I don’t want to sound like a snob or anything, but I’ve seen a lot of beautiful places in my days: I’ve hiked my way through a decent chunk of the southwestern U.S., safari-ed through several African countries, and just a few weeks ago road-tripped through New Zealand, which, thanks to Lord of the Rings, has been unofficially declared the most magical, beautiful place in the world.
None of this, however, was able to prepare me for the unassuming beauty and overwhelming charm of Tasmania.
Ask anyone in Australia and they’ll tell you that Tasmania (or, rather, “Tassie” because “Tasmania” is obviously way too many syllables for any sane person to bother pronouncing) is drop-dead gorgeous. Despite this, not many other people in the world think about it when ticking off the most beautiful places on earth. I, being the view-chasing little monster I am, though, have known about and have been dying to visit Tassie’s most extraordinary areas for awhile. Ever since I read National Geographic’s “These 10 Hiking Trails Will Blow Your Mind,” which includes the Overland Track in Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park in Tasmania, I’ve been tracking flight prices and pestering friends to skip a week of class to trek through the Australian wilderness with me.
Despite my enthusiasm, flight prices and the excess of school days I’m already missing for hiking trips have kept me from committing to anything Tassie related.
Until now, that is.
A few weeks ago, I was blessed with the invitation to join two of my friends from USC — Katrina and Kirsten — and their friend Liz in Hobart for the weekend. After waffling back and forth because of the ticket price, I decided what the hell, who needs to eat? And booked my flight.
Boy am I glad I did.
Just flying into Hobart I know I’ve made the right choice, but not because of any views out the plane window (Jetstar put me on the aisle). It’s because almost every single person on the plane is wearing hiking gear and, once landed, hoisting backpacking packs onto their backs. I feel a little pang of jealousy as I watch a slew of backpackers aged 20ish to 65ish tramp across the tarmac without me. Next time, I think. Deep breaths. This trip I have day-hikes and great company — it’s gonna be awesome.
Hobart International Airport is adorable. It features a handful of gates, a single overpriced cafe, and a sculpture of a luggage trolley with Tasmanian Devils on it.
I head outside into the beautiful, cool mid-morning air, call an Uber, and text my fellow Tasmaniacs in excitement. Liz is scheduled to get into Hobart at around three and Katrina and Kirsten won’t fly in until nine, so I have almost the whole day to myself…any guesses as to what my plans are…?
Damn straight — hiking.
I track down my Uber and make for the city. There’s a hike that’s a metro-able distance from the hostel so I want to get checked into the hostel and back outdoors as soon as possible. I’m not about to squander this gorgeous day in gorgeous Tasmania doing anything but traipsing through the mountains.
Hobart really isn’t a huge tourist destination, from what I can tell on my drive to and arrival in Hobart’s quaint, bustling downtown. That said, it really should be. Stepping out of my Uber in front of the hostel in Hobart’s CBD feels like stepping into a little town in Alaska…a hundred years ago. Cute, old fashioned buildings line the street — their neon signs out of place under the awnings of their quaint, almost movie-set-like antiqueness.
The few buildings that do look like they’re more recent than the 1920s, still look like they’re from a good 50 years ago (scary that 70s architecture was about 50 years ago, huh?). It appears as though Hobart may have started to make its big break in the era of big, ugly concrete buildings with slit windows. Not as charming as the original architecture, if you ask me…but I digress.
As much as I’m enjoying my first glimpse of Hobart at ground level, I’m ready to see it from a couple thousand feet up. I get everything settled upstairs in the hostel, treat myself to a coffee and a savory muffin (both of which are exquisite), and then hop my bus to Mt Wellington — the gorgeous, forest-draped sandstone mountain that towers over Hobart.
The bus that picks me up also looks like something from the 70s and I absolutely love it. As the bus winds it’s way through neighborhoods of more quaint, antique houses up into the endless expanse of mountainous eucalyptus forest, I’m so overjoyed and excited I feel like giggling and jumping up and down. That said, I am definitely glad my stop is the last one on the route because I don’t know how to ask the bus to stop. There are little red buttons on the wall of the bus but I don’t think they work because I accidentally kicked mine and the bus didn’t stop…oh well! We eventually reach the last stop and I follow the one other passenger on the bus to the only thing in the vicinity: an old, ski-resort-like tavern that boasts about its free WiFi on a big sign out front (I have to pull back up my map of the trail up to the peak, so free WiFi is really quite appealing).
Once oriented, I head back outdoors and make for the trailhead, planning to do what the Mt Wellington website tells me is an all-day hike to a gorgeous view of “Organ Pipes” — a neat series of gravity-defying rock structures up towards the peak — in the five or six hours or so I have until dark. Shouldn’t be too difficult, hey?
The first half of the hike is nothing like I expected, and I didn’t even think I had any expectations. Rather than the brown grass, grey and green eucalyptus, and occasional large rocks I had come to equate with Tasmania from scrolling through pictures of the Overland Track, I find myself immediately isolated in a lush, Jurassic-Park-esque jungle of giant ferns and squatty palms and towering, thousand-year-old gum trees. A stream winds its way through the dense, vibrant green undergrowth and fills the air with an chilled, insulated humidity and the soft sound of trickling water. Birds hop around in the bushes near the path and soar overhead chirping while, off to my right, a heavily furred wallaby bounds through the bush at the sound of my footsteps.
After my brief look around Hobart, I was starting to get used to feeling like I’d time travelled a hundred years back, but a hundred million years? Nope, didn’t see that coming.
I make the long, laborious climb out of the Tasmanian jungle and into some dry, rocky eucalyptus forests. The line starts broad then slowly narrows until it’s wide enough for just one person and even then, every other step brushes me up against beautiful, flowery bushes and the big, uneven rocks that jut out from the sides the path.
I’m one of the only people on the trails today — I pass just a few older gentlemen, a younger guy trail running, and a girl about my age. Otherwise, the only signs of life I see are those from nature.
I navigate my way through the labyrinth of trails until I come to a sign that says: “Notice: Organ Pipes Trail and Pinnacles Trail Closed Mar – May for trail restoration.”
Organ Pipes was my destination and Pinnacles was my backup plan, so…off to a great start!
This part of the trail, at least, isn’t closed, so I decide to hike on and see what I can see. Who knows? Maybe I’ll get lucky and find an offshoot later on in the trail and failing that, I’m sure the view will still be amazing from whatever place on the trail I manage to reach.
I wasn’t wrong. The trail winds its way through dense gum trees after the fork in the trail and eventually pokes out along the outside of the mountain, revealing spectacular views of Hobart below. Meanwhile, the landscape to the left of the trail has changed too, with more gum trees (of course) but less shrubby green stuff. In the distance, what looks a lot like a series of sandstone pinnacles rises up out of the green leafy bed of gum trees…success!
Much to my dismay, I soon come to a sign and a bright orange construction fence explaining, once again, the reason for the trail closures and further warning hikers not to pass through, so I head back down the trail I came from and leave Mt Wellington forever.
Ha, as if! Ahem. I mean, I would have, but I accidentally fell over when a big gust of wind came through the trail and when I stood up, miraculously, I found myself on the other side of the fence… super weird right?
Now I know it’s Hiking 101 to never trailblaze, but it’s not like I was making my own path, I was simply following the path that was already there…plus, as I said before, it was, like, totally an accident.
Onwards and upwards I hike, this time with the fence behind me. Much to my chagrin, within just a few hundred feet I realize exactly why they were closing the trail to restore it — the trail is less a trail and more a hodgepodge mix of loose boulders that somewhat form a path forwards. Good thing I love rock scrambling, right?
My venture past the fence turns out to be worth it, though. Just around the bend from the orange Do Not Enter signs I get a beautiful, clear shot of the sheer sandstone rock face that towers above as a series of pinnacle / organ-esque structures. Though I’m nearly positive this is neither Organ Pipes nor Pinnacles, I’m in awe nonetheless.
After trekking on cautiously down my forbidden path — by now overrun with shrubs and threatening to give way at every step — for several minutes, I’m beginning to see the trail work spoken of on the sign. Nervous about getting in trouble for climbing around — AHEM, I mean falling past…completely by accident — the fence, I jump a foot in the air and duck behind trees and rocks each time I hear or see something out of the ordinary.
Nothing really is out of the ordinary, though, so I tread carefully down the in-progress restored paths until it becomes clear that any new steps forward will ruin these poor Tasmanians’ hard work, so at last I turn around and head back the way I came, enjoying the same view from the different angle.
Apparently I’m the only one enjoying the view, however, because after climbing back around my favorite old Do Not Enter fence, I round the corner of the trail and through the trees see a pair of naked butts. Panicking, I clear my throat in what was supposed to be a casual warning but what, in my shock and alarm, comes out as a pretty loud and aggressive AHEM!
The butts freeze and I hear a man say, “Oops, sorry!” and then the sound of uncomfortable laughter, the sight of clothes flying every which way between the trees, and lots more embarrassed giggling.
“No worries!” I say, hurriedly turning my back to them in a (perhaps too late) attempt to give them privacy and a bit of a head start. I wait about fifteen minutes, both shocked and amused, before deciding the coast is probably clear enough to start heading back down the trail.
Apart from that little snafu, the rest of the hike down is just as spectacular as the way up. The afternoon light is breaking through the dense tropical undergrowth at the base of the mountain, making it even more amazing and other-worldly than before. Winding through the dense ferns and overhanging eucalypts, I feel like I’m walking through the set of the Jungle Book, only with sparrows and the occasional kangaroo rather than wolves, orangutans, and big cats.
With evening coming in fast and busses only leaving every hour from the tavern, I tear my camera (and myself) away from the beauty of Mt Wellington and head back into civilization.
Due to the fact that (a) I’m tired and (b) I’m American, I wind up checking the bus stop on the wrong side of the road and miss my bus completely. Despite my haste coming down the mountain, I wind up having to wait an hour anyways.
Nonetheless, I eventually make it back to lovely little Hobart (with a view of the setting sun on the way back, mind you) and get to our hostel just as the rumbling in my stomach becomes all but unbearable.
I meet Liz in the hostel and discover that she is a pro at finding delicious food places. We hit up a pizza place for dinner where we’re convinced by our waitress to order cheesy bread as an appetizer before our pizza, and — feeling particularly bold and grown-up — I order myself a beer, too.
The waitress knows her stuff — the cheesy bread is to die for. However, as Liz and I waddle our way out of the restaurant an hour later, we are very much in agreement about the mediocrity of our $15-20 small pizzas. We probably should have quit while we were ahead with the bread. Then again, since we’re already overstuffed and hemorrhaging money, why not share a delicious dessert?
If Hobart keeps this up, I’ll be simultaneously broke, fat, and have the calves of a god by the end of the week.