Australia, Beach & Coastal Walking, Hiking, Long-Distance Walking
Comments 4

Into the Wild South-West

The South Coast Track, Tasmania # 1: Melaleuca to Louisa River

I got back to Australia in early 2003 after three years in Japan. Got myself qualified to teach over here and landed a job in the same school that still, defying all logic, provides me with a place to spend my working week. My sights were already set on the Appalachian Trail the following year, so I got saving.

Several hundred Korean students later, with Christmas approaching, I started getting antsy. Needed to get away, do some walking — preferably somewhere cooler, since Brisbane is intolerably hot for my tastes at Christmas. Suddenly a little voice began nagging: “Tasmania”. I’d been there once, 20 years before, when I drove around the island with two Griffith University friends in a rented VW Bug. Hmmm. Must be cooler down there, I thought. 

Some hurried last-minute digging around and I hit pay-dirt of sorts; the morning after the work Christmas party, I boarded a southbound plane. Destination: the South Coast Track. 86km long, rated “medium-hard” in the Lonely Planet book, the perfect bolt-hole from a subtropical city summer.

Here’s my hand-drawn map in the front page of my journal (the pictures that follow are recently scanned B & Ws from the Age of Film):

But perhaps you’d like a bit more context:

The walk is occasionally contiguous with, but mostly (very) roughly parallels the wild beaches between Melaleuca and Cockle Creek…

..which, as I recall, holds the distinction of having Australia’s southernmost public telephone.

The Lonely Planet pages I carried

Starting at Melaleuca, as I elected to do, means you can aim for one of the thrice-weekly Hobart-bound buses from the eastern terminus. From the Melaleuca end, the only way out is via boat, plane, or boots. Oh, and those are also the only ways in.

I wound up a couple of days of  frenzied internet trawling, triumphant, picturing cool, shady, rugged Tasmania. Well, one out of three ain’t bad…


I’m in the lounge of Australia’s oldest pub, down near the water, maritime memorabilia filling every available piece of wall space, cricket on the TV. I’m one of only three customers — this is a quiet town on a Sunday afternoon… [journal entry]

Later, in the Hobart hostel…

I was killing time in the common room when some big news broke on the box. The Americans had captured the long-fugitive Saddam Hussein in a basement. With a half-dozen other travellers, none commenting, I watched the CNN info-show for a bit before hitting the sack. It felt like a good time to be heading to the wilderness…

Unfortunately, getting to Melaleuca necessitates surmounting my perfectly rational fear of flying coffins light aircraft… Next morning, I squeeze into the six-seater I’m sharing with two couples…

..for the flight south-west. We’re lucky — it’s clear and crisp, a break after some bad weather that has grounded flights for a couple of days. In minutes the suburbs have become farms, the farms rugged, ragged wilderness:

I enjoy the ride, sort of, though the vibration and volume of the glorified lawnmower engine render most of the pilot’s commentary inaudible, but I gather I’ll soon be walking some of those gnarly coves and — mercy! — densely forested hills over the coming week:

We land on a rough unsurfaced strip; the pilot takes almost immediately to the air, leaving us as shrinking dots in the windless, treeless plain. I soon leave the others and commence the coastward haul…

..along duckboards, in places…

..and gravelly path in others…

..till the beaches of Cox Bight come into view:

The first of several splendid beach walks…

..and I bypass the campsite at Miller Lagoon to take my chances further on. Briefly lost, I backtrack, finding a gigantic whale vertebra that still adorns my bookshelves…

..and the track, with an unmarked site among the wind-stunted bushes,

a private little space inside a dense, dark tea-tree thicket just back from the beach, with the soft, insistent droning of the surf and sweet birdsong my accompaniment.

A perfectly deserted beach. I feel exhilaratingly alone. The next major land mass out there is Antarctica:

I start obscenely early on Day 2. The backs of my legs and one hand are already sunburnt, and this is a long, hot, and very exposed section. The cool, inviting Tasmania of my fantasies is swiftly baking into dust:

At least there’s the relief afforded by frequent waist-deep mud-wallows in the infamously marshy buttongrass plains.

Frequent crossings of narrow, gushing streams and lots of outright bog that tried to suck the shoes off your feet…

There’s the path climbing the ridge on the right:

Amid the sweat and sweltering, some tremendous vistas from the Red Point Hills:

The trail started winding its way down bare hills with the looming hulk of the Ironbound Range ahead…

There it is — tomorrow’s treat:

From this point the fun started to evaporate, the sun super-heating the wind and sapping the energy out of you, with no shade and the thin white line of the trail snaking on infinitely through the drab hills:

I trudged on, the sun a fierce thing now and impossible to evade, save those blissful spells when the trail crossed a creek in a shady patch of scrub. At Faraway Creek I took my shoes off and crossed, aided by a rope, the shallow but powerfully surging torrent:

Then it was out into the punishing sun — must’ve been 35C out there — and on and on and on:

Gradually rising larger and more awesome, the vast slab of rock fronting the Ironbound Range, with that white line threading improbably up its sternly configured face. I was in a daze built of heat and exhaustion and dreams of that cold river somewhere there in the forest at the mountain’s feet. When I got there, my water gone, I made my way straight across the rocky-bottomed, chillingly cold river to the campsite…

~ And that’s all the Goat wrote

Next post: A delightful downpour, rather closer to home



  1. I’ve been waiting for your South Coast write up! I love the journal page complete with quite an accurate looking whale in the Southern Ocean 🙂 I’ve been wanting to do this walk for a couple of years now, but something always gets in the way. I notice your wearing your runners again. I always read that shoes like that will get sucked off in the mud? I must be wrong, unless in a later entry there’s a photo of you wearing only one shoe!

    You could probably help me out here, but I’ve read about a few people who hated this walk as there isn’t actually much hiking with coastal views, but plenty of inland mud slogs (plus the Ironbounds!) It’s left me in two minds a bit, so hopefully you can convince me otherwise with your later entries. Not so sure about the heat you were in as that would be hell for me…

    • Greg, cheers, I’m pretty proud of that little map — and the whale! That whale bone is one of my fave mementoes. Like a lot of my walks from the “early years”, I now think I could go back and do it now with half the suffering and twice the fun! Heavy pack (but not enough food – see later), blah blah blah. I found the runners fine. Heavy BOOTS caked with mud are just heavier boots. Maybe they’ve fixed up some of the quagmires since then, also. You’re always in a quandary (as well as a quagmire): don’t want to sink to your waist, but don’t want to widen the erosion zone any further either…

      I don’t know how people could hate this walk. It’s wild and beautiful but safely marked, great campsites (undeveloped), several terrific beach sections. The Ironbounds were a hard climb, cold on top but would be awesome in good weather (I’d dance up them these days) and the descent (next post) is like the Kokoda Trail… God, it took forever. But I loved almost everything except the sunburn. Early autumn/spring would be the go, I reckon.

    • You’d love it, SW. I guess the Camino walks could get pretty hot so you could handle a summer hike on the SCT. And no doubt you’ve enjoyed more than one mud bath in the English countryside!

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