19.00HRs 02/01/2023
‘Operation Southwest’ – a story about family, the weather and the wilderness.

Written by Rupert McLaren, Richard’s grandson.

Introduction by Claire, Richard’s daughter

My Dad had his first experience of Tasmania’s Southwest wilderness when he was 17 years old, and it changed his life. Captivated by its wildness, its vastness, and the challenge and reward of being amongst it, he has since spent a lifetime exploring it. It has undoubtedly shaped the man that he is. It is part of him. When he is in this place, he is in his element. It is when he is the most alive.

Wading New River Lagoon, 1964
Richard’s party wading the lagoon after completing the first ever east to west traverse of Precipitous Bluff. They waded because the scrub on the edge of the lagoon is impenetrable.
sunset from precipitous
Richard has climbed Precipitous Bluff many times over the years, the dramatic view across the Southern Ranges and the varied landscape makes it one of his favourite walks.

My boys, Rupert and William, were just 5 and 7 respectively when I realised, that Dad, at 73, wouldn’t be walking in the Southwest forever and we’d need to make a plan to ensure they would get to experience the wilderness with him on a true expedition. I want them to acquire his passion for it and learn his vast knowledge of how to safely explore it. But above all else, I wanted them to truly get to know their grandpa in his special place.

An expedition into Southwest Tasmania is beyond many adults, let alone young children. The weather is wild, the walking is tough, you have to carry a heavy pack and the tracks are muddy and wet. So, four years ago, we started ‘Operation Southwest’ – a mission to build the capability my boys would need to manage and enjoy a multi-day bushwalk in Southwest Tasmania. ‘Operation Southwest’ involved regular bushwalks of increasing lengths, nights in tents in remote places, walking in wet weather, and learning to carry a pack.

In 2022 we were ready. We chose a 5-day walk to Ketchum Bay on Tasmania’s south coast. This walk is as beautiful as the famous South Coast Track, but the walking days are shorter and it doesn’t require crossing serious mountain ranges. To do this walk, you must fly 50 minutes by light aircraft and land on a remote gravel airstrip, where you are then collected six days later. The airstrip is seven day’s walk from the nearest road. And so, a walk in this part of the world is dependent on your ability to fly in and out – and that is dependent on the weather. Unfortunately, in 2022, the weather was against us and after three attempts we had to abandon our walk for another year.

Our second attempt. Written by Rupert, 8 years old.

The change of plans.

We were going to do Ketchum Bay, but we couldn’t get on the plane because it was bad weather [again]. They said it would be the same weather the next day and possibly for the week. Even if we could get on the plane, we wouldn’t have enough days to finish the walk. It was decision time. We either try and get into the South West tomorrow and hope for the best, or we go and do a different walk that we can drive to. We looked at the map and an hour later we were in the car driving to Freycinet to do the Freycinet Circuit. After four phone calls and a lot of searching, we booked a hotel on our way for the first night so we could set off in the morning.

The view from the hotel, a few minutes from the beginning of the Freycinet Circuit track.

Day One – Coles Bay to Cooks Beach

People always underestimate us [Will and Rupert] when we’re going on a bushwalk like Freycinet Circuit. People don’t think we can do it. They say ‘Oh that’s only for experienced walkers’ but we prove them wrong because we are experienced walkers.

On the first part of the walk, Mum and I left Will and Papa in our dust. We were speed demons! We were going past people, but Mum said we should wait for Will and Papa. It was a bit sad when all the people we had passed before went in front of us again.

The sand on Hazards Beach was amazing. It was like tie-dye with orange fading into the grey. And when the waves crashed against the sand it fizzed like flipping a sizzling sausage on a barbie.

Hazards Beach
Rupert, William and Richard.

When we were in camp when we sat to eat dinner or breakfast or just to have a hot chocolate or milo, Papa would tell us funny stories.

Bushwalking makes you appreciate the things you have. It also makes me feel sorry for homeless people. When I get home, I can have a warm shower, but homeless people go without for much more than a few days.

Dinner by the light of lanterns and headlamps. Food always taste so much better in the bush.
Rupert and CLaire
Rupert wrote in his journal each night by lamplight with the help of his Mum Claire.

Day two – Climbing Mount Freycinet

The way up was fabulous. Amazing! It was like a chef’s kiss ‘Mwah!’. One of the parts that was interesting was all the different types of leaves. There were so many types – brown, orange, green, ripped and some bitten into.

Will and I always use our imagination when we are walking. At one point I told everyone to be quiet and just walk and listen to the bird’s chirp. Then when I felt a little lonely or it was just a little too quiet, I asked Will to start a song and we all sang along. We sang the song from the Lord of the Rings and then took turns choosing a song to sing together.

As we were getting closer to the summit it started to get steeper and steeper, and the rocks got bigger and bigger. I could tell Mum was ready to get to the summit because she had a pack, and she was starting to slow down. There was one part where I was full-on rock climbing and at that point, I almost fell backwards, but I didn’t.

Mount Freycinet
Climbing bouders nearing the summit of Mount Freycinet.
Rupert climbing making his way to the way to the summit.

I said to Mum, this place doesn’t even feel real. It was just so beautiful. When I got to the summit I thought, I am so lucky to be able to do this. It’s one of the best days I have ever had.

On the top we looked for a place to eat, popped out the scroggin, salami sticks and jerky, and Mum (finally) found the sandwiches, after a few tense minutes of looking for them in her pack.

The view was amazing.

The view from the summit
The extraordinary view over Wineglass Bay to the Hazards.

On the way down we stopped at a creek for a little dip. When we got out and were putting on our shoes, my Mum called out and I thought there must have been a snake, but it was the cutest thing, like a little mouse. We saw two baby Eastern Pygmy Possums. The cutest thing I have ever seen. They might actually be my new favourite animal.

A russell in the undergrowth…
What was first thought to be a mouse was actually a tiny little possum.
An Eastern Pygmy possum
Further research revealed this to be a juvenile Eastern Pygmy Possum

When we got back to the beach, we had a swim at the rocks. We had been dreaming about it for two days and the conditions were perfect. The water was a little bit chilly, but that was all right. We were right by the track, but we didn’t care if anyone saw us in our undies – if we wanted to do it, we were going to do it!

Back to Cooks Beach
A perfect way to end a big day of walking.
A beautiful evening at Cooks Beach.
Perfect weather
Despite having to change our plans due to the weather, it was just perfect on the east coast of Tasmania.

Day Three – the water taxi

When I woke up, I knew it was going to be a good day. We were planning to go on a water taxi, and it would be my first time. I woke up to the sunrise. Pappa made me porridge for breakfast, and I managed to get all of the goji berries he put in there out of the way. He put in a lot of goji berries! We packed up our camp. It was quite fun to pack up all my stuff in the tent.  Mum taught me a great bushwalking life hack. You put your raincoat on the ground and as you pack each item (like rolling up the sleep mat and stuffing your sleeping bag in the stuff sack) you put each thing on your raincoat, so it doesn’t get damp or dirty. Then you can pack your pack.

We set off to go and do the walk to Bryans Beach. Mum and I were talking on the way about how she put the ‘Power Traveller’ on her pack to charge her phone from the sun. When we got to Byrans Beach, I noticed a big rock that I jumped on. Will and I went bouldering next to the ocean. Mum put down her pack, got out the snacks and we had a lovely break.

We wanted to book a water taxi for the return to Freycinet Lodge, but we didn’t have any phone signal. So, Will had to stand up on the bank with the phone in the air to try and send a message, which didn’t work.

We saw an aboriginal midden and, on the way back to Cooks Beach, Mum told me the story of the Tasmanian Aborigines, which was sad. It’s sad that invasions still happen now, like what is happening in Ukraine.

When we got back to Cooks Beach we booked the taxi, and then we played parkour on the rocks and went for a swim in the ocean while we waited.

Getting on the water taxi was hard but fun! I nearly fell backwards into the water with my pack on. There were big waves and we had to wade to the boat and get up on a walkway platform. When you walked on it, it sank down into the water. I got wet up to my waist. Pappa said, “You’ve got a wet arse Rupie!”

The boat was really fast. We stopped by some seals on the rocks and then we went to the Freycinet lodge for a drink, the funniest thing happened. Mum, Will and I walked up the steps to the deck where the tourists were sitting in the sun. One man said, ‘Well don’t you look like the ultimate adventure family!” and Mum said, “Just wait until Grandpa Adventure arrives,” and just then Pappa got to the top of the stairs with his shaggy hair and beard and his pack on and the man said ‘bloody hell!’ and laughed.

We had a cold drink in the sun, which was the perfect end to the trip.

The perfect end
Rupert and William celebrating the end of a brilliant adventure with their Grandpa.

We’ve decided to try again for the Southwest in October. Third time’s a charm!

The end.