matty's tasmanian adventures - index

 

West Coast Walk - Tasmania

After my sea kayak adventure of last summer (circumnavigation of Tasmania in 26 days - Jan 2007) I decided to have a go at a different challenge.  After reading the description in John Chapman's South West Tasmania bushwalking guide book, I thought that a walk down the remote west coast of Tasmania would be a great experience and a good physical challenge.

 

The Plan

To walk from Hells Gates (entrance to Macquarie Harbour near Strahan - centre of the west coast of Tasmania), down the west coast and along the south coast to Cockle Creek on the south coast of Tasmania

I expect to walk for around 5 weeks.  I will not be able to carry enough food for that amount of time so before I start the walk I will paddle my sea kayak from Macquarie Harbour down to Port Davey (and return) to drop off food supplies spaced about a week apart (in walking times).  They won't be spread equal distances apart because some sections will allow you to walk faster than others.

I will approach the trip by looking at it in sections -

PRE-TRIP PREPARATION - Sea Kayak trip - Macquarie Harbour to Port Davey & return for food & supply drops - 1 to 2 weeks

To most people, this would be enough of a challenge by itself.  I would be paddling a my Mirage 580 sea kayak, loaded with 6 weeks of food & other supplies, from Strahan down to Port Davey & back - dropping off supply & food packages down the coast.  At the southern most supply drop I would also drop off a small inflatable raft.  When I reached this on my walk, I would paddle it with my backpack, across Port Davey near the Davey River and then continue walking towards the Port Davey Track & then Melaleuca.

 

The walk -
Macquarie Harbour to Hibbs Point
Hibbs Point to Low Rocky Point (hardest section)
Low Rocky Point to Port Davey
Port Davey to Melaleuca (hard - with water crossings)
Melaleuca to Cockle Creek (The South Coast Track ... with variations.)

Each of these section have their own highlights and challenges.  The first section from Macquarie Harbour to Hibbs Point is the easiest section with many beaches separated by rocky headlands, with the possible obstacle being the Neilson River if there have been heavy rains.  I will have food and supplies at Point Hibbs.

Point Hibbs to Low Rocky Point will be the most challenging section due to the section around the Wanderer River.  In this area you cannot walk right along the coast due to cliffs and gulches so you have to fight your way through thick scrub and cross the Wanderer River.  I will have my second supply drop at Hartwell Cove.  I expect it to continue to be very hard until I have passed the Urquhart River.  The coast then opens out again down to Low Rocky Point where I will have another supply point.

From Low Rocky Point to Port Davey there are some beautiful bays and a few more rivers to cross.  I will head for Bond Bay to another re-supply point where I will drop off an inflatable raft with my sea kayak so that I will be able to get across the mouth of the Davey River to get to the Berry Head/Wallaby Bay area of Port Davey.

I will then head along the coast to Bramble Cove and up Mt Stokes/Mt Berry for some views and then head back down to Bathurst Harbour and a climb up Mt Rugby.  I will then have to cross Bathurst Harbour and hope to visit Balmoral Hill and Mt Beattie on the way back to Melaleuca where I will have more supplies.  I will then have to decide whether I want to continue to Cockle Creek.

If I continue to Cockle Creek I would like to go a slightly different route.  From Melaleuca I would head up the Bathurst Range to link to the Red Point Hills.  I have seen parts of this route on old maps.  This would lead to the Louisa Plain, Ironbounds and beyond.

Then back to work for a break.


This is the trip report...

Saturday 30 November 2007

I spent all of Friday and Saturday sorting out my walking trip gear, my paddling trip gear and ensuring I had enough re-supply package gear.  It was a massive task to get it all together and then to ensure I have the right bits in the right packages.

I had run down my food supplies at home as I was going to be away for about 6 or 7 weeks so I bought a pizza for my final treat.  I left home at 11pm to start driving to Strahan.  I only made it as far as Derwent Bridge before I stopped to sleep.  I had seen lots of animals as I drove.  I had seen 2 Tasmanian Devils, lots of small quolls, wallabies of every size, 3 deer that were jumping over a fence near the Nive River bridge and lots of brush tail possums.  I stopped at Derwent Bridge at 2.30am and set my alarm for 4am. 

 

Sunday 1 December 2007 - Macquarie Harbour to Hibbs Point

After my short sleep I continued to Strahan, arriving at 6am.  I bought some breakfast and then bought some more water from the supermarket.  I then drove out to the heads.  It was 7.30am.  There were lots of runabouts & people heading out to go fishing.

I parked on the grass opposite the boat ramp to load my Mirage sea kayak with all of my re-supply packages and the gear I needed for up to 2 weeks of paddling.

I left at 11am.  My kayak was VERY heavy and it almost broke my trolley as I moved it from the camp area, across the rough gravel road and down the boat ramp - by myself.  I hadn't asked for help to get it into the water.  I guess that I am just stubborn and want to be independent.  That is probably why I am dropping off my supply stores myself instead of getting a boat to drop them off for me like other parties had done.

As I started paddling there were a bunch of 'smart-arse' blokes drinking in a boat who commented that they didn't think that I could handle paddling into the wind.  This just made me more determined.

On the way to Cape Sorell there was a n/w wind slowing me down.  This eased when I was near the cape and it was fairly calm most of the way to Hibbs Point.  There were still some big, unpredictable  waves that broke on reefs.  You always had to keep your wits about you as a wave could build up and break without any warning.

I plugged away paddling south for the 56km paddle to Meerim Beach, on the northern side of Hibbs Point.  This would be the location of my first food drop after an estimated 5-6 days of walking.  It was handy that each days paddle is equivalent to about a weeks walk - so at the end of each paddle day I would drop off another supply package.

As I landed at Meerim Beach at 7.30pm, I was very tired after not enough sleep and a hard days paddle.  I set up my Macpac Microlight tent on the beach.  I sorted through my supply packages and found the one that had the maps from Hibbs Point to Wanderer River/Harwell Cove area.  I put all of the goodies into a drybag and scrambled up the sand-dune above my tent and attached the drybag to a tree.  The food was in a plastic container inside the drybag.  I hoped that it animals wouldn't get into it, but I would check it on my way back to start the walk to ensure that it was still ok.  I marked the spot on my gps just in case I forgot where I put it.

The weather wasn't very warm and I found that I didn't have a beanie with me so I improvised by tying a thermal top on my head.  This did the job.  I was exhausted and didn't cook a meal.  I had a couple of food bars and went straight to sleep. 

 

Monday 2 December 2007 - Hibbs Point to The Shank

I woke at 6am and packed up.  I got the package ready for Hartwell Cove which I would reach by lunchtime, so that I didn't have to sort it out when I got there.  Again I had to make sure that this package had the right set of maps from Hartwell Cove to Low Rocky Point

I started paddling at 9am.  It was overcast, cold and threatening rain.  I saw lots of seals around the south corner of Point Hibbs.  It got very cloudy and foggy and then heavy rain.  I only had about 2km visibility so I turned to follow the shore closely - as close as I could without the big waves cleaning me up.

I reached Hartwell Cove at midday as another wave of torrential rain bucketed down.  I am used to the entry into this spot now but I was still cautious approaching the entry to the cove as there are some reefs that cause waves to break.  It is possible to pick a safe route into the cove but you have to approach with caution dodging the breaking bits.  Once you get in further andI huddled under some trees in the s/w corner of the small cove.  I couldn't help thinking that I could be stuck in this sort of weather for 5 weeks as I walked down the coast.  This thought didn't encourage me.

I dropped off my second supply package on the grassy platform on the right side of the cove - up the 'marsupial lawn' steep slope.  I waited for a while, hoping that the torrential rain would ease, but it didn't.  I was only getting cold so I figured that I may as well get warm by paddling and still be wet.

I left at 1pm and the rain stopped at 2.30pm.  By 4pm it was sunny as I arrived at The Shank.  I worked out that if I continued to the next camp - Cowrie Bay, it would be about an 8pm arrival.  I had chaffing under my arms from salt and sweat and the paddle top had been rubbing.

I stopped at The Shank and had a wash and found the old camp.  It was overgrown with bracken ferns that were about 1-1.5m high.  I cleared an area for my tent and cooked a meal.  I had a Globalstar satellite phone (Ericsson R290).  I turned it on and was annoyed that it couldn't get a signal.  The batteries didn't last long so I turned it on every 10 or 15 mins to see there was a signal - unsuccessfully.

 

Tuesday 3 December 2007 - The Shank

Bad weather day at The Shank - exploring, sleeping, trying to get a signal on satellite phone - unsuccessfully.

 

Wednesday 4 December 2007 - The Shank

I woke on 4/12/07.  It was very windy, cold and overcast.  The wind was n/w to westerly and the sea was very rough.  I went back to 'bed' and lay there dozing on and off until 11am.

I went for a walk and found a good creek a few hundred metres to the south-east.  I tried to charge my satellite phone but the sun would only stay out for a few minutes at a time.

I spent the rest of the day waiting for phone signals.  There was only about 1 minute every hour where there was a signal.  It was very frustrating that the satellite phone that cost me about $3000 was useless.  I have since found that many of the Globalstar satellites were not working properly and I was on a fringe area and could only get a minute or so of coverage every hour.  I rang up and complained when I got back and later upgraded to the Iridium service with a new handset.

I didn't have a hot meal that day to ration out the food a bit and because I hadn't done anything to need the food.  I went to sleep at 9pm.  Both of my phone batteries were flat and I didn't have a forecast for tomorrow.  I would have to charge a battery to get a forecast the next day.

 

Thursday 5 December 2007 - The Shank to Hibbs Point

I got up at 5am.  I packed my gear carefully to be able to fit everything inside the kayak.  I had previously had 2 bags strapped on the deck.  It was a sunny morning and there was a light south-west breeze.

As the first sunlight reached the beach, I connected the satellite phone to the solar panel.  I let it charge for a while and turned it on and was relieved to have a signal.  I phoned my dad to get a weather forecast.  I had decided that I would go mad if I had to spend the next 5 or more weeks walking down the west coast.  I should have realised earlier that the mental side of the trip would be the hardest aspect.  If I had been doing the trip with another person it would be a lot easier to cope with.

By 8am I headed back towards Hibbs Point, in clear skies and a light s/w wind.  The water was still very sloppy with swells going everywhere due to the steep rocky jagged coastline.  I aimed for High Rocky Point and then for Hartwell Cove.  There were big waves around the entry to the Cove.  I collected the food bag and attached it to the rear deck of my kayak.

I had a good drink and some lunch to ensure I had the fuel in my tank to keep paddling.  As I left, a sea breeze was picking up from the s/w.  This increased on the way to Point Hibbs, where it was very strong with white caps and 3-4 metre swells.  I sailed until I reached the big breaking waves on the n/w corner of Point Hibbs.  There are reefs here where the swells pick up and roll around the corner.

I negotiated this area and then landed in Sanctuary Bay.  I camped on the northern side of the bay, up a bank, to the side of the marsupial lawn.  I had to go an pick up the food bag that was about 1km away so I unloaded the back half of the kayak to fit the other bag in.  I should have thought about the consequences of paddling the kayak with the front half loaded and heavy and the back empty.

As soon as I paddled out of Sanctuary Bay I realised that the rudder was barely in the water and the bow was ploughing through the water.  I headed over towards the beach where my other bag was.  As I got closer I could see that there were reasonable sized waves breaking at this beach now and there was only a narrow gap to get into the beach between rocks.

While I was looking for the best approach I glanced backwards and found that a wave - about 4 feet - was peaking up behind me and about to break.  Before I knew it I was flying down the wave.  The bow of the kayak was digging in and I was being blinded with spray in my eyes.  I managed to keep the kayak straight by paddling hard but was turned to the right as the wave peaked up again over another bank.  I supported successfully and then paddled between the gap between the rocks - about 2m wide.

I jumped out in waist deep water to avoid hitting rocks and was very pleased with myself to have made it in to the beach after such a careless mistake.  I collected the supply bag and spread the gear better to head back out again.  As I went back out through the surf I was only hit by one broken wave then snuck over the next 5 waves by angling to the left where it was deeper.

I got back to the lovely shelter of Sanctuary Bay and unloaded my gear.  I went for a walk and found lot of whale bones.  There were 3 skulls and hundreds of vertebrae.

At 8pm I was sitting on the beach near my kayak and I noticed an animal about 50m away on the beach.  It looked like a small, scruffy dog - but I realised that it must be a devil.

It stopped and looked at me.  I was surprised when it continued to run towards me.  It ran with an unusual rocking motion from front to back that isn't like any dog.  It kept coming towards me and I could see that it was a devil, but it was a browny/black colour.  I wondered how close it would get and what it would do.  I was aware that they do have powerful jaws.  It kept coming and when it was about 3 metres away I thought I would have to stand up to warn it away.

It stopped for a few seconds and sniffed at me.  It was dirty looking and not like the tidy black ones in the wildlife parks.  It was close enough that I could tell it didn't have a facial tumour.  It turned around and headed back up the beach and then into the scrub, leaving a trail of very cute footprints behind.

I was nervous about tomorrow's forecast for n/e to northerly winds.  It will be very hard as there is about 52km of headwinds to get around Cape Sorell.  I was hoping that the wind would be light in the morning and then a s/w sea breeze in the afternoon.  Wishful thinking!

 

6 December 2007 - Hibbs Point to Sloop Point

I got up at 5am.  There was only a light northerly wind and clear skies.  I started paddling at 6.30am.  I paddled hard knowing that I had to get as far as I could in the light conditions.  I made very good progress to Sloop Point and then I could see a dark line of wind on the water ahead.  It hit me a minute later and I aimed for the shore.  I found a little cove in a rocky headland with a tiny pebble beach and stopped to rest.  I stayed in my paddling gear until 6pm just in case the wind died down - which it did at 6.30pm - because I only had 12km to Cape Sorell and then would turn downwind for 5km.

I set up my tent and went to bed early.

 

7 December 2007 - Sloop Point to Cape Sorell

I got up at 5am, packed quickly and left at 5.30am.  I hugged the shore in the very strong nne wind.  I rugged up in the strong wind.  I had my paddle top on that also fits on as a spray deck.  I put this on over my other neoprene spray deck because that one leaked a bit.  I also put on some thin diving gloves to keep my hands warm in the strong wind & rain.

The last 4km from Grandfathers Beach was very interesting.  I was finally sheltered from the wind and there were lots of passages and little bays to explore.  I explored lots of passages and reached the shelter on the southern side of the Cape Sorell lighthouse.  I was only just in the shelter of the northerly wind.  The final point was just in front of me and once I got around it I would have a strong headwind again until I turned east into the harbour.  I could see a shortcut ahead where there was a gap between rocks.  I headed into that gap and as I entered the passage I was hit by a broken wave coming through from the north.  It hit me side on and pushed me against the side of a big rock.

As the wave washed back I rolled down the rock and tipped over.  I was upside down, getting knocked against the rocks.  I tried to do a roll but it didn't work as I was getting knocked around next to the rocks.  I tried a second roll and got a second breath.

I realised that I wasn't going to get up and pushed with my thighs to try and pop the spray deck off.  This didn't work because I had a second spray deck (that was part of the paddle top) over the neoprene spray deck.  I tried to feel for the loop to pull the spray deck off but I couldn't feel it because I had gloves on.

After about 30 seconds of struggling to get it off I was panicking and thought I was about to die.  I said to myself "I don't want to die like this", knowing that with the strong n/e wind my body and the kayak would be blown out to sea and there would be no boats out due to the extreme winds to find me.  Somehow while I was desperately feeling for the loop it managed to get it and pull the spray deck off.

I pushed myself out of the kayak and surfaced with an incredible feeling of relief.  I turned the kayak over and grabbed the paddle.  I pulled it towards the shelter of a narrow cove immediately to the south of the lighthouse.  I climbed in and pumped the cockpit water out.  I felt incredibly lucky.  I composed myself and then headed back around the point, taking the longer route this time.

As soon as I rounded the corner I was hit by the gale force northerly wind.  As I headed east another squall of rain came through.  The wind turned n/w and there were big rolling swells from the n/w.  I carefully headed towards the rocky breakwater outside Hells Gates.  As I approached the breakwater one of the Gordon River Ferries came out of the heads.  They must have thought that I was crazy being out in those conditions (and I probably was).

The waves picked up more as I entered the channel next to the breakwater.  I surfed quickly into the harbour and was quickly in calm water again.  I reached the boat ramp in torrential rain.  There was no-one around as I wandered to my car to get the kayak trolley.  I struggled to wheel it up the ramp and over to the car.  I was very aware that I had almost died out near the point.  I was feeling a bit dazed, stunned and traumatised by the incident.

I changed into my dry clothes under the shelter of my car's tailgate and unloaded the gear into the car.  It was bliss to put the heater on in the car and then get some food from Strahan.  Later that day I drove back home.  It wasn't quite a 5 week walk down the West Coast but I was just very relieved to have survived.