Start - End of Hartz Rd
Length - 7.8km (Return)
Grade - Orange to Red
Terrain - Single Track, Boardwalk, Rock Scrambling
Vertical Climb - 402m
Summit - 1232m ASL
Time - 2-5 hours
Signed - Yes
Cost - National Park Fees Apply
Date Hiked - 29th October 2018
Best Time - Spring to Autumn
Directions - Located just over an hour from Hobart, take the Huon Hwy south until you reach Geeveston and turn right onto Arve Rd. Follow the signs towards Tahune until you reach the turnoff for Hartz Rd. Take this road all the way to the car park at the end of the mountain road.
The Hike - With a small sojourn to Arve Falls in the build-up to my hike up to Hartz Peak, I was ready to undertake one of the best day hikes in the area. Arriving at the car park I noticed a familiar van sitting there. A couple I had been following on Instagram as they travelled around Australia in their van was here at the same time. I knew they were in Tasmania at the same time but the odds of running into them was quite small. Wondering if I would see them on the hike, I was checking out one of the impressive buildings when Robbie and Isabelle rounded the corner and were surprised by this stranger asking if they were indeed Robbie and Isabelle. After a few pleasantries I left them to head back to their van and had a look around the large wood and glass structure that provides a shelter for hikers and tourists alike.
Registering my walk in the book (please do this, especially in inclement weather) and putting on the sunscreen as it was a bright and sunny day, I headed off into the thick undergrowth near the blue trail signs. With this area receiving quite a blanketing of snow a few days prior I was excited to get up to the summit and see if there was any left. I have previously seen snow on a family trip around Australia at Kosciuszko and Thredbo along with a couple of trips to England in the dead of winter but I'd never seen any while hiking. It's not something I was really expecting but it would be cool to see nonetheless. The first section of walking is on boardwalk to protect the trail and also I'm assuming to provide a less muddy experience for the shorter walks that can be done on the way to Hartz Peak.
A working dieback spray station is located just up the trail (you'll be amazed at how many of these in WA aren't in working order) and is vital in protecting this area from fungal diseases. Please spray and wipe you boots before moving on through the undergrowth. The trail leaves the boardwalk every now and then with much wetter and rockier ground underneath your feet. While the lusher feel is nice, you soon get out to the open plains with a small grove of stunted eucalyptus trees providing something interesting to the photos. Passing a small memorial to Arthur and Sidney Geeves who perished on the mountain during a prospecting tour in 1897, the track really opens up and you get some closer views of Devils Backbone that has been a looming presence since the beginning of the hike.
As the boardwalk winds its way through the thick alpine heath you find Hartz Peak comes into view, albeit looking like a tiny hill in the distance. With the Devils Backbone keeping me company I continued on and came across something that intrigued me quite a bit, a bit of wombat poop. The hilarious square shape gave it away and for the rest of the hike I was scanning the terrain for any sign of these iconic critters but alas it wasn't meant to be. At around the 1.5km mark you step off the new boardwalk section and traverse the more rustic and weathered looking boardwalk that was just rolled on the ground but has a better aesthetic appeal to it. With occasional broken or depressed sections leaving mud and water exposed, the trade-off is worth it. Approaching Lake Esperance the trail intersection is particularly muddy and with a couple blocking the way to the lake I decided to press on to Hartz Peak, which was the plan anyway to try and get better photos of the lake without staring directly into the sun.
Continuing on I revelled in the thick carpet of alpine heath filled with wildflowers, barely visible streams (until you passed over one) and the views that were getting better and better. As the landscape continued to open up and delight me, the feeling of isolation and a sense of being thrown back in time increased. This is mainly due to the weathered timber serving as boardwalk providing a visual clue that people have been walking in this area for quite a long time now and I'm just one of countless many that have had the pleasure of being on this track. A few wetter areas provided a chance to capture the stunning backdrop of Hartz Peak and Mount Snowy with an equally stunning foreground so the photographer inside of me was loving this (although a few more fluffy clouds in the distance wouldn't have gone astray).
Winding along the boardwalk it wasn't long before I reached Ladies Tarn and with the sun in a relatively good position for the photographing I decided to take the very short side trip down to the water. The path leading to the tarn is mainly smoothed rocks and as with most of the Tasmanian alpine vegetation, this gave it a very manicured Japanese rock garden feel. Once you reach Ladies Tarn it's very pleasant and being fed by nothing but snow melts and fresh rainwater, the water is perfectly clear. In the warm sunshine and with no one around I picked a rock to sit on and had a quiet moment soaking in the stillness and watching the lake for signs of life.
With just the final climb up to Hartz Peak to go I figured I had plenty of time to get up there, enjoy the summit and do the return leg well before the sun started to disappear. With great views of the summit from Ladies Tarn and a very rustic old sign providing a cool photo opportunity this was a pretty fun location to take a break at. Making my way back to the main track, this is the start of the climbing with 260m of vertical distance to cover in 1.5km to reach the summit. Right before you reach the uphill there is a much smaller tarn to the left that provided some even better shots of Hartz Peak and Mount Snowy (along with the cover photo for this hike).
The climb up to Hartz Peak is done in two sections with the first taking you through thick scrub up to Hartz Pass before making your way to the final rocky climb up to the summit. After such a long time exploring the open alpine plains it was a bit of a shock to the system entering the scrub but the beautiful Pandani plants made it worthwhile. The steep rock steps got the blood pumping for the later climbing and you are eventually rewarded when you emerge from the scrub in an exposed Pandani grove and get the sweeping views back towards Ladies Tarn and Lake Esperance. With the tiny boardwalk looking like an ants trail weaving its way through the terrain there is a real sense of accomplishment, even though this was just the beginning.
Arriving at Hartz Pass, this is where you join the ridge line that connects the Devils Backbone with Hartz Peak and Mount Snowy. Another rustic sign points you along the way to Hartz Peak and from here you will be following orange markers that have either been bolted to the rocks or placed strategically on posts. Even without the markers you can see the well worn trail and it is not overly difficult to navigate the rocky sections (although snow would make this a much harder prospect). Passing a few rocky outcrops with interesting boulder formations, some round, some jagged, you get your first views down to Hartz Lake and across to the various mountain ranges of the Southwest Wilderness Area with Federation Peak being the main one that draws your attention. Small alpine flowers, skinks and various crickets/grasshoppers provided a good reason to look down occasionally and revel in the details of this harsh landscape, although today I think the place was enjoying a bit of holiday with the pleasant conditions.
Rounding the western side of the peak you get to fully immerse yourself in the wonderful views out towards the Arthurs Range (a place I really want to get to in the future) and the craggy peaks that dot the horizon. With the wilds of South-West Tasmania on full display, the climb up to Hartz Peak seemed like a viewing platform to a much more intrepid and spectacular region of the world. With the trail snaking back eastwards and towards the summit, the peak was starting to look like a giant pile of rubble. With only the scree fields left to tackle, picking a way through the rocks became a fun exercise in stability as you bounce around looking for the next cairn. Towards the top of the climb where you reach a smaller jagged set of rocks before the final push to the summit I noticed something white sitting in one of the rock crevasses.
Having had a very sunny day and the last snowfall a few days prior I had hoped for snow but didn't expect it, more so the closer I got to the summit and saw nothing but dry rocks. The barest hint of snow here made me smile and it was no bigger than a small handful in the deepest of sheltered rocks but I still counted it. The trail heads south on the last scramble up to the summit and soon I was at the large Antipodean Opaleye nest that marks the tallest point of Hartz Peak. With superb weather conditions and next to no wind I don't think I could have asked for better conditions for my visit. With full 360 degree views including a proper look at nearby Mount Snowy and Emily and Arthurs Tarns below, I spent a good amount of time here just admiring the views and soaking it all in. For those that aren't experiencing the same calm conditions I was, there are a couple of rock walls that provide shelter from the winds.
Built around remnants of a previous structure (there is steel and concrete still up here), I'm guessing it was mostly likely something to do with communications or observation. I found some more snow up here, which I picked up and tried to do some arty shots with (and failed miserably). With too long to wait for sunset I decided to head back down the mountain and with a visit to Lake Esperance still on the cards, this would add a little something extra to the journey. Enjoying the stunning scenery for the final time as I descended down the rocks and through the Pandani lined scrub, I was soon at the turnoff for Lake Esperance. The bigger of the two tarns you can get close to on the hike, there is a suitably bigger set of infrastructure here to enjoy a break on. Winding boardwalk takes you all the way down to the waters edge with a few sets of white bench seats to sit on, this was quite the idyllic place in the late afternoon.
With no one else around I just laid back on the boardwalk for a little rest and then spent the rest of my stay here on my belly trying to capture the place from different angles. If someone else came along at that point they would have been quite perplexed at what I was doing. With my fill of Lake Esperance photos I eventually dragged myself away and enjoyed the final stretch back towards the car park. The late afternoon sun was providing a lovely finish to the hike as the Snow Gums were contrasting nicely in the softer light. I arrived back to an empty car park (the hike had been very much a solo effort apart from seeing a couple at Lake Esperance early on) so hoped the journey back down the mountain was a quiet one. After a very near miss with a wallaby, I stopped the car to check for damage/injured wallabies but didn't find either so must have avoided a collision. With the golden sunlight streaming through the forest canopy I did an impromptu photo shoot of the Mitsubishi Outlander before heading back to my AirBnB.
Final Thoughts - Hartz Peak was a hike I had been looking forward to when I was planning this trip, mainly because it was more of a challenge than most of the day hikes I had planned up until this point and represented the first of the true alpine hikes.
It certainly didn't disappoint thanks to the near perfect weather conditions but I feel I would have enjoyed it just as much had it been cloudier and moodier. Being able to experience the great views towards the wilder peaks of the Arthurs Range was a big plus of the clear weather and had me dreaming of bigger adventures in that area.
On the whole this was a great hike that was challenging enough and confirmed some things about WA hiking that had me concerned before my Tassie trip. Despite being 1232m ASL, the vertical climb from start to finish was much less than most of the peaks in the Stirling Range so it is nice to know they still stand out as decent climbs.
Apart from the very top of Bluff Knoll though, it can't compete with the alpine terrain and the amazing tarns and flora that dot the landscape. There is something very enjoyable to walking in the exposed alpine plains, more so when the wind is light as it feels like walking on another world.
Hartz Peak has long stretches like this between Lake Esperance and Ladies Tarn and I think this sets it apart. Once you reach the rocky part of the climb it still feel special but also much the same as any other exposed peak of the same difficulty.
All in all this was an amazing experience that I enjoyed quite thoroughly. If you are planning this hike then be careful of the conditions as I seem to have caught it in perfection. If there are strong winds or snow near the summit this adds an extra element of danger so consult with the ranger before heading up.
Get out there and experience it!
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