The Western Arthurs Traverse in Southwest National Park is one of Tasmania’s most rugged and rewarding multi-day walks.
- The Views – 22 major peaks made of schist and quartzite
- The Terrain – heart-racing scrambles and free-climbing
- The Lakes – cold plunges into the pristine alpine waters of 30 lakes across the range
- The Photography – 360 degree views towards Mount Anne, Federation Peak and the Eastern Arthurs
Set in a wild and remote corner of Southwest National Park, the Western Arthurs Traverse is one of Tasmania’s most rugged and rewarding multi-day walks. Considered to be one of the island’s most treacherous and challenging treks, it’s more common than not for avid hikers to turn back due to extreme and variable weather.
Expect to bush-bathe for 5-10 days along these ranges, this journey is more than a tick off your bucket list. You become one with the landscape, as you hug quartzite rock, hang off deeply rooted vines, and ascend and descend the unimaginable. Traversing the Arthur Range is a humbling and grounding expedition that’ll take your mental concentration and physical limits to the next level.
Note: All trail statistics were measured using a Suunto9 GPS watch, which may vary from route information published by Tasmania Parks. There are many side trips and all summits are optional. Side summits are not distinctly marked; navigation is required.
Day 1: Scott’s Peak Dam to Junction Creek Campground
Elevation gain: 209m ↑ / 263m ↓
The first day to Junction Creek begins on the Port Davey Track, gently undulating through a variety of terrain including dense forest, a boardwalk through button grass moorland, and narrow mud-filled trenches.
Before you reach Junction Creek, there’s a creek crossing. If you set up camp close to the creek, veer on the side of caution – water levels may rise high enough to wash you out if it’s been raining ferociously. And beware of leeches too – they enjoyed crawling up the sides of my tent, but thankfully, just on the outside!
It’s becoming increasingly popular for day hikers to make their way just to Lake Oberon, so this little site can become busy.
Recommendation: Extend day one by continuing to Lake Cygnus (this would be a long day but manageable and avoids the mediocre Junction Creek site)
Day 2: Junction Creek Campground to Lake Cygnus
Elevation gain: 1020m ↑ / 402m ↓
Optional side trips + summits: Mt Hesperus + Lake Fortuna
If you’re walking counterclockwise, as recommended, hang a right to follow the Port Davey Track from the Junction Creek signpost just past the campground, and head towards Moraine A (M. Alpha).
The day continues across wet, muddy button grass plains before reaching another wooden signpost. At this junction, the Port Davey Track points to the right, while you’ll veer left. The track becomes quite faint, so some navigation is required to reach the base of the moraine.
There’s another creek crossing that – if you’re unlucky like I was – can become a full on river, with a solid current and only one safe section to cross. I contemplated taking my boots off and rolling my pants up, (just like in the movies) but opted to get wet instead.
After the creek crossing, the climb from the base of the moraine is a steady 900m gain before reaching the plateau. At the plateau, you’ll probably be met with strong southerly winds coming straight off the Southern Ocean.
As the picturesque scenery of quartzite and dolerite formations and postglacial boulders unfold, you might feel like you’ve been transported to The Land Before Time. The last descent into camp boasts sweeping views of the ranges with a myriad of wildflowers to put a bounce in your last steps.
WARNING: From this point onwards, whatever happens in the Arthurs either stays in the Arthurs, becomes a helicopter rescue, or a backtracking mission out.
Day 3: Lake Cygnus to Lake Oberon
Elevation gain: 774m ↑ / 805m ↓
Optional side trips + summits: Procyon Peak, Mt Orion, Mt Sirius
Day three begins to get technical, with scrambles and side summits as you make your way through the Capella Crags. With many optional peak-bagging opportunities, it’s easy to add more mileage and difficulty into today’s walking itinerary. The side summits can be difficult to spot in foggy weather, which is very typical for this area, but on clear days, the scrambles boast stunning 360-degree views of the Arthurs and alpine lakes.
Today brings you into the heart of the Western Arthurs as you approach Lake Oberon. The region’s most iconic backdrop features Tasmania’s endemic flora, the Pandani, which grows in the foreground of Lake Oberon.
From the epic viewpoint (that I didn’t get due to thick fog), the last part of the descent into Lake Oberon is a down climb scramble on quartzite. There are numerous tent pads at the lake. I recommend having some guy rope, as many of the cords on the platforms are damaged. Enjoy a sheltered sleep here with plenty of access to fresh alpine water.
Day 4: Lake Oberon to High Moor
Elevation gain: 686m ↑ / 610m ↓
Optional side trips + summits: Mt Pegasus, Mt Capricorn, Dorado Peak
Kicking into high gear now, the type two technical fun begins. For today, some people recommend a rope for lifting and lowering your pack through the next few sections. I opted to take the risk and deal with the consequences. While it was challenging to maneuver without a rope, it was still manageable.
Pro tip: Avoid dropping your pack hoping it doesn’t tumble down a cliff – this’ll reduce the chances of disaster, especially as a solo trekker.
Weaving through rock crevices, side stepping steep gnarly terrain, and bouldering down exposed quartzite sections was heart racing. These sections demand a great deal of mental energy and concentration. And while the mileage is short, it’s spicy. Each kilometre spans over an hour and the weather may not be on your side. The key is to channel your inner Alex Honnold, and you’ll be fine!
You might find yourself questioning whether you’re still on the right trail or not. I certainly had to keep checking my progress. It was easy to deviate from the track in certain sections, especially when fog closed in on me. Upon reaching High Moor, a pat on the back is well and truly deserved. Your efforts are rewarded with some of the region’s best views of Southwest National Park.
Day 5: High Moor to Haven Lake
Elevation gain: 979m ↑ / 1006m ↓
Optional side trips + summits: Mt Columba, Mt Shaula
Day five is an exercise in taking on the indomitable. As mental and physical fatigue sets in, the ascents and descents become more difficult. Resilience, patience, and hiker finesse take you through the next phase, known as the Beggary Bumps.
The first big descent is down the tilted chasm, which is a serious side shuffle down climb on wet and loose quartzite. Avoid burning through the bottom of your pack! Just jokes. Two stable feet should carry you through, but the severity of the steepness begs for extra caution.
If you’re a shorty like me, expect to find certain challenges a little more confronting. After the tilted chasm, you continue navigating through thick bush, lined with Tasmania’s prickly Scoparia bush, trudging through mud and over slippery tree roots, with one final jaw-dropping rocky climb down to Haven Lake.
This final down climb had me wondering where I made the wrong turn. Wedged between two 5m high rock walls, you monkey yourself down, still with your pack on. This is your last heroic moment before you can take a sigh of relief. The rest of the way into Haven Lake is a breeze.
Day 6: Haven Lake to Scott’s Peak Dam
Elevation gain: 703m ↑ / 1329m ↓
Day six was my final day, ending with one final big descent via Moraine K that eventually merged onto the MacKay Track, and back through Junction Creek. A shortcut is now often used that cuts off about 4km of buttongrass plains.
I’m not one to cut corners, but was lucky enough to meet a party of three Tasmanian hikers at High Moor camp on night four, who kindly let me trail behind them. But this didn’t come without its challenges. We ended up completing a shortcut to the shortcut. Not long after crossing 7-mile creek, we trudged through mud, and weaved through charred pencil pines.
Regardless of having the right bearings, we still missed the track that continued along the high plains, and instead found ourselves marching through undulating bog before finally merging onto the MacKay Track.
Once back on the MacKay Track, everything’s quite straightforward. There are a few thick forest groves to navigate through, so keep your topographic map handy for this. From here, you can either cap the day at Junction Creek or charge along to Scott’s Peak Dam and camp at Huon Campground.
At times what I thought was unachievable has now passed. I’ll always remember this trail as a test of faith, mental resilience, bush skills, and physical aptitude. Having solely depended on only my bush experience and myself, this trek has become one of the most rewarding personal challenges, and a proud addition to my hiking repertoire.
- Tasmania Parks Pass
- Topographic maps – I used Avenza Maps. You’ll need to purchase the Razorback, Crossing, and Glovers Maps (approximately $3 total)
- Guy rope – If you don’t have a self-standing tent, guy rope will help you secure your tent on the wooden tent platforms
- Rain pants and jacket
- Sleeping bag liner
- Two extra days worth of emergency food
- Long pants / leggings – Tasmania’s native flora, the Scoparia bush, is sharp and prickly, and lines many sections of the trail
- Gaiters – there’s lots of mud!
- Camper’s Pantry – local Tasmanian freeze-dried food!
How To Get There
Personal or hired vehicle
With the traverse commencing and ending at Scott’s Peak Dam, one option is to leave your car at the trailhead. The drive from Hobart to Scott’s Peak Dam Parking is around 2.5 hours from Hobart. There’s camping two minutes from the trailhead: Huon River Campground.
Tasmanian Wilderness Experience – available all year round, from Hobart – bookings essential.
Though the majority of the days can be rated as intermediate, due to many other variables such as location, navigation, inclement weather, bush survival skills, and individual hiker experience, overall this hike is advanced.
Distance Covered / Duration / Elevation Gain
64.13km / 4371m / 6 days
Please note: Due to the fires, a section of the Western Arthurs Traverse, heading east, was still closed.