A journey through the Western Arthurs mountain range

A journey by paraglider Laurent Besnard through remote south western Tasmania in the Western Arthurs has only been achieved by two other pilots. The iconic mountain range has no roads leading to it and no infrastructure, only mountains, dense forest and buttongrass plains.

This incredible landscape offers stunning views with glacial tarns surrounded by jagged quartzite cliffs.

Laurent first took up the challenge in November 2017 and back then, no one from the Tasmanian paragliding community was aware of any flights conducted in the area. Living in Hobart for the last 11 years, it had been in the back of his mind to fly the Western Arthurs ever since he took up paragliding, back in 2015. Then in March this year, he decided to take on the challenge again.

The closest car park to the Western Arthurs is the Huon campground, which is a solid 4 hours of power walking through the Arthurs plains all the way to launch. The hike is a classic South West Tasmanian adventure, with the occasional knee-high mud pools, creek crossing and bloodthirsty leeches waiting for hikers to walk by.

Bombing out halfway down the range guarantees an overnight walk back.

“I personally love the feeling of landing in the middle of nowhere, walking for hours through those plains, and finally reaching a track. But for sure, one has to be comfortable in doing so,” said Laurent.

“It is a challenging place in many ways. However, the flying is mostly straightforward with thermals being in obvious locations and no real valley crossing.

“In my opinion, the less than ideal outcome would be, to throw the reserve directly above the range, being attacked by a wedgie, to land on “closed” buttongrass surrounded by very thick Tasmanian bush (in the worst-case scenario, the progress can be of 300m per hour). And landing at the other end of the range will lead to almost 2 days of hiking.”

For Laurent, the weather is by far the biggest challenge with Tasmania repeatedly getting hit with low pressure systems and the average yearly rainfall being 2510mm. But the day he decided to fly this year was just picture perfection.

“That day, the weather was absolutely perfect- a pristine blue day. I had never seen a forecast that good for the area before. Usually, by 2 pm the westerlies are settling in, making a return journey very compromised. This day, there was no wind in the vicinity until 4:30 pm, and then of course, it was back to “normal”, i.e. 15 knots +. This guaranteed me to fly the range and back, and back to my van,” he said. 

“In the morning, the whole Arthurs plains were foggy with amazing gold looking colours. By 10 a.m., to my excitement, cumulus were forming above all the peaks. When I was finally in the air by noon, there were barely any clouds and the inversion was finally above the range.

“I flew a bit over 2 hours, reached great heights of 1451 m (this is high for Tasmania) with views to Precipitous Bluff, the Southern Ocean, Melaleuca, the Frankland Range- flew with a Wedgie who gave me a thermal lesson.”

Would Laurent do this flight again, “any day” he says. The pain is worth the gain in his books.

“I only wish this was more often flyable, a few times a year is clearly not enough. From now on, I want to take the Arthurs as a quick launch access to fly to even more remote locations, but this is in the realm of dreams as of now.”

Watch his journey here.