Back Home… Challenging Elements
Fourteen Remote Days Out Bush
The sun is setting behind the coastal mountains, each brimmed with a line of clouds waiting for the days final event, a last hurrah of sunburst. Sooty oystercatchers call from across the bay, tiny fish leap out of the ankle high deep water as it recedes. A seagull forages for food rather than beg me for hot chips. Currawongs clanker, honeyeaters hustle. The breeze shifts. I hear it first from the north, pushing through the tea-tree forest.
Unhurriedly taking in the changing surroundings and slow lap of water against the shoreline is one of the principle pleasures of remote hiking. It’s cheesy, but it’s one of those occasions you don’t want to pass by. It’s so peaceful. Totally chockers with peace! Like the mountains in the distance, the quiet reflects my calm, my content. I haven’t felt this solo peacefulness in a while. I have with others, somewhat, but not on my own. And not this remote, well into the Tassie wilderness.
For the first eighteen days of the year I hiked, incorporating the Port Davey, South West Cape, and South Coast Tracks. Here is a selection of diary entries from the trail that capture the wild and remote vibes of this beautiful slice of earth.
The southwest region is spectacular and the hiking world-class. And it’s challenging. The vegetation can wall up to impenetrable scrub in an instant. It’s renowned for its fast moving and unpredictable weather, of relentless rain and punishing winds. You’re seriously remote, days and days from any human structure or transport. The paths, where they exist, are slow going – including river crossings, mud, and more scrub.
Walking on my own on trail, for day one I found myself overthinking and planning. Then on day two my thoughts fizzled to straight out head-in-the-clouds daydreaming. Day three and my mind ticked over restlessly, taking in my surrounds details as I moved further south. Come day four, despite my running thoughts on trail, I forgave my thinking. It’s hard to sometimes, to cut myself some slack.
Steering away from Scott’s Peak Road, the dust of my ride settling as they headed back to Hobart, I caught my last glimpse of motorised transport for four days. The last car I’d see for two weeks. With the exception of the time tested path and the well rusted star pickets that line it, the landscape before me is shaped by time only. Crossing the Lost World Plateau, I follow narrow benched tracks with my eyes as they contour away into the distance. Mountains capped in white quartz, locked in the mist for morning tea, now appear clearly to the east north south and west. A coastal breeze pushes up the valley, the thicker, enthusiastic air pumping its way off the coast as far as it can. It fills my ears as I round another twist in the path.
Apparently people have a love/hate relationship with the Port Davey trail. I loved it – the huge sweeping views of the Spring Valley, ace tracks surrounded by wicked peaks, and crossing the Bathurst Narrows by boat. Conditions were fortunate for me, and in crappy/sodden weather the mud, exposure and patches of confronting vege could definitely have potential to test ones resolve.
The relentless crashing against the Wilson Bay rocks pumps over the dunes and into the forest. It’s calming us, reminding us to rest after yesterday’s epic 11+ hour traverse of the South West Cape Range. This range juts 600+ metres straight out of the ocean, a spectacular zig zag of peaks, saddles and misleading gullyies mostly above the tree line. It’s an area battered by wind and weather for eternity. From all angles – northerlies push across from the mainland, easterlies across from the Pacific, west and southerlies straight off the 40’s and Antarctica.
Nearing the end of the beach we were treated to five minutes of blue sky, and the split in the clouds let in enough sunlight to create a stunner rainbow. One so low and squashed the New Harbour Range loomed up behind it. Between the highs and lows of being out bush on trail – part of the trick is hanging onto these moments through the mud, rain and pain. The same way your body forgets it all when you’re deep into a fantastic yarn with your hiking mates. But really the rain is just as beautiful as the sunlight. The cold just as special as the warmth. The expanses of button grass just as grand as the towering mountain peaks beyond.
There’s a few more distractions for us when at home, but when out bush we’re clearly surrounded by the best opportunity to be reminded of the importance of a healthy backyard. One that it’s simultaneously resilient and fragile. That we’re part of this intensely interconnected world, in such wonderful ways far beyond our wildest understandings.
Last night a thunderstorm hit the coast above our camp. My tent lit up brighter than day with each strike of lightning, and I’ve never heard a noise so loud in my life. It was exhilarating.
On the South Coast Track, again, and it’s raining, again. It feels so familiar, this 80 odd kilometre stretch traveling lutruwita’s wild and remote southern coast. I’m recognising things constantly. Even non-view related things, like certain broken boardwalk planks or piles of timber stacked neatly off to the side of the trail. I’m recognising the terrain. I sense a growing familiarity with the area. Each experience hiking is naturally shaped by company and the weather. This feels like a layering of experience – sometimes shock and awe, and a week of rain. Others comfort and familiarity, and a week of rain. Did I mention the rain?
I wonder what it’s going to look like next year?
I like to believe that this trail and terrain will be here relatively unchanged into the future. That the wild and cultural elements of the place are retained and nurtured, so that each layer of experience we lay down is comparable to the quality of past experiences – not a reflection on what’s no longer here.
Now I’m at camp, nestled into the eastern pocket of Surprise Bay, perched on a limb of our campsite banksia. If you’ve been here, it’s the gnarled specimen in the lower level of camping pads, that’s warped into a verticle standing spiral, creating a perfect seat in the diffused setting sun. I’m treating myself to a little music, subtle tunes as I type whilst my hiking pal reads and stirs dinner into action. Today was a wet, wet day. Solid rain from the west smashing into our backs as we plodded towards Prion Beach and the testing three boat crossings of New River Lagoon.
It was also our penultimate full day of hiking. I know it’s a daydream, but I still wish it would go on forever. That the trail didn’t wrap up in forty k’s and turn into a bitumen road back to nipaluna/Hobart. That it journeyed through the southern ranges and forests, linked through to kunanyi, and wound its way back north – to the east coast, to the Bens and wukalina/Mount William. Maybe one day it will – a continual hiking loop around the state. Months of traversing the many and varied landscapes of this special, much loved island almost swallowed by the southern ocean.
My tent broke last night as well, after a challenging crossing and with tired body. Today, my body is tired but oddly I feel I could go on hiking for hours. ‘It’s not that I don’t feel the pain, it’s that I’m not afraid of hurting anymore’.
After twelve straight days of hiking over two hundred kilometres, heading over the South Cape Range was unreal. A mental brick wall to be overcome. We decided against a rest day, and I’m glad to have done so. On the other side I felt revitalised, pumping with excitement and new energy. To be in the weather all day every day. To watch it pulling towards the coast, at a rate much faster than you can walk, all the while you’re mentally adding up the ks to decipher where you might be once the weather hits, and how drenched you’ll be come camp.
The challenges the remoteness of the southwest throws at us (or we throw ourselves at) are intangible, and are the thoughts needed to overcome a storm, a muddy path and flooded river, or overwhelming chill/heat. I, like many, are drawn to the element of challenge that the wilder places on earth provide. The weather, the terrain, and the physical and mental levels one reaches through the journey.
I was so impressed with my fitness today. Powering up hills like they were flats and setting some serious pace. Breathing is solid and fitness clearly pumping after so many days hauling 15+ kilos over the summer terrain. It’s been a long time, years, and many hurdles since I’ve had this level of up hill fitness. But I’m over the heavy boots! This landscape is divine, totally humbling under the giant gums, dense south facing beech and horizontal, and the continual tea tree heath. And mud. And hard water ferns for entirety or forested areas. I love it so much!
Reflecting with people who I met on trail – some for who the SCT was their first ever multi-day hike (quite the achievement): I feel that our take on the nature of our experiences is how the hiker adapts to the trail. We can revel in the depth of wilderness, grow our skills and ability to conceptualise the challenge effectively, or even up things to pack in heavier weights and live a comfier trail life with tarps, snorkels, and changes of clothes. Or we could be shitty. Either way, the challenges of the trail are a reminder of the importance of allowing ourselves and future hikers the chance to gain and grow from these experiences.
Though ‘Back Home..‘ I’m going to delve into what wilderness is a little more.
If wilderness is ‘out there’, then what’s here at home? What does our future of wilderness look like? How do we protect wilderness areas at threat from human activity? Does a true wilderness include people, or not? There’s so many questions, and given the number of trails and making up for lost time we’re teeing up for 2021, plenty of time to mull over the topic in more refined nature.
So, here’s to turning a bit of home thinking time into home writing time, and looking forward to sharing this over the coming summer with you all.
And I want to hear what you think. Comment below or join me on Instagram!
Happy summer trails my friends,
During the week I study wilderness at University of Tasmania, I campaign with the Wilderness Society, and on days off I hike in the Tassie Wilderness World Heritage Area. You could say I’m a wilderness tragic. Outside of wilderness I’m a sucker for melody, cook a mean pasta, and need a third dot point.
The Port Davey, South West Cape, and South Coast Track traverses, and the Southwest National Park – the inspiration for this piece and where these photos were taken – is the traditional lands of the Toogee. I respectfully acknowledge the Traditional Owners of these lands and waters on which I was able to traverse, learn, and appreciate – and pay respect to the First Nations Peoples and their elders, past, present and future.