MOUNT Wellington throws up surprises, in all directions, in all weathers. One misty summer morning I set out on a quest for mountain birds in a direction I had not traveled before, heading south-west along the Pipeline Track high above the hamlet of Neika. I was not to be disappointed.
I had in the past walked the lower part of the track below Fern Tree from where it hits the city in South Hobart. Looking at the map, the higher section held even more promise but I was not prepared for the sheer splendour of what lie ahead. Or the birds.
The mountain was wreathed in mist as it so often is in the early morning, but this would not deter me. I was out for birds not the spectacular views this side of the mountain offers over the Iron Pot lighthouse at the entrance to the Derwent estuary, or over Bruny Island.
The clinging mist added its own magical, eerie and ghostly effect, the ghosts of a million summers past, of the call of the currawong carried back in time.
Black currawongs trumpeted my own arrival on the mountain and a two-hour hike was marched to their refrain. I had ambitions of possibly reaching the Wellington Falls, about three hours distant, but both the birds and the general spectacle of the walk delayed me. There were lessons in industrial archeology, too, because the trail, as its name suggests, follows the original pipeline that carried water from the summit, round the back of the mountain and then down in a wide half circle to Fern Tree and beyond.
The first pipeline – a second runs under the dirt road that forms the track – was enclosed in dolerite rocks and over more than a hundred years this has become adorned in moss and lichen, so it now resembles a curious natural formation cutting through the rainforest.
This section of the track promised deep-forest birds and they arrived on cue. Tasmanian scrubwrens scurried across the track ahead of me – along with the occasional bounding pademelon – and trees still dripping with drew rang to the rising, single-note call of olive whistlers, although I could not see these elusive wet-forest species.
I had more luck with another forest bird, the brush bronze-wing pigeon. Mid-morning the sun had managed to break through the cloud momentarily. It sent a shaft of pastel-yellow rays deep to the first floor and there I spotted a crouched bronze-wing, the sun illuminating the iridescent feathers, more copper than bronze, on its wing feathers.
And then the mountain’s surprise, its gift to the intrepid hiker on a misty morn.
The names of features on the mountain are so curious, even bizarre, that they lose their literal meaning. Amid Snake Plains, Devils Gulch, Potato Fields and the Disappearing Tarn on this side of Mount Wellington, St Chrispin’s Well had escaped my attention. And now I found a signpost pointing towards it, leading a short distance off the Pipeline Track. A soft, rhythmic twitter told me a pink robin was ahead – the first I’d heard during the summer – and suddenly I saw the bird leading me to the well. Though named a “well”, it is in fact a waterfall, enclosed in manfern and the hanging branches of myrtle and sassafras, true rainforest tree species more likely to be seen in the forests of Tasmania’s West Coast than on Mt Wellington.
A Bassian thrush and then another brush bronze-wing completed the picture, of a world in the clouds.
A small wall of rock creates a rockpool at the base of the falls, and clearly it was once a place for people working on the mountain, loggers maybe or those collecting ice for the ice works in Hobart to gather water.
And on a bench overlooking the falls a poem is carved into the woodwork.
Seasons of life, seasons of rain
Nature’s ancient water wisdom flows on.