You know a hike is going well when a nine-year-old boy turns to you in camp in the evening and announces, “I just realised, I haven’t complained once today.” Last weekend I took my two children for an overnight hike to South Cape Rivulet on Tasmania’s south coast. Near to the southernmost tip of Tasmania – and thus Australia – it’s part of the famed South Coast Track, though we were only walking the equivalent of the first or last day of that track. The longer version – a challenging 86-kilometre mud and beach slog – is something I’ve told them they might be ready for when they’re about 15 years of age. For now, we were just getting a taster. It was to be our first overnight hike together – the three of us – which is my way of saying, the first time I was prepared to carry two tents, and food for three, on my back. We drove to the southernmost road end in the country – Cockle Creek – and continued south on foot. Because you can never carry too much weight when you’re hiking… …especially if you’re creating coastal art.
The first eight kilometres or so to the coast at South Cape Bay was through unremarkable terrain – grassy swamp plains, dry forest, an occasional green gully. Immediately I was cast into the role of motivator, as distracting word game after word game was thrust upon me. We made up six-word stories (‘Tony Abbott, monster rabbit, eats forests’ wasn’t bad for an 11-year-old) and I was instructed to make up stories to see if I could get the kids to laugh (it’s funny how many times the mention of sticking carrots up your nostrils can raise a chuckle). Once we reached the coast, outside motivation was no longer required. For the rest of the day, we ploughed through either sand, water or mud. We had no more than three or four kilometres to walk, but it’d take us a few hours because nature had her own bag of distractions here. At first the kids were awed and a little intimidated by the force of the Southern Ocean as it smashed ashore, then they saw it as a challenge. They stood on foreshore rocks waiting for the largest of the waves, sprinting up the beach just as they broke around their feet. Sometimes the kids beat the waves, sometimes the waves beat them. Sometimes you win… Sometimes the ocean wins.
But the greatest fun came on a headland crossing, where we got our taster of the infamous South Coast Track mud. Suddenly our every step sank, with mud rising first near to the top of our boots, then over them, seeping down around our heels and eventually to our toes. Over the farty, glurpy sounds of our steps, I could hear only laughter. The mission became to get as mud-covered as possible… a mission at which the kids proved predictably adept. They forget we were walking, they forget they had packs on their back, they forget they were hungry back at the last beach.
“Bestest walk ever, Dad,” my son announced, and the two of them later looked completely bemused when we came across another bushwalker who expressed how great all the boardwalk had been across the swamp plains. I could see it in the kids’ eyes – ‘Are you nuts? That was sooooo boring. A waste of good mud.’ In camp, as I pitched the tents, the kids build me a table and talked about their plans to get even muddier the next day, when we march back through the mud, retracing our steps to the car. And how much wetter they’d get taunting the waves again. “I’m so doing the South Coast Track when I’m 15,” I heard my son tell his sister. Apparently I have a date, sometime in 2020. Best table ever. A proud owner, with our camp ahead on the most distant beach.