Like many people, the last few years for me have been a gasping struggle to stay sane and put food on the table. As a travel writer, my work completely vanished in April 2020. I went from having a steady income to simply… not having one. Crazily, I used that opportunity to start a small business with my husband. Which meant that overnight we suddenly had more work than we had hours in the day (and still no real movement on the income front).
By the end of the year my travel writing work started to return and so we took a trip to the very, very, very bottom of Tasmania. We’d spent so much time trying to get on top of things. Going as low as we could possibly go seemed like a good way to let life wash over us for a bit.
Our journey took us to the pointy end of the island, to its southernmost point of the South Cape Bay Walk. You’ll find this 16km round-trip walking trail – one small section of the 85km South Coast Track which takes some serious planning and packing – at the very end of Australia’s southernmost road, near a remote campsite known as Cockle Creek. Any further south than this, and you’d be in Antarctica.
From its name, I assumed this walk would take me along the coastline. In fact it winds its way through bush and grasslands for the entire walk. It’s deliciously feature-packed. Sometimes you pick your way along rutted boardwalks through shoulder-high grasses. Other times you pass through squelchy rainforest. At one point you meander beside a creek dappled with waterfalls. Green rosellas squawk in the canopies. If you’re lucky you might spot a pademelon. Less lucky and you’ll have to do a quick sidestep around a snake sunning itself on the wooden slats of the path.
The best part of the walk begins at around the three-quarter mark. This is when you begin to hear the low, insistent rumble of the Southern Ocean, crescendo-ing as you round each bend. When you finally hike the last few metres, nature has designed the reveal to be as dramatic as a red curtain parting on a Broadway opening night. You pass through a narrow rock passageway and there it is. The howling Southern Ocean. Great, crashing blue waves, a powerful, thundering swell that stretches away into nothingness. There are no people out there, no land. There’s nothing ahead of you anywhere except the wild, boisterous sea.
It’s impossible to stand here and not gulp in great lungfuls of tangy, salt air and feel totally, vanishingly small. And that’s the best way I know to feel free.
We all spend so much time trying to get to the top. We want be top of our class, get the promotion at work, be the best husband, wife, parent. The scramble can be exhausting. It took a trip to Tasmania’s remote, southernmost tip to remind me of the humbling, life-affirming joy of spending a little time sitting at the bottom.
The fine print
There are lots of gorgeous BnBs around Dover, the closest main town to the South Cape Bay Walk (about an hour’s drive from your starting point). The Boathouse is a private paradise surrounded by bush and with a walkway to its own beach. Tides Reach looks over the pretty Pottery Beach, which is dotted with gnarled wild apple trees. Across the Huon River (around 90 minutes’ drive from the walk), Cloud River Farm is run by two of the loveliest hosts you could ever meet, Nat and Mark Donkin who will happily pour you a cider and tell you about every local’s secret in the region. And if money’s no object, the stately Villa Talia is filled with Hermes furnishings and Chinese antiques and has 180-degree views of the Huon River from its hilltop location.
How to get there
Dover is a two-hour drive south of Hobart, and the start of the South Cape Bay Walk is another hour’s drive south of Dover. Fill up on petrol in Dover – there are few if any opportunities after that – and be aware that the road becomes gravel before you reach your destination.
When to go
Weirdly, Tasmania is still thought of as a summer destination, despite the fact that this beautiful southern wilderness comes into its own as the nights get long and the temperature drops. Winter is wonderfully moody; spring is lush and green with bursts of bright yellow wattle; while in autumn the apple trees are brimming with fruit and there’s enough of a nip in the air to give everything a fresh frisson.
What to pack
Hiking boots or walking shoes and long pants. The South Cape Bay Walk isn’t difficult, but it’s long. Signs say it takes four hours to do both directions but realistically allow for five, especially if you want to spend some time dropping your jaw to the floor at the end. Tassie does get hot in summer so a hat and sunscreen are a must. And if you’re staying anywhere oceanfront, bring your swimmers (although the beaches are so deserted that no one would notice if you chucked a skinny dip).
Even in summer, there’s something dark and woodsy about Tasmania. Try Texan band Midlake, with their wintery campfire songs, sea shanties and Gregorian chants.
Need more exercise? Esperance Adventures leads immersive kayak tours around the Huon River, Port Esperance and Recherche Bay, which include riveting tales of the Aboriginal and colonial history of the region (fun – or maybe not so fun – fact, the European settlers kept their cattle on a remote island in the middle of Port Esperance and would swim their cows back and forwards across the bay. Somehow). Also, there is more good food in this part of Tasmania then there are people. Highlights include Port Cygnet Cannery (the Saturday night vegetarian Farm Dinner will knock even a meat eater’s socks off), the delicious baked goods at roadside stall The Little Black Fridge and the exceptional superfresh sushi made by the Surfing Sushi Chef, Masaaki Koyama.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
My life in travel
Favourite Aussie holiday memory
“From when I was tiny my family would regularly stay at an old-school holiday resort, Kim’s Camp, on the NSW Central Coast (it’s still there but it has a nice new name and is much more glamorous today). I was only a newborn when I went the first time and my parents tell me I slept in an esky. Ah, the carefree (careless?) late-1970s.”
Next local holiday
“I’m planning on disappearing into the bush with my husband and two dogs to this tiny house, buried somewhere mysterious in the Blue Mountains of NSW.”
Favourite international holiday spot
“I could happily see out the rest of my days on an island in the Philippines – there are only about 7000 to choose from.”
Australian bucket list destination
“I haven’t seen nearly as much Australian outback as I’d like. I’m obsessed with the idea of flying over Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre and viewing the mysterious Marree Man from the air.”