Rainbows and The Roaring Forties
South Cape Rivulet, Tasmania, Australia
Lea bushwalking in Southern Tassie
Standing on a cliff overlooking Tasmania’s South Cape Bay, the nearly horizontal rain pelts our faces while a few hundred feet below the grey waters of the Southern Ocean surge. Tasmania dangles off the edge of Australia’s continental shelf on the brink of the Southern Ocean. Once part of the ancient supercontinent, Gondwana, approximately 96 million years ago Antarctica split off from Australia and began to grind its way slowly south.
One of the last landmasses before the vast ice continent, bushwalkers in Tassie have been known to spot penguins and leopard seals on these isolated patches of rocky beaches. My partner Nick and I peered to the horizon for some telltale sign but could only glimpse the shadowed mound of DeWitt Island, roughly fifteen miles out.
Geographically, Tasmania is smack-dab in the middle of the Roaring Forties, the name given by sailors to the airstreams that blow between 40 and 50 degrees south. Without the restrictive landmasses of the Northern Hemisphere, the powerful, gale-force winds of the Roaring Forties arrive on the Southern coast of Tasmania after being unhindered by land for many thousands of miles.
South Cape Rivulet was going to be one wet walk. That was a given. We had the gore-tex, gaiters and rain pants required and did not arrive disappointed. What I hadn’t been expecting were the rainbows. In between the passing rain, the sunlight would filter in dribs and drabs with up to three or four rainbows emerging at a time. Some would end on the beach before us, and we found our own pots of gold. Sea dragons, blowfish and sea horses drying between coils of washed up kelp.
As we put up camp we were greeted by a pair of black swans quietly paddling up the fresh water rivulet beneath the shade of ancient gum trees. While collecting water for our evening meal, a white-bellied sea eagle swooped in from the open water and perched high in a dead snag, observing our activities.
We were camping on the first stop of the South Coast Track (or last depending on which direction you choose to bushwalk), a popular 82km hike that surpasses the Overland Track in stamina, and arguably in beauty. Spread out over a seven-day period, the walk covers many of the old trading routes of the Tasmanian Aboriginals, the region’s indigenous population. In the evening, sheltered by tree ferns, a tempest blew while we dozed off listening to the rummaging scuttles of possums.
The next morning we rose late and were enjoying a casual breakfast while watching the rainbow show play across the outlying cliffs. As a light breeze picked up I began to notice the impossibly rank smell emanating from Nick’s bare feet. I rose up for a quick stroll towards fresher air but the smell only ripened. That was when I stumbled across the emaciated body of a Mako shark, menacing dorsal fin half buried in the sand. Just a short distance from our tent, its carcass still possessed the potent elegance of an agile swimmer. The slackened jaw revealed an inner glimpse into rows of curved teeth.
Our short venture into the southernmost regions of Tasmania only managed to whet my appetite for more. The walk to South Cape Rivulet is perfect for an easy weekend jaunt or to get an initial sense of what further explorations the region has in store.
To get to the trailhead drive south from Hobart about two hours to Cockle Creek. Many day walkers will venture only as far as Lion’s Rock, the initial view of the South Coast. If the tide is low, climb over the low rocky saddle and continue scrambling up the beach. If the tide is high, use the alternative route that climbs inland and provides incredible views. Note: Dirt, mud, wind chill and leeches will be your new best friends. However, it’s an incredibly small price to pay.