Tasmania’s South West Circuit (Part 1)

Before setting out to do Tasmania’s South West Circuit, the last big walk I did in March, I told my partner that Thursday, the third day of the trek, would be my critical day.

The track notes I was following (John Chapman’s) and blogs I had read about the circuit warned that the walk along the top of the South West Cape Range was a long slog and trackless in places. The notes suggested walkers should have navigation experience, especially if the weather turned nasty and cloud reduced visibility.

I was carrying a compass, maps and a GPS, but hoped I wouldn’t have to use them. I’d met a guy last year who’d done the circuit and said there was a faint footpad that could be followed across the top of the range.  In the days leading up to the walk I was nervous and excited about what the third day would hold for me.

The South West Circuit is a multiday walk in Tasmania’s remote south west, a World Heritage listed wilderness area. It starts at Melaleuca, a speck on the map that used to be a tin mining operation but whose airstrip is now the start/finish of several walks in the area. Walkers can fly in or out and there are a couple of public walkers’ huts, a rangers’ hut and a few other bits and pieces I’ll save for another post.

I flew into Melaleuca to start the walk in the first week of March. That time of year is generally calm weather-wise for the area, allowing small planes to land at the airstrip. But you can never really tell with Tasmanian weather so you just have to trust in luck.

The day I flew in from Hobart was spectacular. It was warm, the sky clear and blue, the air still. I shouldered my heavy pack and set out on the track, heading for the first night’s camp at New Harbour. The Circuit Track starts on the South Coast Track before turning right at a junction after about an hour of walking. The track became rougher and boggy in places. All around were button grass plains, low mountain ranges and hills and the occasional patch of trees before reaching the coast. It was so quiet. The only sounds were some buzzing insects and the squeak of the straps on my backpack.

A lovely day for a walk. Looking back towards Melaleuca and Mt Rugby

A lovely day for a walk. Looking back towards Melaleuca and Mt Rugby

New Harbour’s beach was clean white sand, flanked by hills at either end. There was a campsite at the eastern end of the beach and another, the one I camped at, about half way down, in scrub above the beach. I sat with my back against a tree as I made dinner, looking down on gentle waves and out across the harbour to Maatsuyker Island and, when it got dark, its winking lighthouse.

New Harbour

New Harbour



The evening view from my campsite at New Habour

Day two was another spectacular day. Sunny and warm. The track went inland through forest and climbed over hills to Hidden Bay, then inland again, up and around some hills to Ketchem Bay for lunch on the beach under a tree’s shadow. Then it was into forest again and up and over more hills to Wilson Bight and the second night’s campsite. Getting to the campsite involved walking around a rocky headland, dodging waves as they rolled in. It was a nice campsite amongst trees overlooking the beach, but water was a bit of an issue. I had to walk up a barely flowing stream to a spot where a trickle was coming down from a high rock wall. Collecting the water involved a precarious balancing act on a slippery log while pressing my water bottles into the moss growing on the wall.

Some of the brilliant track between New Harbour and Wilson Bight

Some of the brilliant track between New Harbour and Wilson Bight


The third day, my critical day, dawned slightly overcast. I got up early in readiness for a big day of walking, and welcomed the thin misty cloud overhead, hoping it would make walking cooler.

A cloudy morning at Wilson Bight

A cloudy morning at Wilson Bight

The climb to the top of the range was some of the steepest walking I’ve done. As I climbed through dense forest, I grabbed onto trees to drag myself up.  I’d climb for about 15-20 minutes, have a short rest to catch my breath and then resume the climb.

Reaching the top was a relief and the views of the coast were worth it. Unfortunately they weren’t to last. The misty cloud was dropping and soon the views were gone.  And they weren’t to return for the whole day, until I actually started heading back down to the third night’s campsite at Window Pane Bay.


South West Cape

The footpad eventually disappeared as well and, with visibility down to less than 50 metres, it was time to bring the GPS out. The track notes had grid co-ordinates of certain points walkers should aim for so I tapped them in and trusted in the direction the unit’s arrow pointed.


The clouds drop

I’ve probably written enough for one post. I’ll write about the rest of the walk in a second post. It’ll have the rest of day three,  snake encounters,  interesting finds (and losses) while bush bashing, huge Aboriginal middens, Orange Bellied Parrots, and running out of reading material while waiting for the plane at Melaleuca and the wild weather to ease. And pictures too.





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