Notes from the South-West

For any of you out there planning a walk in Tasmania’s wild and rugged South-West, I have a word of advice – don’t!! You will see photos such as the one above and think ‘How magnificent!’. Don’t believe a word of it!

The return flight to Melaleuca is $400 – do you know how far you can get in a northerly direction from Hobart for a $400 return flight??? I’ll tell you – somewhere warmer and drier!!!

Below is an example of what it is really like.

Rain blankets the surrounding hills

It was my recent displeasure to embark on a 6 day walk heading into one of Tasmania’s more rugged and remote areas. Given that for many people such a description would mean a walk in Hobart’s Northern suburbs, I should explain.

This trip had its Genesis in May last year whilst my wife & I were relaxing on sunny Santorini in the Greek Islands. I received an email from Fi, a fellow walking companion, suggesting a walk into the South-West along with some other friends to explore towards South-West Cape.

Like the mother who goes back for another pregnancy, forgetting the earlier pain and angst, I thought to myself ‘What could possibly go wrong?’

This is despite numerous forays into this World’s End where it has ALWAYS ended in tears, pouring rain and incipient hypothermia.

Interestingly, and with great foresight, Fi pulled out of the trip with only days to go.

Our walk was to commence at Melaleuca, a place reached only by walking (7 days in!!), by boat or by plane. Our party of 5 (Peter, Lynne, Liz, Tim et moi) had decided to fly. In trepidation I had agreed to this leg of the trip as motion sickness has afflicted me in days gone by.

By the time the day of the trip had dawned, the previously balmy weather had also decided to go on a holiday. I awoke at 4:45, very nervous (I’d heard the gales howling outside my Kingston home all night), but determined. The forecast was not promising.

At 5:30am I received a call from Peter informing me that it was too rough for the planes and they would reassess the situation around midday. Back to bed. All flights were cancelled for the whole day; we were to try again at 9:00 the next morning.

A slightly later rise the next day and another call from Peter – no planes again, with a reassessment about midday.

We decided to meet at Pete ‘n Lynne’s place to look at alternatives. Both Tim & I were convinced the prognosis was not worth it and we scoured various weather sites in search of proof to support our opinions.

Meanwhile Peter analysed the same sites and was convinced it would be like a week on the Gold Coast!! He did acknowledge that the Bureau of Meteorology used words like ‘possible hail’, ‘possible thunder storms’, ‘showers’ and ‘drizzle’. However he failed to agree with us that it might end up being ‘a bit wet’.

Alternative plans were made with a trip to the Walls of Jerusalem floated as a backup – we even went as far as pencil booking accommodation at Deloraine for that night. The dreary forecast was, however, State-wide and it would be wet wherever we went.

Dreams of a comfortable night in a hotel were quickly dashed when Par-Avion called around 11:30 and said, ‘Quick, we have a window, come now.’ Too late for second thoughts, motion sickness pills were popped and the nerves went in to overdrive.

We arrived at the airport and to my horror a plane that no self-respecting kamikaze pilot would fly stood on the tarmac. My ashen faced look prompted a reassuring laugh from Peter who pointed out the MUCH bigger plane we would fly in.

I should add that ‘much bigger’ is a relative term. At least it had 2 engines.

Waiting for take-off

I had the opportunity of sitting up front with the pilot. This brought with it several advantages:

  • I was able to see the mass array of switches and instruments that no one individual could possibly keep a track of. This led me to the reasonable conclusion that most of them are just there for show to impress people like me.
  • Secondly, it meant that I would be able to share the privilege with the pilot of being the 1st to be impaled on a tall and proud Eucalyptus Regnans as our vehicle of mechanised death dove head-first into pristine rainforest.

The only instruction I received from the pilot was ‘Don’t press the red button in front of you.’ (I did notice the word ‘ejection’ in tiny print.)

Now if there is such a title as ‘Hoon of the Sky’, our pilot has the award in his grasp, hands down. Had we been travelling in a car, he’d have had his vehicle impounded and been banned from the streets for life.

We lurched, looped, swooped and shuddered our way aerobatically towards Melaleuca. I have a suspicion that our pilot had been with the Airforce Red Roulettes team in a past life. However, as we came into the blustery and wind swept landing strip at Melaleuca, he deposited our plane with all the finesse of a ballet dancer.

Huddled in the rain were several groups of drenched walkers who had all been marooned for quite a few days, awaiting flights to resume. The twitches and looks of pinched horror on the faces should have warned me and I should never have de-planed. Just stayed locked in my seat belt and gone back on the return flight.

Ah hindsight, you unforgiving temptress.

As we unloaded our gear a couple of single engine, 4 seater planes approached. The wings on the 1st one were wobbling back and forth so violently as it approached I was sure one would touch and that would be it.

Sure enough, it hit the runway, spewed through a large puddle, bounced, flipped upside down and careered along the gravel track. The plane burst open and its human cargo was strewn in a bloodied mess, leaving a crimson stain across the crisp, white gravel track.

Well, it could have happened. However the skill of the pilot was amazing, he rode the plane like a bucking bronco, and brought it safely to a stop.

The 4 young occupants alighted with inane grins on their faces as if they’d just been on a particularly thrilling ride in a theme park.

After that all that was left was to tighten our waterproofs, heft our packs and trudge off through the pouring rain into the South-West.

Five minutes later the trip was nearly over. I stepped onto the start of some boardwalk, my foot went from under me and I went face first onto the track. It’s amazing how much the addition of 24 kilos on your back can make you fall so much faster and with such an additional impact.

Although, it seemed to start in slow motion. I remember thinking ‘Bugger, I’m falling..’ then BANG I hit the boards. It’s also amazing how much it can hurt.

I lay there, stunned; convinced I had a depressed fracture of the cheek, several teeth floating around in my mouth and an eye socket fracture.

My friends helped me to my feet and inspected the damage. Can you believe that not one of the women had brought a mirror with them??? How was I meant to check my war wounds??

They assured me that despite a reasonable amount of blood from a cut above my right eye, everything else looked okay. I confirmed that my cheek was still intact as were all my teeth.

Knowing the propensity of the human body to shout at you with immediate, if not necessarily life-threatening pain, whilst your heart has been pierced by a broken rib, I did a more thorough check. Everything seemed to be present and accounted for.

A Band-Aid was applied (I know, sounds a bit pathetic really), the pain receded and we started again. I later realised that I had let the perfect opportunity to hop back on the plane and fly out slip by me without a thought. No-one would have thought the worse of me and I could have celebrated as the walking wounded – one who SO much wanted to continue, but the war wounds prevented it…

The Wounded Warrior

The track notes we were relying on said that Melaleuca to New Harbour should take 2 – 4 hours and the track would have muddy sections. Based on past experience and being ever the optimist I was sure that meant we could make it in at least 3 hours and the track wouldn’t be too bad.

Whilst we didn’t need snorkels to traverse some of the muddier sections, their presence would have made us feel more secure as we gritted our teeth and stepped blindly into many of the bog holes.

As we neared our destination, the earlier suggested ‘possible hail’ arrived with a vengeance. We started walking at 3:00pm – a time I normally like to arrive at camp. Plenty of time to set up the tent, start cooking at 4:30ish, all over, eaten & cleaned up by 5:30 – 6:00 and then you sit around telling jokes and drinking wine until bedtime.

It took FOUR HOURS!!!! Aaarrgghh. We arrived at camp at 7:05pm!! Then we had to set up our tents, get into warm & dry clothes, cook our evening meals then crawl exhausted into bed. I didn’t get to bed until 9:30!!! Unheard of!!

I should also report that due to recent Festive Season excesses, I had decided to bring no wine. Enough said…

I woke in the night to the sound of more rain bucketing down on my tent and resolved then and there that the next day I was packing up, walking back to Melaleuca and would try to catch the next plane out. If need be, I’d stay in the hut until the others came back, 5 days later.

A new day dawned bright with sunshine and full of promise. I bit my tongue on my resolve and decided to listen to what the others were thinking. But two things intruded:

1:         I discovered that my ribs had taken a hammering in yesterday’s fall and were now clamouring for attention, and

2:         the others kept coming up, looking at my right eye and saying things like ‘Ooohh, you’ve got a beauty there!!’

Due the absence of any mirrors, Tim O used his fancy new camera to take some close-ups and then showed me the result. It was one of the best ‘shiners’ I’d seen. For the rest of the trip we took a daily ‘iPhoto’. An example is attached below:

At about this time my ‘friends’ started calling me ‘Cap’n Face Plant’ – somewhat unsympathetically I thought.

After a long, drawn-out breakfast in quite good weather we agreed to walk on and started breaking camp about 11:00ish. Not to be ignored, the bloody South-West decided to start pouring again.

An additional hour wasted sitting in the tents waiting for it to stop. This resulted in a 1:30 departure – another late start.

New Harbour Campsite

Our aim was to head towards Hidden Bay, then over to Ketchem Bay where we would camp. The notes again suggested a 2 – 4 hour walk. I didn’t hold any hope of anything less than 4 hours.

Hidden Bay was supposed to take 1½ – 2½ hours. It took us 2½ hours. This taking the upper suggested times was unusual for us, however my ribs had taken more punishment than I had realised and I found it a real struggle. Lynne was also finding it hard going.

We reached Hidden Bay at 4:00, knowing we still had at least another 1 – 1½ hours to go to the campsite for that night. I was extremely reluctant to pull the plug, but couldn’t see me getting into camp at 5:30ish and then setting up camp all over again. Lynne agreed.

So, after a pathetic day’s walking of only 2½ hours we called a halt. The upside was some nicely protected tent sites and a beautiful little bay that looked straight out to Maatsuyker Island. Of course, there was more rain.

The next day we decided on a day walk over to Ketchem Bay and forget about pushing on to Wilson Bight. It was a magnificent walk (just a day pack!!!) and the views from the bluff between Hidden & Ketchem Bays were superb.

I think my favourite part was looking down into Ketchem Bay from the overlooking bluff. A long golden sanded beach bisected by a meandering stream that was stained as black as pitch by the tannin in the water.

Ketchem Bay

Of course it rained.

Did I mention the leeches and mosquitoes?? That day, Tim & Liz had a competition to see who could end up with the most leeches. Liz won with 29, Tim a close 2nd with 28.

Our return journey over 2 days was the same in reverse with our new best friend, the rain, keping us company. Arriving back at Melaleuca with the promise of a night in a dry hut and not having to erect my wet tent again was like heaven.

An ABC crew were there filming something about the orange bellied parrot, so included us in some of their shots for ‘local colour’. Keep an eye out for us starring in a future show.

Sunday was the day to fly out and this was the day on which the long range forecast had predicted sunny and balmy weather, around 20 degrees. It rained.

You take what shelter you can get

The flight back was brilliant. The cloud cover was so low, the pilot had to fly above it! Perfect sunshine and stability!!

We dropped below the cloud somewhere around Dover and I was able to see our house in Kingston as we flew right over the top!!

As I write this, my ribs are still hurting a lot. In fact , if anything, they are worse now than on the walk. I remember cracking a rib when heading to Federation Peak once and the week after the walk was the most painful time of all.

This is happening again – seems ribs just like to remind you that you’ve been abusing them.

Now, would I ever venture into the South-West again? Nope, never. And if I ever make such noises, please shoot me in advance.

From now on, it’s the Central Highlands, preferably on walks where there are nice dry huts with a fire at the end of each day’s walk.

By the Way, here’s a link to Peter’s blog about the same trip. CONTENT WARNING: This author viewed the trip through rose tinted glasses and his report may bear no relation to actual events and lead you to the reasonable conclusion that we are talking about separate trips!!Of course others on the trip may comment that I was wearing ‘jaundice tinted glasses.’ As if…

Regardless, Pete writes a great blog.



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10 Responses to Notes from the South-West

  1. Mick says:

    Cheers Jim, thanks for the enjoyable read. PG should leave links here to his blog posts about the same walk, he seems to have a slightly different perspective – perhaps as seen through rose coloured glasses… 😉

    • jimrobwilson says:

      Thanks Mick, it was much more fun writing about it than experiencing it!! I may have exaggerated just a tad….

      You are right about Peter’s blog – but it is very good. I’ll get him to link up somehow.

  2. Kate says:

    Well, well, Jim – sad to hear you had bad weather, bad ribs and bad alc. free walking! Of course, now is the time to absolutely rave about my experience of that very same walk several years ago – great weather, short walking days and magnificent views from the plateau above Wilson’s Bight!!! Perhaps I should post some photos on this!
    PG, where are your blog links?!

    • jimrobwilson says:

      G’day Lady Catherine, if it wasn’t for the hiccups, there’d be no blog!! So I’m ignoring any gloating on your part! Pine Valley in June?? I’ll get onto Pete about his blog.

  3. Maree says:

    As usual love reading your blogs…..should have taken johnny pedder with you, then you would have something to grizzle about!!!!!!! Maree

  4. jimrobwilson says:

    Thanks Maree, I think if John had come the blog would have been to black to post!!!

  5. enjoyable reading in your inimitable style I notice. Just started blogging myself… it is great fun

  6. Henry Schuth says:

    Interesting to read of your experiences Jim. You will no doubt remember these experiences as being significantly more enjoyable with the passage of time. I keep away from light planes and helicopters myself as I plan to live long enough to enjoy my old age.

  7. jimrobwilson says:

    You’re right Henry, the trip already feels a lot more enjoyable than it actually was!! I’m with you on the light planes and helicopters – although I ended up enjoying the plane trip much more than I thought I would!!

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