Adelaide, South Australia, Australia
November 9, 2002
You’ll need wheels to reach the top or catch a bus to the suburb of Fern Tree, a three-hour walk from the summit. Either way there’s breathtaking views over half the island and a choice of 50 walking trails used by surprisingly few visitors.
Concentration is essential on the narrow route up the mountain. Absent guard rails provide the incentive - minibuses, cars and panoramic views provide diversions.
It’s quiet this morning, the sun surprising many visitors, and jackets are discarded like Christmas wrapping. It averages ten degrees Celsius colder than the city up here, but you wouldn’t know it today.
A Visitor Centre provides historical information and a protected viewing area but most people wander a series of connected walkways to several well-placed platforms. There’s little pollution and the peaks of Ben Lomond National Park, east of Launceston almost 200 kilometres to the north, are distantly visible. Slow growing alpine plants blanket the rocky landscape, hugging the ground to avoid the ravaging winds and dry environment – efficient survivors courtesy of tiny leaves that minimise water loss.
First sighted by William Bligh in 1792, the mountain was named after the Duke of Wellington who vanquished Bonapart at Waterloo. Although climbed as early as 1798 it wasn’t until 1937, 140 years later, that a road to the summit opened. Small parking areas mark the journey, allowing motorists to strike out on foot and explore. We stop at the Chalet, a tiny hut close to the summit, for a five kilometre return walk to a natural phenomenon called the Organ Pipes.
The eucalypts here bear the scars of devastating bushfires. Records back as far as 1897 document the terror of bushfire but in February 1967 they tore across the entire peak, destroying life, property and vegetation in an unprecedented assault. Alpine areas regenerate slowly and the evidence is still widespread.
Tiny marsupials own the bush, mountain shrimp the water, and currawong the skies in this fragile wilderness. We rock hop for an hour, glimpsing 180-degree views of the city as we circumnavigate the peak above. It’s peaceful, almost spiritual – the ochres, greys and greens of the rocks and bush combining with a sky-blue palette to define the Australian landscape. We try but never succeed in describing this to friends in Europe and America. It’s a feeling as much as a vision.
Finally our quarry is revealed as the primeval dolerite columns of the Organ Pipes tower above. Formed 170 million years ago, the sculpted cliffs glow yellow and red in the morning sun. I’m in awe. Above us is history’s inspirational canvas, around us is a delicate wilderness, and below us is a city of 200,000 people.
Incredible? That’s Tasmania.
From journal Australia's Great Southern Island (A Capital Idea)