Start - Styx Spur 13, off Styx Road
Length - 3.2km (Return)
Grade - Orange
Terrain - Single Track
Vertical Climb - 160m
Time - 1-2 Hours
Signed - Occasional Wooden Signs and Pink Tape
Date Hiked - 7th April 2021
Best Time - All Year Round
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 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).
Following the next green sign towards Gandalfs Staff, this was something I was looking forward to seeing. Branding is a huge thing sometimes and for a LOTR nerdburger like me, having a tree called Gandalfs Staff was a big part of why we were out here. After passing many trees that I thought were the main highlight, we reached the giant that rises up from the forest floor and towers over the landscape like Orthanc or Barad Dur. The youths had setup at the base of the tree and were already going about setting up the ropes and pulleys for them to follow in the footsteps of the original protesters that saved this part of the forest many moons ago. One stepped out in our path and yelled out "You Shall Not Pass!!! so I let out a fiery roar and we stopped. We watched for a while as passing underneath the air gun being used to shoot up the non-Elvish rope was a bit dangerous but we eventually headed past the climbers. Given we would be coming back this way on the journey home, we set off towards Waterfall Creek that marks the end of the track. Searching for the pink tape to guide us through the mess of fallen trees and winding roots, we picked our way up and down the hills, admiring all the little details of the forest. There were plenty of fungi around but with no rain for the past week along with warmer conditions, they weren't as nice as what we would experience later on in our road trip.
I was enjoying that it didn't really feel like a trail past Gandalfs Staff as there was not a worn pad apart from when things got slightly muddy or you reached a natural barrier like a fallen tree. Walking near the characterful roots of the Myrtle trees, we were careful not to get too close or we might be swallowed up. There was no Treebeard here to save us from being eaten up by the scorned trees so continued on towards the waterfall. Reaching another green sign pointing us to the waterfall, we crossed a series of rustic wooden boards to the point where you clamber down to the falls. Caris was not quite as keen given the sudden drop-off so I left here to the mercy of any orc parties in the area and took my camera and tripod down to see what was what. It was a short and steep descent down to the bottom of the valley and it felt quite magical thanks to the sound of running water, moist feel and enclosed nature of the space. I called out to Caris that "it's quite cool" but she elected to stay where she was. The harsh lighting was still an issue and at some points I felt like an Orc at Helms Deep staring up at the oncoming White Wizard and Rohirram riders at dawn.
Finding and photographing many new types of fungi down in this hidden away enclave, I imagined how much nicer it would have been in shaded light after a good rain. The waterfall is not a Falls of Rauros type affair, they are more akin to the rapids where Gollum flops around trying to catch a fish. I had dragged my tripod out here so I thought I may as well use it but getting a good angle in the tight space was difficult. I put on my filters and tried my best but with the light being so harsh, it wasn't really working. I instead turned my attention to shooting handheld and exploring downstream from the falls. There are two massive fallen logs blocking a large part of the valley from view and they contribute to the lack of space as you manoeuvre around. I did get a cool effect with the waterfall thanks to the bright sunshine creating colourful sparks as the water bounced off the rock but I have to admit that was entirely accidental. With Caris waiting up top still, I gathered up my bag and felt something wet brush my arm. I peered down at one of the straps and found a small leech clinging onto the fabric. Having never had a leech attach itself to me, I was keen to avoid that and set it back in the moistness of the ground. I joined Caris and we sat at the top of the falls staring down into the fern and fallen tree lined valley while enjoying a protein bar for second breakfast. The walk back to Gandalfs Staff was a case of spotting details we missed on the way out and we passed an older couple that were out enjoying a barefoot walk.
They were probably here during the first protests and we had a bit of a chat about the waterfall and how to get down to it. Reaching Gandalfs Staff again, it was a little quieter now most of the youths were up in the tree. We now had a chance to properly look around and enjoy this magnificent giant. There is an information board telling you all about the tree climbers from all around the world who came here to save these trees from being turned into woodchips and also about the vital role they play in the forest ecosystem. Gandalfs Staff is one of the bigger trees in the area standing 84m tall and being quite girthy at the bottom. They estimate it to be much more than eleventy one years old and more closer to 400 years in age. After admiring this magnificent piece of nature for a little longer, we headed off back to the car but via the loop route that takes you down the hill and past some more impressive trees named Fanghorn and Black Gate. It eventually spits you out onto the road leading up to the start and Caris was not amused about having to circle back on the vehicle track but all was forgiven when we saw the car. The drive out to Lake Pedder was stunning with the winding roads dipping in and out of forested valleys and some fantastic views of the mountains near the Bitumen Bones artwork piece by Alex Miles. Coincidentally, this was also the spot where we saw a wombat on the side of the road. We stopped quickly but my camera was on the backseat so I didn't get a picture before it scuttled off into the bushes. A platypus and a wombat within the space of two days, perhaps my wildlife curse doesn't extend as far as Tassie.
Final Thoughts - As a huge inner city, latte drinking leftie, places like the Tolkien Track always appeal to me thanks to the fight and courage of those who stand up for what counts. Woodchipping these beautiful forests so the Japanese can make paper and a few people can get a paycheque just makes no sense at all to me.
Tasmania is so rich with great flora and fauna that we should be protecting these areas, not destroying them.
While the walk is a little hard to find the first time, hopefully this page provides enough information to guide you there and you can enjoy this stunning place for all the natural beauty it contains.
If this was called Average Forest Walk instead of the Tolkien Track I think I still would have visited but I like the naming they've used here to give it a bit of connection to a world that values the wild.
Come visit, enjoy the forest and protest while you can before the Tasmanian Government pass laws making protesting illegal.
Get out there and experience it!
Be sure to tag any Tolkien Track photos on Instagram with #thelifeofpy and if you enjoyed this hike then feel free to share this page on Facebook with your friends.
If you've found this page or the website helpful and you want to show your support then consider making a small donation to your local forest defenders or environmental group. It takes more than heart and soul to protect the environment from the toxic "jobs and progress" model we live in and every little bit helps. Consider groups like the Bob Brown Foundation or the WA Forest Alliance (or have a search for groups in your local area).