Organ Pipes Circuit | Mount Wellington
Start - "The Springs" - Pinnacle Rd
Length - 9.3km (Loop)
Grade - Orange
Terrain - Single Track, Scree Fields
Vertical Climb - 474m
Time - 2-4 hours
Signed - Yes, Combines Several Tracks
Date Hiked - 25th October 2018
Best Time - All Year Round
Traditional Custodians - Nuenonne People
Directions - Located 20 minutes from the centre of Hobart, take the A6 and then Huon Rd towards Mount Wellington. Snake up this road for a while until you see the sign pointing you up towards the summit of Mount Wellington. The Springs is located on Pinnacle Road before the summit with the Lost Freight Cafe near the trail head.
The Hike - With the Three Capes Lodge Walk finished it was decided we would stick around Hobart for a few days and visit Caris' sister as she lived just out of the city centre (everything in Hobart is 20 minutes away). Given they are lucky to have a mountain plonked on the side of the CBD with some epic views of the Derwent River and surrounding hills, it would be a shame if I didn't explore the area and get in a few hikes. After a couple of days of chilling out and doing tourist stuff around Hobart I decided to check out one of the walks that I had been looking forward to doing ever since we had planned the trip over, the Organ Pipes Circuit.
Being a decent length, showing off some of the amazing features around Mt Wellington and providing some fantastic views was the reason I chose this one as what would be my only Hobart hike of the trip. Being without a car during our stay I was able to borrow Caris' dad's Suzuki van for the half hour drive up to starting point for the hike, The Springs. A cool little area that is home to a few trail heads, it felt very North American with a coffee shop, a stone cabin and lots of information boards. I liked it a lot and it had the feeling of a place where people would just come to relax and enjoy themselves in the outdoors, rather different from the tourist infested selfie stick bun fight at the summit (which we did on one day but it was super windy so we didn't stay long).
The Organ Pipes Circuit starts from the western side of Pinnacle Drive at one of the many informative boards in the area. I figured it would be easier to start closer to the actual Organ Pipes Track as the whole loop is a combination of different tracks so you'll need to be aware of the various trail junctions and which direction you need to go. Starting on the Pinnacle Track you are thrown into the climbing straight away as the track makes its way through thick tunnels of vegetation up towards the summit. The ascent is not super steep but it's long and enough to get your legs burning, taking your breath away every now and then (much like the views a bit later on).
Some beautiful stone stairs help your rhythm and a good collection of wildflowers in the scrub helps create an excuse to stop (not that you should need one to look at pretty flowers). The tunnels were doing a great job of blocking out the sunlight, along with the intermittent cloud cover, so this stretch was looking very photogenic and the details of the stone and old tree trunks weren't washed out. Breaks in the scrub provide a glimpse of the epic city views that become the norm further on and serve to build the excitement. A more sombre scene appears when you come across a small plaque marking the spot where a hiker had died competing in the "Go As You Please" race to the summit in 1903.
It's a good reminder that it wasn't all well maintained walking tracks up here and to be able to safely navigate around a network of trails is a nice luxury. The end of the sustained climbing stops at the trail junction where the Pinnacle Track and Organ Pipes Track meet. Follow the signs for the Organ Pipes Circuit (of course) and enjoy the flatter terrain as you begin the shuffle underneath the impressive dolerite pillars. Having seen similar structures from above and side on during the Three Capes, it was fun to see them from a different perspective, really appreciating their impressive height. A smattering of Pineapple Heath plants dotted the vegetation, bringing back more memories from the past week and serving to provide interesting focal points for the photos.
Initially the views of the Organ Pipes are partially blocked by the tree line so you only get limited views. As you move closer this changes and you are underneath these rising columns of ancient stone staring up as they jut out into the heavens. A popular area for climbers, there are warning signs about the risks of climbing in the area but I spotted a few locals up in the crevices enjoying the sheltered conditions that the Organ Pipes provide. My pace at this point was not quick at all given I had the marvel of the Organ Pipes to my left and the expansive views of Hobart and the Derwent River to my right. I had a brief period where there was minimal cloud cover above the pipes so furiously shot away trying to capture the whole thing in one panoramic (it only just fits).
Prying myself away from this spot was made better by the exposed track leading away from the Organ Pipes and towards The Chalet. Some of the best views from this trail are to be found here as the scree fields rolling down the mountain provides a lack of tree cover on the slopes. Feeling like the trail just skipped off the side of the mountain, there are some really cool spots here where you can soak it all in and let your gaze wonder from distant object to distant object. Along with the views down towards the city and river, the views to the north provided you with an unspoiled landscape that looked very similar to the views near the summit of Bluff Knoll. I love the sight of silhouetted hills and moody skies so was having a fantastic time photographing everything.
Heading back into the thicker vegetation revealed a small stream cutting its way through the rock and a bit further up a familiar smell peaked my interest. A sweet smoky aroma lingered on the afternoon air and I had a fleeting thought that they were doing prescribed burns (I am from WA). I rounded a corner and caught sight of The Chalet, an old hut that is now just an emergency shelter or a place to have a picnic. With views looking out over the Derwent River Valley, this is quite a cool little place on the edge of Pinnacle Drive and someone had left a small fire going in the fireplace. I wandered down expecting to find a group of people enjoying the warmth of the fireplace but the place was empty. Capturing some photos of this scene that could have been from 100 years ago (minus the green table), I had a quick look at the GPS and with this marking the end of the Organ Pipes Track I still had 5km to go.
Hoping it would be more than just an uneventful single track, I really should have had more faith in Tasmanian hikes. Heading onto Pinnacle Drive and locating the track on the other side, I headed down the rocky path and onto the second part of the hike. This is the beginning of a long descent from the peak of 1019m down towards the lowest point of the circuit at 626m and it is a very rocky affair. Skirting the edge of a scree field, this is a bit of preview to what is to come as you arrive at the intersection with the Hunters Track. Take the right hand turn and start following the Hunters Track as it heads back towards The Spring. Walking through some thick eucalypts, this was far from uneventful single track and soon it livened up a bit with a bit of rock hopping over the first big scree field.
Orange markers guide your way and I had good fun bouncing from rock to rock as I had done at Toolbrunup Peak (although this was much flatter). Stopping occasionally to look back up the side of mountain and photograph the grey clouds that had rolled in over the summit, this hike was taking longer than I had planned but I wasn't complaining with scenes like this. The scree fields go on for a while, sometimes containing larger boulders that require a bit more effort but nothing that someone with a bit of confidence on their feet couldn't handle quite easily. As you head back into the forest once more, you walk under a rock formation up the hill that would be fun to explore but the track doesn't take you near it.
As you approach the Junction Cabin, which is the meeting point for five separate trails, a green section full of thick grasses and ferns provides some colour to the hike. Arriving at the Junction Cabin I had a bit of a poke around, saying hello to the couple that were enjoying a good stretch inside before locating the Lenah Valley Track (southbound) that would be home all the way back to The Springs. I love the idea of a meeting point for trails where you can only walk in. In a world where vehicles dominate everywhere, this is a fun throwback that I would love to see in WA where forestry tracks dominate most of the South West. More lovely forest awaits you with the looming shadow of the Organ Pipes an ever present companion. This is the start of a damper section full of ferns, moss and thick Stringybarks with a winding trail guiding you to the finish. A sign appeared in the distance and points you down a side track towards Lone Cabin so I thought it was best to follow it.
This was a magical little detour that really takes you out of the hiking mindset and into somewhere different. It feels so different to the rest of the hike and is a little pocket where you can pretend that you are hiking through wild lands and stumbling across little cabins where you can rest for the night and warm your cold bones. With the light getting a little low I would have loved to have curled up next to a fire here but drew myself out of the my imagination and hiked back up the path to the proper track. Up ahead was a rocky section that would be host to a significant piece of Life of Py history, my first wild echidna sighting!!! To those that have followed me for any length of time will know that this is a big thing as I've never been fortunate enough to come across one and it became a bit of a running joke (I even saw a super rare numbat before I saw a relatively common echidna).
I was hoping to see one along the scree fields but it wasn't to be until coming across this very similar terrain provided me with this great opportunity. I spotted the echidna as it was scrambling away into the rocks and I didn't get the camera out quick enough to get a good shot but decided to take a shot of the dark spot it had settled in not knowing if was still there. In the edit I found out that it was there and the golden spikes still count as a sighting (I'm claiming it). With a skip in my step after finally getting the proverbial echidna off my back, the afternoon light was providing a great show to match my mood. I passed Rock Cabin, taking a few photos before heading towards the final highlight of the circuit, Sphinx Rock Lookout.
A short side trail, this cliff side lookout is protected by a pool fence so you know things get serious once you pass through it. The cliff can be a little hard to gauge sometimes but it is a long way down so be careful and don't fall down. This is the perfect way to finish the circuit as you get some final uninterrupted views back towards the Organ Pipes and an open expanse in which to enjoy the Derwent River Valley and Hobart. In the fading light I took my last photos of the great views and headed back onto the path towards The Spring. The final section provided some moody forest but given I was late for dinner I didn't stay for too long. I reached The Spring to find it completely empty so took a few more photos and called it a day. Pizza well earned after this fantastic hike.
Final Thoughts - I had this hike as a must do while I was in Hobart and it didn't disappoint one bit. The length was perfect, the variety of terrain was impressive and it did a really good job of making the most out of the highlights without cheapening them by providing easy access for the masses. If it wasn't for the one road crossing in the middle you wouldn't even know there was a road nearby, something I was worried about looking at the map before I did it.
Hobart is incredibly lucky to have such a fantastic mountain playground less than half an hour from the city centre and I'm sure I'll be back to explore all the other trails in the area. When I visited the Lost World track was closed due to damage but there is a plethora of trails to explore as you can see on the map at the top of the page if you scroll around.
My first wild echidna sighting was something special and I'll remember the moment for quite a while. It won't annoy me as much now when I see Instagram posts from hiking first timers posing with echidnas because I am now the echidna whisperer.
If you're in Hobart and looking for a challenging hike for fun then the Organ Pipes Circuit is one of the best day hikes I've ever done.
Get out there and experience it!
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