The Southern Ranges is an oddity amongst Tasmanian bushwalks. Its flagship – Precipitous Bluff – is worthy of its status as one of the Southwest classics, but the rest of the range seems to drift in obscurity. It’s the kind of place you stumble across, perhaps hearing from of a friend of a friend of an aquaintence who went there once, but many walkers I’ve chatted with have never heard more than a passing reference. Personally I reckon that this is a gross injustice, and as you’ll probably pick up from the following story, it rates very highly (perhaps even at the top) amongst the Tassie ranges I’ve explored.
As with all the best adventures, the idea for this one was born on another mountain… My memory is fuzzy but I’m pretty sure it was about half-way up Federation Peak’s Direct Ascent that someone pointed out Precipitous Bluff (PB) in the far south and suggested that perhaps the Southern Ranges ‘wouldn’t be a bad idea’. At the time I’d never heard of the place and, perched about 600m above Lake Geeves, I was interested in anything but climbing another bloody mountain…
Despite my lack of initial enthusiasm 11 months later I found myself hanging out at one of Tassie’s better bakery’s, eyeing off the busy Saturday crowd of hipsters and wannabe Bohemians as they warily eyed off our boots, thongs, and rainbow-striped poly-pro thermals. At least we smelt nice. Before long the Northern Crew and Southern Crew had finally organised gear and persons into the right vehicles, generally got their shit together and were under way.
After a quick break in Huonville to pick up a carton of Pale Ale (Boags seems to be a dirty word in these parts…) we arrived at the Channel’s finest – the Dover Pub – for our last civilised meal. Apparently the waitress didn’t like pizza, and after a few slices of their best I could see why she wasn’t stoked with the stuff. A glassy Port Esperance promised some good days ahead we promptly bailed for the final drive to Lune River.
Missy, Grady, Sam and myself were unceremoniously dumped with all the gear as Will and Matt headed off to leave a car at Cockle Creek. An hour, several Pale Ales and a game of card Monopoly later (the author’s first ever win), with the sun firmly set, they returned and we made our way by headtorch 1/2km up an abandoned railway track to camp #1 near the old Ida Bay Limestone Quarry. Campsites were plentiful and of OK quality, scattered amongst the trees and, oddly, a heap of rotten old leather boots..
We woke at 7.30am to sunlight streaming through the Native Laurel. After an awesome brekkie of smoked salmon, bacon, eggs & mushrooms, all piled on some Jackman & McRoss sourdough (the joys of a very short first walk), we made our way to the quarry itself. Surrounded by old machinery, we dumped packs and took a short detour down through dense rainforest to the stalactites, mites and glow-worms of Mystery Creek Cave – very cool spot and not a bad way to start a trip!
Back to the packs we headed straight into the first climb. Over the next 3km we ascended 600m, passing some fantastic Swamp Gums down low and then old Myrtle Beeche as we gained altitude. We also spotted a pair of Superb Lyrebirds, the mainland species that was introduced to Tasmania by naturalists as an insurance population in the 1930-40’s, and has since gone feral in the southern forests – great to look at but an unfortunate impact on the local ecosystem.
Eventually we reached Moonlight Ridge and moved into low, dense tea-tree and cutting grass scrub. Looking around we were greeted with amazing views of the D’Entrecasteaux Channel, south-coast and surrounding mountains. We continued along the Ridge for the rest of the morning – mostly uninteresting walking along a poor, muddy track through endless low-dense scrub, although the views continued to make it worthwhile. Eventually, we rose steeply to the flanks of the imaginatively named Hill One, abruptly leaving the scrub behind and to find amazingly expansive alpine Cushionplant communities.
Skirting around the northern side of Hill One the mountains of the southwest were revealed to us one by one – first Mt Anne looming on the horizon and then Federation Peak, knifing skyward over the distant Arthur Range. As we passed Hill Two and the peaks of the Southern Ranges themselves began to unfold, projecting out of the evening mist: Mt Victoria Cross (1120m), quickly followed by our target; Precipitous Bluff (1145m), then the understated Mt Wylly (1110m), the soaring pyramid of Pindars Peak (1230m) and the immense mass of Mt La Perouse (1158m) with the jagged dolerite saw-blade of The Cockscomb projecting towards us. Lastly, sitting proudly on it’s own personal peninsular was the small but gnarled form of The Hippo. Looking north the broad glacial cirque of Moore’s Bridge dropped abruptly over sheer sandstone cliffs to the Upper Lune Valley below.
We continued around the northern face of Hill Three before cresting the bare, windblasted sandstone summit of Hill Four. Soon the Pigsty Ponds appeared below us and we descended in search of the promised campsites. Crossing the open flats exposed one of the most beautiful alpine herb fields I’ve seen in Tasmania – lots of dwarf Pandanis, Tasmanian Purplestars, Eyebrights and Cushionplants, with the Ponds themselves dotted with King Billy Pine and Varnished Gums (Eucalyptus vernicosa; a very rare shrub-like eucalyptus). We quickly chose tent sites amongst the ‘Ponds’, still luke-warm from the days sun, and settled down to a well deserved dinner before crashing to bed for an early night.