Accessible only by boat, aircraft or on foot, this region must surely be one of the most magnificent landscapes on the planet. Gold-green ranges, with bony quartzite ridges, rise sharply from the southern ocean and the broad interior waterways of Port Davey and Bathurst Harbour. The latter is like a small inland sea to the east of Port Davey.
This area is the only large estuary in southern Australia without road access or significant human impact. Apart from two small tin leases near Melaleuca Inlet, no development has occurred. A very unusual marine environment has been created by a deep layer of dark red-brown, tannin-rich freshwater, which overlies tidal saltwater.
Of the region, explorer Matthew Flinders said: Port Davey: Matt Flinders recorded: "The mountains & the most stupendous works of nature I ever beheld & are the most dismal and barren. The eye ranges over these peaks with astonishment and horror."
Four major rivers and numerous creeks cut through gorges and snake across open plains, draining their rust-coloured waters into Port Davey Marine Reserve. Small islands dot the surface of the dark waters. White quartzite sands fringe the shoreline. Mt Rugby the highest and most prominent peak bordering Port Davey Marine Reserve rises grandly from the western shore of Bathurst Harbour. On a fine, calm day the marine reserve s waters reflect the landscape to endless perfection.
Little was known of the Port Davey/Bathurst Harbour Estuary until the Hydrological and Ecological Survey of 1988-1989. However, even if nothing had been known, this area would have been described as unique, because it is the only large estuary in southern Australia without road access or significant human impact. Apart from two small tin leases near Melaleuca Inlet, no development had occurred. At the time of the survey, the area's permanent population consisted of three tin miners, and during summer months, a daily transient population of about one hundred fishermen, bushwalkers, sailors, and airborne tourists. A very unusual marine environment has been created by a deep layer of dark red-brown, tannin-rich freshwater, which overlies tidal saltwater.
This area has a rich history, with memorable characters who shaped the region s more recent history - from romantic but doomed explorers to hardy Huon Pine lumberjacks to fisherman and whalers. The French navigator Marion du Fresne was the first European to record the inlet now called Port Davey, in March 1772. On the 13 December 1798, when Flinders was off the West Coast, he mentioned Marion's small chart of the area, and tried to take the Norfolk in closer to investigate the opening marked on Marion's chart. That opening was clearly marked on Flinders' first map of Van Diemen's Land, published in 1800. James Kelly has always been seen as the first to discover Port Davey, however Kelly would have seen Flinders' maps and may have had them with him.
Bathurst Harbour is named after British politician Henry Bathurst, Third Earl of Bathurst KG (1762-1834), Principal Secretary of State for the Colonies under Lord Liverpool from 1812. Bathurst's official position caused his name to be mentioned frequently during the agitation for the abolition of slavery, and with regard to this traffic he seems to have been animated by a humane spirit. He was Lord President of the Council in the government of the Duke of Wellington from 1828 to 1830, and favoured the removal of the disabilities of Roman Catholics, but was a sturdy opponent of the Reform Bill of 1832. Bathurst was made a Knight of the Garter in 1817, and held several lucrative sinecures. He died on 27th July 1834.
Individuals who left their names on the landscape here include Deny King, Critchley Parker and Clyde Clayton. Go back further still in time and discover the evidence of a long indigenous occupation in the area. Deny King was a tin miner who followed his father Charles to Melaleuca in 1936, where he built a house for his family on the banks of Moth Creek. In later years he built an airstrip for light aircraft which allowed easier access to the area. He was instrumental in preserving the habitat of the orange-bellied parrot. Deny died in 1991. There is a copy of his biography King of the Wilderness on the boat.
Clyde and Win Clayton s old home, now an interpretive site
Clayton's Corner is a quiet corner of Bathurst Harbour, nestled into the edges of the rainforest, you'll find the home of Win ans Clyde Clayton, two famous locals who made a home in this wilderness for many years. Their sheltered nook has been turned into an interpretive site. It s a great place to spend some time exploring and learning about the region's history.
Critchley Parker disappeared while searching in the Port Davey region for a site to establish a Jewish enclave. His body was found some months later. There are some intriguing rumours surrounding his expedition to Port Davey and his disappearance. His grae is a 20 minute return walk from the interpretive entre.
A new addition to this area, the Melaleuca Museum will soon open its doors. Set up in the old Deny King Bird Observation Hide, this small museum will house objects and stories related to the rich history of the area, including its mining history and aspects from the early huon-pine cutters and whales of Port Davey.
Port Davey and Bathurst Harbour has many remnants of Aboriginal occupation, including middens and cave markings. The Needwonnee Aboriginal interpretive walk shares the story of the Needwonnee people of the Southwest with innovative interpretive installations along a new 1.2km boardwalk. The path weaves its way through the forest and buttongrass plains beside Melaleuca lagoon.
Melaleuca is a remote locality (former settlement) on Bathurst Harbour, its only access is by sea via Port Davey, by air or by foot. The locality now consists of a couple of buildings and a bird hide where the orange-bellied parrot can be viewed, and is a 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.
From 1936 until the area gained World Heritage status, the location had been leased for mining ventures. 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 at Melaleuca, and in 1975 was made a Member of the Order of Australia for his services to the community. King lived and worked here until his death in 1991.