Wellington Park: Wellington Falls via Disappearing Tarn

Where we went: Disappearing Tarn (Kunanyi/Wellington Park)

When we went: Mid-winter 2020

Estimated time to complete walk: 6 hours (3 if you only go to the Tarn)

Time spent on walk: 6 hours

Humans, in general, are obsessed with the weather, and Tasmanians doubly so. It is the great force that connects us all through mutual experiences. One rainy feature that Tasmanians get especially titillated about is the rare chance to see Disappearing Tarn.  

This turquoise-blue mountain lake (thought to be coloured by lichen from the rocks that the water runs over) only forms after heavy rainfall, capturing trees and shrubbery in temporary suspended animation below the surface of the lake. It hangs around briefly before draining away again, only to return when conditions once again permit.

It is best accessed via the grade 4 (out of 5) Milles Track to Wellington Falls (Map from Wellington Parks Site), and due to the nature of the Tarn is necessarily only attempted after heavy rainfall, which is to say that this is not a hike for the ill-equipped or those who balk at the thought of mud. Sturdy boots are a must. I must also mention that Wellington Park is a water catchment area so toilet facilities are strictly contained to the carparks (also, while I totally get the temptation, please note that if you swim in the Tarn you are swimming in Hobart’s main, minimally treated, water source). For more information on the water catchments in the area, visit the Wellington Park Website.

Due to the unpredictability of this particular vanishing attraction we had very little time to plan and had only decided to attempt the walk at bedtime on the last night of a little 3 day stint of heavy rainfall that Tasmania generously steeped us in. To save time in the morning we filled 2 thermoses with oats, milk powder, salt, and sugar, packed all the sulphite free fruit we could find, filled our water packs and gathered every piece of waterproof gear we owned. Once in bed we very grudgingly agreed, as a couple, to wake up at 5:30am to ensure ample Tarn search-party time before Sommelier had to go to work the night shift.

When the alarm (rudely) woke us we filled our oaty thermoses with hot water, sealed them up, caffeinated certain members of the couple who do not cope well without the precious bean water (it’s me, Sapphire). We were up the mountain and parking at the Springs carpark before the sun had even considered the possibility of rising. We were not alone in the carpark, which came as something of a surprise due to the general lack of daytime, but it was our first clue that this park is a very popular one (likely due to the fact that there is no entry fee to access it and it is incredibly close to the city).

Knowing vaguely which track to take and wanting to beat the crowds we headed up the mountain without locating a walker’s logbook (we texted a friend our plans, and set out). The track departs from the top of the Springs carpark, intersecting with the road twice before crawling slowly upwards while skirting around the side of Kunanyi/ Mt Wellington. Occasional clearings offer views across the Derwent River towards, and well beyond Kingston, although our views were interrupted by the thick winter fog, illuminated by the burgeoning sunrise.

The track rises steadily and reasonably comfortably through a pleasant selection of dragon heath and native pink berries before turning into a gum forest, interspersed with small boulder scrambles. For the most part the path is very obvious and minimally marked as a result. Due to it being mid-winter and snowfall being a fairly common sight on the mountain we had thoroughly rugged up,  but found ourselves to be somewhat overdressed under the warmth of the heavily forested track.

We came to an intersection with the left identifying itself to be ‘Snake Plains’ (Somm’s note: The trail leads to the pipeline track, which we will be exploring soon) which we agreed, as a couple, sounded like the worst possible kind of plain; luckily the Wellington Falls track (which is not sign posted), to the right, was the one we wanted. From the intersection everything becomes increasingly narrow (which made social distancing when passing other hikers a challenge, especially on the return journey), rockier, and more densely wooded until it suddenly becomes a clearing comprised of nothing but rocks and the occasional, very daring, shrub. The boulder scree (known as ‘The Potato Fields’) is the resting place of the ephemeral rock pool we were searching for. As it is not a permanent attraction there are no signs to point it out, but we had no trouble finding it tucked away at the bottom corner of the rock field where the forest ends because the entire clearing undulates in that one direction and the eye naturally follows the shape of the landscape.

There could have been perfect stillness in the divot in the universe as the rocks muffled sound and the wind only lightly rustled the tree canopy and the water filled almost silently as it is gently filtered through the sand to arrive, clarified and soft coppered-blue, in the cupped hands of Kunanyi, but, alas, our amenity was interrupted by those who had beaten us, and decided to swim. We took a long break on the banks of Disappearing Tarn, waiting our turn for solitude, which came in the form of a soft, stolen moment, between crowds.

As most people only visit the Tarn, which is only halfway along the track, and we wanted to spend our first hike post-shelter-at-home-orders in some degree of silent commune with nature we gladly continued on to Wellington Falls.

Progress was muddy, slippery and slow as much of the path was under water, but we leapt and slid our way about very merrily with the sounds of thundering water occasionally reaching our ears (we suspect from a different source than the one we sought). The wintry sun never rose much higher than the mountain so we felt almost permanently bathed in the gentle golden glow of dusk. Birds chirruped joyously in the quiet and we barely noticed that we were on an inclining track until the track alerted us to nearby cliff faces and gave us the happy news that the Wellington Falls lookout was only 5 minutes away. We ate our thermos porridge in the complete solitude of the surging falls before heading back the way we had come, combing through throngs of people once we returned to the Potato Fields.

Wellington Falls can also be accessed from the Pipeline Track (a reminder that this is where Hobart’s drinking water comes from!). Sommelier and I did not have time to complete the pipeline section of the track (and it is not essential that you do so), but it follows the antique water pipes and there is a wishing-well from the 1800s to see along the way. If the tarn has disappeared by the time you make it then we recommend carrying on up the mountain and making a wish for heavier rainfall. Wellington Park is full of intersecting tracks for multiple fitness levels. It is easily accessible from the city, open 24/7 (unless there is a severe fire warning) and entry is free, making it one of the most popular hiking areas in Tasmania. This is something to keep in mind if you seek solitude on the mountain, although, if you are willing to push yourself, not all tracks are as heavily traversed as others, and there are other sights to see if the tarn has vanished by the time you make the trek.

Some useful links:

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