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.)

IMG_0096-LR

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).

IMG_0105-LR

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

IMG_0121-LR

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.

IMG_0135-LR

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.

IMG_3497-LR

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.)

IMG_0151-LR

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.

IMG_0164-LR

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

IMG_0171-LR

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.

IMG_0183-LR

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).

IMG_0200-LR

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.

IMG_3472-LR

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…

IMG_9485-LR

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.

IMG_9487-LR

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!

IMG_9508-LR

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).

IMG_3436-LR

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

IMG_9521-LR

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.

IMG_9529-LR

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!

IMG_9540-LR

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.

IMG_9559-LR

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.

IMG_3441-LR

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.

IMG_9584-LR

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.

IMG_9586-LR

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).

IMG_9597-LR

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.

IMG_3443-LR

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?)

IMG_9611-LR

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).

IMG_9615-LR

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!

IMG_9626-LR

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.

IMG_9639-LR

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.

IMG_3459-LR

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.

IMG_3456-LR

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.

IMG_9666-LR

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.

IMG_9686-LR

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.

IMG_9722-LR

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!

IMG_9728-LR

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,

IMG_9731-LR

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!

IMG_9779-LR

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,

IMG_9784-LR

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).

IMG_9809-LR

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.

IMG_9806-LR

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

IMG_9802-LR

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).

IMG_9798-LR

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.

IMG_9832-LR

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

IMG_9839-LR

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!

IMG_9842-LR

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.

IMG_9996-LR

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!

IMG_9886-LR

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!

IMG_9919-LR

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.

IMG_9955-LR

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.

IMG_9962-LR

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…

IMG_9971-LR

…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!

IMG_9976-LR

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.

IMG_9988-LR

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.

IMG_9860-LR

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.

IMG_9468-LR

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.

IMG_9857-LR

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.

img_9186-lr

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.

img_9195-lr

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.

img_9211-lr

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!

img_9226-lr

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.

img_9242-lr

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.

img_9252-lr

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.

img_9256-lr

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.

img_3410-lr

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…

img_9286-lr

…and pandani that grow here in profusion.

img_9304-lr

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!

img_9312-lr

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

img_3414-lr

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.

img_9347-lr

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.

img_9353-lr

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!)

img_9358-lr

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

img_9363-lr

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.

img_9371-lr

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.)

img_9378-lr

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!

img_9432-lr

 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”

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.

img_8808-lr

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.

img_8832-lr

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

img_8838-lr

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.

img_8852-lr

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.

img_8864-lr

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

Telescope Peak, Death Valley

Telescope Peak (11,049 ft / 3,368m) is the highest peak in Death Valley, with a well-established route to the summit from Mahogany Flat campground.

Getting to the Telescope Peak trailhead is half the fun… I’ve stayed the previous evening at Panamint Springs after flying in from Australia. It’s about a three hour trip by car from Las Vegas (McCarran) airport and I’ve arrived in the late afternoon, so the drive was all in darkness. My first view of the Death Valley area was the 50min drive from Panamint Springs (the closest accommodation, unless you are camping) to Mahogany Flat, via Panamint Valley Road and Trona Wildrose Road.

IMG_0367-2

There’s almost no other traffic at 8am, and the scenery is pretty spectacular in the morning light. It’s also pretty desoldate. While I’m glad I’ve brought a jumper as it’s around 47 degrees F (8C) according to the car, you can imagine how hot the vast plains get in summer.

Most of the roads are in good condition, although they get increasingly more pot-holed and narrow as I near Wildrose Campground. From Wildrose Campground to Charcoal Kilns the sealed road is great quality for the first five miles or so, before it quickly deteriorates to gravel and features large potholes and washed out sections. I’m glad I selected an AWD car with a bit of clearance – I would have struggled in the Dodge Challenger I orginally booked! (The road up Charcoal Kilns is generally suitable for any vehicle, but I’d seen warnings that storms had damaged the road.)

Charcoal Kilns is a tourist attraction – ‘though it’s a long way to drive if you’re just coming to see these. Built in 1877 and used to create charcoal for local mining operations, the odd-looking domes are well-preserved. They are considered to be the best known surviving example of such kilns to be found in the western states. The reason for their preservation may be that they were only used for about two years.

IMG_0372

There’s a warning sign at Charcoal Kilns that the last section of road to Mahogany Flat is suitable for high clearance vehicles only. It looks OK so I continue by car, rather than walking the 1.6 miles. There’s a few rough bits, but I make it past Thorndike Campground and almost to the end of the road. A particularly badly rutted section spooks me a bit (despite my general philosophy that rental cars can go anywhere!) and I walk the last 0.5 miles on foot. The roads ends at Mahogany Flat Campground at 8,133 feet (2,479m) above sea level, where the start of the Telescope Peak walk is clearly marked.

The trail starts climbing immediately but very gently (the trail has an average 8% grade), and there’s soon views down into the North Fork Hanaupah Canyon and the salt flats far below. Although there’s not a lot of shade, there are a variety of trees, including the single-leaf pinyon and limber pine along the track.

After about 1.5 miles, there’s the first view of Telescope Peak in the distance, and the long ridge that leads up to it.

IMG_0383

After 2.6 miles i reach the broad plateau of Arcane Meadows (9,620 feet / 2932m); above to the north-west is the communications facility on Rogers Peak. This is the only non-wilderness high point in the park, and has been used as communications and instrumentation site by various government agencies since the late 1950s. For the first time there’s a view to the west – and it looks like a lot of smoke from wild fires in California will impact the views from the top 😦

The next few miles is pretty much flat – in fact, my GPS shows a slight descent, as the trail follows the western side of the long ridge, crossing a few sections of talus rock. Directly ahead is Telescope Peak.

It’s easy walking along the well-defined track as it follows the broad ridge, with views mostly to the west, and occassional views (below right) to the east and down what I think is Middle Fork Hanaupah Canyon.

Towards the of this section, as the trail starts to gain some altitude, there are some impressive examples of the bristlecone pine. These huge, gnarled trees on the higher slopes are up to 3,000 years old. Even after death, these pines often stand on their roots, for many centuries due to the wood’s extreme durability.

IMG_0404

There’s a final steep section – although, with many switch-backs, it’s never particularly steep. There’s three “mounds” that are ascended, before the final one that leads to the 11,049 ft (3,368m) summit.

IMG_0414

The views are amazing, my guide book says. You can see as Mount Whitney (the highest point in the 48 contigiuous states), it says…  But not today. The haze and smoke from the distant fires have significantly reduced visibility. Looking to the south and south-west is Sentinel Peak directly ahead, part of the Panamint mountains that stretch to the south. Below is the Panamint Valley, and barely visible on the far side of the valley is the Argus Mountains.

IMG_3072

Looking back to the north, Death Valley is below and barely visible on the other side of Death Valley is the Margosa Range. Despite the poor visibility, it’s an impressive view down 11,300 feet (3,400m) to the Badwater in Death Valley far below – only three other mountains in the US exceed this elevation difference!

IMG_3073

It’s not too windy at the top, but after taking a few photos I head back down the mountain – I’m not exactly disappointed with the walk, but it would have been amazing on a clear day!

IMG_0421

With the hard bit over, I’ve got more energy to admire the flora that survives in a pretty brutal environment. Another massive bristlecone pine stands at the edge of the trail, looking like leaves might sprout in the next rain – but it may also have been dead for over a 100 years.

IMG_0424

Where there are no trees, an abundance of low-lying grasses and ground plants survive in the rocky landscape.

The most impressive views are on the last part of the descent, looking down into Death Valley and across to the Margosa Range. Ironically, due to the haze, as I descend I can see further.

IMG_0457

I make it back to the car around 3:30pm – it’s taken me just under 7 hours to cover the 13.7 miles (22.1km) return trip. A bit less than the signage, as I started below the trail. And a bit slower than I expected, but after a long flight the previous day I didn’t feel in top form! With daylight endng pretty early in November, I enjoy my first (and only) Death Valley sunset on the way back to my accommodation at Beatty.

IMG_0464

I’m glad I did this walk – but I’ll have to come back! Maybe next time I’ll do the nearby Wildrose Peak, on a hopefully clear day!

Location Start from Mahogany Flat Campground if possible, or park at Charcoal Kilns. Road from Charcoal Kiln may be closed in winter or impassable in 2WD/low clearance vehicles. There are some places yo can park along the access road or at Thorndike Campground about half-way up the 4WD road.
Distance 13.7 miles (22.1km) return – including part of the 4WD road.
Signage states 7 miles one-way, from trailhead, but is slightly less.
Grade Moderate. Total elevation gain of 3,690 feet / 1,125m
Season/s All year, but may have snow on trail Dec-Feb
Maps National Geographic “Death Valley” 1:165,000
GPS Route Garmin GPS trail – view route and export to GPX format.
Resources
  • She Dreams of Alpine blog post
  • Hiking Death Valley National Park (Falcon Guide) book

Gibraltar Peak, Tidbinbilla

Gibraltar Peak (1,038m), a rocky outcrop with extensive views, is a circular walk in the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve that’s only 45min from the Canberra city centre.

One of the longer walks in the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve, not far from the centre of Canberra, Gibraltar Peak is the perfect early morning walk before a day of meetings. The start is well sign-posted about 5min drive from the Tidbinbilla Visitor Centre, starting from the Dalsetta carpark. The trail crosses a grassy plain on the opposite side of the road to the carpark, with regular track markers.

Given the acres of green grass, I probably shouldn’t have been surprised to see a mob of kangaroos, including one that bounded down the track in front of me. I haven’t seen this many ‘roos in one place for a long time!

The trail rises very gently at first, on a broad, sandy path through low heath. There’s some intepretative signage, explaining that the track is traversing the land of the Ngunnawal Aboriginal people. While the women and children stayed on the plain teaching, dancing and holding ceremonies, the men and older boys went higher into the mountains for initiation rituals into manhood.

IMG_0304

The trail gradually gets steeper with a few switchbacks, before reaching Eliza Saddle, Eucalypt trees including the Broad-leaved Peppermint at the lower levels are replaced by grass trees and granite boulders as the path gains altitude.

After 3.5km there’s a very solid viewing platform, with a broad vista out to the east towards Canberra.

IMG_0316-2

Soon after the viewing platform is reached, the narrow bush track reaches the Gibraltar Fire Trail, which provides an alternate route back.

IMG_0320

Gibraltar Peak is only about 300m further, on a rocky trail that rises steeply up the last of the peak. There are soon views to the east across as the trail follows the edge of the mountains…

…and crosses some huge granite slabs, with the top of Gibraltar Peak more like a giant boulder field than a mountain summit!

The views are impressive, combining sweeping views to the east with odd-shaped boulders in the foreground. The Telstra Tower on Black Mountain is visible in the distance

IMG_3008

The trail ends at the base of large boulders forming the summit of Gibraltar Peak. There’s a narrow cleft between two of the largest boulders, with some smaller boulders wedged in the gap that allow you to clamber to the very top. Which I don’t manage to do… I get half-way up, but don’t feel confident scrambling up the second boulder that requires some gymnastic-like moves. I suspect the view from the very top would be even more impressive.

The return part of the loop is easy – and rather boring. After a short uphill section, the Gibraltar Fire Trail gently descends back towards the starting point.

IMG_0349

Near the bottom of the fire trail is the Xanthorrhoea Loop, which passes a stand of grass overlooking the valley. Don’t bother! There were just as many grass trees along the Gilbraltar Peak track.

Just after the Xanthorrhoea Loop, the trail leaves the fire trail and crosses the grassy plain, with the Tidbinbilla Range in the background.

IMG_3014

Looking back, you can see the rocky Gibraltar Peak, which really doesn’t really look like a peak from here!

IMG_0359

From here it’s a pleasant stroll across the grassy meadow, eventually re-joining the same track that I took to go up the mountain. And the kangaroos are still out in force, farewelling me as a return to the car park.

IMG_0363

Location Start at Dalsetta carpark, Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve
Distance 7.7km return
Grade Easy. Total elevation gain of 350m
Season/s All year.
Maps Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve free guide (from visitor centre or download here)
GPS Route Routie GPS trail – view route and export to KML format.
Map-GibraltarPeak
Tidbinbilla map showing walking tracks; Gibraltar Peak track is highlighted in yellow

Giewont and Kasprowsky Wierch

There are a multitude of hiking trails in the Polish Tatra mountains near Zakopane. A loop taking in the popular Giewont massif before traversing to  Kasprowsky Wierch (Peak) makes a perfect day walk.

It’s my last walk on this Europe trip, and I’m heading out to Zakopane and the nearby Polish Tatra Mountains. A town in the extreme south of Poland, Zakopane is located in the southern part of Podhale (the name of this region being derived from the phrase “pod hole”, which refers to the terrain that stretches out at the foot of the mountains).

While there is a train line from Krakow to Zakopane, I couldn’t actually find a train… the only way to get there seemed to be a bus that leaves every half an hour or so (from the train station, ironically!). As we get closer, it gets increasingly foggy and I question my decision of heading to the mountains! From Zakopane there’s another short bus ride to Kuźnice, where the trails are clearly marked.

I’m sticking to the plan of hiking up to Giemont, considered one of the most famous peaks in the area, despite visibility being very limited. The fog does intensify the autumn colours, although I’m doubting I’ll have much of a vew from the top.

The first part of the walk is along a cobbled road (closed to traffic) which is not very steep. It’s more a stroll up the road then a hike! Along the path there’s a small shrine in the rocks by the road and a memorial in a small glade, both of which I fail to find any explanation of on-line (at least in English) after my walk.

After about a kilometre there’s a small hut where an entry fee is payable, and another 800m further is the PTTK Kalatówki Mountain Hotel (1,198m above sea level) in the Bystra Valley. Built in 1938 for the FIS World Ski Championships, it was erected in a record time of 150 days. Apparently there are “stunning views of the surrounding mountains”. I can barely see the end of the glade. But I take the opportunity to buy a few snacks and have a mid-morning coffee!

From here the sign-post shows 2:45min to the Giemont peak, and the trail is now much narrower as it traverses the Kondratowa Valley. Despite the poor visibility, it’s pleasant walking and in some ways nicer with the fog in the tall forest (although I have no idea what views I’m missing out on).

After another half an hour I reach the PTTK Mountain Hut (PTTK Hala Kondratowa), which has some accommodation and offers meals – although I didn’t stop here.

From here the track starts to get gradually steeper as it climbs up through the Valley of Malego Szerokiego, with the path become a bit rockier. There’s a few streams that look like you cold drink from, although I’ve got plenty of water and don’t want to take the risk.

IMG_7179-LR

I also start seeing a few more people along the track as it gets steeper and winds up the valley.

IMG_7182-LR

What’s more encouraging is that the fog is starting to lift, and there are views in the distance of multiple ridges and mountain peaks. It would be spectacular without the clouds, and is still pretty impressive with fog filling the valleys.

IMG_7197-LR

The track finally reaches a Kondracka Przełęcz (1,725m), in the middle of the ridge that joins Kopa Kondracka and Giemont, my first destination. Looking west from the ridge, there’s just a sea of clouds… and to the north is the spiny peak of Giemont.

I continue from the pass up the cobbled trail towards the Giemont summit, with its distinctive cross. The pasth is pretty flat initially as it goes passes through low heath.

IMG_7210-LR

Looking back down the track towards Kondracka Przełęcz, you can clearly see the track continuing up the other side of the ridge towards Kopa Kondracka (that’s where I’m going next).

IMG_7222-LR

The path gradually gets steeper, and the final ascent is very steep with a few sections aided by chains. There’s a big school group ahead of me, which is hard to overtake on the last section – I can see why my guide book warns that on summer weekends there can be a long queue to reach the summit!

Fortunately while the ability to overtake is limited, it’s only the last 500m or so where you need to go single-file, and I soon reach the summit. The view from the Giemont summit (1,894m asl) is almost anti-climactic after the rocky climb and the views from along the path. To the west there’s still just clouds; looking east you can see the long ridge that forms the border between Poland and Slovakia. What’s impressive is the 15m high steel cross on the Giemont peak, erected in 1901. Weighing about 1900kg, all the material was carted by hand to the summit and the cross was erected over a week. It’s now a site of religious pilgrimages and a listed monument of architecture – and a massive lightning conductor! I wouldn’t want to be standing here durign a thunderstorm.

I don’t stay long at the top – it’s a litle crowded and the views are just as good from the path. I head down the same way I came up – I read afterwards there is a different path for the descent, to avoid passing people on the steeper sections.

As I near the Kondracka Przełęcz pass again, some of the clouds clear and there’s blue sky – I can now see some of the valley floor to the west, where before there were just clouds.

It’s an impressive view from the the pass, looking up the ridge towards Giemont.

IMG_2933-LR

I figure I’ve got enough time to extend the walk, rather than returning directly to Kuźnice (there are some alternate routes back suggested by my guide book). Instead I continue up the ridge to Kopa Kondracka, which will take me from 1,725m above sea level at the pass below Giemont to 2,004m. There’s nice views down the valley towards Kuźnice to the left (north-east), and Giemont with its prominent cross is visible (and still above me) to the north.

The trail climbs steeply up to Kopa Kondracka, which at 2,004m is the highest point on the walk. I then follow the main ridge across to Kasprowy Wierch (Peak) – on one side is Poland, and on the other, Slovakia. Not so long ago there were border checks between Poland and Slovakia and some challenges for hikers with trails straddling or crossing the border, but with both countries now being part of the Schengen Agreement you can wander anywhere through the Tatra mountains without fear of arrest!

IMG_7284-LR

The views are not extensive due to the clouds, but it does make it a very dramatic and constantly-changing landscape.

IMG_7291-LR

At times the views are almost completely obscured by cloud; occasionally they lift a little and you can see the trail stretching out along the ridge.

The first half of the path along the ridge is fairly easy walking. About half-way between Kopa Kondracka and Kasprowy Wierch, it descends steeply (though not for long) and becomes much more undulating as the ridge narrows.

This section is the most strenous and the most dramatic: the path follows the top of the narrow ridge, with steep drops on both sides.

IMG_7311-LR

This entire section is spectacular with the clouds shrouding both sides of the ridge, offering the occasional glimpse of the valley below and the peaks in the distance.

Eventually I see my destination – the metereological observatory on top of Kasprowy Wierch, in the distance. (At 1,987m above sea level, it’s the highest inhabited building in Poland.)

IMG_7327-LR

Before I get there, I’ve got a few more ups and downs as the path follows the contours of the ridge, and a bit more time to enjoy the view from the track. As the clouds shift I get a glimpse of Tichá dolina (The Silent Valley) below, as well as some of the surrounding peaks.

An increase in the numbers of walkers indicates my proximity to Kasprowy Wierch – where a cable-car transports walkers up and down the mountain

IMG_7339-LR

I’m taking the cable-car down; I would have been happy to walk but it’s almost 3pm, and I still need to get back down the mountain and Zakopane to catch a bus to Krakow. As well as the cable-car, there’s a couple of chairlifts that are used for skiing in the winter months.

The cable-car runs every 20min, so it’s a fairly short wait before I’m whisked down the mountain. It’s a 12min trip down, from 1,987m at Kasprowy Wierch to 999m at Kuźnice where the cable car terminates, with a stop in the middle where we swap cars. There would probably be magnificent views on a clear day – but alas, not today. Although I’m not complaining. It’s a lot easier than walking down! And I suspect on a clear day the tails and Giemont summit would be fairly crowded, even outside peak season.

It’s been a magnificent walk – far better than I expected, having not done much research (I saw a guidebook on Zakopane two days prior and throught, “that looks good”!). The trails are extensive and well-marked, and the scenery spectacular even with the fog and cloud. I’d love to spend a few days here – with a bit of planning you could some amazing walks between mountain huts.

Location Starting point is the village of Kuźnice (10min by bus or taxi from Zakapone). About two hours from Krakow by public transport
Distance Approx 15km one-way
Grade Moderate (total ascent 1200m). Track steep/rough in parts
Season/s May-November (skiing activities in winter). Cable car operates year-round
Resources Zakapone and the Tatra Mountains guidebook (available in multiple languages) from local bookshops
TatraMts-Small
Map showing route taken. Download larger image.

 

Schneeberg, Lower Austria

The perfect day trip from Vienna when you want to escape the city. There are a number of ways to get to Klosterwappen (Schneeberg summit) at 2,076m, the highest peak in Lower Austria.

Time for another hike on our European adventure… while Vienna is not really surrounded by mountains or near any high alpine peaks, a Google search identifies Schneeberg as good option for a day trip. The Klosterwappen summit on Schneeberg is 2,076m high, making it the highest mountain of Lower Austria. A bit more research confirms I can get there in under two hours by train, and I manage to convince my son Luke he should come with me.

There are multiple walking trails to the Schneeberg plateau, as well as a rack-and-pinion railway (the Schneeberg Railway) which is over 100 years old and takes you to a height of 1,800m, and a chairlift which takes you to 1,210m [see bottom for summary of routes]. The original plan was to take the chairlift up and tackle one of the more challenging routes to the summit – but on arrival at Puchberg am Schneeberg railway station I discover the chairlift is operating only on weekends. Conscious of time, as we have to be back in Vienna by 6pm, we decide to walk up to the peak via the Cog Railroad Trail (Zahnradbahnwanderweg), and then descend on the train. (It’s worth booking ahead for the train – we would have had to wait almost two hours for the first train with seats going up the mountain – see links at the bottom.)

It’s a relatively easy walk as the gravel road follows the train track, although the total ascent from the village of Puchberg am Schneeberg at 585m to the 2,076m Schneeberg summit (Klosterwappen) is about 1,500m. A pretty decent climb for a day walk!

IMG_6680-LR

We have a mini-break at Hengsthütte (1,012m), one of the stations on the train line, that has a small restaurant where I bribe Luke with a can of Coke.

Although the views so far are not particularly inspiring and the walking is a little monotonous, there is some nice display of autumn foliage. (If it seems like I’m not particularly upbeat about the walk at this point, you’re right – I am struggling a little to explain to Luke as each train passes us why we didn’t just catch the train up…! I vaguely recall a quote about “strength and growth coming only through continuous effort and struggle”. I don’t sound very convincing, though.)

IMG_6706-LR

We reach the next hut (Baumgartner, 1,568m asl), which is also a train station, after another hour of walking. There’s another restaurant with a nice outdoor seating area, although we don’t stop. We see a few other hikers for the first time, who appear to have started the walk from this station – a much better idea as the walking starts getting more interesting from here. For the first time we can see the top of the Schneeberg plateau in the distance.

Just after the Baumgartner hut, the road becomes a walking path, and the forest starts to change from tall pine trees to more stunted versions. It’s much nicer walking – and there isn’t a train going past us every 40min reminding us that we didn’t need to walk!

There’s also some great views down onto the valley below, and the towns of Schneebergdörfl and Puchberg am Schneeberg in the distance, where we commenced out hike.

IMG_6736-LR

We make good time on this last section up to the Schneeberg plateau, reaching the edge of the low pine forest – and the first patch of remnant snow – after about 45min. We can see the cross indicating one of the Schneeberg lookouts (but not the summit) in the distance, and I’m subjected to the first of many snowballs thrown at me by Luke…

We make the decision to continue directly to the summit, bypassing the top railway station (Hochschneeberg mountain station). It’s taken us just over three hours from the Puchberg am Schneeberg station at the bottom to the top of the main plateau, but we still have another 300m or so of elevation to get to the summit – or 1.25hrs according to the sign.

It’s very easy walking again, and there’s lot’s of people around – obviously all people who have taken the train up, and haven’t benefited from the strength and growth that came from our continuous effort and struggle hiking up from the bottom! Ahead of us, on the left-hand side of the long ridge, is Klosterwappen, the highest point on Schneeberg. Another hut (Damböckhaus) is packed full of people enjoying lunch on the mountain.

IMG_6767-LR-2

After 15min along the gravel road, there’s a turn-off to the Klosterwappen summit. Marked by snow poles, there’s a very rough track that heads up to the peak across an alpine meadow.

The views get increasingly more impressive as we head up the steepest part of the slope towards the summit.

IMG_6782-LR

It takes us just over four hours to the summit – a bit slower than the signs suggest on the first part up along the train line – but much quicker on the last section when the sight of the peak (and a few patches of snow to distract Luke) inspire us to pick up the pace (at one point we thought we wouldn’t have time to make it to the very top).

IMG_6795-LR

While the summit is more of a long plateau than an alpine peak, the views from the top are magnificent, stretching in all directions. Looking south-west toward Styria there are mountains as far as the eye can see, including the Rax mountains.

IMG_2904-LR

In the other direction, to the east, is the Bucklige Welt (the “land of a thousand hills”) and the Rohrbachgraben valley.

IMG_6807-LR

We have a brief stop at the summit, before heading back down the hill. (With a bit more time, we could have followed the summit ridge to the Fischerhütte at the other end, which also has a cafe/restaurant open from May-November. From there there’s an alternate route back to the bottom.)

Looking back from the bottom, there’s a nice view back of the summit plateau, with Klosterwappen (2,076m asl) on the far left, and Fischerhütte (2,048m) at the right-hand side.

IMG_6828-LR

There’s just enough time for Luke to build a snowman, expertly crafted from one of the snow drifts. It was a very hot summer and none of the winter snow lasted, but the many snow patches on the mountain are from a cold front a few weeks earlier.

IMG_6841-LR

Before we catch the 3:45pm train back down to Puchberg am Schneeberg, I’ve got time for a few last photos from the Hochschneeberg summit station of the valley below and surrounding mountains.

It’s a much quicker trip down on the train than our 3-hour hike up – and we’re glad we booked in the morning as the train was completely full (there were still some seats available on the next few trains.)

IMG_6867-LR

Schneeberg Summit Routes

I found it a bit confusing working out what the different options were when I planned the trip… the table below is a summary of some of the summit routes on Schneeberg!

Route Details
Cog Railroad Trail (Zahnradbahnwanderweg) – Puchberg am Schneeberg to Hochschneeberg top station 9.3km (1200m elevation gain). Gravel road up to Baumgartner then walking trail. Or take the train 🙂
Hochschneeberg top station to summit (Klosterwappen) 6.5km return (300m elevation gain). Gravel road for 1km then rough track
Hochschneeberg top station to Fischerhütte  (summit plateau) 7km return (280m elevation gain). Gravel road (easier walk than Klosterwappen)
Hochschneeberg to Klosterwappen summit and back via Fischerhütte (circuit) 7.3km circuit (300m elevation gain). Mostly gravel road
Losenheim to Edelweiss Hut 3.4km one-way (470m elevation gain). . Alternative is to take chairlift.
Edelweiss Hut to Klosterwappen summit 3.9km one-way  (820m elevation gain). One of the hardest routes to summit.
Edelweiss Hut to Hochschneeberg via summit (take chairlift up and train down) 6.8km one-way (850m elevation gain).

As well as these walking tracks to the summit, you can also take the Panorama Paradise track from the Hochschneeberg station. This is a circular walk (approx 3km distance and 150m total ascent) that includes the Panorama View lookout. This is well sign-posted and can be done within an hour.

IMG_2893-LR

Location Multiple options to reach the peak on foot, train (up to 1,800m asl) or cablecar (up to 1210m). All start from the town of Puchberg am Schneeberg which is serviced by a regional train line as well as road.
Distance 12.4km from Puchberg am Schneeberg to Klosterwappen summit
Grade Moderate (due to 1,510m total ascent)
Season/s May-November (skiing activities in winter). Chairlift open weekends only outside of winter and summer months.
Resources

Walls of Jerusalem – hike to Dixons Hut

The hardened track to Dixons Kingdom and Mt Jerusalem provides relatively easy access to Tasmania’s most remote alpine National Park, with spectacular scenery and the option of climbing a number of peaks along the track.

I’d originally planned Walls of Jerusalem as an overnight walk. Described as “a spectacular labyrinth of alpine lakes and tarns, dolerite peaks, ancient but fragile forests of Pencil Pines and unique alpine vegetation”, Walls of Jerusalem is one of Tasmania’s “Great Bushwalks”. It’s been on my To Do list for a while, waiting for an opportunity when I have a few days in Tasmania. But the weather forecast is for miserable weather, including snow, and I’m getting soft in my old age 🙂 So rather than giving up completely, I’ve done a day walk to Meander Falls on the previous day, and am undertaking the Walls of Jerusalem hike as a day trip.

Staying at the nearest accommodation at Mole Creek, I make an early start to reach the Walls of Jerusalem (Lake Rowallan) car park just after 7am. I sit in the car for ten minutes as it starts to sleet. Eventually I figure I may well get going, and I start the climb up from the carpark, past the walker registration booth and up to Trappers Hut.

The sleet turns into snow as I gain altitude, and some of it stays on the ground. It’s cold but the constant climb keeps my warm enough.

IMG_0161

By the time I reach Trappers Hut, about 2.3km into the walk, there’s a light cover of snow on the ground. Trappers Hut was one of the basic huts used by animal trappers in the 1940s, and was rebuilt in 1990 using the original design. While not suitable for an overmight stay, I enjoy a brief nap away from the wind and snow before resuming my hike.

I’ve now completed most of the ascent; just after the hut there’s an alternative track to the Walls via Lake Adelaide and Lake Ball. I had intended to come back via this route (not a marked track), but decide not to with the wet and overcast weather. Continuing straight ahead on the main track, I soon reach the plateau and have the first views of the Walls of Jerusalem in the distance (Kings David Peak is directly ahead).

IMG_0173

There’s now a long walk across the plateau, through a number of picturesque pools and lakes. The track, mostly well-marked and easy to follow, traverses Solomons Jewels – the largest of the lakes. Even with the gloomy weather, this is one of the most scenic and pleasant sections of the walk!

IMG_0178

After the lakes the track crosses the valley formed by the Wild Dog Creek, before reaching the Wild Dog Creek campsite. There are a number of timber camping platforms here which are are fairly private, although I’d recommend continuing further before setting up camp if you are overnighting.

IMG_0182

The track rises again after the campsite up through Herods Gate: to the north-east is Mount Ophel (1,335m asl) and thundering past the track is the swollen Wild Dog Creek. I meet a couple of hikers who look far better equipped than me, and warm to expect deep snow ahead.

To the left of the track is Lake Salome…

IMG_0197

…to the right is King David Peak (1,499m asl) which forms part of the West Wall.

The peaks forming the Walls of Jeruasalem are in all directions, surrounding Lake Salome and the valley I’m walking through like a an enormous amphitheatre.

IMG_2794

There’s also a lot more snow, and at times the track (still mostly boardwalk) is submerged between a foot or more of snow.

IMG_0209

Despite the snow – and limited visibility – once I reach Damascus Gate (the saddle between the Solomons Throne and the Temple) I attempt a couple of side-trips to the peaks along the main track. To the west is Solomons Throne – at 1,469m elevation it’s slightly higher than Mount Jerusalem – and is the highest point in the area that has a marked walking trail. I set off across the snow and up the slope towards the rocky summit.

IMG_0215

At first it’s not too difficult, although about half-way up I put on my micro-spikes to help with traction on the mostly hard-packed snow. It gets more challenging as the track reaches the rock face, and the accumulated and softer snow reaches depths of over a metre.

Where the track enters a narrow and steep gully up to the peak, I give up… even with crampons there’s a risk of either slipping through the snow onto submerged rocks, or sliding down the sleep slope back to the bottom…!

IMG_0223

I admire the views from my vantage point half-way up Solomons Throne – on the opposite side of the valley is The Temple.

IMG_2796

Having returned to the main track after my aborted ascent of Solomons Throne, I decide to try and reach the top of The Temple. At 1,446m asl the peak is only about 20m lower in elevation than Solomons Throne, but it looks like there’s a lot less snow on top. The rocky path is a lot easier to follow, with just a few patches of snow covering the route.

Although while this time I reach the summit**, it’s a somewhat pyrrhic victory as I really can’t see anything from the top! Looking back across the valley at Solomons Throne it’s shrouded by cloud. You can see how the narrow gulleys and southern flank of the mountain are deep in snow. (** Technically I don’t quite reach the summit – my GPS says I’m at 1,425m when I turn around, but I don’t see the point of continuing when visibility is so limited.)

IMG_0245

Back on the main track, I continue to Dixons Kingdom Hut. The trail descends slightly along the lower slopes of The Temple, through a large forest of Pencil Pines (some of the trees are estimated to be up to a thousand years old). There’s snow across most of the path, and I’m glad that there are footprints marking the route, as there’s no natural landmarks to follow.

IMG_0267

Dixons Kingdom Hut lies in a clearing at the edge of the Pencil Pine forest. The small hut, originally built as a base for cattle grazing, provides some shelter but is not intended to be used for accommodation. Tent camping is permitted in this area, and would have been my destination if doing an overnight walk.

IMG_0259

This is my destination for today: I would have had time to climb Mt Jerusalem, but while the weather is improving slightly it’s still very overcast. After a short break and a chat to two hikers who are warming up inside the hut, I head back.

IMG_0272

Towards the end of the walk the skies are clearing. I’m glad I’ve managed to finally do this walk, and in some ways the snow and cloud enhance the alpine landscape. But I feel I’ll have to come back, on a day when the sky is clear and there are views from the many peaks along the track.

IMG_0288

Location Start at Lake Rowallan car park, accessed via Mersey Forest Road from Sheffield / Mole Creek. Last section of road is gravel but 2WD is fine.
Distance 22km return as walked (add 4km if summiting Mt Jerusalem)
Grade Moderate. Total elevation gain of ~1000m. Well-constructed track.
Season/s Sep/Oct – April unless equipped for snow conditions. Check weather forecast before commencing walk and always be prepared for changing conditions!
Maps
  • TASMAP Walls of Jerusalem NP (1:25,000)
GPS Route Routie GPS trail – view route and export to KML format.
Resources
  • Parks & Wildlife Service “Walls of Jerusalem Fact Sheet
  • “Day Walks Tasmania” by John & Monica Chapman (p.137)
Map-Walls-of-Jerusalem
Map showing Walls of Jerusalem track. Source: TasTrails

Mount Tennent, Namadgi NP

A 30min drive from Canberra, Mount Tennent is a great half-day walk that incorporates part of the Australian Alps Walking Track and offers expansive views from the summit.  

On the recommendation from a colleague and with a morning free of meetings during a recent Canberra trip, I make the short drive to Namadgi National Park for the walk up to the Mount Tennent summit. (It’s been 13 years since my last ACT walk, a more challenging 3-day, off-track walk also in Namadgi National Park.) Leaving the car at the Namadgi Visitor Centre, I quickly find the start of the well sign-posted walk.

The track I’m on is the start – or end – of the classic Australian Alpine Walking Track (AAWT), which continues for 650km through four national parks to Victoria… The first section of the track also forms part of the short “Woodland Discovery Trail” and is relatively flat as it heads towards the hills in the distance. There hasn’t been much rain anywhere in the region for a while: the waterhole has a tiny puddle of muddy water and the ground is very dry.

After about 600m the track crosses Boboyan Road, with the Walk Register located on the opposite side of the road. I could have started the walk here; there’s enough parking for a few cars. The track is still fairly flat as it follows the base of some small-ish hills, with the “scar” caused by a landslide visible on the front of the mountain that happened in March 2012.

After about a kilometre the track starts climbing, although not too steeply – it’s just enough of a gradient that I shed my jacket on a chilly winter morning. The Cypress Pine Lookout is reached after 1.6km from the road and offers nice views east towards the Gudgenby River and NSW/ACT border.

IMG_4730-LR

The track now climbs fairly consistently through the dry landscape. I don’t see any wildlife – just a couple of people jogging past me up the mountain at a rapid pace.

After about 4.5km the landscape changes to Snow gum woodland and it finally feels like I’m in an alpine area! At the 4.8km mark there’s an intersection: the Australian Alpine Walking Track continues to the right. I turn left towards Mt Tennent.

The next 1.4km is fairly flat, and is very pleasant walking through tall snow gums. After 6km the track reaches a large, grassy area. After seeing only two joggers in the last two hours, I’m surprised to see a large group of people sprawled on the grass with big packs. As I get closer, I see it’s a school group. They’re debating whether it’s cheating to leave their packs here for the final section up the Mount Tennent summit. From this grassy plain, a fire trail covers the final 1.2km to the top.

Finally I’m at the top of Mount Tennent (elevation 1375m asl), sharing the 360-degree views with a huge radio mast and another Outward Bound school group who are near the end of a 5-day camping trip in Namadgi National Park.

You can see a long way in every direction from the summit… to the west is the Bimberi Wilderness and Namadgi National Park. There’s a light dusting of snow on Mt Bimberi, the highest mountain in ACT.

IMG_4763-LR

To the south-east is the Gudgenby River and Valley, and in the distance the Tinderry Nature Reserve which is characterised by huge granite monoliths and dominated by Tinderry and Tinderry Twin peaks.

IMG_4767-LR

And to the north-east is the outskirts of Canberra.

IMG_4771-LR-2

It’s back the same way, after my fairly brief stop at the top. On the way back, just before reaching the Namadgi Visitor Centre, I have a quick look at Gudgenby-in-a-box. It’s an 1845 slab hut originally sited in nearby Gudgenby, that was dismantled and stored in a container – hence the name.  Rebuilt within an interpretive shelter, there’s audio and visuals that describe the the living conditions and stories of early settlers. It’s well done and worth a visit.

It’s slightly quicker down than up, and I’m back at the car in just over 3.5 hours. I’ve enjoyed the walk – the only downside after some very pleasant walking along a bush track through alpine forest is the last 2km that’s on a firetrail. But the views make up for it!

Location Start at Namadgi National Park Visitors Centre (access via Tharwa)
Distance 14.7km return (13.5km if you start from Boboyan Road)
Grade Easy/Moderate. Total elevation gain of 820m
Season/s All year. A great winter walk! Can get hot in summer.
Maps
GPS Route Garmin GPS trail – view route and export to KML format.
Resources
Mt-Tennent-map
Topographical map showing approx route – track has changed slightly from this. Source: http://mntviews.blogspot.com