The tiny seaside settlement of Cockle Creek is at the end of Australia's most southerly drive. It is the entrance to the Southwest National Park with half a million hectares of wilderness, and is part of Tasmania's Wilderness World Heritage Area.
En route to Cockle Creek the Getaway crew took a break in the little town of Dover, 83kms south-west of Hobart on the Huon Highway. There are tiny villages further south, but Dover is the last stop for petrol and supplies. It sits on Port Esperance, named after one of the ships of Bruni D'Entrecasteaux who explored the area in 1792. It was established as a convict probation station, but there is little evidence of its penal past. It looks across to the islands of Faith, Hope and Charity.
After convict settlement, the town developed as an important port shipping Huon pine to the world. More recently it has made its name as a fishing port, including having the southern hemisphere's largest Atlantic salmon farm.
Between November and May, visitors delight in cruising on the 1880 cutter Olive May. Crafted from local pine, it is Australia's commercial fishing vessel.
About 22kms further on is Hastings, a tiny settlement which came into existence in the mid-19th century, as timber workers pushed further and further into the southern forests. They were seeking stands of sassafras, Huon pine and stringy bark. At its peak, the town had a port and sawmill with a considerable number of timber workers.
In 1917 a group of those workers discovered three caves. The great dolomite caves are believed to be about 40 million years old and remained unseen until 1917.
Newdegate is the only one open to the public and was opened in 1939. It is the largest in Australia and Parks & Wildlife Service conduct 45-inute daily tours through the large highly decorated cavern. Formations are spectacular and include flowstone, stalactites, columns, shawls, straws, stalagmites and helictites. It is spacious, well-lit and there are no narrow passages. 240 stairs are traversed in small sections and the temperature is a constant 9ºC.
The Hastings Thermal Pool is surrounded by forest and ferns, large picnic area, change rooms, showers and toilets, electric barbecues and a shelter with open fire. It is fed from a spring which is 28ºC year round, is hygienically controlled and has a children's paddling pool.
Cockle Creek contains Aboriginal sites, abandoned tramways, ruins of buildings, gravestones and a history of whaling. At its peak of settlement, over 2000 people lived there.
There are long sandy beaches, tranquil coves just made for camping (which is free!), hills thick with forest and home for wildlife and tannin-rich streams, wild rivers travelling through buttongrass plains.
There are two distinct areas Recherche Bay Nature Recreation Area and Southwest National Park.
Recherche has campsites in large, open areas which accommode between 10-15 tents and caravans. There are smaller sites closer to the National Park. Generators and dogs on leads are permitted.
Southwest National Park is south and east of Cockle Creek itself. All national park rules apply there and generators, firearms and dogs are not permitted. Campsites are just large enough for one or two tents.