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About Southwest Tasmania

Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area

Experience the changing light, dramatic cloudscapes, brilliant sunshine, moody mists

A UNESCO World Heritage Wilderness

The Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area is one of the last great wilderness areas in the world.

The Southwest National Park has wild rivers, jagged mountain ranges, rolling buttongrass plains and silent green rainforest. Bathurst Harbour, which you’ll explore by sea kayak, is a drowned valley, flooded by rising sea levels when glaciers and the polar ice caps melted at the end of the last Ice Age, 12,000 years ago.

Lowlands and hills, rising to rocky quartzite peaks

Rivers running into the harbour drain extensive areas of ‘blanket bog’, a characteristic vegetation community of southwest Tasmania. Water running through these buttongrass peatlands leaches tannins from the plants, colouring the creeks and rivers a deep amber. Open to the sea, the waters of Bathurst Harbour are salty (or brackish) and dark. This has created a biological curiosity, with species of marine animals and plants usually found in deep water living close to the surface and sunlight.

From the broad expanse of the inner harbour, the waterway funnels westward towards the sea, with a tidal race running through The Narrows at the point where walkers on the Port Davey Track cross by rowing a dinghy. Beyond, the harbour widens again, its mouth sheltered by the Breaksea Islands, which face the might of the Southern Ocean.

Port Davey and the Southern Ocean

Port Davey is more open and exposed to the Southern Ocean, but in good weather conditions we are able to paddle deep into this spectacular harbour, even entering the mouth of the Davey River and venturing upstream towards the magnificent Davey Gorge.

The Roaring 40°s

The waterways of Port Davey and Bathurst Harbour lie at 43 degrees south, in the direct path of the winds that sailors call the Roaring 40s. These prevailing westerlies sweep around high southern latitudes, almost unhindered by land. They brush Tasmania, the South Island of New Zealand and the tip of South America. The air you breathe down here last blew over land on the coast of Chile, 8000 kilometres to the west.

The winds bring high rainfall – just over two metres in this part of the island. Southerly gales are frequent, carrying cold air from the Southern Ocean.

But most of the bad weather arrives in the winter months. During the summer there are long spells of sunny, mild (and sometimes hot) days. You need to be prepared for every kind of weather – it’s part of the special appeal of the region, with changing light, dramatic cloudscapes, brilliant sunshine, moody mists on the water, showers obscuring the mountain summits and days that are still, calm, cloudless and warm.

Southwest Tasmania as a kayaking destination

Another highlight of this kayaking destination is its complex geographical landscape. There’s a profusion of inlets, points, islands, beaches and bays, so there’s always somewhere that’s sheltered from the breeze and comfortable to camp.

Few people have the opportunity to experience such remote wilderness regions. Exploration by sea kayak is the most authentic and adventurous way to immerse yourself in the awe-inspiring natural beauty of southwest Tasmania.

Tasmania's Aboriginal people

Tasmania's Aboriginal people occupied southwest Tasmania for 30,000 years or more. Indeed during the last Ice Age they may have been the most southerly people on earth.

The Needwonnee Aboriginal people were one of four bands that made up the Southwest nation in Tasmania. The Needwonnee lived in villages of huts, close to fresh water and food. To paddle the myriad creeks, rivers and lagoons dissecting their homelands, they built canoes from the fibrous bark of paperbark trees.

You will get to experience the Needwonnee way of life on the award-winning Needwonnee Walk at Melaleuca. You can expect to see a traditional campsite, including huts, tools, hearthfire and even a paperbark canoe – all created from materials in the surrounding forest. 

European settlers in the early 1800s decimated Aboriginal culture across the whole island of Tasmania. Whaling and timber-getting first brought Europeans to the southwest, but this presence was short-lived - in just 20 years the resources were depleted, leaving the remote southwest wilderness largely forgotten and unoccupied.

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