Tasmania 1: Mount Wellington

I’ve earlier commented on some of Australia’s hidden gems. As a big country, I reckon there are a lot of places to hide things in Oz where people don’t hear about them. The Opera House, Kakadu National Park, Surfer’s Paradise- these are the names that bring tourists. A little local exploration uncovers the really fun stuff. Wilson’s Prom was a great example. Travelling the Oodnadatta Track in South Australia was another.

Tasmania is rife with such underrated pockets. The Belgium to Australia’s France, it’s considered an addendum to the mainland, windswept and cold compared to the tropical beaches of Queensland and Bondi, and without the classic desert stonescapes of the Red Centre. Inbred jokes about Tasmanians rival sheep jokes that plague Kiwis. It’s not really big on the backpacker circuit.

Which, in my opinion, is great. Though the backpackers certainly miss out.

We start with Hobart. A sleepy seaside city, its population of a quarter of a million people are dotted about on a series of wooded hills around a series of bays and harbours. A compact Central Business District which takes twenty minutes to cross by foot is clustered around the old fishing port- once the commercial heart of the city, and still the focus for attention. The artsy Salamanca area hosts a vibrant Saturday market loaded with local produce and crafts- an absolute must-see if you have even the slightest inkling of interest in either markets or food. After-hours, a string of pubs and bars provide a good array of vibes, cuisines, and a pretty good selection of beers as well (I feel posts on beers coming up in the near future…).

Half an hour’s drive from the CBD is the parking lot at Mt. Wellington. With its peak at 1,271m, it provides an eagle’s-nest view of the city and its environs, and juts defiantly out into the freezing gales of the Roaring Forties. This reality can’t be underestimated. The winds here are ferocious, and even in the height of summer, bitterly cold. Getting out of the car involves careful manouvering to ensure that the door is not ripped from its hinges and next seen fluttering like tin-foil past the mast of some circumpolar racing yacht somewhere off the Ross Ice Shelf. Taking a photo involves finding shelter and bracing yourself. I lost my sunglasses here after they were plucked from my head.

There’s not a lot to do at Mt. Wellington, to be honest, unless you like geology, or landscape photography. A fifteen minute visit gives you the views of the city and the rock formations by the visitor centre (a merciful haven from the howling winds). However if you can handle the weather, there’s a short (1+ hours return) walk from the parking lot out to a series of vertically-aligned weather-rounded rocks which I assume are igneous in origin, and painted a pleasing array of orange hues. There is network of little pathways across the flat top of the mountain which are not arduous, and the views of both the clusters of rocks and the valley below make for good scenery and interesting photo opportunities. Below the summit is a distinctive fluted cliff-face known as the Organ Pipes, but we managed to miss this.

Although it was overcast when we arrived at Mt. Wellington, during our stay there the clouds broke up and became dominated by blue. Fluffy puffs of condensed moisture scudded past in the sky, making the skyscape changeable and dramatic, and a perfect counterpoint for the rounded bulges of warm reddish rock. Personally I think landscape photography works far better when there is some cloud to add contrast and depth to an image, than a flat blue sky, and I really liked how some of the cloud-forms seemed to add this third dimension to the photos I took. All up it was a fun detour and a bracing burst of fresh air. Dress warm!

Next up: The Church and the Field

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