He’s the definition of chivalry. When Deny King wanted to impress his new wife, he drew her a rainwater bath in the wilds of South West Tasmania. The rainwater was heated in kerosene tins over a fire in his self-built home. The fire was fuelled by hand cut wood – every piece rowed eleven kilometres by Deny. Now that’s love.
Deny King AM, some refer to as King of the Wilderness. Even the book by Christobel Mattingley of his hardy existence bares this title. Is he worthy? Any man who can carve out a life for themselves over fifty years in a place accessible only by foot, boat or air is a legend. Melaleuca in Tasmania’s South West is one of the world’s last wild frontiers. This tin mining, artistic environmentalist not only survived decades there but built his own airstrip and often sailed to Hobart, a passage round some of Australia’s most treacherous coastline. The naturalist also discovered an extinct shrub and had species named after him.
So who was Deny King and why Melaleuca? Few people might choose a place where Pigmy possums are caught dosing off in your knife drawer or the postie reads ‘D. King. Port Davey’ and doesn’t need further street details. He wasn’t out for fame, but by the time of his death in 1991, he was internationally known. Letters to Deny came from all corners of the globe, his visitors were the likes of governors, lords and Sir Edmund Hillary.
Deny followed in his father’s tin mining footsteps, moving to Melaleuca in 1936. He did so after their family home in the Weld Valley was destroyed by bushfire. The two broad shouldered men worked tirelessly. Come 1940, Deny enlisted with the Australian Army and served in World War II, discharging in late 1945. Unfortunate injury led to time in an army hospital where Deny was treated by Margaret Cadell. He knew this occupational therapist would be the lady he’d marry.
On November 5, Deny and Margaret married at St. David’s Cathedral in Hobart. That afternoon, Margaret was swiftly delivered to her new home, the wild outpost of Melaleuca. Deny didn’t mess about. Here, they raised their two daughters Mary and Janet.
Deny was a humble man, who spoke with a gentle drawl and loved a good story. All who met him, warmed to him. Weary, multi-day walkers on final rations were perhaps most thrilled to see him. One grateful group even sent Deny a side of lamb to thank him, while others sent woolly socks and even a Wilderness Society raffle ticket.
When not sorting his gratitude mail, Deny spent long hours in the wilderness. Naturally observant, he discovered Banksia kingii, an extinct shrub, among other notable finds. He sent wild flowers, insects and other specimens to scientists, two proving to be first recordings. He assisted anthropologists seeking sites used by the Needwonnee people, provided the Bureau of Meteorology with daily weather reports and was also instrumental in protecting the orange-bellied parrot.
Deny brought mechanised mining to the South West in 1953, a Caterpillar D2 diesel tractor arriving by fishing boat. A couple of years later, he began the one-man mission of building an airstrip to better connect his family with civilisation. In 1957, the first plane touched down.
In doing so, he opened up South West Tasmania to the world; an isolated corner once only frequented by fishermen and resilient bushwalking souls. Today, you can land on his airstrip (which has since had some modifications) and touch down in a landscape Deny dearly loved … So much so his ashes are scattered in Bathurst Harbour.
Through his concern and tireless work, the region is now recognised as World Heritage Area. Tread carefully, walk slowly and hear the silence as you explore Deny’s former backyard.
Par Avion Wilderness Tours –
Southwest Wilderness Camp
Spend three days in a private camp, tucked away on the shores of Bathurst Harbour. No one is going to run you a rainwater bath here, but there are gloriously hot showers. Par Avion’s three day South West experience begins with a memory-forging flight across world renowned wilderness – the likes of Federation Peak and Precipitous Bluff reveal themselves when the weather is right. Upon arrival at ‘Melaleuca International,’ you are transported by boat to the exclusive camp.
For three days, the 600,000 square metre Southwest National Park is yours to explore, led by experienced guides. These aren’t your standard guides – they enchantingly convert from pilot to skipper to in-house chef. Keep them close!
Quality Tasmanian fare and comfy sleeping quarters wait at the end of each day’s exploration. Breathe some of the world’s freshest air and walk by peaks that rise 800 metres from the sea. Each walk is graded easy to moderate and there’s also opportunity to view the endangered Orange bellied parrots Deny held so dear, Aboriginal middens and hidden coves.
Tasmanian Boat Charters
Like the sound of experiencing the South West for a ‘boutique floating hotel?’ Then opt for a trip aboard the Odalisque, a custom built twenty-metre beauty. The all-inclusive cruise is served complete with expert skipper, interpretive guide and a guest chef who is often borrowed from one of Hobart’s best restaurants.
Choose from a 4, 5 or 7 day all-inclusive cruises where everything is taken care of, from your flights to your boutique Tasmanian wines and shore excursions. Your only job is to sit back and take in the towering quartzite mountains, sea caves, wild rivers and on-deck canapes.
Roaring Forties Kayaking
For nearly 20 years, Roaring 40°s Kayaking have been taking paddlers into the South West of Tasmania. The outfit offer 3 and 7 day trips in a place Australian Geographic Outdoor Magazine say is “the most magnificent paddling destination in Australia.” Sheltered harbours, wild-flowing rivers and remote islands come standard. There are no roads here, destinations are reached by the power of paddle or on foot.
The three day adventure begins with a stunning flight into Melaleuca followed by two nights where a standing camp in the rainforest is home base. Plans are made over a glass of Tasmanian wine on the first evening and a combination of paddling and walking ensues. The seven day sea kayaking expedition, some admit, has life changing qualities. With experienced guides who know the waterways intimately, you’ll paddle from campsite to campsite through an ever-changing landscape. A week in the wilds provides a small taste of life for Deny, except with the bonus of those handy guides whipping up a nightly storm and pointing your kayak nose in the right direction.
Coral Expeditions Cruises
Take a small cruise ship 7-day expedition to Tasmania’s farthest reaches with Coral Expeditions. This isn’t your standard cruise ship experience, packed in with thousands. The Coral Discoverer takes just 72 guests and includes other highlights such as Freycinet National Park, Maria Island and even joining an optional hike of Fluted Cape on Bruny Island. Guests can join a number of on-shore ventures, led by Parks and Wildlife rangers. If the weather is kind, two full days are spent at Port Davey where you can kayak Bathurst Harbour and step into World Heritage Area wilds.
If you’ve ever imagined yourself sailing along the rugged south west coast of Tasmania, give Hobart Yachts a call. Aboard Helsal IV, take a yacht charter to Port Davey across seven unforgettable days. Trips can be tailored in length, but generally include an overnight in Recherche Bay before rounding Tasmania’s southern tip, sailing past famed Maatsuyker Island.
In the deep South West with Hobart Yachts, days can be spent bushwalking in World Heritage Wilderness, exploring inlets by kayak or sitting back on the deck tucking into a seafood feast on the all-inclusive journey. Guests can also fly in with Par Avion, or walk in and meet the boat in Port Davey.
South Coast Track
There are few walks like it left in Australia. Indeed, on the planet. The South Coast Track has no fixed huts along its 85 kilometre length. Walkers need to carry their home (ie. tents) and be fully self-sufficient. That means carrying enough supplies for 6 to 8 days and being equipped with the experience and fitness to tackle a track that often proves muddy, rough and open to the elemental force of Tasmania’s far south west.
If this sounds like your cup of tea, take the challenge, stretching from Melaleuca to Cockle Creek. Some well-heeled walkers say it’s the best walk they’ve done in Tassie. Others take a step further, naming it among the world’s best. It’s certainly one that invites a true wilderness experience, including boat crossings and conquering the Iron Bound Range. But you don’t have to go it alone, Tasmanian Expeditions can guide you from start to finish. But they won’t carry you. Deny wouldn’t approve of that.
Photo Credits: Richard Bennett, Tourism Australia, Graham Freeman, Par Avion Wilderness Tours, Matt Glastonbury & Tasmanian Expedition