Longer Form (Est. Reading Time 12 Minutes)
For six nights along the South Coast Track I jotted down vibes from the trail. Nothing really here about the track conditions or distances between camps, mostly focused on how I was feeling returning to this wilderness coastline. Some short, some lengthy, all sweet. Here they are.
Today I feel comfortable returning to the south west, my third time on the trail in as many years.
The track is familiar, and I feel that I’m becoming seasoned in traversing the region. I think that there’s no reason I couldn’t do this every year, spending a week (or more) and adding on new side trips each time, revisiting but embellishing my knowledge and bringing others along for the journey.
I’m alert and excited about the year ahead of me and the personal challenges involved. I’m well rested from summer, now into my third week, time spent mostly eating and laying about. So I’m ready for bush time and especially eager if the weather is going to be good…
Today I hardly thought about anything. My mind could get stuck on a song (never a good song I’ll add), or be on repeat for a moment from the past, usually within the past week, the upcoming house move and subsequent search for our new place. Then after a while and a few dozen steps, something else would be on rotation. Classic day two vibes, when the city speeds and expectations are slowing down to a more fitting pace, one that is closer to the rhythm of heavy footsteps and the rustle of a backpack as it slowly reduces in weight with each meal.
The sun continued to beat down solid, and we can’t believe we forgot sunscreen. Mostly the exposed skin is alright, save my neck. It’s pretty red, hammered from hanging out too long on the beach over summer already. Eventually it sets into the ocean out west, a bulk of cloud fragmenting the light into oranges, yellows and pinks. It can’t penetrate through it all, and a mass of grey hovers slowly above the Ironbounds, the ranges tumbling into the Louisa valley below. Tomorrows ascent.
I fell asleep for an hour on the beach, head on my runners, mini hiking towel flung over my legs fending of the March flies. I dreamt deeply into the soft sand, flashes of a memory reel reflecting in my mind. Pub hangs, silent strolls in town, or leaving the house to go to the shops. Simple everyday events that aren’t necessarily spectacular yet all add up. When I role from my snooze, I dig my toes in deeply to find the harder compressed sand, and massaged their tired ends into submission for another days hiking, tomorrow sending it steeply up and down in what will be my biggest trail day (in kilometres) on the south coast track yet.
Last year on day two I was reflecting on returning, being back in this place with a swathe of new experiences. That’s still the case, and I’m still chipping away at trail time and wilderness readings. It’s part of our backyard that I want to see protected and adored. But I’m really not thinking about it. I just am. I feel like I’m home, and content…
Today was another perfect patch of hiking on the south coast track. Full blue skies and minimal wind, the ranges to the west, north and east squeezed in together, only separated in the faintest changes of silhouetted blue. Truely fantastic and beyond impressive. Catching our eyes was the massif of the Arthurs and the prominent Federation Peak, the plateau of Mt.Bobs, and those out west towards the harbour that sit lower than Able height and avoid my knowledge, for now. While up is an exposed tramp, down to Deadman’s Bay is a secluded steep send through my favourite forest of dense green. Here the forest is warm, the canopy alight with brilliant blue. Hidden in its density are the birds calling, the insects beating their wings en mass, and the frogs calling back and forth.
Sun disappears and my mind vacates the scene. I’m spent, heel aching, hips rubbed raw, fatigued for sleep. Tomorrow I might find the time to reflect on the roots and branches on the push down hill, avoiding the falls and trips, occasionally pushing myself a little too quickly and slipping into tree trunks.
Sleep tight whenever we are hey…
Today was divine, a near perfect day for hiking, pushing us on for a double day. There was a chance we could lag behind, or take the effort of yesterday to meaning today would just happen. Yet alarms rang and sleeping bags rustled early. Bacon and eggs danced in the last of the butter. Tea brewed on the cliff edge, a little dusting of powdered milk sat on the cup handle.
The infamous Precipitous Bluff appeared from the grotto on Prion Beach and joined us intermittently throughout the day. A fantastic mass of dolerite rock, nestled up against the major fault line that divides the states dolerite and quartz, it soaked up the sun from its 1100m+ in height a seeming stones throw from the ocean. As we rowed across the New River Lagoon, with a slight breeze from the east, the bluff loomed behind ultra impressive, making a classy crossing photo opportunity.
The near permanent un-cross-ability of the lagoon means there’s a shuttle system of row boats on either side of the water body, that’s a few hundred meters wide. Naturally you can’t cross and leave a row boat behind as well, so in the case there’s only one boat on your bank, you need to do three trips – row across, hitch up a second boat, row back to where you came, drop it off, then row back across. In doing the crossing we risked taking all three boats back across as we knew there was a big mob of hikers coming down the beach just behind us, and sure enough as we were readying to leave they rounded the sand dunes, stoked with the extra boat! Given the heavy bias for people travelling west to east, you usually have to do the triple trip from this direction. What’s ace is the next group did the same thing, and paying it forward happened for a few successive hiking groups.
Retiring for a session in a fishing net hammock, I resisted the flies somewhat to get in a little rest and reading, delve into some deeper down time beyond cooking and making camp. The book I’m reading teaches teachers about teaching – by exploring the learning cycle and how we sense information, give it context in our lives, and (to complete the cycle) churn it into action. For a while I floated in the hammock, reflecting on how this applied to my hiking, either on this trip or over the years. There’s things sensed – maybe the tightening of skin being burnt, or a certain hunger in your gut longing for the flavour of fat/sugar. It could also be the sensation of being lost, being afraid, being fatigued. Each experience layers itself in your mind, allowing comparison of how and why each happened, and naturally how one would approach the situation into the future. With hiking, the resulting actions (or inactions) usually take form after the trip back at home. To try ensure minimal fuss before the next trip, I store and pre pack my gear once I get home. To try avoid confusion over meals, I have a pre-written shopping list of food.
We kick off again, out of the hammock and on to the warm, dry trail, undulating across the old sand dunes and under some difficult to negotiate wattle tree carcasses impeding the trail. It’s a challenge, squeezing under a branch or three, pushing uphill on a slope made of sand, as your pack inevitably catches a rouge piece of branch, dragging what minimal momentum you had to a halt. Fortunately (as I’m not the biggest fan of this wattle stretch), it’s not long before we’re across the Rocky Plains and into my favourite patch on the trail. Truly ginormous gum trees, stunted in height like most coastal trees owing to the relentless barrage of winds of the Southern Ocean, for what they lack in height they make up in girth – with diameters at your chest height of five humans arm spans end to end: huge!
It’s right now I get to be so glad we pushed through to make it to Surprise beach, and to see this forest and the evening, golden sunlight filtering through the canopy.
We arrive. Set up. Find water and guzzle it down. We’re parched as. A fantastic days hiking along the premiere wilderness track in the land. No place like it, facing away south across spectacular cliffs and beaches that have felt the barrage of time like few others. Curtains for the day were burning red and pink, a sunset for a lifetime, jagged rock enveloped in ocean and silhouetted on a pink-blood January sky…
Today I’m in love with our surroundings. Well, I am every other day, but today’s a special day for all the right, simple reasons. Woke up late without an alarm, body clock delayed in calling the shots, ended up just catching the end of the morning feeding session of the local birdlife. Made a cuppa in the vestibule, the sunlight warming my tent through the slowly moving tea tree. Gazed into the middle distance as the tea brewed, waking up to a gorgeous coastal morning, cracking a massive smile across my face. It’s a different vibe waking up next to the coast – everything has reset itself according to the waves relentless frequency, wiping away our footsteps on a high tide in the process.
Eventually we packed up, and after a cruisey breakie, remembered it was time to walk. I laughed straight into a hill, immediately burning the energy through my calves, and draining my water supply. Still, while the light washed out the landscape above the trees in overcast white, below a few rays managed to penetrate the forest and parried with the understory of ferns. Ferns grow in the most stunning soft greens, delicate yet hardy, controlling and covering the landscape from below.
We got through to Granite Bay in no time, dodging a basking snake on the final ascent to the campsite. At this time it was empty bar one other hiker, and we set up shop and yarned about hiking along the eastern seaboard, following our verbal trails as we listed hikes from Cairns to Cradle to Canterbury over the ditch, and how Covid changed our hopes for so many more. I love sharing our trail stories, carefully crafted and chockers with chance occurrences we use to share values and connect – conversations and kindness of those on trail or offering a ride, the mental hurdle of solo wilderness hiking, and more.
After a waterfall shower, located under the stream that falls onto the beach below camp, my body feels stiff and sore, time to rest it and not stretch it, a sage recovery session for tomorrow’s send over the South Cape Range. So I retired to tent bed for an arvo kip and to finish my book. I’ve been chipping away at The art of changing the brain for a couple of months now, made easier by the short and punchy paragraphs and blend of advice, research, and personal experience. I’ve relished reading and learning about learning.
It’s all part of perfect afternoon in, jogging the mind and resting my overloaded muscles.
Later, I woke up to a near howling wind and a packed campsite, maybe the potential rain on the horizon has accordion-ed everyone to this camp either side of the range, prepping ourselves for the up and over tomorrow.
Again I find myself reflecting on the special loving nature of our surroundings today. I love it’s quiet, even in the howling wind. I love how it welcomes us to the landscape, even when offering up impenetrable three-metre high vegetation across the trail. I love the sensation of coming across a snake, and love even more the distance we keep from each other…
Today is our second last day on the south coast track. Many kilometres, views, and beads of sweat later, we’re almost there. Woke up to a rapidly emptying campsite and a superheavy seabreeze slowly clearing at Granite Bay. Waves were pumping hard, the white caps and the deep blue water surfing in together.
Straight into sending it up and over the South Cape Range, into the mud mission, featuring the sloppiest and most consistent stretch of mud for the trip. I took a few falls, ended up with mud up to the ankle, and came so close to mud near to the waist. Elliott wasn’t as lucky. Super slippery navigating across delicate and exposed branches offering minimal purchase. The mud demands your focus, keeps you heavily in tune with your footsteps, draining all your energy as it is directed to ensuring you don’t slip. Every footprint is important, because a lapse could mean mud up to your knee, could mean falling face first into the mud, or of course for a more serious injury.
But it makes for a very entertaining hiking especially under the gorgeous canopy. Stunning eucalypt woodlands, some areas with amazingly huge leatherwoods, sassafrass, or places where a tree’s come down and the resulting exposure to the sun creates an amazing fern grove of green against the encroaching shadows. And of course the open areas of swampy heathland, where the scrub is at eye level as your meandering through the flowering landscape.
The stretch down into South Cape Bay is divine. From Trackcutters camp it’s mostly down hill with just a couple little elevation gains. Amazing views span out across the cliffs, down in to the wonderfully perfect opening up onto the sandy beach and rivulet to wrap up the days hiking.
Now that I’m here I’m ready to go home. I can sense it’s just a day away now. A bed, sleep and familiar smiles is that which I’ve been missing. I think on every second last day there’s a blend of reflection of the time spent on trail blended with the possibility of tomorrow and returning to friends and family.
I have loved this trip incredibly. The lucky weather will be in the records forever, so too gawking at the unbelievable views and summiting the challenge of starting with 28kg condensed into my backpack. Layering of experiences over the years, even the ability to give expertise to hikers, and reflect on three years running. The noticeable changes and the seasonal shifts – for example water availability or condition of the campsites.
It’s exciting be in a position where I am learning about this beautiful part of the world. I’m familiar with it, and excited to think that over the many years to come how well I’ll get to know it as 3 trips becomes 10, maybe 20 or even 30.
It’s exciting to know that tomorrow the adventure continues, and that means beginning to find a new place to live and begin building more settled and longer term future with in this beautiful island wilderness I love that I get to call home.
Happy 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 South Coast Track – where these photos were taken – is the traditional lands of the Lyluequonny & Needwonnee people. 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.
Bibliography / Suggested reads:
- James Zull ‘The Art of Changing the Brain’
- Daniel Kahneman ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’