Walking around Tasmania (part 6) : South Coast Track

I had spent five days walking the Port Davey Track, which was as traumatising as it was powerful, and a blissful afternoon and early morning soaking up Maleleuca airstrip’s sudden abundant sunrays and quiet ease.

I watched a group of tourists flying in and wandering around the area, taking short walks along the few walking trails and beautiful lake. I had washed all my clothes and hung everything in the trees, and by early afternoon everything was dry. Soon after, all my belongings were packed up in little stuff sacks and endless ziplock bags, lying on the leather mattress of the bunk bed in front if me, alongside all the food from the food drop, and the extra couscous, oatmeal and tins of fish the volunteers had gifted me.

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I was relieved to have enough food, at last, but I was worried about the space everything would take up in my backpack. My pack was only 50 litres and I didn’t have anyone else to share my equipment with, so everything I owned, had to fit in the limited space I had.

I put everything in its rightful place within the pack, careful to use every available inch, and loaded the food on top.

When I finished, my backpack was stuffed. There was a can of sardines left out that was just too much. It seemed to me more of a symbol than anything else, because surely, if I really wanted to, I could’ve squeezed it in there somehow. But in my head it was the one item that would overload the entire mechanism. I decided I had no space for it, the can single-handedly making my backpack unbearably heavy. Despite feeling agonising reluctance to part with food, I left it behind.

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I was still hiking with JH and we had planned on continuing together. He had been considering staying at Maleleuca for the day, but I had already decided I would move on. After some hours, we both had our packs packed to the rim and set off together. I stopped for a moment when I passed the shelter where my food drop had been delivered. There were some heavy duty scales and I tossed my pack onto them, curious to see how much it weighted. The pack was at its limit. And the pack’s limit corresponded with mine. I carried everything I owned, and at least 10 days worth of food with half a litre of water. The scales said 17.25 kg.

 

The Route

Day 6 : Maleleuca – Point Eric
The difference between the Port Davey and South Coast tracks were glaring and very welcome. The incessant mud was still there, but we didn’t have to walk through it. Two linear planks were raised just above the surface and I walked for hours on them, exuberant to get so far so quickly, almost feeling like I was cheating the trail by walking over it, instead of slogging through.These past few weeks I had gone inland, but at long last I was headed back to the coast. The coastline had been inaccessible in the far south-west of Tasmania, but this first day on the South Coast Track was going to lead me right back to the sea. When it came into sight after all those weeks, I felt relief. I was back at the sea, and the best thing was that the beaches along the trail were supposed to be absolutely stunning.

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The first campsite on the South Coast Track was Point Eric, right beside the sea, and it was a beautiful and relaxing place, our tents hidden in the trees, overlooking the beach. When we arrived, we saw two couples who had already set up camp. Immediately, the trail seemed less daunting and a lot more civilised. This trail had hikers. Hikers and beaches and timber planks suspended above the mud. This was a whole new journey.

That night, I was happy with the start and the prospect of the new trail. I sat on the beach, content, writing in my tiny journal after realising there was no water source nearby. I had carried some in with me, but had wrongly assumed the campsite would border a river or stream, which wasn’t the case. We passed the last water source quite a while before. Luckily, I managed to borrow a little bit of water from my friend, and had just about enough.

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As I wandered around the tent that night, I realised the woman from the nearby tent was staring at me from a distance. After a short while, she approached. There was a moment of confusion, and then we realised we had met before: some months ago on a jungle trek in Indonesia, where my cousin and I had chatted with her and her partner. I remember asking about Tasmania, as I was still considering where to go for my hike. We couldn’t believe the coincidence of being on this trail at the same time. They had just flown in to Maleleuca earlier that day, and were on their first day into their South Coast Track hike. I was also quickly reminded that they were quite simply the nicest people on earth, and I was looking forward to camping with them over the next few days, and having some other people to chat with.

That night I couldn’t sleep. I woke up to incessant itching, all over my body. I got up and searched for bugs, but couldn’t see any. I tried to sleep and failed. My mind was racing. Then it stopped in a frenzy. What if these were bedbugs from the mattresses at Maleleuca? I had no way of getting rid of them until finishing the hike. I may have to throw away all my clothes and my sleeping bag. I got up again and searched for bed bugs. I couldn’t see anything. I worried all night until I spoke to my new friends the next morning. They reckoned it could be sand flies, from sitting on the beach at night. I profusely hoped that was the case. I would find out that night, when I would have to crawl into my sleeping bag for another possibly itchy night.

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Day 7 : Point Eric – Louisa River
It was Christmas Eve. An easy day of hiking with one strenuous uphill section. We had lunch with the two other couples along the way, just after a river crossing, and my new favourite hiking pair saw our hungry faces and gave us fresh wraps with cheese and vegetables and bags of peanuts. I loved it. Even though I now had more food, I was still hungry, constantly, and their supplies were much fresher and tastier.

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At night, we camped together. They shared their food and coffee and wine once again, proclaiming they had brought too much, and we were pretty delighted by that, and happily feasted with them. To top it all off, JH had saved a Christmas album on his tablet to celebrate Christine Eve, and we listened to it for the rest of the night.

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Day 8 : Louisa River – Little Deadmans Bay
This stretch had been proclaimed as one of the most difficult ones on the trail, so it was promised to be a long day. The weather was good, almost too good for hiking a mountain. It was hot and the way to the top was fully exposed. We climbed the 900m Ironbound Range, starting at sea level, going all the way up and back down to sea level again. According to reports, there were no streams on the mountain, so water had to be carried to last the entire day.

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I enjoyed myself on the way up. There were lots of steps, endless steps, but there were also great views, and I progressed quite quickly. I was in my element and didn’t stop. At the top, the mountain was enveloped by clouds, and I expected the way down to get gloomier because of it, but that never happened. Just before the descend began, a fresh water stream surprised me. It wasn’t supposed to be there, but it was, and it had the most tasty, clear and fresh clear water, much unlike the red-coloured streams we found everywhere else.

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The way down was vastly different from the way up. The exposed landscape closed up, first into a forest that looked like a botanical garden, with beautiful plants surrounding us and guiding us down. But soon the descend proved the most difficult task that day. We climbed down a maze of tree roots covered in mud, too high to simply step down and too slippery to do it fast. I used my hands to cautiously hold onto branches and tree barks to lower myself, trying not to slip and break something. My ankles began to hurt, a lot, and they hurt more and more, almost unbearably so. The descend took hours. When I finally saw the sea again, I thought I was close to the campsite, but I wasn’t. It took hours to get there. I was slow and exhausted and desperate to know if I was getting closer. When I finally arrived, I was ecstatic, though I wished I had arrived at least a few hours earlier.

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That night, we camped with the same couples for the last time. We also met several other hikers, hiking in the opposite direction. It was nice to chat to more people, all so different, the solitude temporarily replaced with easy conversation and the sharing of trail stories.

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Day 9 : Little Deadmans Bay – Surprise Bay
In the morning we said goodbye to our friends. They were on more of a laid-back hike, while we were keen to keep going. While they were looking forward to hiking a few leisurely half days, we wanted to get off the trail as quickly as possible so that we could find a supermarket and eat the IGA microwave lasagna we had been dreaming about.

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We walked a long stretch this day, and I was surprised I made it. I thought I might have to stop at an earlier campsite, but I managed despite my aching ankles from the day before. Even though I wanted to keep moving, I secretly wished I could also take more time on the trail, and spend half a day lingering around a beach.

The weather was grey and misty, but the trail was varied. We went through forests and several beaches, and we watched an elephant seal as she laid on the beach. When I got closer, she burped in my face. We climbed some steep sections to get off the beach, and the campsite that night was empty, with a beautiful view.

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Day 10 : Surprise Bay – South Cape Rivulet
The most difficult day on the trail. Like the Ironbound Range, we went up and down a mountain, all the way from sea level. This one was only 460m. But somehow, this one was more difficult. The hike never seemed to end, and the trail kept going up and down and up and down as though there were numerous mountains to climb, and we kept losing the trail, getting lost in mud and fighting with bushes to find our way through. When the final section included long stretches with floorboards, I couldn’t have been happier. We ran past them in an attempt to get the our campsite for the night as quickly as possible. My ankles were burning. I wanted to get off the trail, badly.

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Day 11 : South Cape Rivulet – Cockle Creek
I woke to rain. It was our last day and I was jubilant about reaching Cockle Creek that day. It wasn’t far, so I stayed inside my tent, hiding from the drizzle and listening to everyone else slowly packing up around us and continuing their hike. I watched the mud from the ground splashed against the sides of my tent from the rain, covering both the inner and outer fly, dirt everywhere, the filthiest it had ever been.

The campsite had been busy with people entering and finishing the trail. Around noon, I knew I had to go, although the rain had not stopped. I was reluctant to pack up when everything was wet and covered in mud. When I rolled the tent into its stuff sack, I knew I couldn’t comfortably sleep in there unless I managed to clean it beforehand.

Luckily, getting closer to Cockle Creek meant that the walk was easy, with lots of floorboards and day hikers when we got closer to the end. There were surfers at some of the beaches. When sitting down for lunch, on the wet trail, I watched leeches crawl onto me.

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It took 3.5 monotonous hours to reach Cockle Creek, which was a downtrodden site, a true anti-climax after finishing 11 days on a wilderness trail. It was busy with holiday campers, families and boats. It was a horrible sight. We considered our options and managed to hitch-hiked to a cheap hostel in Dover, smelly and exhausted as we were. It had been 14 days since my last shower.

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Several days later, when I was passing through Huonville on the final stretch back to Hobart, I received a voice mail. The man on the other end stated he was a Southwest National Park ranger, and he was concerned for my safety, asking to call him back once I was off the trail. I was surprised anyone knew I had even hiked through the park. I guess the ranger had noticed my food drop at Maleleuca had been picked up much later than agreed, but it had only been because I was running behind on schedule.

I had signed the trail register once, when I started the Port Davey Track, listing my plans and anticipated finish dates. But apart from my friends at home, no-one in Tasmania knew I was on this trail. Still, the emergency of the situation didn’t quite hit me, so I didn’t return the call that day. The next morning, I had another voice mail. This time it came from the local police department, so I called them back immediately. They were very happy to hear I was indeed all right, and the woman told me she was just about to search for me on Facebook, to see if she could find out wether or not I was okay, and to leave me a message. I guess it would have been the start of a search and rescue mission, had I not answered any of these calls. I was impressed to see how thorough they were, clearly knowing that one small mistake on the trail could lead to disaster. So kudos to the park rangers out there, and thanks for looking after me.