Where we went: ‘The Needles’; Southwest National Park
When we went: Late winter 2020
Estimated time to complete walk: 2-4 hours
Times spent on walk: 3 hours, 45 minutes
Grade of walk: low level 4
‘The Needles’ in the Southwest National Park is one of the best hidden gems that Tasmania has to offer. This short walking trail, recommended for experienced hikers, is perfectly situated in the middle of a series of stunning, rugged mountain ranges and untouched forest wilderness. To add to its overall appeal the trail passes through a collection of foreboding, jagged rocky outcrops from which the walk derives its name. The views of Saw Back Range, Lake Gordon, Mt Field and the Southwest National Park are unrivalled. What makes The Needles so singularly spectacular is its relative accessibility. A reasonable 1¾ hour drive from Hobart will see you to your destination which Sommelier describes as “the North end of the Southwest National Park.” (this is not information that I, myself, am able to compute, and I’m still not 100% certain that this is a real direction), but it is a short drive from the Mount Field Visitor Centre, along highway B61.
The track begins at the sign that reads “Highest Point on Road…” on the Gordon River Road. There is a small carpark there, but no amenities of any kind so do your ablutions and parks-pass checking at the Mount Field visitor centre. Across the road from the carpark there is a cairn and a pink plastic ribbon which signals the start through what was once a small banksia grove.
This area was devastated by fire in late 2018, and The Needles is one of the few burned areas that has reopened since. Revegetation is going well, and it is fascinating to see the resilience of the Australian bush in action, but it is crucial to avoid stepping on any plants as they are especially vulnerable, and soil erosion is a real risk.
We found it much easier to navigate in the now rather sparse vegetation thanks to the ribbons being more easily visible, but it should be noted that this entire trail is marked only with cairns and ribbons. There are no boarded or remotely manicured areas of any kind. We found it to be very muddy, which is a risk one takes when travelling in winter and shortly after heavy rainfall. We recommend packing gaiters if you have them (and walking sticks if you have those too).
The walker’s logbook is located just after a sharp right-hand turn in the burned banksias, just before the longest flat stretch you will come across this entire walk. We logged our walk and texted a friend with our plans for extra safety. The path continues to the left after the aforementioned short flat section and is marked with a rusty star-picket with a blue and pink plastic ribbon attached.
We slipped and slid our way through burned, regrowing, gum trees. The lush green stood in stark juxtaposition against the burned, blackened trunks. New, brilliant green button grass shoots breathed new life into the black and orange of the ground.
Our hands were sooty when we sloshed our muddy way out into the open plains of the next tier of the walk. Here the way is steep and brilliant white boulders jut sharply out of the hillside. The tantalising prospective views start to come into focus through the skeletons of the trees. The first (of three) rocky outcrops before the summit was visible just over the ridgeline, nestled among the grasses, and we reached it after a little over half an hour of muddy trudge.
The track is very narrow, but the increase in rocks across it greatly improved our ability to gain footing as we continued up the hill after a long photography break. After this first rock-pile there is something of a plateau (relative to the rest of the way so far) where we were bombarded by strong, icy winds, but the sun was still shining, and we were comfortable in our winter walking gear. The path tracks slightly to the right as it weaves through the ankle-height skeletons of manuka trees and the second outcrop comes into view ahead. The path moves around it.
From the second outcrop the third and final one is visible and easily reached. It is the spring-board that launched us further to the right and along a quick, rocky mud scramble to the summit. Wind-swept, sooty, and muddy up to our knees (in Sommelier’s case, my mud was contained to no higher than my ankles #humblebrag) we stood in absolute awe at the tapestry of wilderness below us. The snow-capped mountains surrounding us glistened in the brilliant winter sunlight and the orange and black scars on the landscape were finally outnumbered by the soft greens of new beginnings. Forest sprawled below us, interrupted only by the deep pool of Lake Gordon, formed in a crook in the ranges of wild Tasmania. A pair of wedge tailed eagles soared over the canopy in the far distance.
We stayed for lunch (bread and butter from the Agrarian Kitchen takeaway window and local honey from a roadside stall with a few squares of limited edition Federation Chocolate gin infused dark chocolate) before heading back down the steep, toothy mountain face.
We do not own walker’s sticks (although we are now definitely planning on investing in some), and we slid, unceremoniously, most of the way down yelling “oh dear!” as we went (only we didn’t say ‘dear’). So slippery was the way that we developed a game of keeping the mud off our butts (cleanest butt at the end wins), which got very competitive once we returned to the very steep, very muddy, bottom tier of Mount Mueller. I am pleased to report that neither of us muddied our butts and, while the mud did reach our ankles on more than one occasion, we were otherwise completely unscathed. The short, flat section just after the star-picket housed a small, clean rivulet and we took the opportunity to wash our boots a little before we got back to the car. We were the invigorated kind of tired by the end (rather than straight-up exhausted) and in very good spirits as we watched the sun set over Lake Pedder. We saw no one else the entire way, and were the only walkers to log our hike that entire week. If you are looking to dip your toe into the untouched wilderness of Tasmania, or just after some solitude on a mountain, then you can’t go wrong with The Needles.