Australia’s southern most state. The 26th largest island in the world.
Some 45% of Tasmania’s total area is comprised of “reserves, national parks, and World Heritage Sites.” It’s commonly regarded as Australia’s Bushwalking Mecca, though environmentally speaking, it actually feels more like the south island of New Zealand than it is does mainland Australia (i.e. cool temperate climate, lots of rain, rugged mountains, very green).
Between February 27 and March 22 of this year, I completed a traverse of the southwestern region of the state. One of the wildest, most pristine backcountry areas on the planet, it was a hike I had dreamed of doing for almost two decades.
In a nutshell, my journey combined the rugged west coast south of of Strahan, with the Arthur Range, arguably Australia’s most spectacular mountain chain. I connected these two areas by way of the De Witt Range, Davey River, Lost World Plateau & Port Davey Track (see map below).
The idea for this trip came about in the late 1990’s while reading an early edition of John Chapman’s, South West Tasmania. In this classic bushwalking text, Chapman gives a brief overview of hiking the state’s west coast along with a more in-depth examination of trekking in the Arthur Range.
Of all the places mentioned by the author, these were the two that principally caught my attention. Wild coastline & dramatic mountain scenery. To my way of thinking, together they encapsulated much of what makes Tassie’s southwest one of the world’s premier wilderness areas.
Distance: 185 miles (298 km) approx.
Start: Hells Gates Jetty / Cape Sorrell (west of Strahan).
Finish: Farmhouse Creek Trailhead – 29 miles (47 km) SW of Geeveston.
Time: 24 days
Daily Average: Just under 8 miles (13 km). This included one rest/resupply day. Hiking, scrambling, bushwhacking, climbing, paddling, crawling, swimming, rock hopping…………yep……..the terrain really was that challenging (see Difficulty below).
Maps / General Info:
- I used a combination of John Chapman’s South West Tasmania guide and the TASMAP 1:25,000 Topographic map series (19 / 20 sheets total).
- Chapman’s excellent guide was first published in the late 70’s and is currently in it’s 5th incarnation. The latest edition was published in 2008. Updates are available on the author’s website.
- The TASMAP 1:25,000 series can be purchased online (paper & digital versions available). In addition, you can usually pick them up in person at the Service Tasmania Store in Hobart. See Chapman’s guide for all the lowdown of the specific sheets required.
- Amazing. Tasmanian Devils, wombats, seals, tiger snakes, starfish, sea anemones and yellow-tailed black-cockatoos.
- Not-so-great is the fact that there are also leeches, ticks and plenty of mosquitos on the coastal stretch.
- I just did the one, sending provisions by post to the small town of Maydena (population 245). I hitched there and back from Scotts Peak Dam.
- Due to the remoteness of the west coast south of Strahan, resupply for the initial section of this trip is not so simple. You either suck it up and carry food all the way from Cape Sorrell to Scotts Peak or follow Chapman’s suggestion and organise for food drops by helicopter or seaplane (ballpark price = A$2000 / US$1500……….seriously).
- In planning the trip, I decided from the outset that I would carry all my own food for the entire west coast section. Mostly because I’ve always preferred to do my hikes unsupported. However, in the spirit of full disclosure, also because I didn’t want to shell out a couple of grand to save me carrying an extra 9 kg (20 lb) from the outset.
- I originally estimated that it would take me approximately 14 or 15 days (including an extra couple of days factored in for inclement weather) to reach Scotts Peak Dam. It ended up taking 17………..suffice to say I was a tad peckish by the time I arrived. That being said, I knew from about the fourth day onwards that I would take longer than originally anticipated, and subsequently rationed accordingly.
- Other than a few of the bushwhacks on the west coast and couple of the ridge sections in the Arthur Range, I never carried more than a litre at any one time. As with my three previous hiking trips to Tassie, I didn’t treat any of my water throughout the trip and had no stomach problems.
One of the toughest hikes that I’ve done.
The section between Point Hibbs and the Mainwaring river on the west coast particularly comes to mind. During this segment, the bushwhacking and coastal gulches made for very slow and arduous progress; there were a few days when I’d hike for ten hours plus only to cover around three miles (five kilometres). An exercise in both patience and persistence.
In addition, there were some potentially hazardous river crossings, including the very deep, cold and 150 metres wide Davey River, between Piners & Settlement Points (see photo).
As mentioned above, over the course of the entire traverse I averaged around eight miles a day………..and that’s actually pretty good going for this part of the world.
Comparatively speaking (including rest days) I averaged 35 miles a day on the Continental Divide Trail, 31 miles a day on Canada’s Great Divide Trail and 27 miles a day on the Southwestern Horseshoe (a combination of the Hayduke, AZT & GET). These three hikes are commonly thought of as some of the toughest long distance treks in North America.
I don’t quote these mileages to pump up my own tires, but instead to give the reader an idea of just how difficult the terrain is in this part of southwest Tasmania. Simply put, it is a very challenging place to hike; physically, mentally and logistically.
Would I recommend the Southwest Tasmania Traverse?
Yes, but only for hikers with extensive off-trail experience, a positive mindset and the ability to see the funny side of dodgy (i.e. crappy) situations. The “patience of Job” can also come in handy, as you may have to sit out the occasional day waiting for flooding rivers to subside.
As I did this trip by myself, it would be a bit hypocritical of me to recommend that folks don’t go solo. But, what the hey, that’s exactly what I’m going to do…………..at least for the initial section from Cape Sorrell to the Lost World Plateau.
The west coast of Tasmania is a wild and remote region. If something goes wrong, and for whatever reason you aren’t able to activate your EPIRB (i.e. personal locator beacon – which you should definitely carry), the chances of someone coming along are very slim. Indeed, during the first fifteen days of the journey, the only person I saw was a cray fisherman by the name of Paul. Fortunately for me, he turned out to be a good bloke, who was kind enough to pass along a message to my family once he returned to civilization.
Still to Come……..
Over the next few weeks I’ll be posting journal entries, along with more photos, videos and logistical information for the Southwest Tasmania Traverse.