Cathedral Rock Track - A Short Walk But Gets The Heart Pumping
What can you expect from the Cathedral Rock Track?
Amazing views - Check! ✅
Lush green forests and other vegetation - Check! ✅
Calming flowing water - Check! ✅
Sheer cliffs - Check! ✅
Steep bloody climb - Definitely Check ✅
See the full immersive experience in the video below or read on for more details.
Why go there?
So why would you want to go there? Well I think this excerpt from https://www.tasmania.com explains it well:
"Towering 880 metres, this occasionally snow-capped peak can be summited by a challenging steep walk on a fire road. The views from the top are priceless as you can peer deep into the Huon Valley and the D'Entrecasteaux Channel region of southern Tasmania. It's here, at the top of Cathedral Rock, where you can drink in the expanse of Tasmania's verdant rolling hills and pristine waters. You'll come down the mountain, lungs full of fresh, cool air, knowing the true meaning of the Natural State. And it's a just quick 30-minute drive to the trailhead from Hobart CBD."
If you want to know the boring stuff like how to get there then you can read about that at the end of the blog post. So let's skip that and get right into it.
The North West Bay River
The carpark for the start of the Cathedral Rock Track is located right next to the North West Bay River. The river originates on the summit plateau of Mt Wellington (Kununyi) and snakes its way down the southern side of the mountain and ends up flowing into North West Bay at the small town of Margate. One of the most widely known landscape features on this river is Wellington Falls. You can read about my first hike to Wellington Falls here.
Having said that, the river itself it quite interesting as you could walk most of the way up it due to all the rocks and boulders that cover the riverbed. The sound of the water flowing through the rocks is quite mesmerising. If you are ever looking for a place to shut off from the rest of the world, sitting in the middle of the river on one of the many boulders is as good a place as any to do it.
The start of the track
Despite the initial allure of the river from the car park, the official walking track takes you up and along a gravel road past a variety of local residences, around 100 metres or so back from the river. But don't despair! After only about 200 metres you move off this road and back down to the river's edge again.
This section of the walk was probably my favourite apart from the summit itself. The track gently undulates along the River's edge through heavily moss covered rocks and tree branches, towering tree ferns and the ever present sound of the water. And the best part. It's largely flat!!
The middle section (Switchbacks)
After around a kilometre, you will finally hit some stairs that will lead you up the hillside to commence the climb for the next 3.5 kilometres. The stairs are only temporary as most of the climb is on a dirt or gravel track. The track is technically a fire trail, so it is quite wide and reasonably comfortable to walk on. There are a few sections as the gradient increased in which the track is made up of loose cricket ball sized "gravel", which can be a bit of a hazard if you don't pay attention. I know that my clown feet were subject to the odd trip and slip on the loose surface.
As the track increased in altitude, my lack of fitness became all too apparent. Not even the clean, crisp, oxygen-filled air from the dense forest surrounding track was enough to prevent me from feeling like I was going to keel over. But alas, every step got me closer to the top. Some of the steepness is alleviated at the expense of more distance via a series of 5 switchbacks that snake their way up the incline as seen in the picture below.
The view while passing through each of the switchbacks is pretty similar. Thin, spindly trees are all trying to outgrow each other as they compete for every inch of available light, while leaf litter, moss and small ferns cover the forest floor like a carpet. Views are hard to come by and can be a bit disorientating as you head up. It is not until you pass the final switchback that you will come across the first glimpses of the Cathedral Rock itself.
The gruelling task of getting through the switchbacks is met with a temporary reprieve as the trail flattens out along the saddle the follows behind the summit. From here you will come across a sign post (which was broken when I visited) indicating the turn off to make the final ascent to the summit.
The final ascent and the summit
The final part of the walk is only short, but the gradient increases significantly. In fact, in some parts I wouldn't call it a walk as you will need to do some scrambling up and over some rocks and around tree trunks.
The track also narrows where some parts will be partly overgrown from the thick vegetation that closes in both sides. It's almost like a curtain waiting to unveil the final act to the greatest show on Earth. The day I went, the ground was quite wet in some places, despite being the middle of summer. This was not so much an issue on the way up, but was quite tricky on the way down. There was more than one occasion where I had to make a last ditch effort to grab a tree branch after slipping on a largish step down off a rock onto another slippery stoney step. Extra care would need to be taken on cold day as any ice in these sections would be very tricky indeed.
After slowly making the way through this section, the trees and ferns finally thin to give way to smooth rock as you emerge onto the summit of Cathedral Rock. And boy, is all the huffing and puffing getting to the top worth it!!!
To the south (behind you as you approach the summit), you are greeted uninterrupted views of the Huon Valley, Bruny Island, Blackmans Bay and Kingston. But in the opposite direction, you get to stand or sit right on the edge of the cliff face to look 600 metres straight down to the North West Bay River and the valley that falls off the back of Mt Wellington. I am not necessarily scared of heights, but I must admit when I first approached the cliffs edge that I did feel a little weak in the knees for the first five minutes or so, until I found my bearings. Unlike many of the popular tourist hotspots like Cape Hauy, there is no infrastructure or barriers to stop you falling over the edge. So some care will be needed if you are daring enough to get close enough to poke your nose over the edge to look down.
The day I went the weather was perfect. It was warmish at around 18 or 19 degrees celsius and not a breath of wind. So standing on the peak with the 360 degree panoramic views was so divine. I would have been very easy to sit and soak up the views all day. As tempting as it was I only stayed long enough to enjoy some lunch and take some photos for around an hour.
To the west, the trail continues along an array of other rock outcrops called the Montagu Thumbs and eventually Mt Montagu. This trail can be completed as a circuit that connects back with the Wellington Falls Track and can take you back to the car park on the opposite of the valley. I have not complete this circuit to date, as it takes a full day to complete, but I hope to get there soon. Off in the distance is the back of Collins Bonnet with its distinctive rounded peaks.
Overall, it took around two hours for me to reach the top. Most people will probably do it much faster than that. But in order to make the video above, there was a lot of stopping and walking to and from the camera to film various sections. Depending on your fitness level, two hours is probably a safe average time to take into account if you are planning to head up.
In contrast, it only took 1 hour 30 mins to make the descent as I did not film any of that and it obviously was not as taxing on the lungs compared to going up.
See the video below to see where the track leads and the elevation gain.
Overall, the Cathedral Rock Track is a great half-day hike to undertake in what is probably one of the lesser known walks in Wellington Park. For anyone that is looking to get into hiking and undertake something that is more challenging than most of the other walks around Mt Wellington, but still short enough that you don't need to pack a full bag or drive a long distance from Hobart, then this is ideal. It would also be great to get general fitness and conditioning if you are preparing for a longer multi-day hike or tackling the south west of Tasmania.
All in all I loved it and would not hesitate to return.
Where is the Cathedral Rock Track?
The Cathedral Rock Track is located on the southern side of Wellington Park and starts on the North West Bay River. To get to the start of the Track, you can make the 20 minute drive from Hobart along the A6 (Southern Outlet), past Kingston towards Leslie Vale. Turn right onto Leslie Vale Road until you reach Huon Road. Make a sharp right hand turn and travel about 200 metres and then turn left onto Betts Road. This road is a narrow gravel road, so care should be taken. But after a couple of minutes you'll arrive at the car park.