Hungry Beach, West Head

Hungry Beach is a secluded beach near West Head in the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park that you access by boat – or on foot via an untracked route.

In search of a secluded or “secret” beach, I’ve noticed Hungry Beach near West Head (north of Sydney) on Google Maps. (‘Though I’m not sure with Google Maps there is really such a thing as a “secret” beach any more!) There’s no walking track to the beach, although it’s only about 1km from West Head Road. Could it be reached by “bush bashing” down from the road?

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No. What Google Maps doesn’t show is that the lighter-coloured terrain is thick scrub, and even making 50m progress through the bush is arduous, slow and painful! I could come back with a chainsaw, but I’m not sure that this would be a recommended activity in a national park!

We (I’ve managed to convince my friend Andy that bashing through thick scrub on a hot afternoon is a great idea) move to Plan B before giving up. Getting back in the car, we continue along West Head Road to the start of the Flint and Steel track. It should be feasible – at least at low tide – to follow the coastline from Flint and Steel Bay to Hungry Beach. Although I’m not entirely sure of the current tide times: there was more optimism on my part than planning in today’s pursuit of an Undiscovered Beach… Fortunately, as we reach Flint and Steel Bay along the rough but distinct track, it does appear that the tide is out.

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From here I’m not sure what to expect or how far we will get, but we make decent progress along the rocky coast. It would be a lot harder at high tide, though.

It doesn’t take too long before Hungry Beach is in view, around a small headland that we still need to negotiate.

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The very last few hundred metres would have been challenging if the tide was higher, but proved no major obstacle. We’re soon standing on Hungry Beach, with just a handful of people who have arrived by boat.

It’s a nice beach, although the colour of the water is not particularly appealing (could be that recent rain has washed some silt down the Hawkesbury River). At the back of the beach, near the middle, is a ribbon taped to a tree marking the start of a track that heads up the steep terrain. So perhaps there is an alternate track to the beach – we’ll have to come back and explore further.

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There’s also an old World War II bunker located a short distance above the beach. I can’t find any information on the building, but it would have been part of the fortifications built along the Hawkesbury River to fend off any Japanese naval attacks from the north.

We return back to the car the way we came: it’s been great to have reached Hungry Beach, but it’s also a hot afternoon with little shade for most of the way and we’re glad to be back at the car! I’ll be making a return trip on a cooler day to explore the possibility of an alternate track to the beach.

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0.0km Start at Flint and Steel trackhead (on West Head Road)
0.3km Take track to Flint and Steel Bay (to the left) 
0.7km Ruins of McGaw House
1.1km White Horse Beach (Flint and Steel Bay) - proceed along shoreline
1.8km Hungry Beach
3.6km Flint and Steel carpark
Location Start at Flint and Steel trailhead near the end of West Head Road
Distance 3.6km return.
Grade Moderate. Partly off-track.
Season/s All year. Low tide.
Map 9130-1N Broken Bay (1:25,000)
GPS Route Routie GPS trail – view route and export to GPX format.

Cape Tourville, Freycinet

A boardwalk along the rugged Freycinet coastline and around the Cape Tourville Lighthouse offers spectacular coastal views.

It’s the last walk of my Tasmanian holiday… or stroll… I’ve headed to Cape Tourville with the kids in the hope of finding a great sunset vantage spot. The boardwalk around the headland makes it fairly effortless walking – but it’s hard to imagine we were swimming at Wineglass Bay earlier in the day. It feels like it’s freezing, which is not helped by the strong wind.

The boardwalk winds along the rocky coastline and around the unmanned and automatic lighthouse that was built in 1971. Replacing the inaccessible Cape Forestier Lighthouse, the Cape Tourville Lighthouse was built at the same time as a new lighthouse at Point Home, to provide guidance for bulk carriers carrying wood chips from the Triabunna wood chip mill.

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The attraction of the Cape Tourville walk and its inclusion on Tasmania’s “60 Great Short Walks” is due to the fabulous coastal scenery. Near the start of the walk (if you’re doing it in a counter-clockwise direction) are views to the south-west of Freycinet Peninsula.

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Near the end of the walk is a view of The Nuggets, a close group of four granite islets which are home to thousands of migratory birds.

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There’s some interpretative signage along the boardwalk – although it’s too bloody cold to stand still and read the information boards!  We don’t linger long as we’re keen to get out of the cold. We’re a bit too early for the sunset and it’s too cold to hang arouns, so we head back to our accommodation. We stop at Richardsons Beach, close to Freycinet Lodge (we’re not staying here, though!) to catch the sun as it sets over the bay.

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The sky is even more spectacular after the sun has set, once we’re back at our rented house just north of Coles Bay. A very fitting end to my two weeks in Tassie!

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Location Turn left onto the Cape Tourville Road off Freycinet Drive (the main road through the park)
Distance 600m circuit (15min)
Grade Super-easy.
Season/s All year.
Map TasMap Freycinet National Park 1:50,000
6033 Coles Bay (1:25,000)
Resources Tas Parks 60 Great Short Walks – Cape Tourville

Wineglass Bay, Freycinet

One of the most popular walks on the Freycinet Peninsula, the track goes to the Wineglass Bay Lookout before descending to the picturesque Wineglass Bay.

After my early-morning walk to Mt Amos, I head back to the Wineglass Bay carpark for the walk to Wineglass Bay. In stark contrast to my previous walk, which I started at 6:30am, the carpark is now overflowing and it takes me a few circuits to find a parking spot. (Every year Tassie seems to get a bit busier in January, to the point where it’s now becoming less appealing to visit in the peak summer months!) The wide “one-way” gravel track initially rises as it heads towards The Hazards, a series of five granite peaks.

We make steady progress despite having regular breaks, as the track gradually ascends towards the Wineglass Bay Lookout. Coming into view behind us as we climb is Coles Bay.

After a kilometre is the Coles Bay Lookout, which provides a view to the north over Coles Bay.

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The lookout is also the point where the “one-way” track up meets the alternate one-way track down (it gets so busy at peak times that there’s a path for each direction of travel!). Another 500m further there’s a junction to the track to the Wineglass Bay Lookout.

Situated on a saddle between Mt Amos and Mount Mayson, two of the granite peaks that make up The Hazards, the Wineglass Bay Lookout is one of the most popular destinations in the Freycinet National Park. The lookout is the highest point of the walk (201m above sea level) and offers spectacular views of Wineglass Bay and the Freycinet Peninsular. (Although, if you want to avoid the crowds I’d suggest you do the slightly harder walk to Mt Amos for an even better view!)

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From the lookout it’s all downhill to Wineglass Bay. There’s a warning sign that the track can be “steep and slippery” which is absolutely ludicrous, as you could (almost) make it down in a wheelchair. There was a $500,000 track upgrade in 2017, so perhaps they forgot to remove the sign? (As I’ve noted on previous posts, there is an increasing prevalance of warning signs that overstate the dangers, which means people are going to start ignoring these when there are genuine risks or track closures.)

Unperturbed, we continue down the dangerous path: tea trees, eucalypts and she-oaks provide some welcome shade. As we near the bottom, there’s a clear view of Mt Amos, the destination of my last walk.

Although Wineglass Bay is perhaps one of the most photographed and Instagrammed beaches in Australia, the majority of people don’t venture past the lookout. So while there’s a few people at the northern end of the beach, if you walk to the far end you’ll have the beach almost to yourself! (The campground where I stayed with my son a couple of years ago when we did the Freycinet Circuit is also at the other end of Wineglass Bay.)

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From the lookout the water looked calm, and the bay is fairly enclosed – so I was surprised to find large waves and a strong undertow at the beach. We went for a swim anyway – the water was pretty chilly – but there were more people on the beach than in the water! We dried off at the very northern end of the beach, where there’s a rocky platform. Behind the opposite (southern) end of the beach is Mt Graham and Mt Freycinet.

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We head back after our swim – I go back to Wineglass Bay Lookout as the skies have cleared, making the view even more spectacular. Looking at the tranquil bay below, it’s hard to imagine that it owes its name to the blood-red water that resulted from the slaughtering of whales in the early 1800s.

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From the turn-off to the lookout we’ve done the hard (uphill) work – it’s now all downhill back to the carpark and a well-earnt lunch!

0.0km Start at Wineglass Bay carpark
1.0km Coles Bay Lookout
1.6km Wineglass Bay Lookout
3.2km Wineglass Bay
6.4km Return to Wineglass Bay carpark
Location Starts at the Wineglass Bay carpark, near Coles Bay. About 2.5-hours from Hobart or Launceston airports.
Distance 6.4km return (2 hours) – including the track to Wineglass Bay Lookout
Grade Easy. (355m total ascent)
Season/s All year.
Map TasMap Freycinet National Park 1:50,000
6033 Coles Bay (1:25,000)
GPS Route Routie GPS trail – view route and export to GPX format.
Resources
Map-Wineglass-Bay
Map showing route to Wineglass Bay. Source: TasTrails

Mount Amos, Freycinet

 

A short and steep walk to the summit of Mount Amos, one of the five peaks that make up The Hazards on the Freycinet Peninsula. A popular sunrise walk, it offers the best views of Wineglass Bay.

Having finished a long but rewarding hike around Maria Island, I’ve got a few days with the family at Freycinet before heading back to Sydney. It was exactly two years ago that I hiked the Freycinet Peninsula over three days with my son. One of the few tracks we didn’t manage to do was the relatively short walk up to the summit of Mt Amos. Starting at the Wineglass Bay carpark, the track soon veers off to the left, with a warning sign for good measure.

It’s a nice and gentle rise intially, through banksia, she-oaks and eucalypts and along a few short sections of boardwalk.

After about 800m, there’s another warning sign – just in case you missed the first one! (It would be a bit slippery after rain, but there’s no sections with any serious exposure and my 12-year old daughter had no issues with the climb.)

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Soon after the second warning sign, the track heads up large granite boulders. Frequent yellow markers show the route, with Mt Amos directly ahead. While none of the granite slabs are particularly steep, there’s a few spots that would be tricky if the rocks were wet.

As we gain altitude, there’s a nice view of the multiple granite tiers below the Mt Amos peak. The pink colouration is from iron oxide impurities in the feldspar (a component of granite) and the black from micas (a black mineral).

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Looking back to the north, there’s a great view over Coles Bay – both the bay and the township on the opposite side.

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Just after the views of the granite tiers, there are some rough sandstone steps, before we reach one of the steepest sections of the track.

The route goes directly up one of the granite tiers we saw earlier: while it’s pretty steep  and looks a little daunting, there are crevices and a few trees that provide handholds.

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The path then flattens and goes through low scrub. To the right there’s a rock outcrop that looks like our destination, but it’s a false summit. A final rocky slope leads to the summit of Mt Amos (454m above sea level).

From here there are sweeping views to the south over Wineglass Bay and the Freycinet Peninsula.

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We reach the summit shortly after 8am – a couple of hours after sunrise, but still early enough to enjoy the nice morning light. (Our timing works perfectly, as we’ve encountered a number of people on their way down, who started early to be on the peak for sunrise. The last person leaves just as we arrive, and we have the summit to ourselves for half an hour.)

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The view from the summit makes the ascent worthwhile, with fantastic views over Wineglass Bay – one of the most beautiful and most photographed beaches in Australia. The best view over the bay is from the right of the true summit, and 20m below the peak there’s another flat area that’s popular for photos.

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To the north are some of the other peaks that make up The Hazards, with the Coles Bay Conservation Area beyond.

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We return to our car at the Wineglass Bay carpark via the same route, having spent half an hour at the top admiring the view and taking photos. The skies have cleared since we reached the peak, so I take a few more photos on the way down of Coles Bay.

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There’s many interesting rock formations that we were less inclined to admire as we scrambled up the mountain. The “chaise lounge” rock provides a nice spot for a rest!

By the time we reach the carpark it’s exactly 9am. It’s taken us 2.5 hours, including the 30min on the summit, so if you’re aiming to reach the top for sunrise you could get to the top in about an hour if you’re fairly fit  (or allow 90min to be safe). On the way back to our accommodation, there’s a nice view of The Hazards from the other side of Coles Bay – Mount Amos is the one in the middle (second from the right).

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Location Starts at the Wineglass Bay carpark, near Coles Bay. About 2.5-hours from Hobart or Launceston airports.
Distance 4.3km return (2-3 hours)
Grade Moderate.  400m total ascent. Some steep sections that require scrambling (no exposure)
Season/s All year. Avoid after rain or when wet.
Map TasMap Frecyinet National Park 1:50,000
6033 Coles Bay (1:25,000)
GPS Route Routie GPS trail – view route and export to GPX format.
Resources
Map_MountAmos
Map of Mount Amos route (Source: “Top Walks in Tasmania”, Melanie Ball)

 

Wombats and Devils on Maria Island

Maria Island offers a unique combination of abundant wildlife, Australian convict and early industrial history and multi-day bushwalking opportunities. A four-day hike takes us to the far southern end of Maria Island as well to the summits of Mt Maria (711m) and Bishop and Clerk (620m), and to the Fossil Cliffs by bike.

This is the only pre-planned walk we have in Tasmania: four nights camping on Maria Island. The whole family heads over from Triabunna on the mid-morning ferry, but only Luke and I are staying on the island. I’ve reserved our spots on the ferry a week in advance (a new and much larger ferry since 2017 means it sometime, but rarely gets booked out). The Maria Island Penitentiary accommodation was totally booked out, although in hindsight I’m happy not to have booked here as it’s way too busy in January for my liking!

A few tips from our four-day adventure:

  • What’s the best time to visit Maria Island? December and January are the busiest months; one of the rangers suggested March/April as being the best time if you want to avoid the crowds. The ferry runs less frequently in winter, but if you want seclusion consider a winter visit!
  • Where to stay? In addition to the campground at Darlington (near the ferry) there’s the Penitentiary – basic bunkhouse-style accommodation, offering 9 rooms with 6 beds and 1 room with 14 beds. You can also camp at Frenchs Farm and Encampment Cove, both about 11-14km from Darlington depending on the route you take. I suspect you could camp anywhere on the mote remote parts of the island – but it’s highly discouraged and other than Robeys Farm there’s very few places with drinkable water.
  • How to get around? Other than walking (or jogging, if you are that way inclined!) you can rent a bike – bookings are highly recommended in Dec/Jan. If you have an overnight pack you’ll probably struggle riding with a heavy pack – and they won’t rent you a bike anyway. (So if you are determined to get to Frenchs Farm or Encampment Cove to camp, hide your backpack when you go and hire your bike!)
  • How available is water? There was plenty of water at Frenchs Farm, Encampment Cove and Robeys Farm in January – but best to check. I was surprised that almost every creek was dry – except Counsel Creek and Four Mile Creek near the top of Mt Maria.

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Getting to Maria Island and walk overview

The ferry trip across from Triabunna to Darlington on Maria Island is fairly quick and uneventful (it takes about 45min), and there’s a pretty good range of snacks and drinks on the boat for a last pre-camping meal. (Judging by a couple of badly cracked windows, some crossings must be a lot rougher than ours!)

The ferry docks at Darlington and the luggage is efficiently lifted via a small crane onto the wharf for collection. Near the jerry are some historic structures, such as the cement silos, and the Commissariat Store (which is also the national park visitor centre).

We set off (without our overnight packs) to climb Bishop and Clerk, the second-highest peak on the island. Amy, my daughter, is going to join Luke and I for this walk before catching the last ferry back to the mainland with Mum.

Our itinerary was designed to see as much of the island as we could – and where possible avoid carrying our heavy overnight bags…

In total, we cover about 80km over three days – which is most the marked tracks on the island. On the fourth day we hire a bike to cover the area around Darlington.

Bishop and Clerk (Day 1)

The summit of Bishop and Clerk (620m asl) is a popular day walk: as well as being one of Tasmania’s “Top 60 Great Short Walks”, it’s regarded as one of Tassie’s best day walks. We set-off from opposite the Parks and Wildlife Office, where we leave our big packs, taking the unsealed road that passes behind the old penitentiary.

We also pass the site of the “Twelve Apostles”, named after a row of workers’ cottages built during the first industrial era (1888–96). Soon after we pass the junction with the Reservoir Circuit, as we continue up the Fossil Cliff  Track.

Once the track reaches the grassy plain at the top of the Fossil Cliffs, the scenery gets more interesting. The rocky summit of Bishop and Clerk is clearly visible in the distance as the track follows Skipping Ridge, along the edge of the cliff-top. The dolerite columns that form the top of Bishop and Clerk were named because of the supposed resemblance to a bishop, wearing a mitre, followed by a clergyman. Although even when I squint or turn my head at funny angles, I can’t really see this resemblance!

Looking back down the coast, you can see the mainland in the distance above the towering cliffs. Even better is the fact we’re already gained about 150m in altitude without really trying…

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It gets a bit tougher from here, as we leave the open grassy plain, and the track enters the (mostly) eucalypt forest and starts to steadily climb. At the start of the forested section there’s a stand of sheoaks or casuarinas, which were prized as firewood by the early settlers. These are gradually replaced by stringybarks, blue gums and manna or white gum eucalypts.

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This part of the walk is pretty boring… we don’t see any wildlife, there are no wildflowers and no view. Just the narrow track heading relentlessly up the ridge…

It gets more interesting when we reach the scree field, formed by dolerite rock debris. There is a rough track that zig-zags up the slope and make it fairly easy to negotiate the sometimes loose stones (the kids decide to ignore the track and walk directly up the hill). Without the tree cover, there are now views over Mercury Passage to mainland Tasmania.

As the trail ascends, the boulders get gradually bigger – and the view keeps improving!

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Near the summit, the rocks become boulders, and in a few places we need to use our hands and feet as we scramble up. There’s a false summit where we think we’ve made it, followed by a steep right-hand turn and another 50m before we’re really on top of Bishop and Clerk.

The panoramic view from the top is incredible – and we have the summit to ourselves. Having started the walk relatively late in the day, everyone’s been and gone by the time we get there (we met a few people on their way down).

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To the west is Cape Boullanger and the Fossil Cliffs, and the east coast of the mainland on the other side of Mercury Passage.

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To the north, beyond the jagged dolerite columns, I can just make out Isle des Phoques, and in the far distance Schouten Island and the Freycinet Peninsula.

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After I take a few photos and kids have finished leaping across the rocks at the top, we start our descent, clambering carefully down the large boulders at the top.

We make good progress on the way back, taking exactly 3.5 hours for the return trip – and I see my first wombat on the outskirt of Darlington. Which was quite exciting… by the same time tomorrow, I’m far less excited having seen more wombats in 24 hours than in the previous 24 years!

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Darlington to Frenchs Farm (Day 1)

While we’ve finished the Bishop and Clerk walk, Luke and I still need to reach Frenchs Farm, our destination for today. After a short break and refilling of water bottles, we strap on the overnight packs and head down the Coast Road. On the outskirts of the Darlington settlement we pass Mrs Hunt’s Cottage; Mrs Hunt was the one of the last island inhabitants prior to the island being proclaimed a National Park. Grazing in the foreground are two Cape Barren Geese, introduced to Maria Island in 1968.

Our progress is hampered by another wombat sighting, grazing on the inland side of the Coast Road. Not just any wombat, but an adult and child munching together on grass, oblivious to us taking photos. Maria Island is home to about 4,000 wombats and the population has been steadily increasing, to the point where there is a concern it may be unsustainable (“The current status of wombat populations on Maria Island National Park” by Janeane Ingram). The wombats on Maria Island are a subspecies of the common wombat (Vombatus ursinus ursinus) which were once found throughout the Bass Strait islands but are now restricted to Flinders Island, and Maria Island where they were introduced in the 1970s.

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It doesn’t take us long to reach Hopground Beach, a beautiful bay that’s better known for the Painted Cliffs at the far end.

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We continue down the Coast Road, which crosses Counsel Creek – you can also turn off here and continue along the beach.

We spot some more birdlife here: another Cape Barren Goose, and after we take the short path down to the Painted Cliffs, there’s a pair of pied oystercatchers feeding on the rocky shoreline.

The Painted Cliffs is one of the attractions on Maria Island (and the walk from Darlington to the Painted Cliffs is another Tasmanian “Great Short Walk”). Easily accessed at low tide, the long sandstone outcrop has been weathered over millions of years by groundwater percolating down through the sandstone and leaving traces of iron oxides, which gives the rock formation its unusual pattern.

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More recently, sea spray hitting the rock face has dried and in the process formed salt crystals of salt, which have caused the rock to weather in a honeycomb pattern.

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We continue down the Coast Road, which follows the coast fairly closely. It’s relatively easy walking and there are nice views of the coastline and remote bays and beaches.

There’s also increasing sightings of wildlife as we get into the late afternoon: wombats, Forester (Eastern grey) kangaroos and wallabies (the Tasmanian pademelon and Bennetts wallaby).

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With our legs starting to tire, we have a brief stop at the beautiful Four Mile Beach. There’s a small group who are leaving as we arrive; they’ve come from a boat moored a small distance offshore and have brought a dog with them. I’m happy when they rather hastily put their furry friend in their dinghy and motor back to their yacht, leaving just us to admire the beach and turquoise-coloured water.

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After Four Mile Beach the Coast Road heads inland, crossing Four Mile Creek. (While the creek looks nice from a distance, it had a lot of algae and didn’t look too tempting as a water source. Had it been clear, flowing water we might have camped here, close to the beach! I discover later that the “Maria Island Walk” has a camp near here, so I wonder if they use water from Four Mile Creek – or water tanks?)

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We trudge on, looking forward to reaching our campground. Fortunately the Coast Road is fairly flat, although it’s now a few hundred metres inland from the coast and there’s not much to see. We’re very happy when reach Frenchs Farm just after 7pm. At the top of the campground is a a simple weatherboard house, built during the 1950s when farming was introduced to the island, and later restored. The house is is no longer used – other than collecting rainwater which fills a large water tank (which is fairly full).

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Nearby is an old shearing shed and stockyard, which doesn’t hasn’t been restored, but seems in reasonable condition. I don’t notice any smell… but one of the Maria Island ranger suggested you could still detect a faint odour of sheep from the 1940s and 50s.

We find a campsite near the bottom of the main campground, which has the luxury of a picnic table nearby. Wombats are grazing everywhere, and later in the evening one ambles right past our tent. There’s one other tent already set-up, and a couple of hikers that arrive just after us. It’s a huge campground, and behind the (dry) creek there’s another area you could camp if you want total privacy and seclusion.

After eating dinner, we’re treated to a blood-red sky as the sun sets behind the farmhouse and shed – a nice end to a long but rewarding day!

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Haunted Bay (Day 2)

We’re up early the next day, as we leave our tent and overnight backpacks at Frenchs Farm, and continue south to the far end of Maria Island on the Isthmus Track.

Not far from Frenchs Farm we cross a wide creek, which isn’t named on any of my maps. It’s the same creek that would flow through the campground just behind my tent, but is totally dry – so I suspect it may be brackish rather than fresh water.

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The very sandy track follows the edge of Shoal Bay as it curves towards the narrow McRaes Isthmus, a narrow neck of sand with beaches on either side.

The isthmus is very narrow, and when you see photos of it from above it appears to be only a few metres wide. But the track goes right down the middle, and while we can hear the ocean there no sight of any water. Near the middle there’s an unmarked track that takes us to Riedle Bay to the east (bottom left) and Shoal Bay to the west (bottom right).

Riedle Bay is stunning – a long, crescent-shaped beach with turquoise water and gentle waves – and not a single other person in sight.

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Just after this track to the two beaches, the Isthmus Track splits into two: Haunted Bay to the left, and Robeys Farm to the right. We go left towards Haunted Bay, with the track gradually climbing from the end of Riedle Bay up to its highest point of 197m.

There’s a short (1.5km) but steep descent at the end on a narrow bush track, with occcasional glimpses of the bay through the trees.

Located at southern extremity of Maria Island, Haunted Bay is a fascinating spot. It was a whaling site in the 1800s and is home to fairy penguins that live in between the granite rocks (although I don’t see any). The remote bay is surrounded by tall granite cliffs, many of which are covered in bright orange and yellow lichen.

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If feels remote and secluded, as we find a spot in the shade for our lunch. Although we’re not quite alone – a tiny fishing boat is bobbing around, at the foot of the cliffs.

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We head back the way we came, back to the junction with the Robeys Farm track…

Robeys Farm (Day 2)

We hadn’t really planned on visiting Robeys Farm, but it’s only 11:30am and Luke is keen to try and complete all the walks on Maria Island. So we take turn left towards the old farm. Less than a kilometre from the junction is Stinking Creek. I’m thinking when I see this on the map that it may not be a great spot to refill water bottles. And it doesn’t disappoint. While the surrounding grass looks soft and a lovely deep green colour, the creek is also an almost flourescent green colour, and smells putrid.

It’s about 5km (one-way) from the junction with the Isthmus Track, on what seems to be an old vehicular track. It’s sandy in places, but generally shaded and fairly level.

After we cross Robeys Creek (which is completely dry) and what seems to be now over-grown farmland, we reach the Robeys Farm farmhouse. It looks in pretty good condition from the outside, and considerable restoration work has been done by the Hobart Walking Club and the National Parks and Wildlife Service.

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The inside is like stepping back in time. John Vivian (Viv) and Hilda Robey emigrated from South Africa in the 1920s, moving originally to Hobart and then to Maria Island. By 1953 they had secured a total leasehold of 5,570 acres on Maria Island that they called “South End”, which supported 600-700 sheep and up to 40 head of cattle. After Hilda died in Hobart at age 82, Viv also became ill a few years later in August 1965 and was brought off the island in pain (he was found to be suffering from malnutition). He returned to his native South Africa in November after being discharged from hospital, never returning to Maria Island. The hasty and unplanned departure was evident from the table still being set for dinner, and a rice pudding still in the oven.

As I sit on the verandah of Robeys Farm and look out over the harsh landscape, I have to admire the tenacity and spirit of our early settlers. On a practical note, there’s a water tank here which is full, so I refill our water bottles and have a drink before we return.

We get back to the Frenchs Farm around 2:30pm, and have a quiet afternoon resting – and watching some of the wildlife around the campground. With another couple arriving, I’m finding the “main campground” far too busy (there are now four tents). So we move our tent across the dry creekbed to another huge area, which we have to ourselves. Much better.

Encampment Cove (Day 2)

After an early dinner, we wander across to Encampment Cove, the alternate campground that we could have stayed at. It’s a nice evening to be walking, and with sunset not until 8:45pm, it’s still light until almost 10pm.

After a short section through forest, the vehicular trail follows a wide creek  to Chinamans Bay and then goes along the coastline to Encampment Cove. On the other side of the tranquil cove is Shoal Bay with its long sandy beach, and behind it stands Mt Maria.

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There’s a number of camping areas along the track, and a large camping area near the water as well as further inland toward the shed (which has a water tank). The disadvantage of this camping areas is that it’s accessible by boat, and one group seemed to have brought a replica of the Taj Mahal. It’s nice be near the water, but Frenchs Farm feels more secluded and I’m happy with out choice to camp here for two nights.

We share the road with a few more wombats and wallabies as we head back to our tent!

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It’s been a long day – 35km in total – but we’re glad we managed to visit Haunted Bay and Robeys Farm. If I had to pick one destination, Haunted Bay would be my choice – and having some time here at in the late afternoon or evening would be amazing,

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Mt Maria (Day 3)

We’re up early again today – it’s another fairly long day as we head back via the Inland Track and climb Mt Maria (711m), before a last night at Darlington. A last quick check of the map on my phone and we’re off!

It’s only about 1.5km from Frenchs Farm via the Coast Road, before we turn right onto the Inland Track. Although this route is more “undulating” than the Coast Road and gradually ascends by about 150m, it’s still fairly easy walking. It would be (compared to the Coast Road) a lot harder on a bike, due both to it’s hillier nature and the sometimes soft sand.

It only takes us a couple of hours to reach the start of the well sign-posted track up to Mt Maria, where we stash our overnight packs behind a tree. The track up can be loosely divided into three sections… Initially the track ascends through open eucalypt forest, which was burnt regularly in the early farming days resulting in minimal undergrowth (and low plant diversity).

After a few kilometres there is a change from dolerite to siltstone in the underlying rock, caused by a major fault millions of years ago that lifted the eastern side of the island. There are now white peppermint (which grows only on dolerite soils) and more shrubby undergrowth plants, including pink mountain berry, silver banksia and pink heath. A small creek flows down the mountain, which is the start of Four Mile Creek. It’s not always flowing, despite every other creek being bone dry, but this one had a trickle of water and we could refill our water bottles.

Finally there are the scree and boulder fields… It was a result of water freezing, expanding and shattering one of the upright dolemite columns 20,000 years ago, leaving a trail of rock debris down the mountain. Marked by yellow arrows and orange poles, it’s fairly easy walking up the scree – at least on a dry day!

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After the first scree slope, there’s an unexpected oasis of green – a short section of forest
consisting of Oyster Bay pine, richea, and banksia,

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Then it’s back to more boulders, which are now larger and at times require hands and feet to climb.

We’re not far from the summit (711m asl), marked by a large trig point and offering sweeping views in most directions… it’s also surprisingly windy at the top, which we’ve been protected from on the way up (and perhaps because of the wind, the often cloud-covered peak is clear).

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You can clearly see the narrow isthmus separating the north and south parts of Maria Island to the south, where we walked the previous day. Beyond Maria Island is the Tasman Peninsula, with some of its high cliffs just visible.

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To the west is Darlingon (you can just see the jetty) and the Wielangta Forest Reserve on the mainland.

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And to the north is Mount Pedder, with its radio tower on the summit, and in the far distance is Schouten Island and Freycinet Peninsula (which are not really recognisable).

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We admire the view for a while – it would have been a great lunch spot just below the summit (where it’s protected from the wind), but we left all our food in the overnight backpacks!

Once we re-join the Inland Track it’s only another four kilometres or so back to Darlington, and it’s pretty much all downhill… The track meets Counsel Creek on the way to the coast, which is also flowing and looks pretty clear. I was tempted to camp somewhere along the creek to avoid the inevitable crowds at Darlington, but both sides of the valley along the creek are too steep and scrubby.

Oast House Track

Just as we reach sight of the coast there’s a junction with the Oast House Track, so we take this alternate and slightly hillier route back to Darlington (this route is a lot less busy, which is nice – we only see two other people on the trail).

“An oast or oast house is a building designed for kilning (drying) hops as part of the brewing process” – I learnt something new writing this blog post 🙂 The Maria Island Oast House is one of the oldest in Tasmania, and by 1847 was producing three tonnes of hops per year in its two large brick drying towers.

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The Oast House is also near the top of a small hill, so from here it’s all downhill again to Darlington.

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As we complete the very last part of our walk along the Coast Track, we encounter an adult wombat with its baby grazing by the grassy bank of Darlington Bay. It’s a nice end to our 3-day walk!

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We’re back in Darlington by 4pm, in time to pick up the bicycles we booked a few days ago. I’m ready for a wee nap, but Luke seems to have unlimited energy and insists we ride down to the jetty. And then back to Painted Cliffs. I finally managed to convince him to stop, so we can put up our tent at the Darlington campground! It’s fairly large camping ground with a lot of trees around the river that runs through the middle of it. We find a sheltered spot fairly close to the road, but away from most of the other tents. There are a LOT of tents her in mid-January, and I regret that we couldn’t find a secluded spot by Counsel Creek, just outside Darlington. On the plus side there are basic cooking facilities and running water here. Outside of December/January, it would most likely be a great campground!

Probably attracted by food scraps (although we don’t see anyone feeding the animals), there’s a lot of wildlife in and around the campsites. Two wombats chase each other past our tent, there’s loads of wallabies and a friendly kookaburra keeps an eye on our tent.

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A little later, a Tasmanian Devil lopes along the river through the camping ground. We’re warned by the rangers not to leave food (especially meat) or even clothes in areas that the devils can reach. Special bins are available, athough I figure I should be OK hanging our backpacks on a high branch. The only thing I leave out is a pair of my hiking socks, which I remove as I climb into the tent and tucked under the canvas at the front. In the morning, they’re gone. I’m still unsure what concerns me most… that a devil took my socks from a few centimetres away from my face as I slept – or that my pungent socks are lining the den of a poor Tasmanian Devil!

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Having erected our tent and eaten dinner, we make one last final excursion by bike down to the jetty, in the hope of catching a nice sunset. Not surprisingly, there’s lots of wildlife out and about.

The sunset doesn’t disappoint, with a long blaze of red along the top of the hills on the mainland. It’s been another fantastic day on Maria Island!

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Fossil Cliffs and Reservoir Circuit (Day 4)

We’re up early (again!) to catch the morning light, with a bike ride to Fossil Cliffs, which are not far from Darlington. We ride down past the jetty and cement silos, and the Convict Barn, built in 1846 on a wide gravel road.

The Fossil Cliffs Circuit road ascends very gently, as it crosses Cape Boullanger and passes the Maria Island airstrip. Once we reach the low cliffs on the opposite side of the cape, the summit of Bishop and Clerk comes into view, partly shrouded by clouds.

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We dismount and walk down a short track that leads to the top of the cliffs, where there is some interpretative signage. This large rock shelf is where the limestone was quarried, and the remains of the tramline that connected the quarry to the cement works. From here there’s a rough and steep path down to the base of the cliffs.

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As it’s low tide (we’ve been fortunate with tides here and at the Painted Cliffs… or maybe it’s good planning…) we can safely explore the thousands of shellfish fossils embedded in limestone. The Fossil Cliffs are considered one of the best examples of life 250 million years ago, with the sheer volume attributed to the cold conditions associated with the polar sea at the time.

The Fossil Cliffs Circuit continues along the top of the cliff-line…

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…which is not a lot of fun. It’s uphill – and steep – up to the top of the Fossil Cliffs. I push my bike most of the way. I’m not feeling very fit!

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Then it’s downhill again, to the junction of the track to Reservoir Dam. Just after the start of the Reservoir Circuit road are the ruins of the cement works, which were built around 1889.

The relatively flat road ends at Reservoir Dam, which was constructed by convicts during the first convict period (1825-1832) to supply the settlement of Darlington, and has been enlarged a few times since. It’s a tranquil spot, and would be an ideal destination for a picnic lunch or bird-watching at dusk or dawn.

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The other half of the Reservoir Circuit is a narrow track (but suitable for bikes), which heads gently downhill back to Darlington.

Historic Darlington (Day 4)

We pack up our tent, hand back our bikes and spend the last few hours on the island looking around Darlington. Unfortunately, I didn’t see much evidence or signage of Aboriginal history on Maria Island, which was frequented by the people of the Tyreddeme band of the Oyster Bay tribe.

In comparison, there’s been considerable work done to preserve and present the fascinating history of European colonisation, which occurred in four periods:

The first convict era (1825–1832)

Lt Peter Murdoch arrived as Commandant in March 1825 with 50 convicts and military escorts. Darlington was a depot for prisoners returned to authorities after having worked for settlers, or convicts guilty of light offences. The settlement ceased on 1 October 1832, due to the success of Port Arthur and ease of escape from Maria Island.

The Commisseriat Store (1825) is the oldest building on the island: it had an office,  provision store and the spirit room downstairs and stores belonging to the Ordinance
Department upstairs.

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The second convict era (1842–1850)

While some sheep grazing  and whaling continued on Maria Island over the previous decade, in August 1842 it was Convict Probation Station. Convict tradesmen were sent to the island to prepare the settlement for 400 men. It was proposed in 1850 it was proposed to break up the station and convict numbers declined to virtually zero by the end of the year.

The Visiting Magistrate’s Office was constructed in 1842 as the administrative centre for the Probation Station. Convicts were tried here for minor offences.

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The first industrial era (1884–1896)

Italian entrepreneur Diego Bernacchi leased Maria Island for 10 cents per year, with a vision of setting up a wine-making and silk industry. The Maria Island Company commenced in 1887 adding agriculture, cement, timber and fishery to the island’s activities. While the population peaked at around 250 people in the late 1880s, the company went into liquidation in February 1892. A second company formed by Bernacchi also failed, and most of the assets were seized in November 1896.

The Coffee Palace – a name commonly used to describe a type of restaurant – was built by the Maria Island Company in 1888. It had two dining rooms and a lounge at the front of the building, and living quarters at the rear of the house. It’s been restored with period furniture, and in the dining room you can sit at one of the tables and hear recordings that recount life on Maria Island during the industrial eras.

The second industrial era (1920–1930)

Bernacchi had another attempt to develop Maria Island based on a plan to produce cement. Darlington’s population increased to over 150 men, with the National Portland Cement Ltd being formed in 1924. However, the cement was fairly poor quality and the production volumes were too low. In 1930, with the Great Depression underway, the Australian Cement Company took over and operations ceased.

Built in 1920, the massive concrete silos used to store cement are among the first things you see when arriving at Maria Island.

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Since the 1930s, properties were acquired and the island was declared a Wildlife Sanctuary on 1 June 1971, and proclaimed a National Park on 14 June 1972.

Somewhat reluctantly, we board the 11:15am ferry back to the mainland. It’s been an incredible four days. Despite the crowds around Darlington, for the majority of our walk we’ve seen very few people and experienced a sense of isolation that’s not easy to find in the January school holidays! And we’ve seen more wildlife than just about any other walk I’ve done.

DAY ONE
 0.0km Maria Island ferry wharf (Darlington)
 0.6km Ranger Station / PWS office at Darlington
 1.7km Junction with Reservoir Circuit Track
 2.6km Track reaches Fossil Cliffs (Skipping Ridge)
 6.9km Bishop and Clerk summit
12.6km Return to Ranger Station at Darlington
15.2km Painted Cliffs
19.2km Four Mile Beach
24.8km Frenchs Farm (campground)
DAY TWO
24.8km Frenchs Farm (campground)
29.3km Junction of Haunted Bay and Robeys Farm tracks
35.6km Haunted Bay
41.6km Back at Junction of Haunted Bay and Robeys Farm tracks
46.3km Robeys Farm
55.4km Frenchs Farm (campground)
57.6km Encampment Cove (campground)
59.8km Frenchs Farm (campground)
DAY THREE
59.8km Frenchs Farm (campground)
67.8km Junction with Inland Track
72.6km Mt Maria summit
77.4km Junction with Inland Track 
80.7km Junction with Oast House Track
82.7km Darlington (Ranger Station / PWS office)
DAY FOUR (by bike)
0.0km Darlington campground
2.6km Fossil Cliffs
4.1km Start of Reservoir Circuit
5.4km Reservoir Dam
7.8km Darlington campground
Distance as measured by GPS, and not the official track lengths.
Location Access via Encounter Maria ferry from Triabunna
Distance 83km circuit (including Bishop & Clerke and Mt Maria)
8km cycle to Fossil Cliffs and Reservoir Dam
Grade Moderate.
All tracks well sign-posted and well-maintained.
Season/s All year. Gets pretty busy in January. Mar/Apr a good time.
Map TASMAP Maria Island National Park 1:50K
5828 Darlingon 1:25,000 (covers top of Maria Island)
5827 Riedle 1:25,000 (covers bottom of Maria Island)
GPS Route Routie GPS trail – view route and export to GPX format.

Resources

Mt Rufus and Little Hugel

 

A spectacular circuit that combines Shadow Lake and Forgotten Lake with an ascent of Mt Rufus (1,416m asl) and a side-trip to Little Hugel (1,274m asl). Two mountain peaks, alpine lakes, rainforest and incredible displays of flowering heath.  

My second walk during our stay at Lake St Clair Lodge: this time just Amy is joining me, as we tackle the Mt Rufus Circuit (another Tasmanian “Great Short Walk”)! It’s overcast as we set out, taking the most direct route up to Mt Rufus.

The track climbs fairly consistently but never steeply, with the vegetation changing from eucalypt forest with towering trees to cool temperate rainforest in the gullies.

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It takes us about an hour to reach the junction with the Shadow Lake Track, which means we’re a bit of over half the distance and almost half the elevation gain. Unfortunately, while it’s not raining, it looks like there is low cloud over Mt Rufus.

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From the junction the track heads more or less directly ahead to the mountain ridge, through sub-alpine snowgum forest.

The good news is that it looks like the clouds are clearing, with the long summit ridge of Mt Rufus visible ahead of us.

As we reach the valley below the ridge, there’s an incredible display of flowering heath – Richea Scoparia – a species of flowering plant that’s endemic to Tasmania. I later learn that the flowers are sought out by wallabies to eat, although the plants themselves are fairly prickly.

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After the “field of flowers” the track climbs steeply up to the base of the summit ridge – we’re feeling a bit unprepared as we encounter a few other hikers in serious wet weather gear. Below us is Lake St Clair, with the view sometimes improving as we gain altitude – and sometimes vanishing altogether in the clouds.

Finally we reach the exposed ridge that leads up to the Mt Rufus peak – it’s cold and windy as we follow the path up to a summit that we can’t actually see anymore!

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I’d like to say the view from the Mt Rufus summit (at 1,416m elevation) was amazing… but visibility was limited to about 20m, with the cloud having closed in. We didn’t stay long. But on a clear you should be rewarded with “outstanding views of Lake St Clair, Mt Olympus, Frenchmans Cap and the headwaters of the Franklin River”.

We soldier on, keen to get out out of the driving wind. The track is still fairly exposed, although at least we’re now descending the ridge line that tracks north towards Mt Hugel. The terrain consists of a layer of sandstone (almost 300 million years old) through which magma intruded up (165 million years ago) to form dolerite, which covered the sandstone layer.

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Despite – or perhaps because of? – the low cloud and mist, this part of the walk is incredibly scenic. There’s another field of flowers stretching into the distance as the track reaches the saddle between Mt Rufus and Mt Hugel.

Behind us, still in cloud, is the Mt Rufus summit.

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Ahead of us the Mt Rufus Track crosses the saddle: with its top in the clouds is Mount Hugel (1,357m asl) and to the left is the Cheyne Range. (There’s no marked trail to the Mount Hugel summit but there are informal tracks – a peak for a future Tassie trip!) We’re only a few kilometres from the source of the Franklin River, which begins its 120km journey from just below Mount Hugel.

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As the track continues to gradually descend, there are some interesting sandstone rock formations, sculpted by many years of wind and rain.

It’s quite an impressive vista looking out to the north towards Mount Hugel.

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The duckboard track swings to the east around the base of Mount Hugel (the rocky summit is now largely clear of the clouds and doesn’t seem too formidable to climb)!

The valley below the saddle between Mt Rufus and Mt Hugel is known as Richea Valley, named after the scoparia plants…

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…and pandani that grow here in profusion.

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This is my favourite part of the walk so far, with a combination of eucalypt forest in the background and alternating sections of pandani and flowering heath. The pandani (Richea pandanifolia) is found only in Tasmania and is the largest heath plant in the world (it has no relation to the pandanus palms of tropical Australia and South-east Asia).

As the track descends through the valley, the vegetation gradually changes with a section of cool temperate rainforest and a multitude of Myrtle Beech. There’s some huge trees both upright and fallen!

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There’s a final rainforesty-section as the track reaches the edge of the forested area.

The track then crosses a broad plain, covered with low but dense heath: fortunately there’s grassy path. It would be very slow-going to get through this vegetation without a track. Behind us (bottom left) is the still cloud-covered summit of Mount Hugel.

Having reached the other side of the wide valley, the track ascends gently past a couple of tarns before it reaches the junction with the Shadow Lake Track.

We soon reach the edge of Shadow Lake, and then the track that heads to Forgotten Lake and Little Hugel. It’s a tough choice: continue back to Lake St Clair – or attempt our second summit for the day and hopefully this time have a clear view!

Forgotten Lake and Little Hugel

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We decide to take the detour and head towards Forgotten Lake. The track follows the edge of Shadow Lake, with Little Hugel in the background.

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Up to Forgotten Lake it’s easy walking (although I read later it can get muddy after rain) – the only challenge we have is making sure we don’t step on the many lizards who are basking on the boardwalk.

Once we reach Forgotten Lake, the “track” becomes a “walking route”. We start climbing, quite gently at first, through a forest of pandani, myrtle, deciduous beech and snow
gums.

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There’s frequent orange triangles marking the route, although it’s fairly easy to follow.

It gets progressively steeper through denser rainforest, until we reach the start of the boulders and scree. The summit is directly ahead. (My mum tells me that “hügel” means hill in German – although it looks and feels like more than a hill!)

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There’s a nice view of Forgotten Lake and Shadow Lake through the trees.

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Amy is getting a bit tired – but the benefit of climbing a mountain is she has 4G reception on her phone. She’s quite content with my suggestion of making sure she’s up-to-date with her social media feed, while I complete the last few hundred metres to the summit… It’s steep but fairly quick, with the route now a consisting of scramble up the boulder field toward the summit.

There’s a nice view of the heart-shaped Forgotten Lake, almost directly below.

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From the summit** of Little Hugel (1,274m asl), there’s a great view of Forgotten Lake and Shadow Lake, as well as the southern end of Lake St Clair in the distance. (**In the interest of blogging accuracy – it’s almost the summit! The true summit was about 50m higher; as I didn’t want to leave Amy too long, I went to the outcrop of rock on the right and not the true summit to the west.)

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It’s a much quicker descent down the steep track!

The first few kilometres from Shadow Lake back to Lake St Clair are pretty dreary – the track passes through eucalpyt forest and the landscape is fairly monotonous.

As the track descends further and gets closer to the Hugel River, there’s a few nice sections again of temperate rainforest and towering trees.

It’s not too much further until we reach the turn-off to the Platypus Bay Track and cross the Hugel River. From here there’s just over a kilometre until we’re back at Lake St Clair Lodge. It’s been an exhausting but fantastic walk – and we’re glad to get back to the lodge for an early dinner!

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 0.0km Start at Lake St Clair Visitors Centre (Cynthia Bay)
 0.3km Junction with Mount Rufus Track
 4.8km Junction with Shadow Lake Track
 6.5km Start of Mt Rufus summit ridge (exposed track)
 8.3km Mt Rufus summit
13.8km Junction with Shadow Lake Track (alternate return route)
14.3km Junction with Forgotten Lake and Little Hugel
17.1km Little Hugel Summit
19.6km Return to Mt Rufus Track
24.2km Junction with Platypus Bay Track
25.1km Junction with Mt Rufus Track
25.5km Lake St Clair Visitors Centre
Location Starts/finishes at Lake St Clair Lodge (Cynthia Bay)
Distance 25.5km circuit (8-9 hours)
Grade Moderate.  Total 1,015m ascent.
Track to Little Hugel rough and steep in some sections
Season/s All year. Might be icy in winter and ferry operates less frequently
Map 4233 Rufus 1:25K (south end of lake)
TASMAP Lake St Clair Day Walk Map (print & digital options)
GPS Route Routie GPS trail – view route and export to GPX format.
Resources
lakestclair
Map of day walks from Lake St Clair. Source: Tas Parks “Lake St Clair Lakeside Walk”

Narcissus Hut, Lake St Clair

The hike from Narcissus Hut to Cynthia Bay along Lake St Clair (also referred to the Lakeside Walk) is the last – or first! – section of the Overland Track, and also makes a pleasant day walk.

We’re staying at Lake St Clair for a few days on a family holiday, so one of my day walks has to include the track from Narcissus Hut back to Cynthia Bay and Lake St Clair Lodge. The walk starts with with a ferry ride to the far end of the Lake St Clair – not a bad way to start a walk. In peak season the ferry operates at least three times a day, and picks up hikers who are finishing the Overland Track. Saves them from hiking this last section. Lazy buggers 🙂

The ferry takes just over half an hour, with a stop at the deepest point of the lake – the  maximum depth of 160m makes Lake St Clair Australia’s deepest lake. There’s also great views of some of the peaks in the Walls of Jerusalem National Park, which borders the lake on the north-eastern side. (You can also disembark at Echo Point, which reduces the walk by about 7km. The walk from Echo Point to Cynthia Bay is one of Tasmania’s “60 Great Short Walks” – although I found the section from Narcissus Hut to Echo Point a bit more varied and interesting.) We set off from Narcissus Hut at 10am – both the kids have decided to join me on the walk.

Soon after the hut there’s a junction with a track leading to Lake Marion – I had considered this walk, but was warned by one of the Park rangers it was very overgrown (the start of the Lake Marion Track looked OK, though). There are nice views of the Olympus Range, which tower above the surrounding plains and Lake St Clair, as we cross the Hamilton Plains.

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Somewhat surprisingly – seeing as the track follows Lake St Clair for most of its length – that it’s rarely within sight of the water. After a couple of kilometres the track (very) gently rises out of the low swampy areas and the vegetation changes to rainforest, with some huge gum-topped stringybarks…

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…and patches of thick ferns. While there are some occassional muddy bits (and it might be a slightly muddier experience after heavy rain) the track is pretty good with many sections of boardwalk. (Contrary to what Parks staff said, the sections before and after Echo Hut were both of similar quality and neither had any significant muddy sections.)

We reach Echo Point Hut after about two hours, where we stop for lunch. Or, to be more precise, a large packet of chips.  It’s a nice spot, with some benches in a rainforest setting, only a few metres from the shore of Lake St Clair. On the opposite side of the lake is Mt Ida (which is fairly easily climbed if you happen to have a kayak handy to cross the lake)!

The track immediately dives back into the rainforest after Echo Hut, as we continue to follow the invisible shoreline of Lake St Clair.

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The walk continues through temperate rainforest, with tall stands of beech trees and a few tree ferns that look like they’ve been around for a lot longer than I have!

It’s not an unpleasant walk – but it’s also pretty monotonous. There’s not a lot to see, other than an occassionally impressive patch of ferns or huge rainforest trees.

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Towards the southern end of Lake St Clair the track emerges temporarily from the rainforest and passes by a rocky bay. From here we can see our destination in the distance, at the very end of the lake.

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There’s a last section through rainforest and ferms before, the track rises slightly and the rainforest abruptly becomes eucalypt forest with low heath.

Near the top of this slight incline there’s a junction: continue straight ahead on the Overland Track, or turn left and take a slightly longer route via Platypus Bay. (The walk from the Visitor Centre to Platypus Bay and back is another of the Tasmanian “60 Great Short Walks” in the Lake St Clair area). We take the Platypus Bay Track, which descends steeply down to Platypus Bay. It’s a nice beach, with the wreckage of a old barge right in the middle of it. The barge was used in the 1930s to build the pump house on the opposite side of Lake St Clair, and dragged ashore in the 1950s after a large storm tore it from its moorings.

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The track closelt followed the edge of the lake, and bit furher there’s a long platypus “hide”, with lot of interpretative signage. It’s tbe wrong time for platypus-spotting as it’s mid-afternoon (dawn and dusk are best), so we continue without trying to look for the elusive monotreme!

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We’re nearly at the end of our walk… less than a kilometre further, and we’re at the bridge over the Hugel River and junction with the Larmairremener tabelti (Aboriginal) cultural walk.

The last stretch of track is wide and flat, taking us the last kilometre or so back to the Visitor Centre.

Just to complete the “circuit” (ferry + walk) we continue past Cynthia Bay and finish at the Lake St Clair jetty. It’s been 19km from the Narcissus Hut jetty at the far end of the lake – a bit more than the 16.5km that’s stated on the TasParks signage. I’m glad to have done the walk, but it hasn’t been a particularly interesting walk. Definitely not as enjoyable as the day walks at the Cradle Mountain end of the Overland Track: if you’ve got limited time, you’d want to do the Shadow Lake circuit or Mt Rufus tracks instead!

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 0.0km Start at Narcissus Hut jetty
 7.1km Echo Point Hut and jetty
16.6km Junction with Platypus Bay track
16.8km Platypus Bay
17.4km Junction with Larmairremener tabelti cultural walk
18.6km Visitor Centre
19.0km Lake St Clair Jetty
Location Starts/finishes at Lake St Clair Lodge (Cynthia Bay) and Narcissus Jetty via ferry service
Distance 19km (including Platypus Bay detour)
Grade Easy.  Total 184m ascent (no steep sections). 5-7 hours.
Season/s All year. Might be icy in winter and ferry operates less frequently
Map 4234 Olympus 1:25K (north end of lake)
4233 Rufus 1:25K (south end of lake)
TASMAP Lake St Clair Day Walk Map (print & digital options)
GPS Route Routie GPS trail – view route and export to GPX format.
Resources
lakestclair
Map of day walks from Lake St Clair. Source: Tas Parks “Lake St Clair Lakeside Walk”

Liffey Falls

One of Tasmania’s “60 Great Short Walks”, Liffey Falls is accessed via two walking tracks that end up the picturesque cascades.

Another slightly unplanned walk, as we drive between Devonport (having taken the Spirit of Tasmania ferry across) and our accommodation at Lake St Clair. A short detour about half way take us into the Liffey Falls State Reserve, which is on the edge of the Great Western Tiers. The walking track – one of Tasmania’s “60 Great Short Walks” is well-marked from the busy upper carpark, which also has developed picnic facilities.

 

As the well-developed track descends, very gradually at first, through tall wet eucalypt forest with some huge trees (you can also do the “Big Tree Stroll” which takes you some huge Eucalyptus obliqua trees, one of which towers 50m and with a diameter of 3.39m).

 

Shortly before reaching the Liffey River, the track goes under a huge and impressive cluster (or stand?) of tree ferns.

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About half-way – which is only around 600m – the track reaches the Liffey River. Soon after there’s a vantage point over the first of four cascades – Alexandra Falls, then Hopetoun Falls.

 

There’s another nice view of (I think!) Hopetoun Falls a bit further on, where a few steps from the track takes  you down to the river.

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The track follows the river fairly closely, as it goes through cool temperate rainforest. (There’s a junction with the longer track that follows the river upstream from the lower carpark, which provides an alternate and longer route to Liffey Falls.)

 

Finally the track meets the river below Liffey Falls – which are technically called Victoria Falls. Considered one of the most picturesque waterfalls in Tasmania (albeit not as impressive as Russell Falls), the cascades are busy on a warm January afternoon. There’s some clear pools with crystal clear and quite cold water, and a few brave souls are swimming beneath the falls!

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From here, it’s the same way back up to the carpark – although with the aid of a car-shuffle you could do an 6km (one-way) walk between the two carparks.

Location From Launceston, reach the upper section of the reserve by following the Bass Highway (A1) west to Deloraine and turn left onto the A5 just before the bridge at Deloraine. Steep and winding dirt road (suitable for all cars).
Distance 2.4km return from upper car park. 8.2km return from lower carpark.
Grade Easy. 50m ascent back to carpark,
Season/s All year. Busy in December/January. Falls best after rain.
Map 4638 Quamby Bluff 1:25K (not required)
4838 Liffey 1:25K covers the longer track from lower carpark
GPS Route Routie GPS trail – view route and export to GPX format.
Resources
liffey-falls
Map showing tracks from upper and lower carparks. Source: TasTrails

Sunrise from Mount Pilot

A short walk to the Mt Pilot Lookout, which provides sweeping views over the Chiltern-Mt Pilot National Park and surrounding area from the 545m summit. 

It hardly qualifies as a “hike”… but having stopped in Beechworth on the way to Melbourne (and then across Bass Strait to Tasmania), it seems a good idea to fit in a short walk. The 545m Mt Pilot summit seems as a good a choice as any, although it’s only a 300m trek from the carpark!

It’s an easy stroll up the well-made path, with a rocky platform providing views on the way up to the summit.

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The summit is reached in less than 15min: it’s not a bad spot to watch the sun rising over the low ranges of the Chiltern-Mt Pilot National Park.

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To the north and north-west is a view over agricultural land toward Chiltern and Rutherglen.

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After watching the sun rise, it’s a quick walk back down to the car, with the morning light making for nice photos of the Chiltern-Mt Pilot National Park.

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The Chiltern-Mt Pilot National Park was only created in October 2002 to “conserve and enhance what remains of Victoria’s Box-Ironbark forests and woodlands”. There are a number of longer walks including the Whitebox Walking Track (8.5km) and you can also reach the Mt Pilot summit via a more challenging and partly off-track circuit (track notes on Trail Hiking Australia). The centre of one of the richest goldfield’s in Australia in the 1850s, there’s also remnants of the alluvial gold workings and some historic buildings like the Powder Magazine (built in 1860 to store the gunpowder used in gold mining).

On the way back from Mt Pilot to our motel at Beechworth (about a 20min drive) we make a brief stop at Woolshed Falls. The top of the falls is only a few minutes walk from the carpark. Ironically, while some of the roads are closed due to flooding a few months ago, today there’s not much water flowing down Reedy Creek.

A few hundred metres further is another viewing platform, which provides a better view of the falls and the pool beneath them.

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After a quick look and a few photos – we’re the only people here at around 7:30am – we’re back at our motel in about 10min.

Location 275km north east of Melbourne & 34km north of Wangaratta. From Beechworth take the Beechworth-Chiltern Rd (C377) toward Chiltern, and turn right onto Old Coach Road.
Distance 600m return.
Grade Easy
Season/s All year.
Map 8225-3-N Beechworth North (not required)
GPS Route Routie GPS trail – view route and export to GPX format.
Resources

Wollangambe Canyon (Lower Section)

Wollangambe Canyon is an easy canyon in the Blue Mountains, requiring no technical skills (ie. abseils) – the Upper and Lower Sections can be done as separate day trips (or one very long day-trip). 

It’s been almost a year to the day since tackling the Wollangambe Upper Section (also known as Wollangambe One), and with hot and dry weather forecast for a week it seems a good time to head back and undertake the Wollangambe Lower Section / Wollangambe Two. We leave Sydney a bit later than planned – I’m taking my son Luke (10) for his first canyon adventure, and am joined by Andy plus his son Sam and two of his friends.

We’re on the firetrail, which starts opposite the Cathedral Reserve Camping Ground in Mount Wilson, just after 11am. There’s the usual warning signs at the gate, before the firetrail descends gradually through tall forest.

The wide trail is fairly flat for the first 2.2km – in fact, after the initial descent it climbs fairly steeply up a hill before reaching the narrow track down to the Wollangambe River. We’re glad when we’re finally heading down to the river, with the track down being another 1.4km in length. (There’s just one bifurcation in this track, where we take the left-hand fork.)

Just before reaching the river there’s a steep drop, with a fixed rope helping to descend the cliffs above the Wollangambe River.

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We’re at the entry point for Wollangambe Lower Section and inflating our li-los by 12:30pm – this is also the exit point for Wollangambe One / Upper Section. We’re all looking rather professional as we get ready… until Sam inflates “The Otter”!

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It’s much cooler in the Wollongambe Canyon, and it’s nice to be in the water with a short swimming / liloing section to get us started. Compared to the Wollongambe Upper Section a year ago, there’s more rock scrambling in this section.

Not far from the start there’s a tricky drop of about 2m –  you could jump (but you need to land very precisely to avoid a submerged rock) or used the frayed rope that’s been installed. Or a combination of the two, with a jump into the river from half-way down!

The water level is relatively low, so there’s quite a few “rapids” that require careful navigation to avoid tearing our lilos… and otters…

There are not many long swimming sections, but there are frequent, deep sections between the rock scrambles. It would be as tough (if not tougher) than Wollangambe One without lilos.

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It’s hard to fully appreciate the beauty of the river/canyon, when your attention is frequently focussed on finding a way around the boulders and rapids. But when you do stop and look around – or you’re floating along one of the deep sections of the river – it’s a pretty amazing landscape with the crystal-clear water of the Wollangambe River surrounded by steep cliffs and rock formations sculpted over millions of years.

It doesn’t take long between these brief moments of contemplation before the next set of obstacles presents itself. Seems to be a more rocky challenges here than Wollangambe One!

Like Wollangambe One, the lower section of the river is home to many Sydney Crayfish, a red spiny burrowing species that’s indigenous to the Greater Blue Mountains. A few water dragons also watch our progress down the river.

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At the entrance to  Whungee Wheengee Canyon (MGA568919) we greet a couple of more serious canyoners who have been exploring some of the tributaries of the Wollangambe River. We’re now well past the half-way mark. There’s a huge overhang a bit further on, after another tricky section where the river has vanished under a collection of car-sized boulders. Time for a last snack break and a check of our map.

A last magnificent section of still water and towering cliffs that we li-lo down, as we come up to the last bend in the river before our exit.

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I’m always a bit nervous about missing an exit – it’s a long way down the river before the next track out!

It’s a relatively straightforward route out – the track is initiially very steep as it follows a ridge up, before the ascent becomes more gradual. There’s a few vantage points over the Wollangambe Wilderness, and you can just make out the route of the Wollangambe River.

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The narrow track reaches a grassy clearing after about 2km, where it becomes a  firetrail that ascends very gradually through tall eucalypts and ferns. The exit route is slightly shorter than the entry, and after about an hour of walking we’re back at the Cathedral Reserve Camping Ground, finishing right next to the firetrail we took down to the river.

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 0.0km Start at Cathedral Reserve Camping Ground (firetrail)
 2.2km Start of track down from firetrail to Wollagambe Canyon
 3.6km Reach Wollangambe Canyon at MGA560916 (8931-2S Wollangambe map)
 9.0km Junction of Whungee Wheengee Canyon (MGA568919)
10.4km Exit point from Wollangambe River (MGA572925)
13.2km Turn right onto Mount Wilson (North) firetrail
13.8km Reach Cathedral Reserve Camping Ground
Location Starts at Cathedral Reserve Camping Ground in Mount Wilson
Distance 13.5km. Allow 6-7 hours.
Grade Moderate (with a lilo!). Some rock scrambling and tricky descents
Season/s Ideal in summer on a warm day. Avoid before heavy rain or storms.
Map 8931-2S Wollangambe (1:25,000)
8930-1N Mount Wilson (1:25,000) – for start/end of track. Not really required.
GPS Route Routie GPS trail – view route and export to GPX format.
Resources OzUltimate.com has helpful track notes

Map-Wollangambe-LowerSection