Styx Conservation Area
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 then turn right at the sign for the Styx Tall Trees Conservation Area. Immediately turn right and head under the bridge, following the road to the Styx Tall Trees tourist area. From there keep going along the road until you meet a fork in the road, take the right turn up the hill and around the bend to the start of the trail. Look out for the green Tolkien Track sign.
The Hike - As a big Lord of the Rings fan, I was interested in seeing a hike named the Tolkien Track in a guidebook I bought a few years ago. I originally planned on hiking this one on my first trip here in 2018 but couldn't fit it into the schedule. With plenty of time this trip, there was no need to be hasty so put this on the agenda for our day travelling between Mount Field and Lake Pedder. Buried deep in the Styx Conservation Area, this is a region of Tasmania that is under threat, as logging of the native forest continues at an alarming rate and evidence of this can be seen on the drive in. It's not unusual to pass a number of logging trucks as you drive along Gordon River Road and once you turn off and head into Styx, the reason for this is clear.
The gravel roads are winding and steep in places but most 2WD cars should be able to manage with a light right foot and some careful driving. The first section leading towards the Tall Trees area was a bit of a shock with cleared sections right next to the road looking horrible and bare. I felt a bit like Treebeard seeing the destruction that Saruman had put upon Fanghorn Forest and it wasn't a pleasant start to the experience. As you descend down to the Tall Trees section of Styx, there are a couple of short walks that I fear will become the only thing left in this area if they continue pillaging the forests. With limited time available, I vowed to check them out after the Tolkien Track if we had time. Navigation can be a bit of an issue with the Tolkien Track not marked from the Tall Trees area and the directions I had said to take a right turn 2km after the Tall Trees but in reality it was less than a kilometre, so I ended up driving more than required. After finding a right turn and following that, it became apparent that the start of the hike was not on this road so I doubled back and eventually found the right path. The start of the track was very easy to find once we were on the right road as there was a large group of youths parked by the green sign. After parking up and gathering our gear together, we overheard them talking about climbing and it eventually became apparent they were here to climb Gandalfs Staff, an important tree that was where previous protests were held to help save this part of the Styx.
Starting our journey, we headed onto the track and Caris turned to me and asked "Tolkien Track Mark, is it left or is it right?" to which I put my hand on her shoulder and said "Left". This is not an official Tas Parks trail so guiding your way through is via the typical pink tape that is frequently used in Tasweginland, along with the strategically placed green wooden signs at key points. To start we were battling our way through waist high ferns but it wasn't long until we were on a well formed pad through the forest. When I first heard about this hike, my thoughts were about hiking through the trees admiring the wet forest floor and being immersed in a world of fungi and ancient trunks. Unfortunately it was unseasonably warm and dry today so I wasn't going to get the conditions I wanted. Add in some really bright sunshine and it would take a big effort to get any decent photos given the harsh contrast between the light and dark. As a famous wizard once said "All you have to do is decide what to do with the time that is given to you" so I would enjoy the conditions I had as we moved down the hill towards the first highlight, the Cave Tree. One of many giants that were once under threat from loggers (and still are), the burnt out hollow provides a large space to truly appreciate how big these Swamp Gums get (see picture of Caris for perspective).