Easter in the South East

We’re definitely getting to the pointy end of our trip countdown (116 days) so while we are still loving getting away in the van the holidays are becoming more and more focused on adjusting our set up and working out what we need to pack for The Big Lap.

There have been quite a few changes in our lives since I returned from Three Capes in October last year. In January we ran the COVID-19 gauntlet and picked up our van from Brisbane after 16 months apart. It felt very strange to be in a different state, almost criminal, but we immensely enjoyed our time on Fraser Island and then high-tailing it through NSW, ACT, VIC and then finally home to Tassie. The additional upgrades to the van turned out fantastically. When we got back from the trip Matt also finalised his finishing date of work as the end of July. His company is giving him leave without pay for the duration of our adventure which will give us a lot more stability when we get back. Because they are being so considerate we are working with their preferences so even though I was really keen to leave this month we have pushed it out. That in turn has meant that for what feels like the 20th time I’ve redone the itinerary, oh well. We’ve now broken it into a mini internal lap of the desert in August-November and will then commence a lap of the coast. The final piece of news I have is in February I resigned from my job! It was making me unbelievably miserable and stressed so I just thought bugger it, gave 12 weeks notice and figured I’d spend 3 months off work at home being a housewife and doing some trip preparation. The lovely company I worked for ended up finding a replacement for me much faster than anyone anticipated so I got paid out 7 weeks notice and 2 weeks annual leave. This big chunk of cash inflow allowed us to hit and then surpass our $70,000 savings target. Big tick, so financially we can leave any day.

That brings us nicely up to the Easter long weekend. We had decided (before I resigned) to take leave on the Wednesday and Thursday before Easter so we could make the most of a decent 6 days away. I was trying to pick somewhere that wouldn’t be completely crowded and we ended up choosing the Huon Valley region of Tasmania which would also allow us to take The Egg to the most Southern road on continental Australia and give us time to walk to the most Southern Point.

Day 1

On Wednesday morning we packed up the van, grabbed our new awning tent and started the journey south. The drive down to our campsite for the night wasn’t particularly far so we made the most of the journey first stopping in at the Port Huon Trading Post (a mediocre looking take away joint) which my dad assured us had amazing savory treats and then making our way to Cairnes Bay where we pulled out our new coffee machine and tucked into our lunch/snack overlooking the river. Dad was right, the home made pastries were fantastic and driving past you would have never guessed it, if you’re in the area pop in. With full stomachs and slightly buzzing from our first real coffee made out of the van we continued around the coast and stumbled upon the Huon Aquaculture Farm Store. Matt is an absolute salmon feind as seen on our Gordon River Cruise trip so of course we popped in. The shop had a wonderful variety of products and we walked out with two packets of cured salmon ($7 each) and a pot of the trout dip ($9). If fresh fish is more your style you can get whole trout or salmon for $18/kg and $17/kg respectively which is just ridiculously cheap. Further along the road I spotted a beautiful white sand beach called Little Roaring Bay. We stopped in because it looked like the perfect place for a paddle. I pulled off my shoes and happily walked towards the water with a couple of locals looking on in reflectively what must have been amusement. As soon as the sea washed over my feet I turned around and went back to the shore. It was like sticking your foot in a bucket of ice. Brrrrr!

Matt wanted to do a bit more exploring around the area but I knew the campsite we were heading for was a popular one and it was about 2pm already which forced our hand to drive the final few km to Cockle Creek. On our way in the free campsites outside the national park were filling fast so I was a bit worried that Boltons Green might be full already. Fortunately because it is a small site and needs a parks pass we managed to get one of the few spots that remained. It was at this point Matt realised that he hadn’t filled up the water tank correctly and we had about 1L of fresh water (whoops). Luckily there was a tap in the campsite even if the instructions were to boil the water first. We grabbed a beer each and went down to the beach with our camp chairs to enjoy a beverage and a bit of sun.

After a rest I suggested we go on the hike out to Fishers Point. Matt being the avid cyclist that he is avoids walking like it’s the plague and he needed a lot of encouragement, particularly when he found out the walk was 2 hours return. I decided that it probably wasn’t wise to mention that the hike I had lined up for tomorrow was 4 hours and 16km long. If you decide to do the Fishers Point track my biggest recommendation would be to head off on low tide. We left just as the water started to go down and the way out involved a lot of rock scrambling and at a couple of points we lost the track completely. It was worth it though with views of the sea, crystal clear water and distant mountain ranges. The turning point is a very overgrown pilot station and lighthouse complete with random English garden plants like fuchsias.

That evening I cooked Pad Thai for dinner and we both settled down with our books and read. The campground was visited by some very cute pademelons and small wallabies which we enjoyed watching before retiring to bed.

Day 2

Feeling very well rested after our long sleep we got up and started to prepare for the big hike planned for the rest of the day. I was very excited as it has been on my walking bucket list for some time, Matt was less enthusiastic as I’m fairly sure it’s the longest hike he has ever done. I made up some rolls and snacks and packed my hiking gear while Matt cooked up bacon and eggs for breakfast. We ended up getting to the start of the trail just on 8.30am while half of the camp ground were still fast asleep. The forecast was a moderately warm 28 degrees and we wanted to be done before it got too hot.

The trail could be broken into 3 distinct environments/sections. The first 3km was a rocky but gradual climb up Moulder’s Hill that I found quite challenging due to my dodgy ankle rolling on every bit of uneven track. We overtook a couple of other walkers with kids along the way, saying g’day as we went past and also came upon a few hikers finishing the South Coast Trail.

The second section of track was almost entirely on boardwalk through a marsh/swamp area. The track was severely overgrown and in places the boards were broken or sunk into the ground which made it a little bit hazardous. I’d strongly recommend long pants or gaiters for this walk as in my shorts and hiking boots my legs were quite scratched up. The scenery was stunning and the flat terrain made walking pretty quick.

The final section was a forested area which went from sandy banksias into rainforest and then back again before a slight hike up a hill and onto the cliff area for a breathtaking view of the southern coast. I was amazed at the geology of the area as the black almost volcanic stone wasn’t something I’ve seen in Tasmania before. There were a number of warnings to stay away from the cliff edge with the reason becoming very clear as we climbed down to the beach and observed the collapsed edges around the point.

Knowing that it was probably going to be a long time before I was there again I managed to convince Matt to do the additional hike out to Lion Rock. The national parks website says that you can go down there and “marvel at what the wild ocean has washed up”, sadly the only thing I was marveling at was a coke bottle that looked like it had been at sea for years. Even in one of the most wild places on the planet rubbish turns up. I popped it in my bag and poked around the rock pools that were oddly empty. We spent a fair bit of time at the beach watching the massive surf and eating lunch before heading back the way we came. The return journey was uneventful apart from seeing a ground parrot in the marshland for the first time! Our walk ended up being a total of 19.1km which was well over Matt’s longest hike and very close to mine.

Tired but happy we returned to camp for the night. The one unusual occurrence being one of our neighbours couldn’t get their gas stove to work so we lent them ours so they could cook dinner. I’m a big believer in karma so hopefully if we ever end up in the same situation someone will help us too.

Day 3

Our third day on the road started out bright and sunny which was pleasant after the showers that came through yesterday evening. I made french toast and sat by the beach to eat breakfast. We had quite a bit on the itinerary so we packed up and hit the road. Frustratingly on the way out we were unable to locate the “End of the Road” sign to get a photo with Egg, I don’t know if we were both just having boy looks or what was going on.

Matt was very keen to do a bit of 4WDing, after all that is why we have a 4WD, and the nearest track was out to Southport Lagoon. The parks and wildlife sign at the beginning of the track had it rated as moderate/hard but honestly we’d driven on “easy” tracks that were more challenging than it was. This belief was confirmed when we got to the campsite and saw a guy in a small AWD parked up. The area was nice so we hung out down by the water and made a coffee.

Bear with me for a second because I don’t think I’ve explained the situation with the coffee machine or what a ridiculous ordeal it has been. Before we started going on longer trips we both thought that we would be able to live on Moccona and the occasional take away coffee during our lap. Please don’t ask me how, as two coffee fanatics with our own machine, grinder, and preference for high quality beans; we formed the opinion that a system of instant coffee would work…I don’t know. Anyway after driving down from Brisbane in January it became very obvious it wasn’t going to be a viable plan and we’d have to get a coffee machine. I handballed the decision making back to Matt and after a few months of research and looking into the space we had he decided the best option would be the Breville Essenza Mini and frother for the Nespresso system which was great except we couldn’t run it because our inverter was too small. Matt therefore also bought a new 1500w inverter and completely rewired our electrical system to make it work. It definitely ended up being worth it and we’re saving $9+ per day because while the coffee isn’t cafe standard it is a hell of a lot better than Moccona.

Anyway, back on the road we drove up to Lune River (my favourite fossicking location) and then along to the Mystery Creek Cave walk. On the way in we power walked like crazy as there was a big loud family entering the hike just as we were and we wanted some time in the cave alone. As we hiked I thought I heard a lyrebird but we didn’t have any time to investigate. The track follows an old tramway that was cut to both pull out timber for construction in Hobart and stone from a quarry that was used to construct the jetty at Ida Bay. Along the side of the track were discarded boots, plates, bottles and cups as well as machine relics and signs of logging. We crossed the creek, went through the quite impressive quarry, and then scrambled down into the gully where the gaping hole of the cave could be easily seen.

The cave was just incredible, it was massive with a creek running through and glow worms covering the roof like thousands of tiny stars. Mystery Creek Cave has reportedly one of the best glow worm colonies in the southern hemisphere and looking up I was inclined to agree. Exporation without a guide is restricted to the main cavern but of course Matt just had to go and have a look into the mouth of a couple of side passages where he found a massive cave spider. We spent probably 30 minutes walking around and I unsuccessfully attempted to capture the glow worms with my camera. All too soon the family joined us and the serenity was broken so we popped back out into the light and comparative warmth of the forest. 40 Degrees South has a very interesting article on Mystery Creek Cave which you can read here.

Back on the road we continued on to the Hastings Cave Visitor Center. Due to COVID-19 cave tours were restricted to 8 people at a time and of course were booked out for Easter but we were there for other reasons. Just through the entry is a thermal pool where for $5.50 per person you can swim in 29 degree fresh water and indulge in a hot shower. Refreshed and smelling much more pleasant we drove up and across to the Esperance River and found a nice little site next to our own private section of the water course.

Esperance River Campground was a nice reminder to both of us to take WikiCamps reviews with a grain of salt. The camping area is very extensive rather then the specific points indicated on the map and despite the 3 stars given and scathing reviews from previous people was just lovely. We had afternoon tea next to a beautiful river in the forest and watched the sun go down and the critters come out. The only downside was that there were a ridiculous number of European wasps, a problem we solved by putting up our awning tent.

Day 4

We woke up to some very intense wind which had continued on from the early hours of the morning. I’d been woken up several times by small branches being blown out of the tree behind the van and hitting the roof. Had we known it was going to blow a gale we would have camped further into the open. On the bright side the awning tent which we put up wet was now very dry.

Our plan for the day was to make our way over to the Hartz ranges following the forestry tracks and trails and stay at a free camp called Arve River. It was forecast to reach a very warm (for Tassie) 30 degrees with the wind getting worse as the day went on so we packed up early and headed off.

Everything started very well until about 5km into our trip, down in a little gully we were faced with a 4WDing obstacle. Matt and I both did a 2 day 4WD course a couple of months ago to prepare ourselves for the big lap so we weren’t too bothered by it. The track narrowed quite considerably with a rocky base, and a tilt to the left into a steep bank. We both got out and walked it, had a good look, and then set about doing some track building. I focused on the left hand side where the bank was really steep and Matt filled in the holes. I wanted to keep cutting out the bank some more but Matt was feeling confident we’d done enough so got in the van and gave it a crack. It could not have gone more wrong. Because of how narrow the road became he couldn’t take the line he thought he’d be able to and rode high on the right hand side. As the van started moving through the gap it tilted sharply to the left embedding the entire left hand side in the clay embankment which left the left front wheel and right back wheel completely airborne. We literally could not have done a better job of bogging ourselves for the first time.

It was just a nightmare because there was so much wrong, we had 2 wheels with no traction, the right front wheel was down on the slope and obstructed from reversing by a mound and the left back barely had anything to grip onto, the van was buried into the side, we had no water because we didn’t fill it at home but it also turned out our tank had a leak, we didn’t take the PLB with us because we were just mucking around in Tassie what could go wrong, we were in the middle of nowhere, and no one knew where we were. So many errors leading up to one big problem. There was literally nothing for it, we just had to get ourselves out. Our first focus was digging out the side which I got into while Matt removed the mound of clay behind the front right wheel. After a bit of digging we gave it a go but almost all the power seemed to be going into the airborne left back tyre. We moved the recovery boards around and tried to go but the wheel didn’t have enough weight on it to grip so it just spun on the track. I then started building up under the spinning wheel with rocks and sticks to try and add some traction but was frustrated in each attempt we made to reverse my sticks all sunk into the mud. We tried using the floor mat which got shot out like a magic carpet. After 2 hours of work having moved nowhere we decided to try and lift the van off the edge using the high lift jack. We had avoided it for this long because they are notoriously dangerous but we were out of options, we set it up and Matt started to crank and low and behold the van shifted, maybe 5cm to the right but enough to get off the remaining bit of edge I hadn’t dug out. Yay! We got in the van, tried again and didn’t move an inch.

By this point I was getting pretty anxious mainly because no one knew where we were so I hiked up the hill and called my dad and asked him if he knew anyone with a 4WD. Unfortunately he did not but I felt a lot better that someone knew where we were and that we were stuck. Reassured I returned to the gulley and kept working. Things definitely improved after we shifted the van. I added more sticks to my wheel and we found we got back 2cm to huge excitement. The right front hit the ground and started being semi useful, Matt dug out the left front more and cm by cm we started moving back until 3 hours after we got stuck we were free. I’ve included the before and after shots of the track because interestingly it became increasingly wet while we were stuck. Beyond relieved we hightailed it back onto the main road and into Geeveston where beers and lunch were consumed.

Absolutely exhausted we went into the forest to our intended campsite but found it was exposed to the severe winds that were plaguing the area. My nerves were well and truly shot by this point so we decided to go to Tahune Airwalk and see if they either had more shelter or an exposed area. We were in luck, paid our $10 fee and parked up in the massive open overflow car park. With next to no energy we heated up some water and washed the mud off with our camp shower, had a small wander around the hiking trails, cooked dinner and went to bed.

Day 5

For our last full day I had originally planned on hiking up to the top of Hartz Mountain but we were both tired, sore, and covered in blisters from the digging so instead we opted for a couple of very short walks one to Arve Falls and the other to Waratah lookout. I’m starting to lose track of the number of times I’ve planned and then failed to climb Hartz Mountain, it would seem it is not meant to be.

We had an uneventful drive down the river to Franklin and set up in the riverside camp area where we met some friendly travellers and a couple of long term campers including a bloke and his daughter that had been living there for a while. I can’t remember his name but you’d be hard pressed to find a nicer guy, he had some wonderful stories about his life, growing up in the NT and mustering cattle. He offered us a cup of tea and I told him I’d make him a coffee in the morning with our machine. We also met a family living in a massive bus. Their two sons ran a business making rock necklaces which they then sold at markets. With the money they had made they bought a trampoline/mat for gymnastics and showed me all kinds of amazing tricks

That afternoon Matt and I walked down to Frank’s cider house and grabbed a 4 pack to take away and then headed back to the campsite where we caught up with my mum and dad who had bought a van of their very own just last week! It’s a great little van with a heap of space and unlike ours allows one to stand up when inside. Mum gave me an awesome piece of Serpentine and Stichtite which she picked up at the closing down sale of a gallery for $10! I already had a little piece at home which I got in Queenstown for $5 but this was so much better. It’s my new favourite for sure. We had afternoon tea together and then mum and dad headed back to Hobart while Matt and I stayed in Franklin, had dinner, and watched the bandicoots bounce around.

Day 6

All too soon the holiday came to an end and we found ourselves packing up and heading back to Hobart. In Huonville we stopped at the carwash and sprayed the effects of the bogging event off the paintwork and headed home. We both had a fantastic time and even more importantly learnt a lot. There have been a few more to do’s added to out list of things to complete before we head off.

Campsite Reviews

Boltons Green Campsite – Absolutely stunning campground on the edge of a sheltered bay looking across to mountains. Very nicely maintained drop toilets, fresh (boil first) water, mix of sites of various sizes. Free camp however you’ll need a national parks pass to stay there 8/10.

Esperance River – We couldn’t stay at the best spot on the river because it was already taken by a guy with a caravan but we did find a very nice site further along the road. No amenities at all where we were but toilets and a shelter can be found further down the road. Free site, very peaceful 7/10.

Tahune Airwalk Campground – Our unplanned stay when our first plan changed due to severe wind. $10 per night, free WiFi near the cafe, clean toilets, and access to the nature walks after hours. Because we needed to be away from trees we positioned ourselves in the overflow car park but there were some other nicer areas towards the Hang Gliding. In the white water rafting shed out the back we found power points, running water, and two sinks that we made the most of. Staff were lovely and helpful 7/10.

Franklin Camping Ground – Right on the river this spacious and flat grassy area was $10 per night. Technically it can only support self contained vehicles (which we are not) but there was a toilet available and bins so we were just careful with our very small quantity of grey water. The caretaker is a lovely man, the views were stunning and we met a lot of nice people here 7/10.

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