Not 20 minutes from the centre of Hobart, Mount Wellington is one of Tasmania’s most pleasurable – and convenient – walking and cycling trails.
Words and images by Nicole Gill
Mount Wellington is a place of many secrets. It’s Hobart’s most visible landmark, but is filled with many hidden places. One such place is the path that leads to Wellington Falls.
Meandering through the landscape like a wilful watercourse, the Wellington Falls Track is an extended piece of installation art. No duckboards mar its passage; no rails of steel guard its edges.
For this is a path where old techniques have been made new, where indigenous materials provide the backbone for a track of sophisticated simplicity. Not so much an imposition on the landscape as a dialogue with the environment through which it flows.
It’s mid-summer, and the air is drowsy with the sweet vanilla scents of the flowering mountain heaths. The dissonant warble of a currawong echoes across the slopes. Although the day is warm, the hidden path is shadow-dappled and cool.
We’ve pedalled along the Pipeline Track from the old school house in nearby Neika and stashed our bikes near the base of the walking trail. A traditionally built dry-stone wall marks the beginning of this unusual track as it begins its winding journey up the ridge and along the contours towards Wellington Falls.
Young gums, arm and thigh thick, crowd together along the track, their trunks encased in possum-clawed bark. .
Constructed barely three years ago now, this path was formed to allow walkers to safely skirt an area of the Pipeline Track obstructed by a landslip. Led by “Snapper” John Hughes, one of Australia’s most esteemed track builders, a team of a dozen people took six months to hand build the trail.
Rising above a tangle of gum and wattle, the weathered face of Cathedral Rock looms across the valley, following us as we walk. The first section is steep and sinuous, snaking its way back and forth across the ridgeline through a landscape of complex textures and forms.
Late blooms of Christmas bush strew the path, fuzzy white flowers with violet-flecked throats. Great boulders, split asunder by time and weather, display intricate lichen mosaics, while neon bursts of young fern fronds startle with their crimson against quieter browns and greens.
As the slope increases, small stone drainage features traverse the track. No water runs through them today – it’s unusually dry, and parched brown mosses line the path. We round a bend and find ourselves at the foot of a stone staircase that ascends to a rough-hewn bench. Jack-jumper ants guard the stairs, high-stepping about the stones in their shiny, chitinous armour.
We move into the land of endemic richeas. Rising like mountain spirits, they rattle their branches at us as we pass. Small, fat, olive-brown birds flutter like leaves between the trees. The path rises to meet a curving dry-stone wall.
The late afternoon light turns common stone to gold. All the rocks have been carefully placed, each interlocking with its neighbour. Already the plants are moving in, bright green seedlings coiling from cracks between the stones.
We spy another of the track’s diversions perched above the path: a setting fit for a tea party. The table is a flat-topped boulder, presided over by a log throne.
Two wedges of wood have been fashioned into short stools. A smaller rock functions as another seat. We pause a while, nibbling on chocolate.
A little further along, in the middle of a scree field, we encounter the first of several rock sculptures. A smooth, steep-sided cone shaped from local dolerite shards, this stylised cairn sits quietly by the path, marking the way for waterfall pilgrims.
Young gums, arm and thigh thick, crowd together along the track, their trunks encased in possum-clawed bark. Passing them by, we descend a stone staircase flanked by more rock sculptures, leading us to the Wellington Falls lookout and the vista below.
A fallen eucalypt, bone-bleached by the elements, provides a barrier at the edge. Set back from it, a smooth-topped slab of gum rests atop a base of neat-stacked stones, forming a low bench for alfresco lounging. We clamber on top of the log and watch the water falling down to the rocks below.
The first whiff of evening floats in on the breeze. We turn away from the falls, mount the staircase once more, and slip back into the folds of the hidden path.