Melaleuca is a tiny remote hamlet in the south-west area of Tasmania, on Bathurst Harbour. Access is only by sea via Port Davey, by air or by foot.
The settlement consists of a couple of buildings including an historic house and a bird hide where the Orange-bellied Parrot can be viewed. In spite of its size and isolation, Meleleuca is a major tourist attraction.
Melaleuca has a gravel airstrip which is used by small aircraft which service hiking needs and which bring tourists to the remote South West Wilderness region of the state. Two hiking trails meet at Melaleuca: the Port Davey Track and the South Coast Track. There are no shops nor any facilities apart from two walkers' huts. Camping is available nearby.
From the 1930s until the area gained World Heritage status, Melaleuca had been the location leased for mining ventures.
From 1936 until his death in 1991, Melaleuca was home to tin miner Deny King who discovered the extinct shrub, Banksia kingii as well as a species of eyebright, Euphrasia kingii and the endangered King's lomatia or King's holly, Lomatia tasmanica. King also built the walkers' accommodation and airstrip and in 1975 was made a Member of the Order of Australia for his services to the community.
Two walking tracks (for very experienced walkers only) cross the wilderness. The 54 km Port Davey Track runs from Lake Pedder to Melaleuca and typically takes four to five days to walk. Lake Pedder itself is 75 km from Hobart via the Gordon River Road.
From Melaleuca the 66 km South Coast Track runs along the southern coast of Tasmania back to Cockle Creek. This section of the walk typically takes between five and nine days. From Cockle Creek at the end of the Huon Highway, the southernmost road in Australia, it is an approximately two-hour drive back to Hobart. There are also some shorter walks that enter the edges of the wilderness from the road access points.
Alternatively a plane drop-off and/or pick-up at Melaleuca can be arranged, although air travel into the area is highly dependent upon the rapidly changeable weather. Small planes fly on regular tourist flights from Cambridge Airport, Hobart and offer a stunning way to view the South West Wilderness. Flights take about 45 minutes each way.
The only other possible access to the wilderness is by boat. No regular tourist trips operate to the area by sea, though a water trip can be coordinated through the tourist flight operators, as well as them offering overnight accommodation in a standing camp. At least one sea kayak touring outfitter leads extended wilderness tours of Bathurst Harbour, using folding kayaks and departing from Melaleuca.
The area is subject to snow, ice, strong winds, heavy fog and cloud cover at any time of year, but especially out of the warmer months, which means any trip into the wilderness should be taken with caution. Rainfall can be up to 3,000 mm per year, and the superb views are regularly obscured by low level cloud. This variable and potentially dangerous weather occurs because the wilderness fronts the wild Southern Ocean, where the next landfall is Antarctica.
Bathurst Harbour, on the shores of which Meleleuca stands, is located in the South West Wilderness of Tasmania. The harbour is an expansive, almost landlocked body of water which provides safe anchorage from the Roaring Forties that buffet the Western and South Coast Tasmania. The harbour is connected by the narrow Bathurst Channel to Port Davey. Like most esturine systems in southwest Tasmania, the water is stained a deep red-brown due to tannin rich runnoff from the surrounding heathlands.
Almost all of the harbour is navigable by sailing vessels with no submerged rocks or navigational hazards except for a small area around Black Swan Island at Old Bay in the harbours north. The land around the harbour is unpopulated with little infrastructure other than Melaleuca and remains from the tin mines in the early 1900s. A mining department camp was formerly located at Woureddy Bay on Melaleuca Creek. The Claytons Corner homestead is located at the mouth of Melaleuca Creek on Forest Lagoon which includes a timber jetty.
View Larger Map
The Needwonnee Walk at Melaleuca has been enthusiastically received by visitors to the remote Southwest site since its completion late last year. The Aboriginal heritage walk shares the stories of the Needwonnee people of the Southwest with innovative interpretive installations along a new 1.2 kilometre boardwalk that weaves its way through the forest and buttongrass plains beside Melaleuca lagoon. The walk is very accessible for Par Avion's clients who fly in for half or full-day tours. The walk is flat, has no steps and from the lagoon edge, offers stunning views of the rugged Western Arthur range and Mt Rugby, with Mt Legge and Mt King behind. It is achievable for those visitors who are less able or have limited mobility and they really appreciate the experience and the Aboriginal interpretation.
South West National Park
Meleleuca is located in Southwest National Park, which encompasses over six hundred thousand hectares of wild, inspiring country and forms part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area.
The park, the largest in Tasmania, epitomises the granduer and spirit of wilderness in its truest sense. Much of the park is remote and far removed from the hustle and bustle of the modern world. For many, just the fact that such a place still exists brings solace. For others, the region offers the challenge to explore areas that retain the same wildness that once characterised new frontiers.
Southwest National Park is part of a continuous chain of five National Parks, along with the Hartz Mountains National Park, the Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park, the Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park, and the Walls of Jerusalem National Park. Together these five National Parks cover almost a quarter of Tasmania's land mass and, along with a few other smaller parks and areas, form the World Heritage Area. Sections of some of these other National Parks can also be considered part of the South West Wilderness.
Evidence has been found for human habitation in the South West Wilderness area going back at least 25,000 years. The coastal area was shared by four Tasmanian Aboriginal tribes for at least the last 3,000 years. The coast of the area was mapped by Captain James Cook in 1777 as part of his third voyage of discovery aboard the HMS Resolution, though this was not a focus of this voyage. It was undoubtedly sighted by earlier European voyagers, but little attempt appears to have been made to land.
During the 19th century, as Europeans colonised other parts of Australia and Tasmania, this area was found to be harsh and inhospitable. Limited numbers of sealers, whalers, miners and timber-getters based themselves in the area. In 1955 Lake Pedder National Park was proclaimed. Over the following 35 years the park was gradually extended, and was renamed the Southwest National Park, finally reaching its present size in 1990. As detailed below, the Southwest National Park forms the bulk of the South West Wilderness.
South Coast Track
South Coast walking track: this cross country trail passes through the Southwest National Park in Tasmania. The Park is an unforgettable, enormous area of World Heritage wilderness that is remote, ancient, and epic in its proportions. The Roaring Forties lash the park for much of the year, adding to the drama. This walk is recognised as one of the world's great wilderness walks and its reputation is justified. The track takes walkers through the heart of over 600,000 hectares of wild, untouched and challenging country into which, unlike the famous Overland Track, there are no roads. Most people take approximately 6 - 8 days to complete the South Coast Track.