fly, sail or walk in and out.

If you have just landed here, we suggest you read Part One of Mark’s story first.  Click  here to read South Coast Track – Trip report, Louisa Bay, Quolls and naked men.

Saturday 21st February

I surprised myself by getting up early for some photos of the sunrise over The Ironbounds ,from the beach at Louisa Bay. After brekkie we all went for a walk along the beautifully curved beach with me having to catch up to the others after taking more photos from the dunes. I was surprised at how much fitness I had gained in just two days as I barely felt any effect from this reasonably lengthy jaunt. Some low cloud moved in and as we started back to camp we copped a heavy shower of rain with jacketless Sue having to shelter under Franks jacket.

Tree roots - South Coast Track Tasmania

Tree roots - South Coast Track Tasmania

Sue and Frank had decided not to continue the walk due to Sue’s foot problems but generously gave John and myself the option to continue on to Cockle Creek. We left Louisa Bay with some regret and sadness but also with the knowledge that they would have the rare opportunity to experience what in my opinion is the most beautiful spot on the South Coast in depth and at their leisure.

We climbed steeply out of the bay again with the assistance of the invaluable ropes and then followed the moderately muddy track along the west bank of the Louisa River. After some minor scrub bashing through swampy ground we rejoined the South Coast Track (a better route than on the way in). The rest of the walk was fairly flat on double planked boardwalks with a couple of easy water crossings. John and I set up our tents on the east side of Louisa River which was nearing capacity.This was a delightful forested spot where we were able to do some minor washing of clothes and bodies before an early night so that we could get a dawn start the next day.

It was at this campsite that we first encountered the Essendon Bushwalking Club (E.B.C) a group of six very fit people in their early sixties who were retired and were doing an unofficial exploatory walk. There was also a young (26 year old) German bloke on his own who hailed from Hamburg, a city where I have many relatives. Two walkers sharing a tent next to ours kept us awake at first with their talking and laughing. Unbeknownst to me at the time one of them was John Hosford, my sister in laws brother, who now lives near Launceston and whom I had not seen for many years, and did not recognise (and vica versa). Fortunately we had no trouble at this campsite with any nocturnal visitors nor at any of the other campsites from here on in.

Sunday 22nd February

We awoke well before dawn and anybody else and I had my first experience with the pit toilets which we would encounter from now on. Given the amount of traffic which these campsites now have to deal with they are a very necessary innovation. We were the first out of camp and it took us about four hours to climb up the west side of the Ironbounds and reach the top. It was a good move to get this arduous part of the day finished in the cool of the morning and we took a well earned lunch break at the top and admired the magnificent vistas of the coast and also north to the Arthur Range and Federation Peak.

Ironbounds - South Coast Track Tasmania

Ironbounds - South Coast Track Tasmania

The day was absolutely glorious and we were soon joined by a steady stream of walkers including the young German guy who promptly pulled a small guitar from his pack walked to the highest point he could find and bashed out some tunes. It had apparently taken him just two hours to reach the top with his fitness being attributable to his many months of continuous trekking. He really was a glowing example of the weird and wonderful individuals who are attracted to this sort of experience.

After our lengthy break we began the long and muddy descent through rainforest to the very attractive Lower Ironbounds camp which would be well worth considering as an overnight stop if you wanted to shorten the day. After crossing a small river we took a wrong turn upstream instead of down and ended up losing about an hour ,thanks to my mistake. We went back to basics and found our way back to the river crossing where a small piece of pink ribbon showed the correct route. Although fairly fatigued we pushed on through lots more mud and then a seemingly endless stretch of coastal scrub before reaching Deadmans Bay, just before dark.After setting up our tents we prepared and ate dinner in the dark and settled down for an early night.

Little Deadmans Camp - South Coast Track Tasmania

Little Deadmans Camp - South Coast Track Tasmania

Monday 23rd February

I again managed to wake up early and capture the sunrise over the coast to the east. In the light of day I was better able to appreciate this idyllic campsite with its good water supply and fabulous ocean views. It would have been nice to stay another day and rest my weary bones but as John rightly pointed out we were on a tight schedule to reach Cockle Creek and after experiencing the steaming, near to brimming pit toilet (must be the effect that the Ironbounds has on people) the decision to push on seemed a wise one indeed. It was on with the damp socks and boots and we were off to Prion Beach.

This was our fifth straight day of walking so we set off at a fairly civilised hour and after the rigours of the Ironbounds we enjoyed the fairly easy, almost mud free, coastal clifftops of Menzies Bluff and then a gradual descent to Prion Beach. When we hit the sand at Grotto Creek the other groups who had all left before us were scrubbing down all of their footwear at the washdown station set up by the Parks people to stop the spread of the root rotting fungus Phytopthera cinnamomi.

We took the opportunity to have lunch and the E.B.C people filled up water bladders for the nights camping from the creek rather than risk the dodgy water at Prion boat crossing. (a good strategy if camping here). I took some snaps of the coastline before we headed down the nearly five kilometre stretch of sand to New River Lagoon. As we approached the lagoon we were hailed by Alan of the E.B.C. who was standing at the point where the sand dunes end. This is the location of the boats for the crossing but the rest of the E.B.C. had over shot the mark and went all the way to the river mouth. (When we caught up with the German bloke at Cockle Creek at the end of the walk he told me that he and two others with whom he had joined up had waded across New River Lagoon near the river mouth at East Prion – a substantial time saving if camping at East Prion or beyond). I had done this myself on a previous trip and had no problem although Chapman recommends against it due to quicksand.

Precipitous Bluff - South Coast Track Tasmania

Precipitous Bluff - South Coast Track Tasmania

The two of us together with Alan (thankfully a Cats supporter) and all our gear made it across in good time with myself given the rowing duties. We tried the water 200m upstream from a small creek but John did not trust the slightly sulphur aftertaste, especially after problems with the same source on his last trip here. We decided to push on to East Prion which involved a couple of hours of walking along a sandy track and then a steep descent on timber slats tied together with chain to Milford Creek.

It was fortunately low tide and we obtained good water from the creek which we carried another half a kilometre to an unofficial campsite at the top of the dunes at East Prion. I had noticed storm clouds building at Milford Creek and by the time we had set up our tents on the sphagnum moss covered ground it was raining lightly. We had a cold improvised meal in our tents and then settled in for an early bedtime until we received the deafening roar of a huge thunder clap echoing down the valley of New River Lagoon. I nearly jumped through the roof of the tent but soon got to sleep secure in the knowledge that no one has ever been flooded camping on top of a large sand dune.

Tuesday 24th February

We woke up to an overcast morning with some light rain.I walked down the steep timber steps to the beach hoping to get some good snaps of Precipitous Bluff but found it completely covered in low cloud.The soaks at the base of the sand dunes provide good water making this a good campsite for smaller groups due to the limited good tent sites.

John and I set off for Osmiridium Beach in overcast conditions with some light rain falling and reached our destination in about one and a half hours with the access track to the beach being quite muddy. When we reached Osmiridium the sun came out and we got the pick of the tent sites being an hour ahead of the E.B.W.C. With the sun shining we took the opportunity on our first real rest day to do some washing of clothes in the creek and managed to get this reasonably dry (hallelujah).

Mud on Gaiters - South Coast Track Tasmania

Mud on Gaiters - South Coast Track Tasmania

It was now time for lunch so I attempted to cook my first dehydrated meal (chicken satay) with many positive comments regarding the aroma coming from the the E.B.W.C people. Unfortunately I spilled half of the meal on to the ground at the last minute and as I scraped what I could rescue back in to the pot John mysteriously lost his appetite and I ate the lot myself. In the afternoon we spent some time exploring the wild beach and getting to know each other a little better as we soaked up the ongoing sunshine and enjoyed this much anticipated opportunity to do absolutely nothing. We discovered a common East Prussian heritage although Johns ancestors emigrated to South Australia some 100 years prior to my own parents post war exodus.

The beach itself was backed by what I consider to be very unattractive cliffs composed predominantly of a type of conglomerate rock. I thought it the least attractive beach on the walk and was quite bewildered why another walker had suggested it to Frank as a “must see”. Cooking dinner was a bit more successful so I let John have most of the lamb satay (with continental brand spanish roast vegetable rice). As usual we got to bed early for what we anticipated would be a muddy but straightforward walk to Granite Beach the next day (how wrong we were).

Wednesday 25th February

We walked out of Osmiridium Beach on an overcast morning through the now familiar button grass peat with myself sinking up to my groin in one particularly deep hole (the effort required to extract my leg unfortunately strained my calf muscle reigniting an old skiing injury which bugged me for the rest of the walk). By the time we reached Surprise Bay the sun was out but what greeted us at the eastern end of the beach was the raging muddy torrent of Surprise Rivulet. We were stopped dead in our tracks and decided it was way too dangerous to cross so we had our lunch break and waited on the arrival of the E.B.W.C to seek their opinion.

When they arrived they made the decision to cross after much analysis and discussion. Alan and Gavin waded over solo first using their poles facing upstream and then putting their weight on the poles by leaning forward as they crossed. Rhonda kindly suggested that we join with them as John linked arms with three others, leaving his boots on due to the loose round stones on the sandy river bed. Everyone stayed tightly together and then slowly shuffled across in unison, with knees pointed upstream. I then followed with Brian and Gavin on either side of me and my pack waist and chest straps undone in case of mishap ,which Alan was eagerly anticipating as he took photos of us crossing.

Our safe crossing of this seemingly insurmountable obstacle was a great relief to both John and myself as any delay at this point would have made our chances of catching the bus at Cockle Creek highly unlikely. As it was we pushed on to Granite Beach where the tide was out and the stones which normally cover the beach were submerged under sand.The views of South Cape from the West end of the beach were indeed spectacular and we appreciated our change of fortune as we enjoyed the straightforward beach walk and an uneventful wade acoss Sandstone creek, which was running quite strongly.

Granite Beach - South Coast Track Tasmania

Granite Beach - South Coast Track Tasmania

We scaled the cliff adjacent to the waterfall at the east end of the beach and then climbed another thirty metres to the campsite where we once again claimed the prime tent site which had a fabulous view of the beach. The E.B.W.C members arrived soon after and told us their tale of woe explaining that three of them had fallen in to a sand hole while attempting to cross Sandstone Creek at the surf line. One walking pole was lost and three digital cameras suffered salt water damage. John and I had fortunately crossed the creek close to the cliff face and armed with our new found knowledge avoided mishap. In the evening I returned to the beach to take some photos of South Cape at sunset and after crossing back over Sandstone Creek I had a severe attack of diahorrea (an inconvenient location to suffer this ailment but like Borat I improvised and lived to tell the tale.). Unfortunately the gastro stayed with me for the duration of the walk stretching my toilet paper supplies very thin indeed and contributing to my 4kg weight loss for the trip.

Toilet - South Coast Track Tasmania

Toilet - South Coast Track Tasmania

Thursday 26th February

Day nine was a big day both mentally and physically as we as we climbed up the muddy South Cape Range for a fabulous clear view from the top and then down the other side through rainfoest with lots of polished, slippery tree roots being the main hazard. At the top of the range we encountered four young detectives from Woolongong (three chaps and a lady) who were walking in the opposite direction and stopping for lunch. They informed us that there was a one kilometre section of boardwalk after the descent which was much appreciated by us.

At the conclusion of this flat section we had a tiring and lengthy climb through sandy, coastal type forest to emerge at some high cliff tops which offered only limited views of the ocean. A long,slow descent to South Cape Rivulet then followed with the ever helpful E.B.W.C making the way to the easiest crossing point with arrows in the sand. The tannin coloured water made it impossible to gauge the water depth but as it so happened the crossing was comfortably below knee depth.

Later reports from people who had crossed the rivulet 24hrs earlier were of a perilous and deep crossing when in flood.What greeted us on the other side was an idyllic sun drenched sandy beach located between the river and the campsite so we took the opportunity to bathe and dry things off. A resident pademelon(a wallaby like marsupial) kept us company as it bounded in and out of our camp.

Tiger Snake - South Coast Track Tasmania

Tiger Snake - South Coast Track Tasmania

Friday 27th February

This was our earliest start of the trip as we breakfasted and packed by torchlight and then walked up the beach with head torches lighting our way to the headland crossing. It was really very beautiful with the stars still shining and a faint pink/purple hue glowing over the headland as the sunrise gathered some momentum (very reminiscent of the sunsets at Uluru).

Once over this headland it was another stretch of beach walking and then a forested and only mildly muddy climb over Coal Bluff to emerge at the beach and a nice view of Lion Rock bathed in the first rays of the morning sun. At the end of the beach a long climb up timber steps and then along the cliff tops lead us to a magnificent view back to Pindars Peak which was surrounded by pink cloud. I would have dearly loved to stop and take a photo of this scene framed by the sea cliffs but sensed that John could smell the curried scallop pies awaiting us in Dover and did not want to jeopardise our departure by bus from Cockle Creek.

We continued on without a break predominantly through the flat featureless buttongrass vegetated valley to Cockle Creek.With plenty of time to spare we shook hands as we lay down and rested on a picnic table, and witnessed the arrival of the E.B.W.C members at 11.01 am only one minute later than their own predicted arrival time.

The bus was full of blow flies as we left Cockle Creek no doubt attracted by the putrid smell of the great unwashed but the taste of the pies at the Dover bakery certainly lived up to John’s effusive recommendation and lifted our spirits for the long stretch back to Hobart. I caught up with a bit of sleep on the bus and then it was a short taxi ride back to Shippies where we received a warm greeting from Frank hanging out of a first floor window. After a welcome shower we caught up with Frank and Sue’s many adventures over some bottles of wine and a sensational if somewhat delayed meal.The next day we cruised the Salamanca markets and walked down to Constitution Dock for a look at the Steve Irwin.

Sadly this was the end of our adventure but I was left with many fond memories of the amazing beauty as well as the many challenges of the South Coast Walk. Many things had changed in the intervening 25 years since I last did this walk. With the larger number of people now doing this walk every year the contruction of the many kilometres of timber boardwalks and the provision of pit toilets are positive improvements for the protection of the environment and peoples health. It was very noticeable that the average age of walkers has dramatically increased, as in the 80’s it was rare to see anybody over the age of 30. The many advances in equipment and dehydrated food have been a huge eye opener for myself and I am now well on the way to moving in to the 21st century of bushwalking.

All images in this post are by “Vern & Skeet” via Flickr Creative Commons Licencing as Mark still takes “normal” photographs and John does not like to stop and take pictures! From Vern:

For 6 years I’ve wanted to walk this track. I finaly got there and had 7 great days in the South West Wilderness area of Tasmania. Me and my bro flew in to Maleluca and walked through huge amounts of mud and over mountains, past snakes, through streams and rivers across beaches past seals and eventually popped out into civilisation at the end.

Comments

  1. Natalie Obersky says

    As part of our recent trip to Tassie in Feb 2010, my husband and I decided to complete the South Coast trek after warming up on the Overland trail. This trek definitely lived up to its reputation of a true wilderness walk. The landscapes and wildlife were amazing despite the temperamental weather (only 2 days of sunshine).

    We wanted to share a couple of points from our experience to help others who are looking to undertake this hike…

    1) If you are flying into Melaleuca to start the walk and use a cooker that requires shellite or metholyated spirits, you will need a fuel bottle;

    2) We took a light weight hiker’s tarp and rope for extra shelter which was invaluable in the wet weather;

    3) South Cape Rivulet and Lion’s Rock water supplies are brackish (despite the amount of rain we endured). The creek at the New River lagoon was stagnant even +800m upstream. We met a couple who did use this water they didn’t get sick but said it had a faint sulphur smell. If you are intending on staying at the Prion boat crossing fill up your bottles at Grotto Creek before you set out for the 5km on the beach before the crossing.

    4) A side trip and overnight stay at Osmiridium Beach was wonderful in good weather. If you are intending to undertake the round trip up Precipitous Bluff you’ll need to base yourself at Prion boat crossing or better still at Damper Creek four hour wade up the river. We met a father and son team that camped at Osmiridium and went for the summit in a day trip. They only managed to get to the base of the cliffs and had to return.

    5) Apart from the end sections (South Cape Cliffs to Cockle Creek and Melaleuca to Eric Point) the trail is not well maintained. You’ll need a knee-high pair of gaiters and long trousers as the bushes on either side of the trail are overgrown and virtually impassable in some areas. You’ll be walking through lots of mud and balancing on slippery tree roots and rocks whilst on very steep descents (particularly on the Ironbound and South Cape ranges) so if you value your knees and ankles walking poles and good boots are also a must.

    6) Quolls and Pademelons – whilst it was great to see these critters up-close albeit a bit too close at times they have learnt that people = food. Do not leave rubbish on the ground, on ropes close to trees or in your tent. We witnessed a Quoll unzip a tent to get inside and another launch themselves off a tree to pull down rubbish that had been hung close on a rope.

    7) If you are exiting the walk at Cockle Creek make sure to phone both Evans Coaches and Tassielink to arrange your transfer back to Hobart. We were informed by Evans that they would arrange our onward booking with Tassislink which was not the case. When the Tassielink bus arrived in Geeveston, we (14 hikers and two bikers) were greeted with a luggage compartment that would fit at best eight packs. When the driver was quizzed by one of the bikers that they’d booked with Evans, Tassielink did not have their booking. The bikes had to go inside the same small compartment as the packs and the packs were not allowed on board.

    I totally understand the legal issues that the bikes and packs could not be taken inside the bus but surely Tassielink would be aware of the clientele at Geeveston and that adequate storage was required for their luggage. In the end only 5 people got on the near empty bus leaving the others to argue their way onto the 4pm bus. Adding further insult to this fiasco, the driver allowed two men onto the bus with large suitcases and one pack (which were stowed on the floor) two stops on from Geeveston.

    8) I cannot stress enough to overseas visitors who are looking to undertake this walk whilst backpacking through Tassie, make sure you have adequate gear to complete this trail! Whilst you’ll probably get away with what gear you’ve pulled out of your campervan to complete the Overland (i.e. butane stove and large pot, running shoes, cheap four-man tent, plastic poncho, small pack with gear tied on with plastic shopping bags etc), the South Coast trek is not as forgiving. The weather is incredibly variable so ensure your gear is capable of withstanding four seasons. We saw a number of groups that were ill-prepared which impacted negatively on their enjoyment of the walk – one pair were walking in street shoes which were trashed by their second day.

    Would we do this trek again, my first response when asked, only if I was training to undertake Kokoda! Despite other south west trails being rated as harder, this was a challenging walk. Furthermore I appreciate locals opinion that the trail’s condition (v.overgrown, muddy etc) was no different to the standard of others in the area, but if Parks want to protect the surrounding environment they well and truly need to invest more time and money fixing this track as the sheer number of tangent paths that cut through scrub to either side has done quite a lot of damage.

    If the weather was better I think we would have enjoyed the trek much more. In all honesty the two range crossings were the only days that were quite taxing (which we felt were equivalent of descending Queensland’s highest summit, Mt Bartle Frere). Apart from these days the rest of the walk was worth it.

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