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Trip Report – Tass-maniac Road Trip

By: Guillaume Charton

Source: Central Otago News Line (Central Otago Newsletter – August 2018)

Tasmania reveals a land full of surprises and a road trip seems to be the best way to taste the huge variety of rock climbing that there is on the east side of this island.

New experiences in new places, on-sighting routes in crags you’ve never been before, meeting people and sharing stories: these are the main ingredients that make a road trip a real thrill. Terra-incognita is always a good excuse for holidaying outside of one’s comfort zone. Lying a few thousand kilometres from the South Island of New Zealand Tasmania is surprisingly a little-known wonder of the climbing world and one of Australia’s wildest places. No other island compares to Tassie, whether it is the wealth of fauna, the colourful flora or the quality of the rock, you are in store for an amazing climbing road trip. So, prepare yourself for a journey you won’t soon forget.

Arriving in Hobart, Tasmania’s largest city, it is amazing how swiftly you can be immersed in the local history and culture. The city has kept many of its old buildings some of which trendy cafés, pubs, and hotels. Yes, Hobart is dynamic with its scenic waterfront and its popular Salamanca Place which gives an authentic look to this part of the town. As you wander through the streets of the city Mt Wellington reminds you why you came here: climbing!

At 1271m, Mt Wellington dominates Hobart and is only a short stroll from the city centre. As you drive through the meandering road leading to the ‘Mountain’, as locals call it, the organ pipes soon form an impressive geometrical piece of art. The dolerite, intrusive rock, is renowned for being a masterpiece of this type of formation. With height the temperature decreases dramatically. On the other hand, the views warm you up and climbers are surrounded by an amazing vista. The organ pipes have plenty of classic climbs on offer ranging from thirty to more than one hundred metres high all facing east. The climbing style is a mixture of face, corners, and excellent crack features for your trad gear. Unfortunately, after a few days waiting for a window of ‘okay’ weather to climb on the Mountain our patience ran out and we decided to head towards the Tasman Peninsula.

A mere seventy kilometres of narrow roads from Hobart the Tasman Peninsula remains a near untouched gem and a well-known destination for the climbing community thanks to its Totem Pole. This is a rugged country eaten by the wild Tasman Sea leaving behind white sandy beaches, lush forests and lots, and lots of rock!

Although the Totem Pole might be one of the world’s most famous rock features, walking around the coast makes you realise it is far from being unique. Checking the guidebook our objective becomes clear: The Moai, a 30m high pinnacle. In other words, what we think will be our morning mission….we think

At the campsite we quiz look-alike climbers about the approach and the climb itself. All come up with paradoxal stories featuring big swells, tricky access gullies and full-on climbing which was just enough to haunt our night – sometimes you just wish you didn’t ask for beta. Around eight o’clock the camp buzzes with wiry figures dashing to and from the solar showers. Our packs are already loaded, and we are ready to be first on the track before a guided team. My fear of snakes just heightens when a nonchalant black crosses our path. Just enough to awake my paranoia and to imagine those man eaters everywhere in the forest. After 2 hours of careful walking down the shore we spot the Moia. Already two parties are conquering this phallus like rock feature – in French we’d call it a Ménage a Trois. Patience is the virtue and so after much virtue the fruit is sweeter and the vista unique. Night settles on us just before arriving at our camp.

The epiphany of our trip took place in Freycinet. Jutting out into the sea the pink granite of the Freycinet Peninsula is shaped by turquoise water giving birth to Mt Grahams, Mt Freycinet and the Hazards. These all offer near perfect climbing playgrounds next to sugar white sandy beaches. Thanks to the weather and the laid-back access, climbing is simple and stress-free.

There we climbed on featureless slabs (Japhlion) where a grade 16 pitch feels more like a scary 24. We placed gear on easy 15 and screamed for joy (and exhaustion) on steep 21s where a fall could end up in a splash. Freycinet is by definition a gem! Not to mention the omnipresent birds: sea-eagles, black cockatoos and Australasian gannets making the place even more alive.

Leaving Freycinet we had to desalt our gear and head inland towards Ben Lomond. For those who have been climbing in Mount Somers, Ben Lomond is just the same only twenty times bigger. The dolerite column-strewn landscape is truly impressive with Legges Tor, at 1572m, dominating a vast plain. It can almost be seen from Launceston a mere 50 kilometres away.

Frews Flute, the main climbing area, features striking fluted columns separated by parallel cracks often just wide enough for some painful fist jamming activities. If you are the type who grumbles about long approaches, big run-outs, and not having shiny bolts then Ben Lomond might not be the right place for you to climb. It is definitely not a crag for sport climbers as you will find very few bolts. On the other hand, you will be overwhelmed by the possible gear placements. The so-called Climbers Hut is an experience in itself if you plan to stay overnight. The stone house is selfishly tucked away from the madding crowd and surrounded by native bush, wombats and peaceful mosquitoes. Having fulfilled our thirst for hand jamming we headed for Hillwood and rest.

Hillwood is considered one of the most popular sport climbing crags in Tasmania and is only 30 minutes from Launceston. With more than 150 routes there is definitely a climb for every ability. The tilted basalt columns make the rock faces look like lizard skin and provide a huge variety of crimps. The setting is magical with a massive amphitheatre of dolerite cliffs always facing in the shade or in the sun. For those wanting more rest for their knuckles and work on sloppers, Blackwood is only an hour away on a hillside with superb views over the Launceston Plain. It’s in a forest so most of the climbs are in the shade and out of the wind.

Tasmania undoubtedly has an astounding diversity of crags and really does have something for everyone: from laid-back bolt clipping on sunny faces to multi-pitch super-steep trad climbs, there will be a climb somewhere here with your name on it.

So next time you feel the onset of seasonal affective disorder, book a flight to Hobart and spend a week exploring Tassie. The only drawback is that, like many other climbers, you’ll probably want to stay for a month!

Useful resources:

Climb Tasmania – A selected Best Guide by Gerry Narkowicz

Robert McMahon guidebooks

Posted: 05/09/18

Posted By: Narina Sutherland