Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Organ Pipes Circuit (Wellington Park)

An excellent circuit walk close to the City of Hobart, the Organ Pipes Circuit explores the best sections of bushwalking on Mount Wellington's eastern face. Starting at the Springs, the track ascends to the Organ Pipes - a series of sheer Dolerite cliffs - before descending further down the mountain along a path filled with boulder fields and heritages huts. One of Tasmania's Great Short Walks, this is a perfect day walk for visitors in Hobart

Distance: 8 km (loop)
Gradient: A mix of gentle, level walking and steep descents and ascents
Quality of Path: Generally clear and well maintained trail with constructed steps. Some sections feature natural surfaces through rocky terrain. 
Quality of Signage: Clear and easy to follow trailhead, with clear markers at trail junctions indicating time to next landmark. The circuit uses a number of shorter tracks linked together to complete a loop - it is advised to study the map before undertaking the walk so you know the names of all the circuit's constituent parts
Experience Required: Some Bushwalking Experience Recommended
Time: 3-4 Hours
Steps: Many steps, particularly leading up to the Organ Pipes and descending down to Junction Cabin
Best Time to Visit: All year round. Heavy rains or snow can close the park due to landslips so check for weather and closures.
Entry Fee: No
Getting There: The trail starts at the Springs. From Hobart, take Huon Rd (Route B64) and then turn right onto Pillinger St to enter the Park as it becomes Pinnacle Rd. The Springs are clearly marked along the ascent of the mountain. 

After finishing up our time at Mount Field National Park, Alissa and I had a lovely rest day in Hobart checking out the incredible Agrarian Kitchen for lunch and visiting Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary. The next day, Alissa and I drove out to check out one of Hobart's most beloved attractions - Wellington Park. Reaching a massive 1271 metres above sea level - higher than any mountain in Western Australia - Mount Wellington is an iconic part of Hobart culture, and is the focal point for bushwalking, rock climbing and cycling in the area. My plan for Mount Wellington was to tackle the well regarded Organ Pipe Circuit as it is another one of those 'Little Donny' bucket list items I've wanted to see since I was a kid. But first - with fine weather, Alissa and I drove all the way to the summit of Mt Wellington to check out the spectacular views.

The summit is well designed for casual tourists, with an excellent lookout on the cliff edge that is out in the open, as well as a fairly impressive enclosed facility that was a great refuge from the intensely cold winds blowing across the mountain. 

Being a walker rather than a casual tourist, I felt like I had to do at least a bit of walking and climbed up to the summit cairn so I could say that I really did go right up the summit of Mt Wellington! After this bludge of a mountain walk, Alissa and I drove back down to the Springs area to start the Organ Pipes Circuit. 

We had seen signs along the road indicating that some tracks were currently closed and my worst fears were realised when we got the car park - the Pinnacle Track - which is used to start the Organ Pipe Circuit - was closed! Dejected, Alissa and I began to brainstorm ideas for what else we could do when we realised that there is such an extensive network of trails in the area that instead of using the Pinnacle Track, we could walk along the Lenah Valley Track, turn left up the Sawmill Track and join the Organ Pipes Track. This looked like a reasonable enough way for us to do the circuit given the circumstances. 

As a result of the deviation, this first stretch of the walk up until the Organ Pipes Track itself will differ from the usual experience as we headed out from Trackhead 2 towards Sphinx Rock first. The forest in the immediately vicinity of The Springs car park is filled with thin, dense trees that look like the kind of woods that you might expect to see in a dark fairy tale. 

These thin trees don't last long however, and very soon Alissa and I were walking along pleasant dry Eucalypt forest as we made our way towards the Sphinx Rock lookout. 

Accessed from a spur, the trail to Sphinx Rock builds up anticipation as the signs warn of severe cliff risks and even feature a swimming pool-style gate blocking the path to prevent children from accidentally running to the cliff. Given all this, Alissa and I were fairly underwhelmed by the views from Sphinx Rock as the trees obscured the views of Hobart. This is not an essential place to visit if you're in Wellington Park and hoping to get a glimpse of Hobart. 

Turning around to walk back to the main track, the views of Mt Wellington were a lot more impressive, and I could clearly see the sheer cliffs of the Organ Pipes. This got me excited, while it highlighted for Alissa how much of an ascent was in our future. 

A short distance after the Sphinx Rock junction, the Sawmill Track rises steeply up the mountainside along a rugged, rocky track. At this point Alissa looked at the track and was just not feeling it. After five days straight of walking she didn't really feel up for a challenge and decided to go back to the car and chill out in the park at the Springs will I completed the loop. 

The Sawmill Track crosses the road to the summit, with the trail picking up just to the right. Walkers should keep an eye and ear out for cars coming around the bend as they make their way to the other side. 

The rest of the Sawmill Track was even rockier and steeper than the section before the road crossing, and it definitely got the heart pumping. Alissa would not have been into this as she specifically said she didn't feel like a steep, rocky track so it was probably the right decision for her to pull the pin. 

The cliffs of the Organ Pipes came into the view through the trees as the Sawmill Track connected to the Organ Pipes Track.

Wanting to be a completist, I decided to initially head to the left and go all the way to the start of the Organ Pipes Track. I decided that this was a mistake as the Organ Pipes largely disappear the further along I went, and the views up the mountain are not particularly impressive. Heading back to the trail junction, In continued along the recently refurbished trail heading north along the Organ Pipes. 

The Organ Pipes were definitely imposing sheer walls of Dolerite rock, however having been utterly blown away by the Tarn Shelf Circuit on Mount Field just two days earlier, I couldn't help but feel a little less impressed by the Organ Pipes. This was probably because I'd seen similar formations on Cradle Mountain, Mt Ossa and Pine Valley, while the Tarn Shelf Circuit's mix of tarns and autumn leaves were a completely new and exciting experience. Looking back at the photos, my initial jaded impression was probably a bit harsh as this really is an amazing wall of cliffs. 

As you'd expect from such an incredible natural wall, this is a popular place for rock climbing. A number of short access tracks lead up to the base of the Organ Pipes. The rock climbing here is supposed to be superb but challenging, and is just another example of why Tassie is just brimming with adventure opportunities for outdoorsy people of all persuasions. I doubt any other major city in Australia has such an impressive crag only a short distance away!

Wanting to have a better look at the Organ Pipes, I decided to head up one of the rock climber tracks for a short distance so I could get a photo of the cliffs without the trees in the way. While I succeeded in getting a photo without trees, the view was not markedly different and wasn't really worth the extra effort. 

Back on the main Organ Pipes Track, the track went past a mix of Snow Gums and Alpine Yellow Gums that provided a lovely feature along the track. Also of note were the large number of young Pandani along the trail that indicated that the area had been burnt by fire in the not so distant past. 

Continuing along the Organ Pipes Track, the views of the Organ Pipes themselves diminished the further along I went, with the view becoming totally obscured later along the the walk. 

That being said, the view down to Hobart got better and better, with some truly superb views towards the northern end of the walk. 

As the Organ Pipes Track continues to its end point, the track provides views of the surrounding mountains and shows that the Organ Pipes-style sheer cliffs are not unique to Mount Wellington as the neighbouring Mount Arthur also has a similar set of sheer cliffs. 

The Organ Pipes Track finishes at The Chalet - a fairly elaborate picnic area with a well constructed stone shelter and a barbecue. The Chalet is in a weird place in the middle of no where, with only a nearby spring giving and indication of why this area was chosen for such an extravagant construction. 

From the Chalet, the Organ Pipes Circuit continues across the road as it uses the Hunters Track to reach Junction Cabin. The first bit of the walk is a fairly steep descent that leads to a track junction. Clear signage at this point give walkers clear navigational information that they should turn right to continue onwards to Junction Cabin. 

The walking along the Hunters Track is quite interesting as it passes through a number of large boulder fields. One of these fields is considerably larger than any other along the circuit, and it makes for quite an enjoyable rock hop through the boulder field following the orange markers. 

Away from the boulder fields, the track enters and area of Eucalyptus forest that looked amazingly similar to walking in the dry Jarrah forests back home in Western Australia. This forest walking was punctuated with some cool views of nearby rock formations and a section of reedy plants before reaching Junction Cabin. 

The tradition of huts in Tasmania is rich and varied, and Mount Wellington is no exception. Unlike the wooden huts of the Overland Track and Walls of Jerusalem Circuit, the huts along the Organ Pipes Circuit are all constructed out of stone. While I'm sure that overnighting in these buildings is discouraged, they are quite impressive structures that would be superior to most facilities at campsites in Australia. 

Inside Junction Cabin is picnic table and benches, as well as a well constructed fireplace. While it is not really a place to stay, I guess the cold of winter in Hobart necessitates a fire and this would make a great picnic spot for the colder months. 

After appreciating Junction Cabin, I continued on my way along the Lenah Valley Track which would lead me back to the Springs. 

Along the way, a fairly makeshift sign indicates a side trip along the way to another hut. I decided to investigate and found myself at Lone Cabin. A lot less impressive than Junction Cabin, Lone Cabin features an open side where a window may have been in the past, but also features a fireplace and some wooden stump seats for visitors to take some shelter from the elements. 

Back on the main track, the walking was relatively level but again featured a couple of sections walking through boulder fields. 

Looking up through the forest, I was conscious of the fact that this was probably one of the same boulder fields that run all the way from the Organ Pipes and that I'd probably crossed other sections at earlier stages of the walk. 

The final hut along the walk was Rock Cabin. This was of a quality level between Junction Cabin and Lone Cabin, but again featured a fireplace and good bench seating. 

From Rock Cabin, it was only a short walk to the Sphinx Rock Junction and back through the woods to the Springs where I caught up with Alissa as she lay half asleep on the lawn. 

At the time I walked the Organ Pipes Circuit, I was perhaps a little jaded but the splendour of the Walls of Jerusalem Circuit, the Lady Barron Falls Circuit and the Tarn Shelf Circuit. As a result, I probably underrated the Organ Pipes Circuit immensely. In hindsight, this is a really excellent walk that is high accessible to locals and visitors the Hobart. When you're talking about Tasmania it is easily to lose sight of the bigger picture as the highs of the big ticket items like Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park and Freycinet National are seriously top tier national parks. To put it into perspective, the Organ Pipes Circuit would outclass just about any bushwalk that is close to the City of Perth by some margin. It is definitely worthy of being considered one of Tasmania's Great Short Walks and a good choice for visitors in Hobart looking for an enjoyable day walk nearby. 


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