South West National Park

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South West National Park

This park covers the south-west corner of the state and is a wonderful bushwalking region. It contains some of the finest and wildest walking regions in Australia and has great appeal to experienced bushwalkers. Most regard the walking here as being fairly hard and even the 'easy' routes are considered by many to be tough trips.

The core of the park was created in the late 1960's as compensation for the flooding of Lake Pedder. There have been several extensions since enlarging the area to its current size of 605,000 hectares. It basically covers a 100 x 80 km region and has almost no development at all. It forms the southern third of the Tasmanian World Heritage Area.

There is a single road extending into the northern section of the park to Scotts Peak where a dam was built - this is a popular access point. There are no other roads within the park. Three other roads - at Strathgordon, Farmhouse Creek and Cockle Creek provide alternative access points to the parks boundary. Inside the park near the south-west corner is a tiny settlement and airstrip where two families live - there they mine tin. The airstrip is accessed by very small planes and provides a handy access for some bushwalks.

Transport to the access points is either by private vehicle, charter bus with Evans Coaches or by light airplane from Hobart to Melaleuca.

There is basically only one track through the whole region although this has several names. The Huon Track, Arthur Plains Track, Port Davey Track and South Coast Track provide an almost circular walk of about 12 to 18 days. The track is at times muddy and you have to wade across the major rivers - there are no bridges. While track work has been done to improve these tracks they are rough compared to tracks in other countries. There are no other formal marked tracks in this park.

In addition there are several routes to major features. These provide a range of walks, the most popular ones range from 8 to 14 days in length. It is also possible to do walks of 30 days here without ever seeing any track at all and the West Coast route is one of many possible walks. Most of this park is wilderness even to experienced bushwalkers and very rarely ever gets visited. This is real wilderness and you must take everything with you - there are no re-supply points, no huts or shelters, no signposts, track markers or ranger stations.

The major routes would be considered by experienced south-west walkers to be tracks but be warned. They have no markers, deep mud over your knees, they climb and descend cliffs without ladders or handrails and they cross some rugged country. The biggest problem is not actually the mud, navigation (it's easy to lose the route!) or the cliffs - it is the wild unpredictable weather. On the higher ranges, only about half of those attempting a route actually succeed, the rest fail due to unfavourable weather. High winds, driving rain and snow and poor visibility are normal conditions some of the time. Annual rainfall is around 140 inches a year (nearly 4 metres).

This is not a good place to make just one visit as you are likely to be disappointed. You need lots of patience (and food) to wait out the weather and sometimes you have to give up and come back another year. About one-third of my 58 walks in the south-west have had to be modified in some way due to weather or more rarely because of an injury to a party member. When the weather is fine, its often good for several days and but when it is poor it can and does rain every day for a week.

Many of the bushwalkers on their first visit find they cannot cope with the conditions and in most cases this is simply a lack of experience. Its not so much how many years you have been walking but what experiences you have had. To walk here you must be able to navigate off tracks and it is essential to have walked in very wet weather. By that, I mean you have packed up in the rain, walked all day in rain and set up your wet tent again in the rain - then next morning dress in your wet cold clothes and do it all again. Knowledge of how to camp on wet sloping muddy tent sites is a very useful skill here. If you want to leave the tracks and follow the routes then you must have experience at finding and following routes up and down cliffs without using ropes. Experience at camping in snow is recommended as snowfall does occur in all seasons. If you ENJOY the above conditions then you will like the area - if you like only fine weather and hate putting on wet socks and clothes then you are advised to avoid this park.

On some visits the clouds hang around and you will just pass through and not see much. On another visit you might have mainly sunshine with sunburn being the biggest problem and then you will see some magnificent country. In the last ice ages, the region was glaciated and has many lakes, cirques and glacial features. With the melting of the ice, the sea rose and has flooded much of the coastline - this has made the coastline interesting with large shallow bays and high headlands jutting out into the ocean.

Detailed track notes are available to all the recognised walks in the park in -

South West Tasmania guide

The following walks summaries and galleries are a selection of those available and will give some idea of the conditions and scenery to be found in this park.

On Tracks

South Coast Track | Port Davey | Mt Anne

Rough Routes

Federation Peak | Western Arthur Range
South West Cape | Precipitous Bluff | West Coast

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John Chapman, PO Box 5042, Laburnum, 3130, Australia
Photographs and text are copyright © 1999-2010 John Chapman.
Last updated : January 5th 2010