Mount Donaldson

Start - Savage River Bridge, Off Norfolk Road

Length - 9km (Return)

Grade - Orange

Terrain - Single Track

Vertical Climb - 434m

Time - 3-5 Hours

Signed - Yes

Date Hiked - 18th April 2021

Best Time - All Year Round

Traditional Custodians - Peerapper People

Directions - Starting just outside of Corinna and located three and a half hours west of Launceston, there is only one unsealed road in and out. From the Tarkine Hotel head north along Corinna Road until you reach the turn for Norfolk Road. Turn left and keep going until you reach the bridge over the Savage River. The parking area is on the other side and around the corner where you will find a few information boards on the opposite side of the road leading into the forest.   

The Hike - With our time in Corinna coming to an end, I still had one more hike left that I wanted to do and it was the summit track up to the top of Mount Donaldson. The next leg of the trip involved driving from Corinna up the coast towards Arthur River and the location the final stop for Caris and I. Luckily Mount Donaldson was on the same road that we would take out of Corinna but not everyone was keen to join me. In the end it was decided that I would be doing it solo and so we had to shuffle some of the gear around between the two cars so Caris could fit in Hal's Mercedes SUV. 

After such an enjoyable time spent in Corinna doing hikes like the Savage River Walk, Whyte River Track and Old Telegraph Hill, this would be the last adventure on the itinerary that would cap off an amazing visit. It's not a long drive to the starting point along the narrow and winding unsealed roads that lead in and out of Corinna so I was soon parked up at the small clearing that serves as the car park for the walk. With some sketchy weather forecast for the day, I loaded up my wet weather gear into my pack and set off to take in the views from the bridge over the Savage River first. I had a brief encounter with this river a couple of days prior when I sat on a wooden pontoon and admired the gentle waters on the Savage River Walk so it was nice to see it a bit further upstream. With a mountain/hill to climb, plus a drive out to Arthur River on winding and rough roads, I thought it best to start my adventure. A continued theme for these west coast hikes was that the trail head contained little fanfare but were the beginning of something very special. This one at least had a couple of extra information boards to accompany the wooden walker sign pointing you in the right direction.

 

One tells you about the early prospecting in the area while the other talks about the infamous Tasmanian Tiger, the Buttongrass plains and the fire ecology starting with the First Nations people through to today. I was more interested in the second board so gave it a quick read before starting the hike. Hoping to see a Tassie Tiger but being a bit realistic about my chances, I would be happy with a pleasant hiking experience and maybe some clear weather at the top given the sprinkling of rain that had been around most of the morning. After crossing a small creek, you join a wide trail leading through the forest that I assume was once used as a management track but has since been reclaimed by the forest. The width of the trail certainly made for a different experience compared with other walks in the area but the open nature was still enjoyable nonetheless. Lining the trail and forming a barrier of sorts was a line of regrowth trees that was fun to photograph, along with some early fungi finds. One of them looked like a meringue with a smaller, crispy meringue on top and made me feel a bit hungry for dessert (possibly Mycenastrum corium or Gaestrum triplex). 

Meandering along the wide track, my eyes were scanning the edge of the trail for more fungi and in the damp leaf litter there were many to be found. Every now and then when the trail closed up a little and some more mature forest was visible, there were fallen logs with bracket fungi making a home. With over 400m of vertical ascent to cover in the 4.5km hike to the summit, this is more a gradual climb than a short and sharp affair, which is nice because the gradient never feels like you are working too hard. Eventually the wide track starts to narrow permanently and it feels like every other amazing trail in Tassie. With a more enclosed feeling, you wind your way through the lower forests that are full of ferns, fungi, damp places and plenty of musky smells. Every now and then you can tell that you've climbed a bit further when a fallen log has cleared a path on the slopes and the views looking down are clear. Reaching a series of little hairpins, the transition to drier eucalyptus forest becomes apparent as the canopy thins out and the thicker understory plants start to line the edge of the trail.

Feeling more like a climb now the scenery was starting to change, I was excited to continue on and see what else this trail had in store. While the forest hikes had been some of the best of the whole trip with their magical shroud and ancient trees, I was looking forward to something different and the possibility of seeing the area from a higher vantage point. Looping around another hairpin, this was the moment where the smooth trunked eucalyptus trees started to appear in greater numbers. This was much more familiar terrain as it felt like a mix between the Karri and Jarrah forests that I get back home in Western Australia, an odd feeling after being in the temperate rainforests and alpine scenery of Tasmania for the past couple of weeks. Switching between narrow corridors of thick undergrowth and the occasional clearing where a tree had succumbed to the elements, this stretch is where I got my first, albeit limited, views of the forest lining the river. The further I walked, the better the views became until I could see some pretty cool scenes of the mists rising up through the trees.

The eucalyptus forest was a short transition and soon I was out in the open with shoulder height plants growing thick along the edge of the trail, providing plenty of opportunity to gaze out over the landscapes to the south and east. These plants had a variety of flowers in bloom, so I took some time to photograph each one as I continued to climb up the hill. This trip had not been full of flowers so far so it was a nice change and a little unexpected for autumn. The trail itself started to change as I reached this point with the mud and leaf covered ground being replaced with a rocky consistency, something I would wish would last the further I climbed up. Some of the bigger chunks were fascinating to see, looking more like marble with the black lines mixing in with the predominately white and peach colouring. As with all hilly hikes where you walk up open sections, the views kept getting better and better, so I kept having to remind myself not to stop and take a million photos on the lower slopes because I would end up getting better views the more I climbed. Reaching the Banksias, I found plenty in bloom and they provided a nice splash of colour to the beginning of the grassy plains.

Up ahead I could start to make out the hilly slopes that I assumed was the summit but couldn't quite tell as it didn't look high enough for the amount of walking I had left to reach the summit. My gaze kept wandering to what was behind me  as I could now see the Pieman River below and the seemingly endless forests that extends all around this stunning part of the world. With the rain clearing up slightly, I was treated to a smol rainbow arching over the river and it put a smile on my dial. I had to practice quite a bit of self control here as there were so many great views or moments to capture, from the wide angle views of the swathes of green to the close ups of mists rising up through the taller trees poking out of the canopy. It made selecting photos for this post hard as I wanted to include them all but for the sake of variety, I only kept a moderate amount in here. Arriving at what seemed like a junction in the trail, I soon figured out the wide rocky trail ahead was more of a creek/drain and so chose the path to the left that continued to wind up the hill. 

This started the final climb up to the summit through the barren looking Buttongrass plains, at least compared to the lush and diverse forests that the hike starts in. The rains had started once again so the photos were a bit bleak looking all the way up to the summit but I still managed to get the camera out every now and then. Adding to the bleakness were the distant views of mining operations to the east. The Tarkine is not a protected wilderness and there is always pressure to rip up the forests for more mines, forestry and other activities. A lot of the conservation effort in Tasmania is concentrated here and it's a shame that it's such a struggle to protect these areas in a time of climate change and deforestation. Moving on, I had other challenges ahead thanks to the rocky trail changing to more of a muddy and flooded bog in places. Picking a line that didn't involve stepping off trail or into a shin deep puddle was difficult and so every step was measured as I picked a rock to jump on or hoped that my foot wouldn't be engulfed in thick mud. It made this stretch feel a lot longer than it was but eventually I reached the first of two big turns as the trail snakes up to the summit.

With limited views thanks to the rain and low clouds, I was hoping the winds would blow the weather over and I could get some clear shots from the summit. Wondering where the summit was, I kept going and figured that it would be like my first post of Bluff Knoll for the website where the clouds were with me for most of the hike until a small section of the descent. It didn't make for a pretty post and was eventually corrected but there is a good chance I may not be back here for decades, if ever, so I was really hoping for some good luck weather wise. Rounding another bend, it cleared up enough for me to spot the final hill and I was relieved that it didn't look too far away. The winds and rain continued to be fierce so I took solace in the Banksias that had reappeared through this section before tackling the final climb. The summit is a bit of a scraggly affair with a metal pole in the ground, some concrete, scattered items and stuck to the pole is what looks like a good place to house a microwave. Unfortunately someone had stolen the microwave so no summit snacks for me, instead I wandered around and waited for the clouds to blow over.