Port Davey in Tasmania is only visited by a select few each year due to its remote location but those who make the journey will never regret it. If you love nature and exploring the great outdoors, this remote wilderness area in the south-west corner of Tasmania will blow you away with its incredible natural beauty and superb wildlife spotting. Here is all you need to know about visiting Port Davey including how to get there, where to stay and what to see.
Where is Port Davey in Tasmania
Port Davey is located at bottom of the south west coast of Tasmania, between the Southern Ocean and Bathurst Harbour. It is part of Tasmania’s pristine Southwest National Park and the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. Melaleuca is the central access point for visitors who arrive on foot, by plane or on a private boat.
How to get to Port Davey
The easiest way to access Port Davey is via light plane or on a private boat. Most people come here as part of an organised group tour. We visited on a Tasmania cruise with Coral Expeditions on their 72 passenger expedition ship, Coral Discoverer. All of the photos in this post were taken on our cruise. It was a superb experience and I highly recommend it if you want to visit Port Davey.
Par Avion operate from Cambridge, a 15 minute drive east of Hobart, and offer daily flights to Melaleuca. If you are a keen hiker, you can also walk from the Huon Campground by following the Port Davey Track which is 70kms long and very challenging. DO NOT attempt this walk unless you are an experienced bushwalker with the right gear to handle a minimum of four days in changeable and possibly harsh weather conditions.
Most people take between five and seven days to hike to Port Davey, one way. There is no accommodation and less than 250 people walk the track annually. Par Avion can pre-arrange a food drop if you’re visiting the area as part of a longer walk along the South Coast Track to Cockle Creek. If you do decide to hike to Port Davey, make sure you register your walk before commencement and hike with a buddy.
Port Davey Tasmania accommodation
Unlike some other Tasmania National Parks like Freycinet where you can stay at the luxurious Saffire lodge, you won’t find any hotels or resorts at Port Davey. Accommodation is limited to a tent that you carry yourself and pitch along the hiking trail, a cabin on Coral Expeditions’ Coral Discoverer or on a private boat, or a cabin at Southwest Wilderness Camp.
Things to do at Port Davey
A visit to Port Davey is all about experiencing the region’s natural beauty and flora and fauna, but there are also some interesting historical things to explore in the area in and around Melaleuca.
Explore the Needwonnee Interpretative Walk
When the first Europeans arrived at Port Davey, the area was home to the Ninunee Aboriginal people and another nearby group, the Needwunnee whose name is often spelled Needwonnee. Both these groups lived in ‘villages’ alongside freshwater and built dome-shaped huts from bark and tea tree.
At Melaleuca, the beautifully presented 1.2km Needwonnee Interpretive Walk tells the story of the Needwonnee people using interpretive installations. The walk is easy and all of it is on a boardwalk, with spectacular scenery through the forest and button grass plains beside the Melaleuca lagoon.
Explore the Deny King Heritage Museum
Whalers, sealers and timber cutters began visiting the area in the early 1800s. By the late 1800s, the whales and Huon pine were scarce and everyone moved on except for three long-term resident families: the Claytons, Kings and Willsons who were tin miners.
Deny King was a well-known miner, bushman, naturalist and artist who discovered several rare plant species and was appointed as a Member of the Order of Australia for his community service in 1975. Visitors to Melaleuca can explore the Deny King Heritage Museum located near the airstrip which shows what life was like for the hardy pioneers who made a living and raised families at this remote location.
See rare orange-bellied parrots
Port Davey is one of the few places in the world you can see rare and critically endangered orange-bellied parrots. These beautifully-coloured birds are on the brink of extinction, with studies suggesting there are less than a hundred in the wild. Melaleuca is their only breeding spot. While there’s a chance you could see them flying around, the best place to spot them is from the bird hide inside the Deny King Heritage Museum.
There are loads of great walks to do in and around Port Davey once you arrive. If you’re not part of an organised group tour, you should definitely buy the official South West Walks map which is published by the Tasmanian Government. This map highlights Port Davey’s walking tracks and features tourist information, along with topographic detail to help you plan your daily adventures.
When we visited Port Davey, Trevor and I hiked to the top of Mount Beattie on a group walk with Coral Expeditions. You’ll need hiking boots and a reasonable level of fitness for this three hour (return) hike. The views of Bathurst Channel and Bathurst Harbour are terrific and you can see Melaleuca and the Needwonnee Walk far below as well if the weather is good.
The following day we opted for a boat cruise around the Breaksea Islands while another group did the walk to the top of Mt Milner which took two hours or so (return). There are great views of Port Davey and the Breaksea Islands from the top of Mt Milner.
Easier options include a one and a half hour return walk to the top of Balmoral Hill or a 20 minute return walk to the top of TV Hill, so called because this is where one of the local settlers put their TV antenna. There are also several pristine beaches to explore.
Spotting unique plants
Port Davey is home to some unique plants, especially when it comes to mosses, fungi and other plants which provide ground cover. Remember to look down while you’re out walking so you don’t miss these beautiful plants.
If you’re doing an organised tour, check if it’s possible to go kayaking at Bathurst Harbour or another location around Port Davey. Paddling around these waters with nothing but the splash of your paddles disturbing the silence is an experience not to be missed.
We did several scenic cruises at Port Davey during our Coral Expeditions trip on Coral Discoverer. Along with a sunrise arrival into Bathurst Harbour which was one of many trip highlights, we cruised through the Bathurst Narrows waterways and also around Bathurst Harbour on the Xplorer tender.
We also did a terrific circumnavigation of the Breaksea Islands, something which is only possible if the seas are very calm. If you are visiting Port Davey independently you can book a private scenic cruise but you will need to organise this in advance before you arrive.
When you’re walking along Port Davey’s hiking trails, keep an eye out for wombats, wallabies, small marsupials, frogs and birds including rare orange-bellied parrots. When you’re cruising or kayaking around Bathurst Harbour, there’s a good chance you’ll spot at least a couple of dolphins and seals.
Snorkelling and scuba diving
The waters in this area are part of the Port Davey Marine Reserve and have a layer of dark tannin freshwater that stops sunlight from penetrating more than a few metres below the water’s surface. This limits the growth of marine plants and provides a home for marine invertebrates, many of which are usually only found in very deep, ocean waters. Snorkellers and scuba divers can see sea pens, sea fans, sea whips, sponges, bryozoans, ascidians and delicate soft corals in and around Port Davey.
It would NEVER be warm enough for this Queenslander to put on a pair of swimmers and take a dip at Port Davey but plenty of other people go swimming here in summer.
Disclosure: The writer visited Port Davey as a guest of Coral Expeditions.
Looking for some more information about Tasmania? We’ve written a Hobart travel guide and put together some tips for visiting Hobart in winter. We’ve also reviewed the Henry Jones Art Hotel in Hobart, Coral Expeditions’ Tasmania cruise, and Saffire Freycinet, and taken a day trip to Bruny Island.