Of all the things we planned to do before our trip to Tasmania there was one experience I was looking forward to the most, walking in Southwest National Park. Even though it’s the largest national park in Tasmania it’s also the most remote and the least visited. I was particularly attracted to this as many of the natural sights we have seen in Australia and overseas have been so overwhelmed by human visitation.
After a lot of research I decided that I would attempt to complete two separate walks, The Needles and Mt Sprent. I only found out about these walks after spending some time on the Bushwalk Australia discussion forums (http://bushwalk.com/forum/). I can’t thank the members of this discussion forum enough for all of the helpful information they provided.
In order to reach both walks I would have to drive for 2.5 hours so I decided to leave our hotel early with the aim of starting the first walk just after sunrise. It wasn’t a particularly early start as sunrise in July in Tasmania is not until 7:45 am.
As I left our hotel at 6:15 in the morning I was reminded of another fantastic resource that I stumbled upon while researching for this trip, the StepScape website (http://www.cowirrie.com/stepscape/). The StepScape site is working towards showing every published Tasmanian day walk on a single map. This includes the exact GPS coordinates of the beginning of each of these day walks. I cannot tell you how helpful it is to have all of the exact GPS coordinates for every Tasmanian day walk in one place.
So I plugged in the coordinates for the start of The Needles walk and made the hour and half journey to the start of the track.
I really enjoyed the drive between Hobart and The Needles, particularly the area around Maydena. On this particular morning mist filled the valleys underneath Tyenna Peak.
The start of The Needles walk is at the highest point on the Gordon River Road. I arrived here at 7:45 am, just on sunrise and exactly an hour and half after leaving Hobart. It was a beautiful, sunny, blue sky day and the early morning light shining on the mountain ranges was magnificent.
At first I didn’t realise that the track started on the southern side of the road, opposite the car park. Thankfully I eventually found a rock cairn and made my way to the start of the walk. Upon entering the bush I immediately noticed how wet and muddy the track was. I had read from other people’s experiences that it’s not worth it to try and keep your feet dry, they’re going to get wet and muddy anyway. So I took that advice and embraced the slosh. At first I thought it might be a problem because I was no longer wearing my waterproof boots due to the pain they caused me at Cradle Mountain. I need not have worried though, the thick merino wool socks that I was wearing did a stellar job of keeping my feet warm, despite being soaking wet.
Even though the walking was very slow going the rewards were almost immediate. Within minutes of starting I could see the sun rising over various mountain ranges and the light filling the Florentine Valley.
Within half an hour I had reached the first Needle. The views from this point were already spectacular. In one direction the sun was still rising over Mt Tim Shea while in the other there were panoramic views of The Thumbs and Packer’s Spur.
As I was walking through this section it reminded me of why I like walking to mountain summits so much, particularly in remote or hard to reach areas. I’m a school teacher and while I love my job and teaching students I also relish the opportunity to be alone. The mountains and nature in general are perfect for this.
Another reason why I love mountains so much is due to the gradual nature in which the landscape is revealed. A you slowly gain elevation the picture in front of you constantly changes and the payoff for your effort tends to increase as you climb higher and higher.
This leads to the last reason for my love of mountains. I really enjoy the physical challenge and sense of accomplishment upon reaching the top. Many summit walks can have significant elevation gains or distances covered. As my job mainly consists of standing in front of classrooms speaking, or at a desk planning, I absolutely love the physical aspect of walking to the summit of a mountain.
After an hour I had made it to the summit of the highest Needle and immediately added a small rock of my own to the cairn at the top. For such a short walk the views were incredible with mountain ranges and sweeping valleys in every direction. It was a fantastic introduction to Southwest National Park.
The weather was so much better than I expected so I decided to hurry back down and head to Mt Sprent. As I made my way down from the highest Needle I quickly realised that it’s much harder going down than up when walking on muddy trails. Mud in steep sections can be very slippery but rocks and roots on the track were always safer to stand on. For the rest of the day whenever I was descending through a steep section I often muttered under my breath, “Rocks and roots are friends”.
All up it took me approximately 2 hours to complete the Needles walk which was 3 km with 300 m of elevation gain. By now it was 10 am in the morning and it still looked like an absolutely stunning day. I knew the weather forecast was for rain in the afternoon though so I upon reaching the car park I immediately headed to Mt Sprent. In order to get there I had to drive for an hour along the Gordon River Road.
The Gordon River Road would have to be one of the most scenic roads in Australia. It winds its way through numerous mountain ranges as it straddles the northern shore of Lake Pedder. The scenery is so unlike what you typically see in Australia and it reminded me more of what I have seen in places like Scotland.
Eventually the drive takes you through the tiny town of Strathgordon. It’s also the location of Peppers Wilderness Lodge which is one of the few places where you can stay in Southwest National Park. So I decided to have a look at the area around the wilderness lodge. I also stopped at the nearby Lake Pedder lookout before heading directly to the Serpentine Dam wall which is where the walk to Mt Sprent starts.
After reaching the Serpentine Dam I headed along the dam wall and up a series of concrete stairs to the start of the Mt Sprent track. At the start of the track there was a warning sign which indicated that the trail was extremely steep, rugged and remote. After completing the first section of the walk I couldn’t have agreed more with that sign. It was incredibly steep, incredibly muddy and the track was very rough. The only way up in parts was to pull myself up with tree roots and a number of timber posts which had been hammered into the ground. The track itself was also more like a watercourse than an actual track, narrow, steep and filled with water. Fortunately this first section was relatively short and the rest of the track was through buttongrass moorland. Even from very early on the views across the Sprent Basin and towards Lake Pedder were stunning.
At about a third of the way up I reached a small plateau where views of the surrounding area really opened up. From this point I could clearly see the ridge line that led to the summit of Mt Sprent. The weather was also starting to change as clouds started rolling in from the north.
As I continued to climb the weather really started to deteriorate. Clouds blanketed the sky, it was much colder and the wind started to pick up. Looking to the north, I could see that it would be raining soon. Nevertheless the weather just made the landscape even more beautiful.
At about half-way up I still had clear views to the south-east while the clouds from the north continued to approach. It was an interesting contrast, blue skies in one direction and storm clouds in the other.
Upon reaching the final section of the walk there were all sorts of interesting perspectives of the surrounding countryside. Everywhere I looked I could see layer upon layer of mountains, and the landscape was so rugged and remote. Speaking of remoteness, I hadn’t seen another soul on either track for the entire day. Being able to enjoy some solitude in the mountains turned out to be a real highlight of these walks.
When I reached the summit of Mt Sprent it was incredibly windy and it started to rain. Ironically, the view to the south-east was now completely obscured by rainfall while the view to the north, whilst still cloudy, was clear for miles. The sunlight was constantly piercing through different sections of clouds and all sorts of interesting and dramatic bands of light shone across the landscape.
After a short time the rain picked up and the weather worsened. So I decided to make my way back down as quickly as I could. This was more difficult than I thought it would be, particularly due to the steepness and wetness of the track. Nevertheless I made steady progress and still stopped on the odd occasion to take some photos and appreciate the landscape.
After 4 hours of walking I had returned to the Serpentine Dam wall and travelled 7 km with an elevation gain and loss of 750 metres. Between the two walks (The Needles and Mt Sprent) I had travelled 10 km, gained & lost 1,050 m of elevation and walked for approximately 6 hours. What a fantastic day of exploring in Southwest National Park!