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Oh for Orange-bellied Parrot : 3 days at Melaleuca in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area


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Bill and I have just returned from a 3D/2N trip to Melaleuca and Bathurst Harbour in remote southwest Tasmania.Our first and final sightings during this 3 day break were of the highly endangered Orange-bellied Parrot (OBP). This was Bill’s second visit to Bathurst Harbour and Melaleuca – the first was in 1994 when he sailed with a group from Strahan to Hobart to attend the inaugural Wooden Boat Festival in Hobart. I have always been interested in the history and wildlife of the area but have been deterred by the isolation, legendary bad weather, poor access and rugged terrain that have combined to ensure that the Melaleuca area was visited mostly by hardy sailors and bushwalkers. I have heard much about the plight of the OBP and the strategies to save this precious remaining population, so an opportunity to see this rare feathered gem hooked me right away. Some years ago Par Avion built the Southwest Wilderness Camp at the mouth of Melaleuca Inlet and began to fly in travellers seeking to explore this area. This leisurely, comfortable option has opened up the rugged region to a greater cross-section of travellers.



  • Hot weather and calm seas
  • 2 scenic flights over remote Southwest of Tasmania
  • Amazing scenery and perfect reflections
  • Beautiful Firetails
  • Orange-bellied parrots






Melaleuca has a rich history that features whalers, piners, miners, sailors, explorers and fishermen who have visited the area for over 200 years, whilst the Needwonnee people, the traditional owners lived in the area for thousands of years. Melaleuca is located in the southern area of Bathurst Harbour which is a large shallow bay connected to Port Davey and ultimately the Southern Ocean by the 12 kilometre Bathurst Channel. The waters flowing from Bathurst Harbour are typically stained a reddish-brown derived from tannin leached from button-grass and heathland plains.




Melaleuca, Bathurst Harbour and Port Davey are part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area which was initially proclaimed by UNESCO in 1982 and today comprises approximately 1,000,000 hectares or 20% of the area of Tasmania. The area has been subjected to severe glaciation and contains one of the world’s last remaining expanses of temperate rainforests. Remains found in limestone caves are evidence of human habitation dating back more than 20,000 years.


Melaleuca’s most famous resident was Deny King, a young tin miner who followed his father into the southwest wilderness, married and raised his own family in the wilderness. The King family were the subject of a 1975 episode of the ABC series A Big Country. A book by Christobel Mattingley called King of the wilderness : a life of Deny King (2001) documents his extraordinary life in this rugged region. Today, Deny’s Nissen hut style home is visited by his daughter, Janet Fenton who I was fortunate to meet ths trip. Janet who arrived for a month long stay while we were there. She and her husband had travelled around the south coast of Tasmania in their own boat and were planning on working with Friends of Melaleuca to repair slips, the Nissen Hut and complete work at Clayton’s Corner.


Deny’s sister Winsome married a local fisherman, Clyde Clayton and lived first at Bond Bay in Port Davey before moving into the calmer Forest Lagoon and re-assembling their house and garden from Bond Bay at Clayton’s Corner. Win and Clyde left Melaleuca in 1976 and their home is now owned and managed by the Tasmanian National Parks and Wildlife Service and is available to day visitors, fishermen and passing yachties.




Melaleuca’s second famous resident is the Orange-bellied Parrot, (OBP) a highly endangered species of which approximately only 40 individual wild birds remain, including this year’s juveniles. The National Recovery Plan for the Orange-bellied Parrot provides support to this population with captive breeding, nesting boxes and food stations.



Edited by Treepol
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Thanks for this lovely report @@Treepol - enjoyed learning about the area's fascinating history - it complements your beautiful photos.

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@@Caracal thanks for reading along, I have a couple more instalments to write so I need to get a move on!


Day 1


We left Cambridge Airport just after 9 am for our one hour scenic flight into Melaleuca. Due to the perfect weather conditions the mountainous southwest and rugged coastline were at their best. The mountain ranges stretched away into the distance whilst the white sands of Louisa Bay sparkled below.






Cox’s Bight marked the end of the flight along the coast before the pilot turned inland for the short hop into Melaleuca where the 440m gravel runway built by Deny King looks impossibly short for a bush landing.






Our 2 guides Greg Wells and Mark Holdsworth met us at the airport. Both guides had respect, a deep admiration and knowledge of the Melaleuca area which contributed to the success of the trip. We immediately set out to check the feeders for the endangered OBP (no luck) and then headed into the bush where a research team was retrieving 3 week old OBPs from a nest so that vital statistics (height, length, weight) could be measured and monitored. The researcher’s camera had recorded a Ringtail Possum checking out the nest, which it couldn’t access due to the specific design of the nesting box. Even at this young age the distinctive orange belly feathers are obvious.














These Nissen Huts provide accommodation to bushwalkers arriving at Melaleuca.




After watching the researchers for a short time we walked to the jetty to start the short 5 km trip down Melaleuca Inlet to the Southwest Wilderness Camp.










The camp is tucked away in the bush at the mouth of Melaleuca Inlet and has a view over Forest Lagoon towards Claytons Corner. All of the linen, food, water and drinks came in with us or with Greg and Mark the previous day. There are 5 tents, an ablution block, kitchen and dining room and a table with a view where we enjoyed pre-dinner drinks and snacks both evenings.
















A Rufus Wallaby and joey were quietly grazing round the dining area before lunch.




The first excursion was to Celery Top Island where we walked through the bush to locate rare, mature celery top pine trees. The landing was on a white sand beach, lapped by dark tannin-stained water. Mt Rugby was reflected in the still waters, a scene which was to dominate the trip over the next 2 days.








Greg then started down the ‘Narrows’ as Bathurst Channel is sometimes known to Joe Page Bay where we did another short walk. The Parks and Wildlife Service provides dinghies for bushwalkers seeking to cross the Narrows, a service which is funded by park entry fees.




Nearby Ila Bay is a sheltered anchorage where we found a small flock of black swan.






Later back at the camp the adult Rufus Wallaby visited the table with a view, where the late afternoon sun caught its profile.









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Next morning I was up early to catch the reflections of Mt Rugby in Forest Lagoon as well as the views across to Clayton’s Corner. I’ll let the photos tell the sunrise story.






















After a hearty breakfast we left camp to travel to Port Davey, retracing some of the trip from the previous afternoon. A stop at Balmoral Beach broke the journey down the Bathurst Channel. The white sand and tannin-stained water combined into a dazzling view and Greg demonstrated his prowess at skipping stones across the smooth water.




The aptly named Breaksea Islands rear up at the mouth of Bathurst Harbour, providing protection from the westerly weather that rolls in across Port Davey. Due to the calm weather we were able to circumnavigate this group and today its hard to believe that in some weathers the waves break over these islands.






This Pacific Gull and Black-faced Cormorant were enjoying the good weather at the southern tip of the Breaksea Islands while further along a White-bellied Sea Eagle kept watch from a high point.






Here are the Breaksea Islands taken from the flight home the next day.




Travelling back through Bathurst Channel we stopped at picturesque Bramble Cove on the way back to camp, where a solitary Sooty Oystercatcher clambered around the rocks.




This cove was a stopover for whalers in years gone by, today the Roaring 40s Kayakers have a peaceful bush camp behind the beach with clear views across the channel to the Breaksea Islands.




The next stop was at an ochre cave where the shell middens are evidence of long ago occupation by Tasmanian Aborigines. The orange-red ochre was used in ceremonies.






We returned to camp for lunch and then set out across Bathurst Harbour to the Old River, where we left the boat and walked through the bush, stopping to admire Huon Pine trees that were up to 2,000 years old as well as the tall, straight celery top pines. We clambered over quartz river stones which would be submerged by floodwaters after heavy rains.




Here is a photo of the same place taken from the plane as we flew out next day.




The final stop was at Paver's Point which was the source of flat stones ideal for use in fireplaces and hearths in the early buildings at Melaleuca.




Greg showed us the Paver's Point site of a food drop left for the explorer Thomas Bather Moore during his travels in the area in the 1870s.




Back at camp we had been visited again by the resident quoll or spotted cat. Unfortunately, I don’t have any sensible photos of this little guy, however Greg and Mark shared these photos of the resident rascal.



Photo: Greg Wells



Photo: Mark Holdsworth


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Fantastic Denise and beautiful pictures...We were in Bruny not too long ago, but would love to visit this area...sometime.

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Next morning the Harbour was in a different mood – grey, sombre, reflective.










We headed over to Claytons Corner to see Win and Clyde’s house and climb TV hill for views over Forest Lagoon and the Harbour. The house nestles amongst the trees.












Back at camp, Scrub Wrens and Grey Thornbills flitted through the trees near the dining room while Greg prepared lunch.




All too soon its time to travel back up Melaleuca Inlet ready for the journey home, but there are still some surprises for us. We did the Needwonnee walk around the edge of a shallow lake which was peaceful and contained shelters, artefacts and a reed boat similar to that used by the first people to live at Melaleuca long ago.








There were no Orange-belled Parrots (OBPs) at the feeders, but a flock of Beautiful Firetails descended and put on a show for us.




Next, Mark arranged for us to visit Janet Fenton (Deny King’s daughter) at Melaleuca where we found her at the boat sheds built alongside the upper reaches of Melaleuca Inlet.




We walked past the once significant gardens, machinery sheds, artists studio and a small museum before heading to a second OBP feeder where at last I saw 4 of these highly endangered birds in a nearby tree. Mark commented that this was 10% of the remaining wild population which was a sad and sobering thought.










The nesting boxes have been specially designed to repel marauding Ringtail Possums and the nearby feeders ensure a steady source of food for the Melaleuca OBPs. We hurried back to the airfield and were soon in the air, winging our way back towards to Hobart and home. Here is an aerial shot of the iconic Tasman Bridge which straddles the Derwent River – really home now!



Edited by Treepol
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Thanks for sharing @@Treepol, this looks like a beautiful and remote area. I knew Par Avion offered day trips to the area, but was unaware that they offered longer stays. Something to keep in mind whenever I get around to visiting Australia again.

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Gorgeous photos, I love the sunrise series. Thanks for posting about this area.

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Lovely report with beauitiful photos - I had not known about the Orange-Bellied Parrots. Are they stable, increasing or decreasing? And what is the reason for their rarity?

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@@michael-ibk thanks for reading along. The OBP is struggling in the wild with just 40 wild birds remaining, including this year's hatchlings. The main reasons for the population decline are habitat loss and disease - sound familiar?

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Thank you for a fascinating report. A beautiful place, and such rare birds.

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Great report and photos. Thanks to you, a stay at Southwest Wilderness Camp is now included in our trip to Tasmania and Western Australia later this year!

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This certainly is a beautiful area. Only 40 Orange-bellied Parrots left in the wild? That's astonishing. Here's wishing the them the very best. Thanks for highlighting their plight and for sharing your visit with us.

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What can I say? WOW!

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