Youngest daughter: “This is the worst day of my life!”
Ever since my kids were born I’ve wanted to take them into the wild on an expedition through Tasmania’s wilderness. Before they become adolescents and shoot off in all directions, my wife and I made the stretch to skill up, beg and borrow gear and entice our kids on a 7 day walk through the central highlands.
Why you might ask? If this might not be something they really want to do?
First, it’s really about appreciating each other. It’s about appreciating God’s creation and being immersed in it, screen free as a family.
Second, who ever thinks kids know best has given away too much ground.
Where will resilience, resourcefulness, kindness and positivity come from if all they have is experiences within their comfort zones?
When I surf and catch a wave, there’s nothing else in your mind. You are immersed in the act of balance and surviving a moving wall of water. A trip into the wild means we are all immersed in one moment of focused survival and enjoyment. I want us all on ‘that’ wave, together.
So why did my youngest scream, ‘I hate this; it’s the worst day of my life!’? Read on…
Day 4: Du Cane Hut to Hartnett Falls to Junction Lake via The Never Never (8 hours, 7.5 km)
The idea of joining the magnificence of two very special parks, namely the Overland Track and Walls of Jerusalem together sounded like an awesome odyssey, but the shortest way of achieving it is via an isolated valley, named The Never Never.
I read one or two blogs about people’s experience on the Never Never but there was precious little information out there. Chapman’s book was helpful but brief and in my opinion grossly underestimates the time it takes to travel the 5 or 6 kilometres.
We travelled the less popular direction, namely from the overland track to the Mersey valley. Most people seem to tackle it from Junction lake and above Clarke Falls you will find a walkers intention book inside a steel box, though as with all the walker intention books that we found on our trek, the pages are full and there’s no-where to write your journey’s intention. Coming our direction, there’s no walker intention book and most people will look at you funny for taking your pack down to the falls. There is a bare area just above the falls where we changed for a swim before heading off into the Never Never...
It’s kind of funny, but not really, that at this end of the walk there really is no track, just instant scrub. Follow the river?!
If you start from the other end, Junction Lake, you’ll walk down past the rego box, down a steep climb that sidles out to 45 degrees about half way down and continues at that angle until you hit the bottom and meet a tree with two NP orange triangles on it. One points back up stream to the falls (worth checking apparently but we didn’t bother or care as it was getting dark) the other to the Never Never. And that my friends is the first, last and only official track marker you will find for the next 6 km. Goodbye…have a nice life…if you make it.
Coming our direction, from Harnett Falls the track marker at the bottom near Clarke Falls on the tree indicates the junction point to start heading up as well. But there are no subsequent markers to show you what gradient to start climbing; is it straight up? Is it at 70 degrees? There are so many animal tracks heading up the slope that its hard to know. I thought… ‘Oh no, we’ve come so far and now we’re going to spend an hour finding the route out of the river to the top!’ But my wife mentioned that she thought the map indicated that the track up and out followed the line of the river upstream for a bit…ahhh! So, I tried that and sidled the slope at 45 degrees upwards and eventually, praise the Lord, I saw narrow footholds in rock going vertically up at one point. It wasn’t much, but after lots of ‘tracking’ like a native in the Never Never…it was game on, THIS IS IT! FOLLOW ME! it felt so good to see what you would describe as rough steps up and out!
Back at Hartnett: for about 20 minutes we bush bash straight after a nice swim. Hardly the right way round to do things is it?! Youngest child gets her face smacked hard by a flinging branch in the first minute as she stands too close behind her father. Good one dad.
It’s not quite how I expected it to start. I thought there might be decent track to begin with like there is at the other end near Clarke falls, but no…just at the top of Hartnett falls there’s a wombat track and then it disappears into the bushes. Not the greatest introduction.
It’s not what your family signed up for…
I warned my wife but the kids I kept in the dark, mostly. My wife was anxious but supportive. Better make sure we get this right. I hire a personal life beacon and do my research. But precious little there is on this strange little valley.
After a patch of bush bashing in medium-thick scrub, not too hard core, we pass into a beautiful ‘never land’, rainforest section; mossy, pretty and photogenic. We stop for a quick rest, get a drink from the stream coming in from the side, even take a few photos. There’s some great looking swimming spots, deep and clear as crystal. It’s short lived, but delightful.
Regrettably, the scrub reappears, though sometimes light enough for you to step around and see a pad further on to follow; sometimes a bit patchy so you can walk side by side almost. But then you hit the denser stuff. Single file. One at a time. Slash in the face again to my youngest. Nooh! Remember to stay back, don’t get too close. Why didn’t I buy that machete?! Are you sure this is the track? Yes…wait…no, sorry, I’ve lost it.
Follow the river. Keep it close
But that’s the thing. Around the river is scrub. It’s not wind in the willows, English meadow. It’s Aussie scrub meets pretty stream…right up to the bank.
I thought about wading.
Take the boots off and just wade up.
But it’s slippery in there and the kids wouldn’t cope. Plus, our feet all require orthotics so we’d blow a hip or a knee without them in about 5 minutes.
You could just get your boots wet…but then you’d have soggy boots and socks for the rest of your trip.
If you were coming the other way…you could potentially Lilo it. Bring an inflatable and float down…avoiding the falls on the way…but then what do you do with it when you’re finished? How do you float with a 20 kg pack?? Be worth investigating an ultralight Lilo or something that doubles as a mattress for you tent that can float you and a heavy pack. Good luck.
We met a couple at Lake Adelaide when all this was over who also were planning to go through the Never Never in opposite and more common direction. ‘Follow the Mersey River! How hard can it be?’ they said. Oh the naivety that helps us all plunge oblivious into the Never Never. The Never Never…the name even sounds romantic doesn’t it? ‘We of the Never Never’; yeah the ones who never never find a track and feel like they’re never never going to get out of here! Like a red rag to a bull it dares us to enter, ‘c’mon how hard can it be bro?’
Well, after about 3 hours it wears thin and we haven’t even found McCoy Falls, the half-way point.
I step out on a trip limb over the river to look up stream…I can hear and now see a small rapid. Darn, I thought it was a waterfall…that would be Mc Coy, but rapids are a good sign. About 20 minutes later the noise gets louder, I can see white water and the track abruptly ends at the drop dead gorgeous, sundrenched swimming hole below Mc Coy Falls.
Am I dreaming? Is this a mirage?
All this scrub and then here sits this idyllic little haven, smiling, inviting us in for a swim.
I can’t tell you what a relief it is to be here.
Ok, maybe I’m hallucinating, maybe I ate the wrong mushrooms as I groveled under some of the bush thickets to get here…but this swimming hole in the middle of all this tangle strangle is nirvana.
Gulp…but its only half-way.
Don’t think about that now…get wet.
We take a moment to revive, refresh, reward and celebrate that we’ve hit this milestone.
I swim, the kids tuck straight into lunch, everyone is starving.
It’s not a big place to have a picnic; just a small area about 2 metres square and then the water hole.
Everyone’s taking turns in the crystal, clear pool. It’s not super cold, but nor is it warm. The sun spotlights the pool.
People talk about a tree crossing at McCoy falls that comes and goes depending on whether it’s been swept away. We saw a tree before these falls, so I’m wondering if we should cross there. Surely it doesn’t matter and perhaps the crossing up stream has been washed away?
I see a few footholds going up to the top of our falls. Give a quick check but see no tree to cross over on. So, we decide to pack and go across but as everyone heads back, something sticks in my mind.
‘Not the real McCoy’
Remember the saying? Claytons beer? Or ‘That’s a knock off’ Or ‘That’s not the real McCoy!’
I remember reading some blog where some other Never Never unfortunates mentioned ‘the real McCoy falls’. Perhaps they were just playing with the name…but right now, newly refreshed, like a flashback in a detective or spy novel, those words ring in my head.
‘Let me just take one more look up this track’ I say and head further upstream on the worn pad that climbs passed our falls.
I dump my pack, the already saddled up family sit down. I disappear upstream for 10 minutes and to my delight and relief discover that our swimming hole is indeed, not the real McCoy Falls. It’s a smaller, follow up fall to the main course. McCoy is a little further upstream, twice the size and harder to access. But there is a place to cross just above this bigger fall and I test it just in my boots. Easy. Hop, skip and a jump. I can get my whole family across.
THE Tree Crossing?
When we all return, I struggle to find the same place amongst all the thick foliage to cross. But as if by magic this time I see a large fallen tree to cross. How did I miss this? Am I up further or less? It all looks the same in the Never Never.
I’ve heard a lot about “this” tree crossing, so as a nod to Bear Grylls I have to give it a go. Plus I can’t find my easy spot to cross anymore.
You know walking across a tree over a river with a full 20kg pack is not as easy as it sounds. I give up and straddle the thing like a cowboy. Shuffling ungainly like, the weight of my pack producing uncomfortable amounts of pressure in the ‘never’ region, I make steady progress. Halfway across, I can now easily make out that my ‘easy to cross on foot part of the river’ that I discovered minutes earlier is a mere 10 metres up stream. But I’m fully committed now with one more challenge before I should be able to stand up and walk the log.
There’s a stump protruding out one side of the log, to get past it I have to loop one leg over it and keep going. To do this would be simple without a pack, but with the pack it’s likely to send me over into the water. I practice it. To my amazement, the practice becomes a full attempt, like someone else is operating a puppets dead legs and the correct leg lands exactly where it should with no loss of balance whatsoever. I finish the log on my feet, walk up the 10 metres, drop the pack and retrieve my family in about 2 minutes flat. I guess the tree crossing would be welcome in flood!
You’d expect a tree crossing to lead to some vital junction, a well-worn track on the other side. But it doesn’t. It’s just as scrubby on the northern side of the river and after a few minutes of bush bashing again we look over to the other side of the river and notice that there is an open plain. Easy walking, if we’d stayed on the southern side. What?! We laugh. This place is crazy.
You do have to cross at some point in order to pick up the exit track out of Clarke Falls, so there’s no going back. But what I recall of this second half of the Never Never, north of McCoy Falls was that it contained some of the densest scrub of the whole valley.
We turn into trackers again. I hunch low on the earth to see under the tangled scrub, to follow the pad of animals who can run and crawl much lower. Sometimes it means I’m on all fours, walking stick in one hand, pack on the back and crawling. Sometimes it means pressing the pack first into the scrub then rolling through it vertically. Lots of ducking and weaving, trampling and shoving. Ohh the shoving. This is what you don’t account for, namely, the double exertion it takes to force your path through the scrub. By the end of the day, this work out will make me nauseous as it totally depletes my energy reserves. Unbelievably, there are at least 2 occasions where I’ll pop my head up in this tangled mess and actually see a ribbon tied to a tree branch, indicating…yep this is a way, someone has marked this!
We stop regularly whenever a tiny gravel beach appears, to wash, sit and drink the clear waters of the Mersey. I rip off my shirt and shake off all the scrub debris down my neck, glad we applied 80% DEET insect repellant. We sit and remind ourselves how much of a blessing this river is and give thanks to God for the constant provision of life-giving water.
Little House on the Prairie...ah, no.
The other surprise is that the section between McCoy and Clarke falls is dotted with ‘open plains’. Freaky these place are. I mean, one minute you are having hand to hand combat with scrub, the next you virtually tumble out onto open ground and can see not a single tree or shrub for 25, 50 or even a 100 metres. I reckon there are about 5 of these plains of varying size. What are they doing here? Did someone run live stock in here? Did the Indigenous inhabitants burn the area flat? I doubt it, more likely, no human has done anything and they are a quirk of the river’s path, creating moisture filled areas that are unsuitable to scrub but great for button grass.
I love these spots.
You can see the sky again. You get a full blast of sun. You can stand back and see the towering mountains that hem either side of the river. Best of all, you can walk fast. My wife comes up with the plan to walk as far as we can across them, taking the longest dimension of the plain, regardless of where the river is. It works well and we cover good ground, quickly. Plus, the river is never far away. I suppose in wet weather these plains could be pretty leachy and muddy, so be prepared, the plains may not make up much time for you if they’re really wet.
The mud isn’t a problem for us, its pretty dry in the Never Never when we go through. In fact, the mud is an asset as we use it to confirm we are not alone and ‘on the right track’. We can see animal prints and every now and then, we also see human shoe prints. It energises us and gives us hope that we will get out of here.
But then you have to re-enter the scrub. Ergh!
My youngest screams ‘This is the worst day of my life!’.
We each have min-break downs at some point.
You might look at these photos and wonder, 'hey it doesn't look too bard, you guys aren't hard core enough...just a family, I'll be fine'. But that's because we didn't photograph any of us tangled in horizontal scrub like spider's prey. I tried to keep it lighthearted but didn't push my luck when I got a firm 'don't you dare ask for a photo, right now!' from my wife.
I try to stay focused, determined to get us out of here and not have too much standing around, wondering…’ummm…is this right’…going on. Just keep moving and singing aloud, I try to keep the focus on something positive.
My wife says, it’s getting late (the sun is starting to dip and the valley light is diminishing), when do you call it a day and we set up camp in here?
I just shake my head…’nup, not happening, we’ve got plenty of daylight!’
There really isn’t a camp site in this valley. You’d be hard pressed to find anywhere suitable much less desirable. I guess if you had a machete you could clear some scrub and make do.
As we approach Clarke Falls, we’re on one of the plains and the muddy shoe prints become more regular, an actual track appears! We start a kind of jog, we can hear the rapids and we’re getting excited. This has to be Clarke!
Clarke Falls could be our downfall
The kids spot the tree with the two markers on it and we are jubilant. One goes to Clarke Falls, the other back to the Never Never.
Never again buddy! We’re out of here….Or are we?
We try to trace the track out from this tree but it is elusive.
Oh no! Have we come this far only to be trapped in the darkness as the sun sets?
It takes a few attempts, there are no markers to find going up. Precious minutes are ticking away. This could be the moment we get lost and just run out of time trying to find the way out of the Never Never.
I eventually find it. 45 degrees slope up from the river base, then vertically up.
We don’t have the energy for this exfiltrate. Its steep and narrow and scrubby.
I can’t tell you how relieved we are when I hit the top, pass the walkers intention box (full and no-where to write) and I can almost immediately see Junction Lake and the hut.
We hit a surprising pace considering our exhaustion, following a reasonable pad across button grass plains. Occasionally we lose sight of the hut, but the lake is always there on our right. When we lose the pad (worn down button grass), I climb a few boulders or a fallen tree logs to gain height and spot the ‘lines’ in the grass that will lead us on. We’re almost at a jog as the dusk starts to seep in and the light is a flat grey.
We avoid the edge of the lake and cross a sloppy section where ‘sort of’ stream enters, climb a small hill and spot a clearing not far off above the lake. It’s clearly a campsite, with previous campers having used open fires at one stage. We dump the packs. Looking back there is a clear and delightful view of Junction Lake, plenty of flat ground to camp on, a big rock outcrop to sit and cook on, plus a few trees to dry clothes on.
Weirdly, as soon as we stop, we are beseiged by forehead loving, biting, flies. The kids quickly work out that if they hold their hats high the flies attack their hats and leave them alone.
It really is a beautiful campsite. But we can’t stop to appreciate it right now. We set tasks and soon everyone is busy, setting up tents, unloading and cooking dinner.
I’m super relieved we’ve made it. My family is safe. We’ll have tents up before its completely dark and dinner will soon fill our bellies.
It could have been worse; we might have been forced to camp in the Never Never. But here we are and it feels so good. I just hope my family don’t hate me in the morning.
If you’d like to read the other days travel across central taking in part of the Overland Track and Walls of Jerusalem in Tassie, you can check them out on some links I'll upload later, here:
PS: Welcome all to a new year, yes I know its now February, but hey...I've had a great summer break and I hope to bring you some great goodies for your ministry to kids in the coming year!