Recently I headed off to explore one of Tassie’s most iconic 4wd destinations, The Sandy Cape 4wd Track. Located on the far North-West coast of the State, in the Arthur-Pieman Conservation Area.
The area is notorious for it’s rocky inland tracks, unpredictable beach driving, deep river crossings, and dangerous quick sand. Visit this place on a bad day and the environment can be very unforgiving on your 4wd.
Before heading off on any 4wd tracks in the Arthur-Pieman Conservation Area, you’ll need to purchase a recreational driver’s pass from the Parks Office in Arthurs River. This pass will allow you full access to all 4wd tracks in the area, either by 4wd, quad bike, motor bike or foot. Upon purchasing your pass you’ll be given a comprehensive recreational driving booklet and DVD, full of detailed maps of the area, history and safety advice, just to mention a few. You’ll also be issued with a printed copy of your pass, I highly recommend keeping this in your 4wd glove box, in the occasion that a patrolling ranger asks to see it, you have it within reach. This is also a great chance to talk to the Rangers and locals about current track conditions, track closures and weather forecasts. While I was waiting for everyone else to finish purchasing their passes, I had a look at the wall of shame. Photo’s of countless 4wds lost to quicksand and surging waves, people’s pride and joy gone right in front of their eyes. 4 years ago, nearly to the day, that had been me in that exact same spot. Sitting in an old 40 series, sinking in quick sand. So, take notice of the warning signs, follow the Rangers advice, travel in convoy, carry the appropriate 4wd gear and know your 4wd and how to drive it.
The area offers several camping locations from Arthurs Rivers all the way down to the Sandy Cape Light House, so whether you’re towing a caravan or throwing down a swag, there’s an option for you. I had decided to set up camp at one of the spots just out of Arthurs River, the thought of getting stuck in quick sand while towing a camper trailer wasn’t on my list of things to do this time… So, I settled in for the night at camp and decided to head off first thing in the morning when the tide was heading out.
The following day I was up bright and early and on route for Temma, just a short 22km away. Much of the drive to Temma is on a well-maintained gravel road which follows the coast south, you’ll pass several more camping spots and short day 4wd tracks along the way, all of which are very well sign posted. Temma was once the port for the old mining town of Balfour, but these days its just the home for a hand full of shack owners. The gravel road will lead you straight through the middle of Temma and right to the Start of The Sandy Cape 4wd Track. We all decided this was the best spot to pull over, lower our tyre pressure, lock in the hubs and hook up some snatch straps, ready for whatever was to come.
Some how we had managed to pick the best day to do this track, even though we were visiting in the middle of summer, that’s never a promise for nice weather in Tassie. But luck was on our side for this trip, a warm sunny day with a light breeze, I couldn’t believe it! I had never experienced the weather this good on the West Coast, even the locals all seemed shocked.
So, with the weather and tide on our side, we headed off on our way to the Sandy Cape Light House. The first half of the 26km long route leads you through a scenic inland track, which changes in terrain quite often. You’ll cross several creeks, encounter dozens of water holes, climb numerous sand dunes and cross a hand full on small secluded beaches.
While this part of the track is rated as medium, come after a decent amount of rain and a handful of the water holes will have you stopped in your tracks. The biggest percentage of the holes have hard rocky base’s, but it always pays to jump out and have a walk through first if you’re unsure. Much of the water on the West Coast is stained red/brown by the tannins released from the vegetation, this makes it almost impossible to tell the depth of any of the water holes or river crossings.
A lot of the Arthur-Pieman area holds great sentimental value to the Aboriginal community, the Aboriginals called this area home for thousands of decades until the arrival of the Europeans in 1803. With stone cravings, Middens and hut site depression still visible, it’s important to follow all signs and keep to the formed track to minimise damage to these sensitive sites.
After traveling for roughly an hour and a half, passing several more camping spots and 4wd tracks, we finally reached the entrance to Kenneth Bay. From here on in the track is rated hard, with a 9km drive around the bay to reach the Sandy Cape Light House. High cation is recommended on this part of the track, with quick sand, deep river crossings and strong surging waves all presenting challenges for even the most experienced 4wders.
Driving onto the beach at Kenneth Bay, is nothing like any other beach 4wding in Tasmania. You can feel just how stormy and treacherous the place gets, and even on this calm day it still felt wild. We wasted no time and started off on the long 9km drive around the bay, with me taking the lead. The tide was still on its way out, so we choose to drive below the high tide mark, this way we avoided over working our 4wds on the soft sand higher up.
It wasn’t long till we had reached the first of two-river crossing, still rather nervous from my previous experience with sinking sand in this same location. I waited for the waves to recede and crossed the river where it met the sea, this allowed me to cross it where the sand was firm, and the river was shallow. The next 5km of the beach presented with a mixture of soft fluffy sand and wash outs, which made for a slow and cautious trip around the bay.
Towards the end of the bay you’ll spot several exits up over the smalls dunes, these tracks are all well sign posted and lead to a number or different camp spots and inland tracks. I choose to take the very last exit at the end of the bay which would lead me straight to the Sandy Cape Light House, after all this was my main reason for doing the track.
10 minutes along the sandy inland track, a brief encounter with a very angry Tiger Snake and I had made my way to the Light House. One of the state’s smallest light houses standing at just over 6 metres tall, the light house was built back in 1953 to help navigate the fishing vessels around the point. Before the lighthouse was built, the rocky and dangerous point had claimed two ships, that still lay on the floor of the ocean. The light house has been operating for the past 60 years and continues to help fishing vessel navigate the rocky point and anchor in the corner of Kenneth’s Bay.
After exploring the area around the lighthouse, we stopped for a late lunch on the rocks and watched the huge waves crash on the rocky point.
We had spent close to 4 hours driving the 26km track into the light house and boy was it worth it! We were lucky this time, the weather was on our side, which made for a very safe passage across the bay. Although, you do get that eerie feeling driving around the bay knowing dozens of 4wds have been swallowed up by the sea.
After lunch we decided to head back to Arthurs River as the tide had turned and was on it’s way back in. The track only took us 2 hours to travel back out of, we saved a lot of time not stopping and taking photos of the view. We had a relatively safe and easy drive back out and even stopped along the way and chatted with the patrolling parks Rangers. In no time we had made our way back to Temma, with a quick stop to inflate the tyres we were on the road back to camp.
The Sandy Cape 4wd Track is one of the states most visited and talked about 4wd destinations. The area is home to the states largest sand dunes, some of the best coastal driving and most unpredictable beach crossings, I encourage anyone planning a trip to the West Coast of Tasmania to make this track a must do. But remember, exploring this area is a privilege, not a right. Respect other track users, take your rubbish home with you and follow all signage. That way in 20 years’ time, this area will still be open for your kids to enjoy.