So there I was. On top of a mountain range in Tasmania’s south west, in a white out, with no track or landmarks and a GPS in my hand. I’d tapped in the coordinates for a spot on the map I should be aiming for suggested in Chapman’s track notes and the arrow was pointing northwards. It was now time to place my faith in the unit and keep walking.
I set off into the button grass, picked up the track but it quickly faded again. Reaching the coordinates I’d tapped in, the cloud was still thick and low so I entered the next set of coordinates to aim for and set off again. At one point I felt like I was walking along the spine of a ridge with steep drops on either side. But of course I couldn’t see it. Eventually I came across Michael and Davina, a couple in their 60s from Queensland who were doing the circuit as well. It was their third or fourth time they’d done the walk and they lamented the weather with me, saying that the views were usually amazing. We met up again later at a flat, rocky area where they were using their GPS and compass and we compared notes on which direction to go.
I got a real sense of how walking in cloud can mess with your bearings when we set our courses, aiming for a point where metal stakes marking an old track join the circuit track from the east. The GPS arrow was pointing north, the compass was telling me to go in the same direction, but for some reason in my head it felt like I was heading back the way I’d come. Weird.
At this point I was heading down off the range towards Window Pane Bay. I’d thought the walk down would be less strenuous as it was, well, downhill. How wrong I was! Downhill, yes, but very steeply downhill. Each step was a knee-jarring stretch. And then, after thinking there’d be no more uphill, that was wrong too. The track dropped into several forest gullies which required a steep climb out of them on the other side. This was after about eight hours of walking and it was getting just a bit frustrating.
Finally, after hearing the ocean getting closer and closer, the track broke through the bush and I was in the open – at the top of a huge sand dune. I dropped my pack onto it and then watched with despair as it started rolling towards the waves below. Thankfully it was stopped by a dead tree and I jumped down after it and dragged it down the rest of the dune to the beach. Further down the beach I saw a spot above me I could have kept walking to and where the drop wasn’t as high.
Getting to the campsite was a relief after nine-and-a-half hours of walking. I set the tent up, got into some dry clothes, hung out my sweat soaked pants and shirt and sat down for a blissful rest and a cup of tea.
The next day the weather was clear, except for the clouds that still sat on top of the South West Cape Range. The track to Noyhener Beach was pretty simple to follow, although the bush was making an effort to reclaim it, leading to my pack getting snagged a couple of times. It also went into a few gullies so it was a bit of an up and down slog again.
I nearly stepped on a black snake in some forest, which had me leaping backwards and then picking my way through scrub around it. Later, while I was having a wash in a shallow creek at the beach, I looked up just in time to see a snake, barely three metres away, swimming straight for me. I think I nearly walked on water I leapt and stepped away so quickly. Snakes freak me out.
The track to Noyhener came out of the scrub and the notes suggested climbing down to rocks and then walking along them to reach the sand. But Michael had said it was actually easier to bash through the scrub above the rocks until you reach a point where you can walk down onto the sand. While doing this I came across a new-looking Camelback in the scrub. It surprised me as the bush didn’t look like anyone had walked this way. Anyway, finders keepers, and I strapped it onto my pack.
The next day I did a day walk to Spain Bay, via Stephens Beach. Chapman’s notes suggested walking to the end of Noyhener and climbing over a headland to reach Stephens Beach. But there were no signs this was possible. As I walked back along the beach to camp I saw a white bucket and some flotsam and jetsam and, upon having a closer look, realised it marked the start of a path through sand dunes behind the beach to Stephens and a massive Aboriginal midden of sea shells and animal bones.
The following day was time to leave the coast and start the return to Melaleuca. It was another challenging day, climbing up and over two mountain ranges along a footpad heading for Horseshoe Inlet. The track disappeared again at the bottom of the long ridge off the Pasco Range that leads to the inlet. I spent a while looking for a route, following a few animal tracks that led nowhere. Finally I just bit the bullet and plunged into dense scrub surrounding the inlet, aiming for the shore. When I got to the campsite, I realised the Camelback I’d found and strapped to the outside of my pack had fallen and been reclaimed by the bush.
Walking along the shore, there’s a few creeks that enter the inlet that have to be crossed. The notes suggest Horseshoe Creek may have to be swum across but that some people avoid this by wading out into the inlet, which I did, and where the water was only about thigh deep. I was lucky as the depth depends on tides and rainfall. Other creeks were the same.
The next morning I awoke to flashes of lightning and the crack and grumble of thunder rolling around the surrounding mountains but thankfully no storm hit. The weather actually cleared and by the time I reached Melaleuca the sky was blue again.
Some planes came in during the afternoon but I was in no hurry to get back to Hobart so I settled into one of the walkers’ huts for a couple of extra days. Hardly anyone else was around and I had a hut to myself for two out of the three nights I stayed. One night was unplanned as on the day I’d intended flying out, the weather turned bad with showers and strong winds, meaning no planes would be coming that day. By then I’d finished the book I’d brought and had to ask the rangers if I could borrow one of theirs. I picked the thickest I could find – the Rumpole omnibus. I also got the chance to see some Orange-bellied parrots, some of the most endangered birds in the world, and which migrate to Tasmania’s south-west to breed.
The weather cleared again, the planes arrived and another Tassie adventure ended. But I’m seriously thinking of doing the circuit walk again. It was a great challenge and I’m keen to see the views I missed during that clouded-in day going over the South West Cape Range.