Where we went: 3 Falls Walk (Mt Field National Park)
Details of walk: grade 2, with sections that are wheelchair accessible.
When we went: winter, 2020
Estimated time to complete walk: 2.5 hours
Time spent on walk: a very casual 2.5 hours
Sommelier and I awoke on Sunday morning with vague hiking ambitions but no solid plans. We knew we had to go to Farmgate Market for our groceries and treats for the week, which tends to limit our travel time out of Hobart.
Unwilling to rush ourselves, but still keen to explore our own backyard we decided to pay (‘pay’ being the operative word, parks passes are essential) a visit to Tasmania’s oldest national park (second oldest in Australia! Royal National Park in Sydney beat us to the punch) where we know there are short walks to suit our “lazy Sunday” sentiments.
We ate breakfast at Farmgate Market, picked up some fresh pressed juice for the journey and set out on our trip at around 11am. The drive out to Mt Field from Hobart takes a little over an hour. We knew we would be arriving near lunch time and we knew that certain members of the couple (who are me, Sapphire) do not cope well with being left unfed for any significant period of time. Knowing how the certain aforementioned members of the couple can be a Sommelier drew up a plan to stop for takeaway from one of our all-time favourite lunch eateries in Tasmania, The Agrarian Kitchen.
Takeaway from the Agrarian Kitchen is a new, post-covid affair, and has been our favourite covid-19 side effect to date. We gathered a small gourmet feast and hung around the grounds exploring the old insane asylum for a while before taking our picnic to the Mt Field visitor centre picnic grounds. We had no trouble at all finding a table, despite it being around 12:30pm when we were looking. We set up in prime picnic territory right by the riverfront to keep a very beady eye on the water in the hopes of a platypus sighting, but none of the weird little water monotremes showed themselves (which is a shame, because they are definitely the cutest venomous animal in Australia).
Fed, relaxed and ready to see some freaking water do some freaking falling we double checked our gear, made extra sure that our parks pass was displayed, triple checked that there was no dirt embedded in the treads of our shoes, and set off walking along the sealed section of the track which departs from just behind the visitor centre.
The first waterfall along the track is Russell Falls. It is a short, flat, 15 minutes from the carpark along a sealed stretch of path that travels through musk and myrtle trees, ferns, and very tall swamp gums (not a very attractive name, but a pretty impressive tree to meet in person). It sits beside a small burbling stream. The sense of seclusion in the forest is almost instantaneous with the sounds of birdsong filling the still rainforest understory and the moss and leaf litter muffling everything else. These moments were occasionally ruined by the litter left by others and the discovery that out plogging rubbish bag had not been packed in the single backpack we had chosen to bring with us. Muttering very darkly about the sorts of people who litter in national parks we established a rubbish pocket in the backpack.
Russell Falls sits at the end of an increasingly lush pathway. It has 2 claims to fame, the first is that it is fully wheel chair accessible, the second is that it is Tasmania’s most photographed waterfall. We very highly recommended bringing your wheelchair mobile friends and loved ones out into nature to watch some freaking water freaking fall.
After Russell Falls the wheelchair accessibility of the track comes to an abrupt end with a staircase that climbs in a steep, zig-zag fashion. There are frequent benches to rest on and we took a few chances to do so as we were still very picnic sleepy and the path ahead was crowded which impeded our social distancing attempts.
At the top of the staircase there is a fork in the road, the left leading to Lady Baron Falls, the right cheerfully informing us that Horseshoe Falls was but 1 minute in that direction, which was amusing to us because the falls were literally visible and distinctly audible from the fork. We squeezed into the viewing section for Horseshoe Falls, waiting our turn to take photos and trying not to get too close to anyone or let anyone get too close to us, which was difficult, but not impossible.
Upon noticing that most people at the Horseshoe lookout were turning around and heading back to the carpark we scarpered off along the Lady Baron track, eager for a bit of solitude in the forest.
From Horseshoe the distance between falls is much longer, and broken up by the Tall Trees walk. It is not steep, but the path is not sealed so mud might be an issue to those with improper footwear travelling after heavy rainfall. We were lucky to be travelling after just enough rain to ensure the falls were dropping an impressive amount of water, but not so much that the path was too muddy.
We took the very minor detour through the Tall Trees walk, which is designed particularly with children and education in mind. There are a lot of information plaques and we busied ourselves learning about big trees and the conservation efforts that go in to them. We kept very strictly to the marked paths, but there were a lot of foot trails that led off the path at particularly interesting sites. We kindly request that you stick to the path wherever possible, teach children to do the same, and just use camera trickery and magic to get the photos you especially want. Moss and mushrooms grow in abundance here, and they will be badly damaged if you step on them.
Yellow Tailed Black Cockatoos seemed to be snacking, or possibly roosting, in the canopy of the tall trees. We could not see them (because of how tall the trees are) but they kicked up a raucous and filled our still rainforest air with their ululation. We crossed the road as the path continued (keep an eye on kids, cars drive very quickly along here), and the cockatoos and their rooftop party faded into a distant keening.
Lots of little bridges, ferns, mushrooms and absolute serenity met us on the other side of the road. There were very few other patrons on the path, and those we saw quickly disappeared into the vivid greens of the winding pathway. The roaring of Lady Baron’s choir wove its way to us before we reached her. We were completely alone at the lookout and spent a long time admiring how the turgid eddies faded into a merrily flowing stream, harmonizing perfectly with the gushing timbre of the falls themselves to create a smooth, joyful river-song.
We were stopped at a bridge to remark on just how gently the river flowed, despite its proximity to a waterfall, when Sommelier (who was taking pictures with the very good camera) muttered a very panicked “Oh dear!” (only he didn’t say “dear”), followed by a splashing sound. In my worry that he had dropped the good camera I barely noticed him desperately trying to hand me the said camera while keeping an eye on the camera bag that was floating at high speed into the forest. Camera bag retrieved with only a minor stepping off of the path (and into the water) its contents were deemed ‘mostly okay’ but we had to carry a dripping wet bag and a not otherwise waterproof camera the rest of the way back to the visitor centre, all the while very worried about the rain that was definitely threatening.
We climbed a second zig-zagging flights of stairs. While I grumbled darkly about stairs Sommelier pointed out that, in order for water to fall, it must first flow over a cliff – thus ensuring that heights of some nature are an essential part of waterfall viewing. The stairs were too short lived for me to come up with a good rebuttal to this physics lesson.
The last stretch of the track to the visitor centre moves through a burned out forest. The regeneration process is almost fully complete, but the trunks remain charred. It would have been beautiful to look at, had it not been for all the graffiti carved into the charcoal. With very wet legs (in the case of Sommelier) and lightly rain misted (in the case of me) we decided to stop at the Waterfalls Café at the visitor centre and get a takeaway hot beverage in the hopes of warming up a little. We didn’t realise just how warm the forest was keeping us until we were out of it and back in the chilly mid-winter air.
Keen to reset our nature amenity following the gratuitous graffiti incident we agreed, as a couple, to head up the mountain to go the most scenic very short walk that I know of: the 40 minute Pandani Grove circuit, which circumnavigates Lake Dobson. The higher we climbed the more the misting rainfall turned to rain, then sleet, then a flurry of snow. Our short trip around the lake was made less comfortable, but not unbearable, thanks to the fact that Sommelier’s quick-dry trousers were still wet from his river adventure, and his glasses did not, at all, appreciate being snowed on. Once we had warmed up a little we settled in to enjoying the snowfall on the lake with the towering pandani plants standing quiet sentry in the dim winter’s evening.
Cold, wet, but not worn out, we drove home grateful for the ease of access to such sights as these lakes and falls. Our small camera, spare SD card, main battery, and spare battery all required a rice bath, but are recovering nicely from their adventures in the forest and the snow. It will always amaze me that you can visit a historical insane asylum, see a rainforest, and stand in a snow flurry all in a single day trip. It is the truest testament to Tasmania’s small stature, but fierce beauty.