Tassie Traverse Part 4/4: The Port Davey and South Coast Tracks

…continued from part 3/4

Day 19: Huon River Campground to Crossing River

20.65km, 5:58hrs, 478m ascent

The musical notes of currawong song rang out across the campground at 6:30, before it was properly light. They are more melodious than they appear to be in the middle of the day and I lay there enjoying the peaceful moments before the day became busy. It didn’t take long. 

Soon we were up, eating chocolate chip hot cross buns and fruit salad for breakkie before packing for our final leg. We bid Jim and Helen goodbye and then Norma, thanking her profusely for everything once again – food, driving, washing, recharging, all the shopping, running around and looking after everything at home as well. 

We were the first entry in the log book for the day and the only people we met along the way were waking out. We stopped and chatted to most, all of whom seemed to be riding high from the good weather they had had while in the Western Arthurs. Their spirits were infectious.

The track was dry, very dry, the bog nonexistent. We made good time to Junction Creek, where we had an early lunch of salad and salad rolls. Then on we went. We had perfect weather for the button grass plains to Crossing River and some interesting and moody cloud formations. We weren’t going fast thanks to my plod, but we went steadily with few and short breaks. 

This meant we got to camp early enough to have a good wash in the river and enjoy a protracted sit, eat, drink, cards and rock skimming over the afternoon, interrupted only by the odd rain shower. We were joined by Phoebe, another female walking the Port Davey and South Coast track by herself, and had a good chat before we headed off to pre-dig a couple of holes and then turn in to Harry Potter. I was asleep before Em turned him off!

Day 20: Crossing River to Spring River

28.27km, 8:17hrs, 595m ascent

A blustery start to the day made us feel like the weather knew little more than we did about what lay in store for us. It had been days since we’d had reception and while we’d received forecasts from people we met along the way the only thing that was certain was how much it was changing. We had a touch of drizzle for breakfast and the odd reminder thereafter for the rest of the day that there was such a thing as rain. But otherwise we had lovely moody clouds to highlight all the mountains around us, which made a brilliant backdrop for photos, more so than a clear blue sky would have. 

Em and I caught up to Phoebe, who had set off before us, and we walked with her a bit so we could have a chat. Once again, the joy of meeting and getting to know a little about another inspiring woman was just as real as ever. It never gets old. After a few hours we walked on ahead, knowing we had a long way to go. 

It was easy and lovely walking on benched track, my favourite bit probably being around the Lost World Plateau. It was largely through low button grass plains, with regular creek crossings and the odd short bit through thicker scrub. By the time we’d reached the northern end of Spring River we were pretty knackered. We made it most of the way down, the easy going continuing on. One river crossing was most confusing, with so many choices as the track braided that it was hard to know which was right. We ended up doing a little off track walking here! In the end we pulled up short of the final campsite when we came across a cute little spot amongst the trees and next to the river. 

We had a treat of fresh cheese in our rehydrated dinners, making the tent smell wonderful. An evening weather forecast from Tim really lifted our spirits too. The heavy rain that had been expected to hit us the next day had disappeared and we were in for yet more pleasant weather. We’d walked for 20 days and still hadn’t actually got drenched! Drizzle, yes, but proper solid rain while we were walking, no. 

Day 21: Spring River to near Horseshoe Inlet

19.06km, 7:20hrs, 868m ascent

We woke to a warm, cloudless morning. It quickly turned into a hot muggy day, with many more undulations that the day before. We were moving perhaps the slowest we’d moved for the whole trip. We did, however, catch up to the owners of the three pairs of boot prints we’d been chasing the day before and had a brief chat. Carol, John and Keith sounded like they were living the kind of retirement life I’d like one day, having lined up a couple of months of walking and travelling! 

At lunch time a 15 minute downpour had us drenched, the smell of a cool change on a hot summers day hung in the air. It had passed by the time we started our paddle across the narrows, which was a hilarious affair. We were lucky to have two boats on our side, which meant only one trip was necessary. The time we saved there was spent going round in circles! First we tried paddling side by side, but ran into each other’s paddle ends. Then Em had a go, but I didn’t move very far out of her way which made us bow-heavy and progress wasn’t much better. It didn’t help we couldn’t stop laughing. Laughing and rowing seriously is a tough business!

Sadly two women who were out for a kayak didn’t seem to appreciate us having fun, and told us we shouldn’t take things so lightly, we shouldn’t use the boats in a swell (there wasn’t one) and that someone had been rescued the day before. That put a dampener on us fooling around and we made a more serious looking line for the boat ramp. 

It rained again as we walked the few kilometres to Horseshoe inlet, where we failed to find anything remotely akin to the ‘good camping’ we’d been promised in the Chapman book that was our primary reference for this section. The only spot that would have worked was on the beach, but there’s too many stories of that being tilde to want to add another one. Talking to people on our return made it clear we weren’t the only ones to find the camping poor there. Fortunately, at the time we decided to cut our losses and walk back to the track towards Melaleuca, stopping when Em had gone far enough. There we set up the tent on a windy hill, put out a pack cover and poles, a cairn and wrote Tim’s name in white rocks beside the path hoping that he would know what they meant and not walk past them all the way to Horseshoe Inlet as planned. 

An anxious afternoon ensured, not aided by the constant buffering of wind and threatening dark clouds. Just as I got into the tent to avoid some incoming rain Tim arrived! We got everything sorted before the rain hit and when it arrived, it came in force. We were once again grateful to be warm and dry in the tents while it rained overnight. 

Day 22: Horseshoe inlet to Rallinga saddle

12.15km, 7:57hrs, 893m ascent

The rain had stopped well before dawn, perfectly aligned to our schedule. We packed up and headed a short way down the track towards Melaleuca before heading off track and across a small creek where we added 5-6kg of water each to our packs. Then began a long slog up the open slopes to Rallinga. 

Em was tired and I don’t think she was too happy at going up unnecessary hills. But she wouldn’t accept an alternative route either. She barely talked all morning and while I knew there wasn’t anything I could do to make her feel better I still wished I could. When I asked what I could do she told me to leave her alone, so I did.

It wasn’t easy. It was such a lovely day for waking – not too hot, some rain showers appeared on nearby mountains, but we stayed dry. The views only got better the higher we climbed, and the going was open, all the way.

From the top we spied some open flat camping on the saddle between Rallinga and Brock, so that’s where we set up our tents. Tim and I went for a short foray towards Brock but after 800m we decided to leave it for the next day, as we’d have to walk half the way there anyway. We returned for a relaxed evening of eating, chatting and tending to our various aches and pains, followed by a lovely sunset.

Day 23: Rallinga Saddle to New Harbour

16.49km, 10:41hrs, 735m ascent. 

The day started with a lovely sunrise and moon set so we took our time enjoying it and waiting for the condensation on the tent flies to dry. Em was back to her normal self after a good night sleep, which lifted my spirits further. Then we had a lesson in how lucky we’d been the day before with all the open going. The next section of ridge was scrubby and slow going.

Chest high button grass with scratchy scrub between clumps was a killer. The wind seemed to have carved out strips, much like corrugations on a road, that also made for very lumpy up and down going. In places it was deceptive, with the trees all looking the same height but the ground dropping away suddenly. I groaned inwardly, having thought this would be a nice off track detour but realising now it wasn’t all that appropriate for the trip we were doing. Em took it in her stride however, and didn’t pay me out as much as I was myself.

We seemed to be out of most of it by the time we came to the point where Tim and I would drop off to climb Brock. The first 700m to Brock certainly gave that impression too, taking only 15 minutes. The remaining 700m was a different story. We were in and out of thick stuff with no warning at all and it took almost an hour to get to the bottom of the final climb, which looked very green indeed in between cliffy rocky lines. But as it turned out this was one of the nicer parts of the walk as we found ourselves in lovely open rainforest. We popped up and out, and walked the short distance to the summit. It had taken 1.5 hrs.

We didn’t dally, but turned straight around. By now thoughts of breakfast (which we still hadn’t had) had been replaced by the need for water. We hadn’t taken any, thinking it wouldn’t be long. But it was, long, hard and hot. We were parched. I was hoping we’d make it. It wasn’t easy or pretty, but we did, and then spent a good deal of time lying with our faces in a yabbie hole. Em had made the right call, she’d waited for us, enjoying cups of soup and coffee instead of traipsing out to the scrubby mountain. Again, probably not an intelligent choice given the main objective of our trip, but thankfully a mountain I do not have to climb again!

Eventually we headed off, a long walk ahead of us. Down the ridge we went, heading for Mount Melaleuca now. Fortunately the going was much better, with only a few, shorter, scrubbier sections. It was 4:30 by the time we arrived on the summit rock. Celebration was muted, all attention turned to what was next, a long slog down to the Southwest Cape track. We walked from rise to rise, hoping that whatever we saw over each edge wouldn’t be nasty. 

Occasionally we found old track markers, but no track per se. We had some steep descents, the odd bit of scrub and even a lovely river to cross before we stumbled onto the track. It was wonderful to get there. Em shot off ahead at the sound of camp nearby. Tim and I took the short walk through a rather dark forest at a more leisurely pace, amused at how suddenly we could really hear the sound of waves crashing on the beach up ahead. And then we hit the beach. That was also glorious. 

The campsite, nestled in the forest behind the beach, was spacious and conveniently located close to both the sand and the river. Tim and I went no further than the first site, too knackered for more! We ate by head torch on the beach then watched the moon rise before crawling to bed. It had been a big day!

Day 24: New Harbour to Louisa Creek

23.97km, 6:40 hrs, 582m ascent

Waking to the sound of the surf was lovely and we sat on the sand and enjoyed breakfast looking out to sea, the sand hoppers flitting about us and occasionally tickling our bare skin. Eventually we said our farewells and dragged ourselves off into the overcast day. Around the northern end of the New Harbour Range we traipsed, the low cloud obscuring the tops of many mountains. One day I’ll come back to camp high on New Harbour.

Down at our first beach walk of the South Coast Track, at Freney Lagoon in Cox Bight, we met Carol, John and Keith again and had another brief chat. Keith even gave me a spare bar he didn’t want to carry and somehow couldn’t eat – I could definitely help him out with that one! Later, at Point Eric, we had a good natter and even exchanged numbers should they have time and the inclination to catch up before they set off on their next walk. Here it was time for Tim to bid us farewell and retrace his steps to Melaleuca, so he wouldn’t miss his early morning flight. It was lovely to have had his company for part of our little adventure.

On we walked, more lovely beaches with white sand in pretty patterns, moody low lying cloud and intermittent drizzle. We saw gulls, a cormorant, an eagle and sand pipers. Each entry and exit point from the beaches was marked with a collection of colourful seafaring waste, making them easy to spot. Towards the end of the day we turned inland, climbed over Red Point Hills and down the white quartz scar to Louisa creek. 

It was just before 4 but we didn’t really feel like another 6km of walking, so we had an early finish followed by the usual wash in the river, soup, one and a half dinners and some of Em’s chocolate for dessert. We were sharing the site with three other walkers who were going the opposite way to us and they shared their latest weather forecast. It looked like we were in for a bucketload of rain in 2 and 3 days time. We’d already been discussing alternative options for our finish, and this gave an awful lot of weighting to zooming out on the South Coast Track as opposed to going over the Southern Ranges. We’d make the final call in the next 24 hours.

Day 25: Louisa Creek to Prion Bay

33.36km, 11:26hrs, 1531m ascent

For the first time this trip we woke in the dark to an alarm. We had a big day ahead, including going over the Ironbound Range, and it was likely our last day of dry weather. We wanted to give ourselves the best chance of making good distance and avoiding the 900 meter or so climb in the heat of the day. It wasn’t cold at 6am and it was likely to only get warmer so it was already looking like a good idea, even if we spent a good 10-15 minutes enjoying the sun’s rays creeping over the Ironbound range to light up the clouds overhead and the hills behind us.

We weren’t the only ones with the idea of an early start. After taking a little under two hours to get to Louisa River we began the slog up the hill, discovering as we went that two father-son groups were ahead of us. Our speedy pace from the morning dropped right off as we huffed and puffed our way up the pretty steep climb, although we were still making good enough progress. The sun stayed behind cloud, for which we were grateful. As we climbed views towards Mount Louisa opened up, then the coast, and finally to the Arthurs, including Federation Peak. 

At the high point of the track Em continued on while I ducked over the not so short 800 meters to the highest point of the mountain. The route crossed cushion plants amongst other low alpine scrub, with one or two patches of thicker shrubs. There were pads through the thicker stuff, making the going pretty straightforward. On top there was just enough reception to get a weather report and send off a few urgent messages and then it was time to literally run back to my pack and to the high camp, where Em was waiting. 

Down hill was almost worse than the uphill slog, through wet, rocky forest, the track flowing with water where it wasn’t full of mud. The rock was just as slippery as the wet roots, so it was an exercise in concentration and care. We helped pass the time with discussion of which way we were going to get home. There was no easy answer, but eventually we decided the coming rain and especially the wind over the next 2-3 days would make the Southern Ranges less enjoyable. We settled on the South Coast Track. 

It was just a little weird walking in forest but hearing the sound of the ocean as we got closer and then having the salty, slightly rotten seaweed smell overpower all forest smells long before the beach actually appeared. Once down we had much easier walking through open forest, button grass plains and beaches, with a final 4km of walking along the Prion Bay Beach. We found more very hungry caterpillars, weird little bugs, massive jelly fish, a skull I’ve never seen before (seal!) and lots of awesome rocks, amongst other things.

We ended the day with three boat trips across the New River lagoon. We had the place all to ourselves to have as much fun as we pleased this time. The swans didn’t seem to mind, they gave us space but continued to chatter away (can’t say I’ve heard them do that before!). Precipitous Bluff loomed large and foreboding. We were glad we’d already decided not to go that way. It looked like a climb neither of us were keen to do back to back with the day we’d just had! So we washed, ate extra dinners, hot chocolate and chocolate, until we were just a bit too full! Harry Potter sent us off to sleep.

Day 26: Prion Bay to Cockle Creek

38.91km; 11:36hrs; 1800m ascent

It rained solidly all night and while it gave us a bit of a break to prepare and pack there was still plenty of water falling from the trees over us and for the first time on the trip we started out in full wet weather gear. It didn’t take long to get saturated. The first 10 or so kilometres or was largely through forest, some of which was overgrown and laden with water.

Surprise Bay and Granite Beach were nice, though the sand soft and hard to walk on with weary legs. A pair of herons still brought smiles to our faces though and we weren’t too tired to chat away when we weren’t puffing up hill with our marshmallow legs! The views were misty and both of us were once again glad we weren’t climbing up PB and on to the southern ranges.

The climb up and over the Southeast Cape Range was due to be wet, slippery and slow with lots of tree roots, according to both the guide book and other walkers. It was, though perhaps not as bad as we feared. Mostly it was a river, except where it was a bog. Our trip had generally been so dry that we hadn’t had the stereotypical southwest experience in this regard, but we more than made up for it, both of us going mid-thigh to waist deep in bog at times, but generally just wading through shin deep stuff.

The muddy part of it didn’t matter, by the time we got to South Cape Rivulet we nearly went for a swim – trying to cross on advice from another walker in very much the wrong spot. We ended up crossing where he had told us not to!

The final 10km was slow. Partly because the guidebook had chosen the wrong day to mess up its distances by 6km, meaning we had a 38km walk instead of the expected 32km one. Partly because it was just long and we were ready to be off tired, sodden and achy feet, knees and legs. I always struggle with the last day of any walk out. Em on the other hand was full of beans!

But we got there, sending out woops of delight when the sign in station appeared, and then again when we could hear Em’s mum. It was all smiles and laughter, even if we made it in time for the rain to start up. Em’s mum delivered once again – chicken wraps, sweet potato salad, bagels and cream cheese, chocolate and fresh fruit. She sure is the best support crew you could ask for!

More thanks than I/we can express goes to Norma for everything (including bringing everything we’d prepared and sourcing all the random last minute things we decided we wanted, feeding us the best food ever, posting a birthday card in my absence, weeding and watering my garden, keeping chooks alive, picking and processing produce amongst other things!); Todd and Elyse for accompanying us and providing urgent tent exchange services; Ben for the cheesecake, eye drops and food drop; Tim for accompanying us, running round behind the scenes to help me sell a house and flying a food drop in to Melaleuca in person; Charlotte for joining us for part 3 and rescuing garden produce from the rats; Nathan, Cait and Jess for pro bono after-hours medical advice on Battlement Hills; Jarrod and Mal for being ready at the drop of a pin to fly a helicopter to me if needed; Simon and Jess for the attempted shoe drop; and all the people we met along the way for their inspiration, encouragement and donated bits of food!

Finally, thanks to Em. I wouldn’t have had such an amazing opportunity if she’d not have asked and there’s not many people I’d have even contemplated doing such a walk with. Thanks for picking me to come with you, for all the laughs, for the candid conversations, for sharing all your extra snacks and meals, for bringing cards and Harry Potter along, for your infectious enthusiasm and delight in big trees, mushrooms, little creatures and cool patterns in nature and for being a really special person.

3 Replies to “Tassie Traverse Part 4/4: The Port Davey and South Coast Tracks”

  1. Great achievement, congratulations
    I had to wait until the last leg of the traverse before posting 😉
    I love the picture of Precipitous Bluff from the beach.
    The sky colours are so representative of South-West Tasmania

    Like

  2. Fantastic walking effort Em and Becca, sounds like a wonderful journey from North to South with many helpers along the way. Glorious photos and a few tough peaks as well. My daughter Zoe flew into Melaleuca today to walk the South Coast track with some friends and hopefully see some of the scenery you have captured so serenely.

    Like

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