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Sunday, March 31, 2013

     South Coast Tract is a spectacular walk running through some of the true wilderness remaining on Earth. If you’re looking for a walk that would lead you right into the heart of Tasmanian South West wilderness along the shores of Southern Ocean, through vast swamplands and across some challenging mountain ranges (and you don’t feel adventurous enough to do other much rougher routes higher inland), this is the track to do. We had a few challenging and very long days, half rest day and a few easy days of very pleasant walking in complete solitude. We met 5 people in the first 6 days and were blessed with quite possibly the best weather you can experience in South West Tasmania. Below you can find some useful tips that the South Coast Track taught us the hard way and which can make the difference between quite miserable and more than amazing hiking experience:

  • The track: Most people take about 7 days to complete the 84km track, but if possible, it is highly recommended to include one extra day for unexpected weather changes and one or two rest days to explore the surrounding areas and truly enjoy the remoteness of some of the most spectacular campsites you’ll ever see. The campsites at Cox Beach, Osmiridium Beach, Surprise Bay and especially at the New River Lagoon are worth of staying for even a few days. Be prepared for numerous river crossings, vertical descends through thick coastal scrub, lengthy muddy sections, rocky coastlines with the raging Southern Ocean and the very exposed alpine traverse through Ironbound Range. Recording your trip itinerary in the registration book near the start of the walk and signing out at the end of the track can provide life saving information in case of a rescue search.
  • Access: If flying to Melaleuca, try to book the first flight in the morning. The weather in South West Tasmania is less predictable in the afternoon and the flights are being frequently cancelled later in a day. If walking to Melaleuca via Port Davey Track, arranging a food drop in Melaleuca is possible   and can significantly reduce the weight of your backpack. 
  • River crossings: Although most of the streams that need to be crossed on the South Coast Track are normally a knee deep wade and the rope shouldn't be required, they can flood very easily up to a few meters high after heavy rain. They generally drop quickly, but if you need to wait overnight, there are sufficient emergency campsites along the way. It is also wise to plan your crossings for the next day according to tide tables. The following streams should never be attempted to cross during high tide or after heavy rain: South Cape Rivulet, Louisa River and Faraway Creek. 
  • Boat crossing: There is a water crossing that requires walkers to use small boats at New River Lagoon. Leave a boat secured on each side with oars for the next person. If you’re crossing the New River Lagoon alone, the boats can be quite heavy to drag across the sand. Plan the crossing during high tide so there is less distance to carry the boats. 
  • Tide tables: Check the tide tables for all coastal crossings. The track around the Black Cliffs on the second morning can be very dangerous to negotiate and is completely inaccessible during high tide. Only plan to cross during the narrow 2 hour window at the low tide which can be early in the morning. If you arrive late, walking around the Black Cliffs through high dunes and extremely thick coastal scrub with no marked route is possible but will test your navigation skills. The tide predictions for Tasmanian coast walks are available here.
  • Water and food: Streams and rivers along the track provide sufficient supply of fresh water. The tea stained tannin rich water is considered safe, but if you carry a filter it is advisable to treat it. All campsites have a reliable creek nearby except the campsite at the New River Lagoon where the fresh water can only be found further inland and best treated before drinking. There’s also no water available on the third day while crossing Ironbound range, so carry the water for the whole day. Carry enough food for a few extra days and pack it safely in double bags to prevent wild animals from getting to it during the night.
  • Weather: The only real danger which you face on the South Coast Track is hypothermia. Most people walk during the warmer months from December to March, but you have to be prepared for cold winds, heavy storms or even snow at any time of year. Rain falls on average every second day during summer. Always check the latest weather forecast for Melaleuca and Cockle Creek/Dover before the trip. The official timings for individual sections of the track are extremely relative and can vary depending on the weather, wind, river crossings and other factors. The parts of the track in higher altitudes are less predictable later in a day, therefore try to leave the campsite just after the dawn and plan to cross the top of the range by 12pm to avoid strong winds and possible heavy rains that gather in early afternoon.
  • Gear: It is essential to have a good tent, large waterproof raincoat, warm sleeping bag, sleeping mat, thermal top & leggings, an extra jumper, warm hat, gloves, sunhat and sunscreen, map, water bottle, large strong plastic bag to waterproof the inside of your pack, gaiters and worn-in boots. Always wear long sleeves for protection from the sharp vegetation overgrowing the narrow trail.
  • Fires: Only a few campsites have open fires allowed and a Fuel Stove Only Area has been declared over the whole of the Ironbound Range and South Cape due to the sensitive alpine vegetation. Carry 1-2 gas canisters per person.
  • Wild animals: Spotting a snake is almost guaranteed along the South Coast track. Snakes are normally very shy and will try to get out of your way quickly. Wearing sturdy boots and a pair of gaiters should be sufficient to protect your legs. Always carry a basic first aid kit.


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