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reveries of an amateur long-distance hiker

In Tasmania Day 5 Spring River Crossing to Melaleuca 21km

January 25th, 2020

In Tasmania Day 5 Spring River Crossing to Melaleuca 21km

Spring River must have had a flood on the last few months— many down trees making the pass all but unpassable. In my “campsite”, a space just large enough to put up my single tent, I could see low growing ferns, dead about one foot up covered in a gray film, but at their tops, new green was sprouting. I made short work striking camp and was soon out crossing what was initially a fairly dry track. Today’s walk to the boat crossing at Joan point—the entrance into Bathurst Harbor. There was a lot more up and down hiking. I’d climb up a ridge and sometimes have a long dry stretch which, with the sun and clear air, gave a chance to see the terrain, particularly the winding of the Spring River down in the valley—a distant reminder of the winding Shenandoah River of my childhood. The 10km to Farrell Point was uneventful, still a lot of mud and jungle trekking  it the Bush was more brambley as my arms were really scratched up (later in the trek I met another Port Davey tramper whose arms were a mass of scars). The logic of the path is unclear as it will strike up a slope and then for no apparent reason dive back into a jungle. I’m learning that the intermediate areas, just lightly covered with scrub can be the most difficult as the really deep mud can go on for kilometers, making it impossible to make decent time. Around noon I made it down the last slope and stared out on the Farrell peninsula which was bare clear hiking with good views of both Bathurst and ocean bays out by Port Davey.

Bathurst is a fascinating body of water. Well inland and connected to the ocean by the narrowest of channels, it is a huge tidal body and would be an ideal harbor, but there are no towns. Since the World Heritage declaration, there never will be. Apparently the poor soils made agriculture nearly impossible, so the only industries were logging and fishing (and some tin mining a little further south). The geology is dominated here by quartzite blanketed by heath, so the soil is mostly moist peat, which explains why the water is reddish brown, though perfect.y safe to drink. I’m not even treating it. It reminds me of Scottish burns and I wonder that some enterprising Tasmanian didn’t start a distillery.

The crossing from Farrell Point to Joan is by rowboat. The park service has three fine metal boats and an old plastic tub. The rules are that at least one of the metal boats should be docked on either side, but as luck would have it, the north dock only had the old tub which I awkwardly rowed across. There I launched one of the metal boats, tied to tub to the back and rowed back north to return it. As luck would have it, the first humans I encountered in the last two days came motoring up in a boat designed to transport hikers to various points on the southwest coast. Mick and his crew kindly helped me land and secure both boats, then motored me back across to Joan Point—this entire trip I’ve been met with nothing but kindness and good cheer. My initial plan had been to stay on the point, but since it was before 2:00 and there was no water within a km, I decided to press on to Melaleuca, another 12km which I calculated would put me in camp before 8:00—a long day but the weather was good and I felt fine. The trail from Joan Point to Melaleuca is more travelled, better marked, and still muddy as hell. At one point I slipped and fell (again), this time my trekking pole handle snapped back giving me a fat lip—something new to occupy my mind while trudging on. I crossed paths with some too-proud walkers heading north who assured me the time to Melaleuca was three hours (they were off an hour). Wearing shorts and what looked like Kevlar industrial gaiters, the leader of the crew (I only assume that as he was the only one to speak and the others barely made eye contact—strange encounter) sat resting covered with flies without making the slightest effort to wave them away. It seemed somehow a test of his manhood, as I’m guessing the trip up Port Davey is as well.

I staggered into Melaleuca around seven—an old airstrip (originally built by hand by Denys King, tin miner and ornithologist) with a few shipping containers along the edge, and a hut housing among other things, the food box I had sent via Par Avion for resupply (I have entirely too much food and am not sure how to carry it on). There I met Kendron, a fascinating Aussie who is studying Jungian psychology, and was later met by Sheryl, one of the volunteer caretakers who checked in to see if I was all right. She took one look at me and strongly suggested I enjoy the hut (which is very nice) and stay on for another day. My mind was reluctant to give up a hard-hiked gained day, but my calfs over-ruled and I settled in with a zero day tomorrow.


T. Hugh Crawford