Tarn Shelf Circuit
Mount Field National Park
Directions - Located 90 minutes west of Hobart, take the Brooker Hwy north and follow the signs for New Norfolk. Pass through the town and follow the signs for Mount Field National Park. Drive up the winding road all the way to the car park at Lake Dobson.
The Hike - Waking up on the final hiking day of my Tasmanian adventure was a bit of a bittersweet affair. Having enjoyed three weeks away enjoying Daylesford, the Three Capes and then a week on my own exploring the Huon Valley and Mount Field, I was ready to head home and see the family again. I had one final hike to get through and that was the famous Tarn Shelf, a 15km loop taking in some of the most scenic views in the park and a great variety of terrain. One thing that could have potentially ruined my day was the weather forecast that was showing high winds, rain and later on that night, a blanketing of snow above 900m. With a bit of drizzle around when I woke up, I had another lovely homemade breakfast of fresh bread, eggs, muesli and coffee thanks to Greg and Patricia's kind-hearted hospitality.
Having a chat to Greg and Patricia, they said it could be dicey up there but still encouraged me to go after hearing about my adventures on the trip so far. Given the track is marked I didn't feel too bad if I got white-out conditions as sometimes they produce some excellent photos but I was secretly hoping that the wind would blow all the weather away pretty quickly. Driving out to Mount Field was again a pleasant experience with lots of small towns to pass through and the views of the mountains but Mount Field was shrouded in cloud as I arrived. Driving up the narrow road to the start at Lake Dobson was cool as the mist in the lower rainforest section provided a lot of atmosphere. I reached Lake Dobson and not surprisingly in this weather was the only car there. While it was grey and a little bit windy, the conditions weren't too bad so after checking out the Tassie Parks hut and signing in (also make sure you register at the visitor centre for alpine walks as you drive in), I made my way down to Lake Dobson to start the Pandani Grove section of the walk. One of the 60 Great Day Walks, this little loop track around Lake Dobson is great for visitors who want to experience the alpine Pandani plants in great numbers but don't want to do a big hike.
It's a fantastic experience and the best concentration of Pandani's I had seen in Tasmania so worth the drove up here just for this short loop. Walking through the thick jungle of these tropical looking plant was extremely fun in the moody conditions and there was so much more to see than just the Pandani's. Funky looking mosses and fungi's clung to weird places and it all different shapes and sizes. Walking along the lakes edge you were occasionally brought out of the deep shadows of the Pandani grove but then the track would take you back into the dark confines of the orange and green forest. As the Pandani shed their tough leaves and grow taller, the old leaves stick around for quite a while causing this amazing spectacle. Much like the Xanthorrhoea (grass tree) varieties of WA, this creates un unusual effect of the plant looking dead until your eyes reach the top and the spikey green and red section can be seen. At the end of Lake Dobson the Pandani Grove Track loops back around towards the car park but for me I was continuing on towards the Tarn Shelf via a few of the lower lying lakes and tarns.
Joining the 4x4 track that takes you up to the various ski lodges during the right time of the year, this was by far the least interesting part of the day. To compensate you are provided views of Eagle Tarn to your left and this makes it slightly more palatable. Luckily the road walking doesn't last very long and you are soon pointed into the forest to begin the gentle downhill stretch where you have the opportunity to take in a few side trails. The first of these came with a sign pointing you down towards Platypus Tarn. This one excited me a lot as seeing a platypus in the wild is something I wanted to experience on this trip and my efforts so far have not been successful. The track down to the edge of the tarn almost caught me out a few times with the overnight weather making it quite a slippery journey. I had expected the rocks to be the most dangerous so took caution but it was the exposed tree roots that had me sliding everywhere, some encased the track so much that you had no option but to place your weight evenly and hope for the best.
I made it with both ankles intact and started exploring the banks of the tarn for any signs of a sneaky platypus (bubbles on the surface are a good indicator I had read). Down in the protected area of the tarn the wind was still blowing quite a lot so if I was a platypus I wouldn't want to be near the surface either. I kept looking though and found the reedy section of the tarn that looked more suitable for feeding platypusi (not sure if that is the right plural). Staying very still I observed the water in the cold wind for a while but it wasn't to be for me that day. Climbing back up the path to join the main track I had an easier time getting up than walking down. The hike from here immerses you in the thick forest as you make your way past smaller tarns. The variety of wildflowers here was quite impressive and added some colour to the bleak overhead conditions. As you reached the smaller tarns the tree line opens up a little bit and you get the views across to the higher peaks across from Seal Lake.