Where we went: Collins Cap (Wellington National Park)
When we went: Winter 2020
Estimated time for hike: 3.5 hours
Time spent on hike: 4.5 hours (took an unplanned detour and a very long break, also sustained a minor injury)
Grade of hike: 3
Collins Cap, located within the Wellington National Park is best accessed through the hamlet of Collinsvale, about 30 minutes from Hobart. Standing at 1060m above sea level the sharp mountain peak offers views of the Derwent Valley, New Norfolk, the back of kunanyi and the peaks and plateaus of the Wellington Range. As one ought to expect from the fact that the mountain is very high and the track is not very long there is a certain element of steepness to be expected. A significant portion of the trail also runs through the Myrtle Forests, so a certain element of mud and slippery rocks should also be expected. Good boots are a must. The positive news is that, thanks to the location of the carpark, only 600m elevation need be achieved.
We were departing on a day with predicted late-night snowfall, so we packed very warm clothes in anticipation of the fact that mountains are mostly oblivious to weather reports and have been known to only very loosely follow them. We slept in and ate breakfast at home and were setting out at around 10:30am, which was later than we like to when travelling through Wellington Park. It is very popular and the carparking spaces tend to fill up very quickly. The Myrtle Forest carpark was almost completely full already, and there are no other nearby parking areas that I know of, so we were very lucky to find any space at all.
The track is blocked to cars other than emergency services and rangers, and a gate lies across the road at the top of the carpark, however it is generally open to pedestrians, and parks passes are not necessary here. We walked around the gate and along the emergency services road, immediately entering a mildly forested/ fairy glen feeling when a pink robin (who did not consent to being photographed) played in the dappled sunlight filtering through the myrtle trees.
The official track starts about 15 minutes from the gated carpark with a little picnic area and a long drop toilet. A burbling brook babbled merrily beside us and we were in very good spirits as we plunged deeper into the forest on what was, frankly, a suspiciously warm winter’s day (never EVER trust Tasmanian weather, it is capricious). The wide road crosses a small wooden bridge which plunged us into a stone steps paved forest paradise; the muddy track with man-ferns and moss affirming our forest amenity. Bird song mixed with the gentle murmuring of the stream as we climbed carefully upwards through the forest.
One of the great beauties of hiking in Tasmania is that many walks are designed with people of various fitness levels in mind. The Collins Cap walk is a particularly good example of this; the first section of the walk, to the Myrtle Forest Falls, is only a grade 2, easily traversable by those of moderate to low fitness. From the falls, however, the track steadily turns into a grade 3 (and sits on the higher end of the grade 3 spectrum, in my personal opinion), where some bushwalking experience, moderate fitness, and adequate gear are essential. The path also branches off to several other grade 3-4 walks, depending on what kind of day you want for yourself. We wanted a short burst of athleticism, which is why we chose a steep, 3-4 hour round trip. Although we are hoping to do some of the other walks soon.
The Myrtle Forest Falls is situated at the top of a small flurry of steps 15 minutes from the start of the track. It has a broad viewing platform that allowed us to watch the falls as they filtered through the forest and dropped off into the understory. It was also at this point that Sommelier realised he hadn’t replaced the battery in the good camera after most of our camera gear went for a swim on our recent trip to Mt Field. Some expletives were uttered, but we decided just to rely on our small camera and phones for the trip and come back another time for a more professional reshoot.
From the falls the track gets immediately more difficult with generally less stairs, more mud, and only a narrow pathway. A few smaller waterfalls also dance their way along the cobblestones of the river, but mostly we enjoyed a very quiet birdsong filled forest walk with only the muddy footprints of others to remind us that we weren’t very far from the city at all. The path zigzags at a very moderate pace, crossing the river at a section where it runs slowly before, later, crossing a second time, this time with the aid of a thin string to cling to. We found no issue with footing, but we were not travelling after any heavy rain.
The myrtle trees give way to dragon heath as the path continues to duck and weave through dense vegetation, but it does start to thin, as does the air. We were noticeably a little colder once we were out of the forest, although the views of the valley below and the gum forests receding into the distance made the colder weather more bearable (additional clothing layers also helped).
The slender, pale trunks of lightly leafed gum trees stood sentry at the final leg of the forest walk which ends, suddenly, at the Collins Cap fire trail. The second, more alpine, section of the track resumes across the road/fire trail and slightly to the left. It progresses through the very ghostly white branches of a mostly-dead looking field of gums. The general lack of foliage affords spectacular views of the back of kunanyi (look out for the little signal tower spike) and the peak of the Cap ahead. We eagerly pressed on through the ghost-forest and the occasional rocky outcrop.
The narrow track turned into a mellow version of a boulder scramble that travelled in a distinctly steep manner through wind-pruned and mildly stunted myrtle and gum trees, interspersed with occasional scoparia and waratah. The path was obvious in daylight, but there are minimal markers and, were it not for the trees creeping to the boundaries of the walkway and forming a sort of bowered arch, it would be easy to lose your way.
The jutting promontory of Collins Cap is preceded by a series of red herring rock piles, and, as such, the eventuality of the peak carries a sense of relief in its finality, which is almost immediately dispersed when one looks out from the cairn marking the top to see all the peaks, valleys, cliffs and ravines undulating beyond, as yet unexplored. When looking out at the world from the little angel tipped cairn marking the top of the Collins Cap I was instantly itching to see more of the Wellington Range. Even though it is right in my backyard and I can literally see kunanyi/ Mt Wellington from my kitchen window, I simply never knew how far it stretched.
We ate lunch on the peak and enjoyed a long break in the presence of a handful of other hikers and the silence of the rest of the mountains. It was only once the biting chill of the wind reminded us that we were expecting snowfall that night and had agreed, as a couple, to be back at the carpark by 4:30pm that we grudgingly moved away from our little promontory, dwarfed by the huge mountains surrounding it. Although we did agree to take one minor detour – I could hear frog calls from the peak and, suspecting they were very merrily dwelling in a pond that we could see from the summit, we agreed to explore a small way along the fire trail in search of new amphibious friends.
It was as we were carefully picking our way back down from the peak, ensuring we kept to as much of the defined path as we could see my knee decided that it had had quite enough hiking for the day and promptly gave up. It has been known to do this in the past, and it is very painful. I said a very loud “Oh dear!” (only I didn’t say ‘dear’ – and if the child on the summit heard me then I am very sorry. It hurt a dearing huge amount). Torn between splinting my rapidly swelling knee while at the summit, or hobbling off the mountain and adding ice packs, rest, and elevation to the mix I elected to press on at a slower pace and apply medical devices once off our increasingly blustery peak (Sommelier would like the record to show that he voted to apply first aid as promptly as possible and while still out hiking. He was overruled on account of not being the owner of the knee in question).
The journey back to the fire trail was a slow one, the mellow version of boulder scrambling no longer so mellow. I continued my insistence on visiting the frog pond, again, Sommelier would like the record to state that he voted against this detour but was overruled.
The short, flat, walk came as a restful relief, after all the steep stepping. The pond, once we came to it, was marked with a sinister warning label – ‘no swimming; very deep water.’
We stood very still on the shores of the very deep loch and waited until the frogs started up their chirruping again. With a tentative little croak they took to song after about 1 minute, and were fully bellowing again within 5 minutes. We elected not to ascertain exactly how deep the loch is on account of the cool weather, the inability to do so without disturbing the frogs, and the generally eerie feel of Little Deep Loch (not its official title). Suitably re-rested we agreed, as a couple, to head home and administer knee-repair tonics.
sapphire, trying to catch sight of a frog.
The return journey through the forest walk was fraught. Limping down a slippery slope is rarely something I would recommend, even if there are a suitable number of trees to hold for balance. I sustained a second injury when me knee abandoned walking-mode a second time while a rock (rudely) collided with my buttocks (please note: the rock tells a different version of events and, in fact, claims that it was my buttock that did the colliding. Rocks are known to be liars, that is why they are never called upon to testify in a court of law). The viewing platform at the waterfall made for a very welcome rest-stop and we waited there, the joyous birdsong from this morning turning to a sleepy sultry whisper but the sigh of the falls remaining constant, utterly oblivious to the impending snowfall, the gathering night, or the growing, dappled bruise on my bum-cheek.
If you are interested in doing other walks in the Wellington National Park here is a link to some of ours Wellington Falls via Disappearing Tarn.