There can't be many capital cities in the world where you can drive for ten minutes then walk for eight hours without seeing another person, but in the Wellington Range behind Hobart, this is not only possible, but common. The park stretches 20 kilometres to the west of the iconic pinnacle and contains a labyrinth of tracks, trails and routes. Doug and I joined one of the local walking clubs for a days ramble in the park that would join up several different tracks to make a loop which would take us roughly up the west side of North West Bay River along ridge crests to Mount Montagu and down the east side of the North West Bay River to rejoin the Cathedral Rock track a couple of kilometres from the start.
Rainbow from Cathedral Rock
Although we met early, 7.30 am, there was almost an hours delay getting started as two people went to the wrong meeting place. Eventually, after a few telephone calls, the trip leader managed to get everyone to the start of the walk. Standing around before we started walking, talk, among some of the other walkers, turned to an unplanned night out on a recent club trip to Mount Rufus. Or, it could have been Mount Hugel, I'm not exactly sure, but, it really does not matter as here we were, an hour behind time, two people already navigationally challenged, our only other walk with this club also being marred by navigational issues. I admit I did feel a wee bit concerned.
Cathedral Rock with Mount Montagu behind
There was the usual huck-a-lung race up the track to start which always drives me crazy because it inevitably results in various group members getting burned out early and becoming slower and slower as the day progresses thus negating the few minutes saved by sprinting at an unsustainable pace. I can't possibly be the only person who envies Basil Fawlty in the old British comedy "Fawlty Towers" in wishing that it was socially acceptable to just blurt out what we are all thinking, which, in this instance would be, "We will only be impressed by your speed if you are as fast at the end of this walk as you are at the beginning."
Cathedral Rock, Montagu Thumbs from Mount Montagu
We followed the Cathedral Rock track which passes through rainforest and fern trees beside North West Bay River before climbing up a series of switchbacks to a pass between Betts Hill and Cathedral Rock. The primary sprinter was by now quite worn out so the group settled into a steadier pace. It is a bit of a steep climb up a narrow track to Cathedral Rock where we got into the full brunt of the 40 to 50 knot (that's almost 100 km/hour) wind that is so typical of Tasmania. There was a complete rainbow hanging over the valley to the south but it was hard to stand atop Cathedral Rock, a series of dolerite columns, without getting blown over.
Near Montagu Thumbs
Inexplicably, a snack stop, up in the howling wind was called, although, the leader may have had ulterior motives as one sure way to inhibit long snack stops is to have them in cold, uncomfortable places. It was a bit daunting at first continuing along the ridge for the next 2.5 km to a broad saddle near Mount Montagu, not because the terrain looked overly difficult but because when you are out with a bunch of people you don't know, some of whom look fairly fatigued already, there is always a concern as to how they will cope should conditions deteriorate.
Along the ridge to Mount Montagu
The track essentially follows the ridge, with some slightly narrow, but not exposed sections, over Montagu Thumbs - detour slightly from the track for the best view - until you descend 50 metres off Montagu Thumbs into dense forest on a somewhat overgrown track. At this point the leader put one trip member, who had a GPS track from doing this walk before, out front as he wanted to take one track up Mount Montagu and a different track down. My 1:25,000 topographic map only shows one track (not quite correctly marked), but the Wellington Park Recreation Map that our leader had shows two tracks. One heads up the final 150 metres to the summit from slightly south of east, while the second climbs due west from the main track to the summit.
Summoning Anemoi on Mount Montagu
Coming from the south, we came across the southeast trending track first which is really not so much a track as a route, but it is reasonably well marked with bits of flagging. As we were on the shady south side, we had to walk through about 15 cm of snow. Without the snow, there may be more of a pad visible. The summit is broad and open and offers good views of the surrounding valleys and hills, but it was very, very windy, so, although it would be a great spot in different conditions for lunch, not one of us was keen on standing about in the wind.
North West Bay River above Wellington Falls
Two people in our group had a cursory look for the second track but, when it was not readily and quickly apparent, the leader decided we should bushwhack down. This was not actually too bad, but, if I were ever to do this trip again, I would spend a bit more time looking systematically for the track. I'm pretty sure with a bit of careful grid searching, you would find the trail (we intersected it near the bottom where it was actually very good) and have a much easier descent than we had.
Descending to North West Bay River
Once back on the main track, our next junction was indicated on the map (again the track is marked slightly wrong on both the 1:25,000 topographic map and the Wellington Park Recreation Map) as being only about 200 metres to the north. This track follows a spur ridge down to Wellington Falls on Northwest Bay River and gives access to the well maintained Wellington Falls track. Our leader instructed us to look out for tracks off to the right and we headed off again. Doug and I saw two indistinct pads, and our leader stopped at a third vague pad. A GPS reading showed that the third vague pad was right on where the track was marked on the map. A short foray down this "track" quickly ended as it was a dead lead. Our leader was, understandably, a bit bemused. Doug and I thought we should check out the two other vague pads we had passed, which, to our leader's credit, he agreed to do. Neither led anywhere.
Cathedral Rock from North West Bay River
There was some consternation in the group as the leader remembered the track as being quite open and easy. Luckily, one other participant had done the walk before, but, had only stumbled on the correct track after following one of the false leads. She remembered joining up with the track from the right, which logically had to mean the track was still ahead (to our left), so we agreed to walk ahead for 10 or 15 minutes. I always find setting a time limit for this kind of thing is a good strategy as, without a time limit, people will keep going until the notion of sunk costs ensures that even if turning around is the best possible option, no-one will ever do it. In passing, I suggested that, if we could not find the track we could always go back, which, was met with "No f**king way, it's too far."
At a guess, I'd say we walked about five minutes and gained perhaps thirty metres of elevation before coming across a huge cairn and a very obvious track leading off to the east. We followed this across some bushy talus slopes for a couple of hundred metres before the track gained the defined ridge and descended steeply to North West Bay River.
The river was pretty easy to cross on somewhat slippery slabs, and we had a very short break here before taking a short detour down to a viewpoint for the falls. We could also see Cathedral Rocks from just above the river. The next two kilometres is on a very good track that meets the Pipeline Track (gravel road). Crossing over the Pipeline track, a very steep track, which is actually the path of an old rusted out water pipe descends very steeply down a spur ridge to about 400 metres (ASL). An easy step across a side creek, followed by a hundred metre section of old road, leads to a well flagged steep side track that descends to North West Bay River. The river rocks were incredibly slippery so I crab-walked across to the other side keeping one hand on boulders. It was still easy enough, provided you didn't slip, to keep feet dry. The track out the other side of the river is marked by a cairn and is slightly downstream. This side track leads quickly out to the main Cathedral Rock track perhaps a couple of kilometres from the parking area.