Start - Off Gordon River Road
Length - 2.9km (Return)
Grade - Red
Terrain - Single Track, Mud
Vertical Climb - 366m
Summit - 1046m ASL
Time - 1-3 Hours
Signed - Yes
Date Hiked - 6th April 2021
Best Time - All Year Round (Take Care in Winter)
Traditional Custodians - Lairmairrener People
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 Westerway and then Mount Field National Park. Pass through Maydena and the car park is 17km along Gordon River Road on the right hand side. Look for the "Highest Point on Road" sign, park in the gravel car park and the trail starts on the southern side of the road (there is a small cairn and pink tape at the opening).
The Hike - With a few hikes under my belt on this latest Taswegin visit including a re-hike of the Lady Barron Falls Circuit and an epic day on Mount Field West, I was beginning to run out of trails in Mount Field National Park. One trail that I had earmarked as a must hike while planning for this trip was The Needles, a short but sharp hike taking you past some outstanding geological features to the summit where magnificent views could be had. The legs were a little sore after my 20km hike up Mount Field West so I spent the morning with Caris as we explored Junee Cave and then headed back to the town of New Norfolk to have a better look around.
With beautiful weather forecast for the afternoon, I made a decision to drive out today instead of doing this one on the way to our next stop at Lake Pedder. It's about a 30 minute drive west of Mount Field National Park and was a hike I didn't have time for on my previous visit. It looked spectacular from the guidebook I had of Tassie day walks along with the TasTrails page, which hilariously refers to the experience like this..."offers uninterrupted panoramic views from rugged mountainous terrain with minimal physical exertion required". The last half of that statement would catch out the other members of our travelling party a few days later when they decided to do it based on this advice (I had told them otherwise). Arriving at the road sign that marks where you should park, I found one other car there and parked nearby. The start of the track is quite hard to find if you don't know where it is to begin (which both info sources I was using made very clear). Locating the small cairn on the opposite side of the road and familiar pink tape that Tassie trails love to use, I headed into the scrub to begin the climb. I was aware that there was a sharp right turn at the beginning and when I reached the end of a vehicle track, a right turn appeared. After a bit of exploration and not seeing a proper track up the hill, I surmised that I had been an idiot and missed the turn.
I was correct as when I backtracked, the obvious turn was there and a walker registration box clearly visible from this vantage point (not so obvious when starting out). I signed in and started up the 1.5km climb towards the summit. The guide book I was using described flowering heath and tea trees but what I experienced was a graveyard thanks to the bushfires that ripped through the South West a couple of years ago. It provides a stark and contrasting landscape to photograph as you ascend but I'd much rather a healthy undergrowth that will unfortunately take a while to come back. A little further down the track you reach another small turn and this begins what can be a tough climb in places. The lower slopes were a bit muddy on my visit and this made stepping up the incline a little harder as you have to plan your next step very carefully. With sore muscles from my Mount Field West climb the previous day, the gradient was relentless on this first section, ranging between 25% up to 40% in places. Luckily the views up this early section are quite pretty looking at the rocky spires above and along the Florentine River Valley. Leaving the mud behind it was just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other and negotiating some rocky steps that sometimes required an extra big stride to get up.
Passing the first of many rocky spires that jut out of the hillside like fallen ruins, it's a nice opportunity to stop and take a few photos. While I hadn't covered a lot of distance, the gap between myself and the car park below looked pretty large and would only get bigger. The largest of the exposed rocky sections is to your left and looks really stunning as you first stare up at it, then slowly draw level with the bulky behemoth. The Needles are given their name from these jagged formations and it's quite an experience walking through them as you climb the increasingly steeper track. Passing the second formation on the righthand side, I was now high enough to see clearly out to Lake Gordon to the west. A nice taster of the area we'd be exploring over the coming days, I concentrated on the last little bit of the steep climbing. The track hits a saddle about halfway up and you make a slight right turn as you pass through the bigger ruins. The summit comes into view for the first time since you were at the car park and it was giving off very strong Weathertop vibes from The Fellowship of the Ring. With the end goal in sight, the track looked somewhat flatter but in reality there are still some steady 35% gradient sections to come.
I stopped for a break here and admired the views towards Mount Field East and Tim Shea that was looking a bit small in comparison. This view of Mount Field West was much more imposing than the one I had climbing onto the plateau between it and Naturalist Peak the previous day. As I was taking my break I noticed the occupants of the other car coming back down the hill and so I cleared off the track and let them through. We exchanged pleasantries and I started up the hill again for the final assault to the summit. With Weathertop getting larger and larger, I kept saying to myself that it wasn't too much longer. Mercifully the elevation flattened out and I was presented with the remains of what I assume were some nice looking plants but now were sadly just white sticks in the ground. They did look striking and create something different to photograph but I would have loved to have seen what was there before. This flat section turns right and you are presented with the final view up to the summit and an obvious ridgeline that from a distance looked like some scrambling would be involved. Up here the views to the south open up and Mount Mueller is the most impressive peak in the immediate area.
With one last push to go, I was keen to get to the top and experience the 360 degree views of what was already an impressive area climbing up. As I reached the ridge leading up to the summit, the mountain ranges to the south came into view and wow what a vista. Way in the distance was the highest point in Tasmania, Mount Anne, and the surrounding peaks on the eastern shores of Lake Gordon. The path wound its way up to the rocky flanks of the peak and the drop off to the right became a little more pronounced. I was here on a clear and windless day so there wasn't a great risk of falling unless I had a big trip on one of the rocks but if the weather isn't on your side then this is a section you need to take care with. There are some step ups that are bigger than others and will require long legs or a free hand to push yourself up but all in all, the way to the summit is fairly easy. A cairn is waiting at the top and from this vantage point you are treated to some truly awe-inspiring views across the vastness of South West Tasmania. I dropped my pack and had a bit of a wander around the relatively flat summit section, soaking in the different views in each direction. I don't think I could have asked for better weather on this hike and the visibility was fantastic all the way around. As usual, I snapped a million photos and then took some time to sit down and relax.
While I was taking photos of the summit cairn I noticed a large ant (possibly a mythical jack jumper I heard about from the Bay of Fires guides but not seen). I got a quick shot of it crawling around the literal high point of the climb and then settled back into clicking away at the distant mountains and shimmering waters of Lake Gordon. The car park is visible from the top and the hire car we had looked like a tiny spec in the distance. The path you have just taken to get up here is visible and it does look every bit as steep as it felt climbing up. The large rocky ruins don't seem as imposing from up here but that changed as I grabbed my pack and made my way down. With the warmth of the afternoon sun on my skin, I started descending and felt every step as my quads were crying out with every step. Descending isn't my favourite part of hikes like this and less so when my legs were already sore from the previous climb up Mount Field West. I made it to the car park a bit quicker than it had taken me to climb up (45 minutes up, 40 down) and just had the short drive in the fading light back to Mount Field. I stopped off at the dip in the road to take some photos looking back up the dramatic hillside with the light streaming through the recently burnt forest. Not a bad way to spend the afternoon.
Final Thoughts - The Needles is a short but sharp hike that is easily accessible to most people with a decent level of fitness. While I wouldn't go as far as to describe it as requiring "minimal physical effort", it is relatively straightforward once you pass the first few hundred metres of the climb.
The geology along the hike is fascinating and I'm sure someone more learned in the rocky arts will appreciate the formations a lot more than my simple "wow, that's cool" takeaway.
The gradients are tough with it comparable with my ascent up Mount Le Grand late last year but at least the views are worth the effort.
If you're travelling to Lake Gordon or Lake Pedder than this is a natural point to break up the trip so you may as well pull over and tackle a quick climb before continuing on.
Get out there and experience it!
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