When Think Tasmania was invited to join Par-Avion for a South West Wilderness Tour, I didn’t hesitate before booking a seat.  Whilst a  true wilderness experience in most parts of our planet is increasingly difficult to find,  the South West National Park World Heritage region is over six hundred thousand square kilometres of pure, wild, rugged beauty right on on our door step.  My limited literary and photographic skills don’t do it justice but I can report my first encounter with this southern Tasmanian region was simply breath-taking.

Par Avion - Melaleuca Inlet Flows Into Bathurst Harbour
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Par Avion flies over Melaleuca Inlet and Bathurst Harbour in South West Tasmania

Par Avion Wilderness Tours: Tres Bon

On arriving at the modern facilities of Par Avion at Cambridge Aerodrome, we were greeted by the friendly staff and given a briefing on the highlights and history of the South West World Heritage region.  Our pilot, Stuart led us to our 10-seat, twin-engine Britten Norman Islander “all weather” aircraft and loaded our backpacks ready for boarding.  I was seated up the pointy end with a full set of live controls in front of me. The other passengers were not even remotely amused when I suggested assuming control for take-off.  I think they were swayed by Stuart’s eight years with Par Avion and prior experience flying sea planes throughout Australia. My credentials on Microsoft Flight Simulator were slightly less impressive, perhaps.

Par Avion - Cambridge Airport, Hobart, Tasmania
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Par Avion departs for a tour of the South West from Cambridge Aerodrome

Once it was decided who would pilot the aircraft, we took off over the Derwent River, past the southern suburbs of Hobart and onto the D’Entrecasteaux Channel, passing over the Bruny Island ferry along the way.  Passengers on the Par Avion sister plane that left five minutes before us, were treated to an aerial view of a pod of dolphins playing near a salmon farm at the mouth of the Huon River. Unfortunately the dolphins had moved on before we got there.

Par Avion - Huon River Salmon Ponds
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Salmon ponds at the mouth of the Huon River, heading to the south west region

Soon we were passing Australia’s most southern town of Southport, the first of many ‘Australia’s most southern…’ for the day.  By now I was wondering if I had brought enough batteries for my camera, such is the beauty of Tasmania’s coastline from this unique perspective.  Our pilot’s skill in maneuvering the very stable aircraft meant we were able to get up close and personal to many spectacular sights on our return flight.

Par Avion - Glacial Lake South West Wilderness Region
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One of many glacial lakes perched amongst the peaks of the South West Wilderness Region

Cockle Creek on Recherche Bay is the southern-most point accessible by vehicle, and the start or end point of the South Coast Track. It was at this point that the landscape began to change.  We saw dramatic coastline, with steep cliffs and perfect white beaches as we flew west toward Melaleuca. The change in rock is evident and the apparently lifeless base does little to ease the harshness of this remote wilderness.

Par Avion - Lion Rock Surf Beach near Cockle Creek
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Popular surf beach at Lion Rock just south of Cockle Creek

Melaleuca, South West Tasmania: Step Back In Time

The white crushed-quartz landing strip came into view near the remnants of the tin mining operations of the late Deny King.   We were met by two friendly Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife volunteers, Tony and Chris. They had been stationed at Melaleuca for a four-week stint to help manage the area.

Par Avion - Melaleuca Airstrip
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Par Avion aircraft parked on the Melaleuca airstrip in south west Tasmania

Par Avion - Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Volunteers
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Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife South West National Park volunteers, Chris and Tony

We stretched our legs on a short board-walk to the boat and Stuart morphed from pilot to coxswain! Morning tea was enjoyed by our group of three before we motored down the Melaleuca inlet toward Bathurst Harbour.

Par Avion - Melaleuca Inlet
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Cruising down the Melaleuca Inlet to Bathurst Harbour

Shortly after entering Bathurst Harbour, the engines were turned off and we absorbed the surrounds.The weather was perfect: a cloudy blue sky and barely a breath of wind.  The landscape was reflected in the dark tannin-stained water which hides a unique eco-system created by 100 inches of rainfall flowing into the harbour over the tidal seawater.  Mount Rugby stands tall over the narrow channel through to Port Davey.  The Celery Top Islands emerge from the water exposing their white rocky base below the green foliage on top;  the surrounding ranges of the South West National Park seem to go on forever… which is roughly how long I could’ve sat there enjoying the peace and tranquility, if time allowed.

Par Avion - Celery Top Islands in Bathurst Harbour
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Celery Top Islands at the southern end of Bathurst Harbour

Par Avion - Boats moored on Melaleuca Inlet
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Par Avion boats moored on Melaleuca Inlet in south west Tasmania

Once firmly moored back at Melaleuca, we strolled along the Needwonnee Walk through the bush, which meets with the inlet and lagoon at several points.  The track is interspersed with Aboriginal site re-creations reminding us of the area’s indigenous heritage.

Par Avion - Aboriginal story board on the Needwonnee Walk at Melaleuca
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Aboriginal story board on the Needwonnee Walk at Melaleuca, south west Tasmania

Par Avion - Aboriginal Canoe on the Needwonnee Walk
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Aboriginal Canoe on the Needwonnee Walk

The board-walk winds its way back to the bush walker’s hut built by Deny King just to the north of the airstrip.  We were treated to a visit to Deny King’s heritage-listed house and gained some insight to the life of the pioneer tin miner.  If you’re lucky like us you may catch a glimpse of the rare and endangered Orange-Bellied Parrot at the Deny King Bird Hide.

Par Avion - Deny King's House Melaleuca
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Boat landing at Deny King’s House, Melaleuca

Par Avion - Deny King Bird Hide, South West National Park, Tasmania
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Deny King Bird Hide, the perfect place to spot the rare and endangered Orange-Bellied Parrot

Fly Like an Eagle with Par Avion

Departure time came around far too soon and we boarded the plane for home. We were joined by a group of walkers who had been self-sufficient in the wilderness for nine days.  Our path for the flight home took us over the ranges where stunning glacial lakes sit amongst spectacular peaks and valleys.  The edge of Lake Pedder could be seen in the distance with barely a glimpse of the effects of the recent bush fires.

Par Avion - South West National Park Ranges
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Spectacular views of the South West National Park on the Par Avion flight home

We approached Federation Peak and then Mount Picton. The signs of civilisation (mostly absent from the South West Wilderness region) only became obvious at the junction of the Picton and Huon Rivers near the Tahune Airwalk.  Forestry tracks wound through the dense forests leading to bare hills and new regrowth.  Soon we were passing over Huonville and approaching Mount Wellington.  As we descended towards Hobart from the south west, we could see the white trails from boats on the bright blue waters of the River Derwent near Wrest Point Casino in Sandy Bay. A trickle of cars flowed back and forth across the Tasman Bridge. It’s a pretty good sight on return.

Par Avion - Wrest Point Casino on the River Derwent, Hobart Tasmania
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Par Avion passes over Wrest Point Casino on the River Derwent in Hobart

Par Avion tours depart daily, depending on weather conditions. Some flexibility in travel plans is advisable.  This is a must-do tour if you want to see one of the most unique wilderness regions on the planet.  Experienced walkers can arrange drop-off, pick-up and food drops through Par Avion also.

Par Avion - Cambridge Airport, Hobart Tasmania
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Par Avion pilot, coxswain and tour guide Stuart in front of our aircraft

The writer was a guest of Par Avion Wilderness Tours. For more
information, visit their website or follow Par Avion on Facebook.
For bookings call (03) 6248 5390 or contact Par Avion by email.

3 June 2013 ~ Readers can now win their own scenic flight and journey of wilderness discovery. Get on it…

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Map: Par Avion Tours, Southwest National Park