It was with an air of anticipation that, along with four friends, I climbed into one of Par Avion’s small Britten Norman Islander aircraft to head to SW Tasmania. Having decided that we were too old to walk the long seven day route from Cockle Creek around the South Coast Track, we decided to fly into the airstrip at Melaleuca and spend six days exploring the local area before flying back to Hobart.
We took off from Cambridge Airport, heading to the west and climbing over Hobart with a good view of Mt Wellington on our right before we headed across the mountain ranges to the west coast. The terrain became more rugged as we flew, with good views of the Western Arthur Ranges before descending into the area of Bathurst Harbour. It was raining when we landed at the little airstrip, so we took shelter under the wing of the plane before filling our fuel bottles from Par Aviion’s store and getting our packs sorted.
Our plan was to spend three days to the north of Melaleuca on the Port Davey Track. We didn’t appreciate how muddy this track would be, or just what difficulty we would have in walking along it. In the early stages, we were quite slow as we got used to our packs and we spent far too much time trying to avoid the mud holes along the track. This area is a vast button grass plain and an enormous bog. The track is very braided and whilst some small sections are dry, most of it is ankle deep to knee deep mud! It is exceptionally boggy nearby any of the creeks which also have stretches of thick tea tree scrub that you have to push through.
It took us over eight hours to walk a distance that the guide books described as taking just four. It took over an hour to complete our last kilometer. By 7.30 pm, we were still looking for an overnight camping area. I had read that there were good camp sites in the forest around the edge of Horseshoe Inlet, but the problem was in beating a way in through the scrub to get to them. Just before 8.00 pm, we managed to find a suitable spot and after clearing all the tree litter from the moist ground, we had tents up and dinner underway. Needless to say, we were really pooped. We decided that the next day would be a rest day.
We didn’t wake until well after 9.00 am and could see that our camp site was very secluded in the forest. To our delight, we found a little fresh water stream trickling into the Inlet about 80 metres to the south of our camp site, otherwise it would have been a hard slog across the bog to find fresh water. Fiona decided to rest in her tent for the day, while Rob, Ian, Bob and I decided we would walk to the north to The Narrows at Bathurst Harbour. We reached there by lunch on a far better section of the track and returned by 4.00 pm. There were a number of opportunities along way for panoramas of Bathurst Harbour and Mt Rugby.
Our return to Melaleuca on the third day was a lot faster although it still took six hours of slogging through the mud and swamp. We were very glad to see the walkers huts and we occupied the older, more historic one, which was built in 1960 by Denny King. We thought that it was the height of luxury to each have a bunk with a mattress along with a table and seats on which to eat our meals. On one night during our stay, a solo walker named John arrived at the huts after completing the entire Port Davey Track. He had some very colorful descriptions of the mud and tough conditions, saying that the stretch on which we had walked was the easiest part of the entire track. On that basis, we were very glad that we hadn’t continued any further north.
Rob and I were both suffering from upset tummies so we all abandoned our plan to head down the South Coast Track for a couple of nights. Instead, we spent next the day pottering around the Melaleuca area. We visited the bird hide and managed to see three Orange Bellied Parrots. There are estimated to be only 60 of these birds alive in the wild now. They breed in this area over summer and then travel north to the southern coast of the mainland for winter. Later, we walked down to the jetty on Melaleuca Creek and then around to the area of the old tin mine. The volunteer camp rangers told us that the original owners, Mr & Mrs Wilson were spending summer at their residence although being in their eighties, this might be one of the last few years in which they would be able to do this. The airstrip was originally built to provide access for them and the King families who operated alluvial tin mining leases.
By our second day at Melaleuca, Rob and I were both feeling better. We think that it was because we had been drinking tank water instead of the dark coloured tannin laced creek water. As a fault, we decided to walk down the much better South Coast Track to Cox’s Bight. Most of this track consisted of boardwalk and very little of it was muddy. It took just 2 1/2 hours each way to walk the 12 kilometer distance ( 24 km return). We had lunch on the broad sandy beach with it’s quartzite rock foreshore before returning to Melalauca by around 5.00 pm.
It rained heavily on our final night and on our last morning it was very grey and overcast. We were a little unsure as to whether the plane might be able to get in to be able to fly us back to Hobart. However, just before 4.00 pm we saw the landing lights shining through the mist and we knew that we would be on our way. Two planes landed as there were twelve bushwalkers departing that day. We had hoped that we would get to fly around the south coast (rather than take the direct flight over the mountain ranges) and our luck was in. There direct route back to Hobart was clouded in, so we had a very scenic ride at a low altitude around the rugged coast. We were prepared to pay extra for this, but as it turned out we had a great ending to our trip with some extra scenery thrown in.