Where we went: Mount Roland (North West Tasmania)
When we went: Early autumn 2019
Estimated time to complete walk: 4-6 hours
Time spent walking: 6 hours
Grade of walk: Unlisted. I have known it to be called challenging and I have know it to be called the opposite. We found it to be adequately suited to the intermediate crowd of moderate fitness seeking a personal challenge.
Mt Roland is a long, steep, and challenging walk but the reward is views of Cradle Mountain, Bass Strait and Barn Bluff. It starts with a forest walk along an old 4WD track before turning to a LONG button grass plateau and finally, a short, sharp boulder scramble. The track starts at Gowrie Park Village on O’Neill’s Road off the C136. It is also worth noting that the 6 hour track is considered the “light version” and the “easy way” up the 1233m jagged, dolomite outcrop (which reminds me of African Kopjes).
I took annual leave from work in early March to sort out some medical tests and Sommelier took a Friday off before the Labour Day public holiday so that we could have a little staycation together and so that he could offer moral support for the tests if needed.
As my health is mostly on the mend we planned our trip around getting back to the sort of normal that we want our lives to be. We knew exactly what we wanted to do; climb mountains. It is a fairly simple goal, as far as life-goals go, but choosing a mountain to climb in Tasmania is a challenge because one is really spoiled for choice. We settled on Cradle Mountain because it is one of the most popular in the State and has a lot of rare Tasmanian plant-life that I wanted to visit. We also agreed to climb Mt Roland, partly because we want to test our recovery times and work towards one day doing the overland track, but mostly because it is a lesser known walk in the region and we wanted a dollop of solitude with our slice of adventure.
We spent the days leading up to our trip ensuring our gear was up to code. We have good thermals from sapphire hunting, Sommelier bought a new pair of boots (and several new pairs of socks, also bandaids – because blisters), sunscreen, water bags with hoses, an insane amount of scroggin, an insane amount of biltong (I have an over catering problem), Wet wipes, and tissues. A quick look at the weekly weather forecast for the area told us it would be cold and rainy. I realised on the day we were scheduled to leave that we had nothing at all to keep our necks warm, so, as a sane and rational human woman, I panicked and knitted us each a ‘hiking ascot’ from bamboo wool. I am a very fast knitter (plus an ascot is a fairly short project), but I did have to do a little knitting in the car on the way, and we stayed up past bed-time for knitting purposes. Two brand new, handmade hiking ascots packed we were satisfactorily equipped for our first attempt at 2 mountains in 2 days. While we all joke a lot about Tasmanian weather being wild and unpredictable, it’s not really a laughing matter in the face of a mountain.
We drove up to Launceston, in the dark, after work on Thursday so that we would be close enough to Mt Roland to set out early. Hobart to Launceston takes a few hours to drive but Sommelier and I are both high functioning caffeine addicts with a penchant for long-distance driving. If you are not in a similar state of life then I would advise leaving very early in the morning and breaking your trip up with several rest-stops. We stayed at the Art Hotel in Launceston, it is our favourite hotel in the city because it is comfortable, easy to find, and utterly unperturbed by our tendency to arrive late at night. This was the first time we had the chance to stay for breakfast at the hotel, and I can confirm that they have an excellent and perfectly executed breakfast menu. Fed, caffeinated, showered, and ready to go we left Launceston at around 9am and arrived at O’Neil’s car park at the base of Mt Roland at a little past 10am.
There is no visitor centre or gift shop, as it is somewhat removed from the traditional tourist trail, but a toilet can be found at a nearby caravan park, and there are so few other hikers to the area that privacy in the event of a urinary emergency wouldn’t be too difficult to achieve. There is also no boot scrubbing station, so scrub your boots at home, or at the very least scrub them thoroughly before entering the Cradle Mountain reserve.
We signed in at the visitor booth which is an unmanned sort of bus stop with a log book in a locker on the wall. Always log your walks, rangers check the books in the event of inclement weather and will arrange an extraction party on your behalf should anything occur without your knowledge (I have heard accounts of extraction in the event of a sudden bushfire, but I imagine it’s an offer that extends to other dangerous events outside of your control). It was a humid and cloudy day, but we set out in very high spirits.
The start of the walk takes place on a wide forest track, open enough for us to walk side-by-side and chat. We caught a few glances of the cliffs we were working our way over to through the trees, and birds chirped incessantly overhead and all around. It was a very comfortable and steady immersion with the sensation of seclusion marred only by the sight of a dry lightning struck tree, the charred shards of which were driven deep into the ground. Tasmanian rainforests have suffered severely from drylighting related bushfires this year, and this was a sobering reminder of how close Mt Roland came to being a statistic.
The fresh, menthol smell of eucalyptus forests enveloped us, assuring us of its resilence, even in the face of bushfires. The gumtrees eventually gave way to the mossier scent of myrtle as we reached higher altitude, and then the savoury banksia, manuka, and alpine heath groves after that.
Thanks to our personal water pack/ hose hydration system (they look like IV drips and that amuses me more than I’m proud of) we made very good time in getting to the first lookout. The heavily forested hike to the first rest-stop was made especially magical by the lack of duck-boards (duck-boards are a very common sight on bushwalks in Tasmania; they protect endangered plants, prevent walkers from getting lost, keep your feet dry in the mud, and are generally a very useful piece of infrastructure – but they always create a mild sensation of clinical sterility for me that takes me out of the wilderness experience), and especially difficult thanks to the trapped and sweaty heat of the understory. The steepness of the path was also of mild impediment to me, the one who had recently learned (the very scary way) what a CT scan is and how badly my body takes to the contrast material they inject.
It was with a sigh at the merciful gust of cool wind that we emerged from the cloisters of the forest section to the lookout (just after scrambling over some small rocks in a directly uphill fashion). We stopped for a short lunch break overlooking the track so far.
From the lookout there is a relatively brief duck-boarded section that turns back into an easy to follow but not overly marked track in respectable time. This track runs along a surprisingly flat section for a long while, reinstating the sense of seclusion and wilderness. I had heard, before embarking on this venture, that this is one of the better known sites for snake sighting. Tasmania only has 3 types of snake, all of them venomous. The good news is that the antivenom for all Tasmanian snakes is the same so identification is not necessary. The bad news is that 2 of the 3 snakes are among the most deadly in the world (if you planned a trip to Australia you don’t get to be shocked that the danger noodles are deadly!), the other good news is that Tasmanian snakes are fairly timid most of the year, follow up good news is that first aid is straight forward (immobilise the limb, apply a reasonable amount of pressure and keep the victim as still and calm as possible) we carry 4-5 rolls of bandages with us everywhere we go as we tend to frequent the same haunts that snakes do. There is more information on the snakes of this state on the Tasmanian government website. We saw one small snake and the poor little thing was trying very hard to escape us across a patch of sand and it couldn’t wriggle away fast enough and we laughed at it but didn’t photograph it because approaching a fleeing, potentially deadly animal is a recipe for a negative outcome.
We noticed our steady ascent more in our legs than anything else, the scenery now consisting mostly of rocky outcrops barely hidden amongst the buttongrass, banksia and open plains. There was a lot of wombat scat, so I suspect wombats could be seen at the right time of day (which would involve returning in the dark so I absolutely do not condone it). Suddenly we were standing in a biosphere of spikey alpine scoparia (the most beautiful flowers in the right season, but autumn is not the right season), huge piles of boulders and a weathered wooden sign reading “Mt Roland”. After 3 hours of walking we had reached the base of the summit, which is reached with a final, frantic boulder scramble, and marked with a trig station. The farmland patchwork of the Meander Valley stood below us to one side, and the endless wilderness of state reserve stretched to the other, giving the impression that Mt Roland is the border between two worlds.
We made it to the summit without encountering a single other hiker, it was just us, the birdsong, and the wind making the rocks around us whistle a merry tune. It was with very heavy hearts that we left the isolation of the Mt Roland peak to continue our 3 hour return journey. We went back the way we came, although there are other ways off the mountain, and only encountered 2 other couples on the way. I’ve never had such a private walking experience in Tasmania before, and l highly recommend Mt Roland for the misanthropic hiker.