Where we went: Mt Wellington/ Kunyani, Hobart
When we went: Late Winter
In a shocking contrast to many of our other adventures, we spent a whole two days planning this trip, starting with our picnic. We usually prefer to gather our snacks from the region and feast in a scenic area but this week I was working 6 days and starting at 5:30 for all of them so my enthusiasm for provedore hopping was a little lacking. The compromise we agreed on was to visit Hill Street Grocer.
Hill Street in one of the very posh areas of West Hobart and its boutique grocery store reflects that. Hill Street grocer reminds me of the sorts of magical shops that you read about in children’s books. It’s small, and pokey but cluttered with more incredible ingredients than you ever could have imagined possible. There is an entire wall dedicated to fancy cheeses (that it to say there is a different section for your normal, run of the mill riffraff), there is wine, fresh bread, a deli section that my family visits annually for a very special Christmas treats, nuts and candied fruit and then a million things you never knew you needed until you saw them there (things like fig crackers and dark chocolate harvested by blind monks while the planets were in retrograde – or at least some very fine, rainforest alliance chocolate). It stocks a good variety of Tasmanian produce, as well as imported goods which makes it the perfect one stop shop for a local picnic with a foreign accompaniment. I like to do a full taste tests of all cheeses before settling on the completely unbiased opinion that Tasmanian cheese really is as good as the French stuff, sometimes better. To those staying in self-contained accommodation in Hobart I suspect Hill Street Grocer is the sort of place you need to know about. Be advised though, as the name would suggest, it’s one hilly street. We live in West Hobart and I often walk home reminding myself that my butt will thank me when I’m older, you come to terms with your derriere’s stance on hills in your own time.
I had visions of a baked camembert snacked upon from the great heights of Mount Wellington while bathed in the glorious golden light of sunrise refracting off the snow. I pre-prepped the camembert with butter, thyme (from the garden), and honey (full disclosure, my father is a bee keeper, just about everything I do involves honey). I put everything in the new “bake and take” containers that my sister bought us as an engagement present, put it in the fridge and we set our alarms to give us enough time to wake up in the morning, bake our cheese, caffeinate the dalek (it’s me, I yell “caffeinate” in a dalek voice until I get coffee and I will exterminate any who stand in the way of the coffee pot. It doesn’t drive Sommelier mad at all), and be up the mountain in time for sunrise. Other picnic items, a Tasmanian blue cheese, candied fruits, and some bread are packed in the morning – so long is the dalek is caffeinated it functions very well in the morning and rarely forgets any element of a picnic, leave notes for yourself if you don’t function well on no sleep because nothing ruins a picnic like a forgotten element (except maybe ants).
The hardest part about preparing for a sunrise snow day is dressing warmly enough. Thermals are a must, I opt for thermals under quick drying pants, under spandex, under waterproof clothes. Snow is not my ally and I’m basically always cold. As ever with Tassie, I strongly recommend sunglasses.
With the camembert carefully wrapped in a snuggly tea towel to keep it warm we set out. It does not take long to drive up the mountain, the problem is that the roads are often closed due to frost or fallen trees. We knew this going in and had a travel plan B but if you only have a limited time in Hobart and long to drive up the mountain then this is one case in which the early bird may not catch the worm. I recommend leaving your trip until about midday when it is warmer, and the frost has melted if this is your travel situation. We gambled on the open roads and we lost. There is a marker very early on in the trip up that indicates the point at which the road is closed and this particular morning it is closed quite low down.
We initiate travel plan B which is to return to the nearest lookout from the closed point and complete a few light walks until the road reopens, travel plan C is to just walk to the summit on foot if they don’t open the roads at all. Neither of us has had enough sleep to feel very enthused by travel plan C but it is an achievable goal to those willing and appropriately dressed. The Springs walk was the closest lookout to the closed point. It is also, rather conveniently, the location of Lost Freight Café. The café was not open at the ungodly hour upon which we arrived, but we had no trouble finding a parking space and setting off for a frosty walk by phone torchlight. The walk was closed due to construction so we found a picnic table (it was covered in frost and I sat in the frost and that’s why you should always wear quick drying clothes in Tasmania), and watched the tentative fingers of new light break and spread across the cliff faces of the mountain formerly known as Kunanyi, and later named Wellington.
By the dawn’s weak light Sommelier noticed that we were actually not very far at all from a lookout that would have overseen city. That’s just what you get when you take a bushwalk by phone torch, missed side quests. Mt Wellington is an absolute rabbit warren of walks for all fitness types with views of all sorts and a million different side quests to small lookouts. I love taking the little 5-15 minute paths that offshoot from the main path and we hurry down the hidden path as soon as the sun reveals it. There’s a commemorative bench set back from the edge of a small, fenced off cliff. The views are over the Derwent River and the sun is still shining the soft, dancing gold of first-thing-in-the-morning so we take a small moment of silent solitude before heading back to the car and the camembert.
The roads are still not open but Lost Freight is, if I’d known I would have been less insistent on a thermos full of coffee. A very nice man recommended the Sphinx Rock walk to us when we asked him how long the roads would be closed for and where he would suggest was the best picnic area in the interim (I should point out that this was a very nice man who worked on the mountain, not just a random man who we accosted for picnicking advice). With Sommelier valiantly leading the way and with me carefully cuddling the camembert to preserve all warmth we set off on the very light walk through the rainforest to Sphinx Rock.
Sphinx Rock juts out over the lower canopy of gum trees and offers views of the summit of the mountain as well as the city and river. It is not fenced off along the edge but there is a child proof gate on the pathway. It is definitely a place where children and pets would need heavy supervision but it would be easy to provide as the space itself is not huge. We set up our picnic and spent much longer than we intended basking on the rocks. It took only a small 10 minute walk (I think advertised as 20) and we could no longer hear the cars, the café and the construction. It was just us and the birds looking out over the tree tops, seeped in the smell of cold climate rainforest. I would like to say the rocks were warm and snuggly, but that was probably an illusion created by my multiple layers. I did take off my beanie though so that’s something.
Hot tip, if you are looking for ways to make your fiancé uncomfortable then hanging your engagement ring off the dead branch of a shrub that protrudes over the side of a cliff then lying on your belly and taking macros of said ring on your phone is a brilliant start. Men love it when loved ones dangle off cliffs, it’s especially funny if you pretend to drop the ring (I’m lying, Sommelier was not even remotely amused).
From Sphinx Rock we went back to the car, it was around midday by now (we really spent much longer than intended languishing like lizards at Sphinx Rock) and considered taking other small walks in the area but I had drunk all my water and the refill tank was in the car so we agreed to revert back to travel plan A and go and play in the snow on the summit.
Now, I know I’ve mentioned this before, our car is not a big fan of hills, I think she really resents us for moving to West Hobart, but even she managed a trip up Mt Wellington, in snow, with only a very minor level of complaint. The ease of access to the Mountain is one of the main reasons for its popularity among both tourists and locals. A 20 minute drive from the city centre and you can be playing in snow! What’s not to love about that?
I have a certain soft spot for Mt Wellington. I had not seen snow ever in my life until I moved to Tasmania when I was 12 and every now and then I hear the excited gasp of a tourist catching a glimpse, and I remember my own thrill of the first time. I’ve yet to grow tired of snow, although, I admit, my encounters with it are sporadic.
The mountain first captured my imagination when I was at school learning about the historical figure, Lady Jane Franklin. Lady Franklin was the governor’s wife in 1836, but, what I hold her in highest regard for, is that she was the first woman to climb Mt Wellington. In long skirts and corsets and all! Before there were neatly marked pathways! I often remind myself that if she could do it with the whole nation laughing at her, in a long skirt and a corset, then I can pull up my boots up and do the same — but in a sport’s bra and pants, because period costume would be difficult to source and I’d definitely get mud on it.
Parking can be difficult in the busy periods on the mountain, it is important to balance your time between being the early bird, but not so early that it is still frosty — unless you’re the sort of bird who doesn’t mind doing a few smaller walks while you wait for roads to open. On a clear day the mountain can afford views stretching for what feels like eternity in every direction, the wind can be really strong, and sometimes this is the reason why the roads are closed. Keep in mind that the roads are only ever closed for your safety. The summit of the mountain is something that everyone in Tasmania must visit at least once, leave yourself time for smaller walks though; the ease of access to the summit means that it is a very heavily trodden tourist location and your search for solitude on the mountain will be better achieved on the lower tiers.