Wellington Falls Track - Harder Than I Thought
Recently, I hiked to Wellington Falls on what would become one of the more physically demanding hikes I have done to date. That’s not to say the track itself is considered super difficult for regular hikers. Rather, as a hiking novice, I felt like I had been run over by a truck by the end of it due to a combination of the uneven ground and a terrible backpack I was using to cart a heap of camera equipment.
You can watch the video of my adventure on the walk or read on below.
Wellington Falls is the tallest waterfall in Wellington Park at over 50 metres high and surrounded by impressive dolerite cliffs. With a lot of rain falling in the preceding days, the waterfall was likely to be putting on a powerful display. So, the goal was to try and record a time lapse using a Syrp Magic Carpet slider and Syrp Genie Linear II that I had recently purchased. Carrying the slider equipment was the main contributor to the extra weight in my backpack, in addition to my camera, tripod, filters and water etc. Annoyingly my tripod would not fit on my backpack with the slider. So I had to carry it in one hand the whole way. A decision I would later regret.
I knew that reaching Wellington Falls was going to be long. However, I had seen some other youtube videos that suggested you could get there and back in around 4 hours. The recommended duration according to the signs at the start of the walk suggest 7 hours return. With that in mind, I decided to give it a try despite not commencing the walk until around midday in the hope that I should still have enough time to get there, spend an hour or so recording the time lapse and get back to the car before it got dark. However, having never been there before, nothing was guaranteed on what I might be able to capture.
To get to Wellington Falls you can drive up to an area called The Springs on Mt Wellington and then commence the hike by heading off in a south westerly direction via the Milles Track. This track eventually joins the Wellington Falls track. All in all, it's around a 13km round trip.
The Milles Track itself is quite pleasant. For the most part, it is flat as it follows the contour of Mount Wellington and is very well maintained. There are patches where the tree lines open up creating stunning views down over Kingston and Blackmans Bay. While in other parts, you pass through dense rainforest areas, full of lush green moss and tree ferns. Given I was walking through here after some rain, there were many small streams of water washing away over the track and down the hillside.
After about 40 minutes or so you reach a literal fork in the road. Carved into an old tree log are the names of the tracks which you get to chose from. One the left is Snake Plains Track. This takes you south and connects to the Pipeline Track near Neika. On the right is the start of the Wellington Falls Track itself.
This is where it became interesting.
The track, while still well maintained, becomes quite challenging under foot. The smooth dirt or gravel surface morphs into the odd stone, that then become a seemingly never ending trail of football sized rocks. I was grateful I decided to wear my full hiking boots as I ending up rolling my ankles a few times by the end of the day. Without the support of the boots, I would probably still be crawling my way back to the car now after twisting an ankle.
Despite the challenges the track poised, the views that I got to witness that I had never seen before were simply amazing. The highlight was the view across the valley to Cathedral Rock, arguably one of the most striking peaks in Wellington Park.
Things started to unravel a bit from here. The GoPro I was using began to have battery problems to the point where I couldn’t use it to film anymore. So I ended up switching it out for my Nikon D7200 DLSR. When attached to a Gorillapod it becomes bulky and awkward to film with. It also has terrible auto focus. So, I had to use manual focus, which is not ideal with trying to walk and talk.
This all started to happen just before I approached a large rock scree known as the Potato Fields. At the start of the Potato Fields is a local attraction called the Disappearing Tarn. As the name suggests, the tarn only appears after heavy rain or snow. But what makes it so special is the bright aqua colour of the water when it is full. I was keen to see if I could find it and photograph it too. However, as I was spending too much time concentrating on trying to fix the GoPro, I wandered passed the turn off from the track (as it's not signed). By the time I got onto the Potato Field, I knew I had gone too far.
Not to worry, my main mission was to get to Wellington Falls.
Crossing the Potato Field looks quite daunting when you are standing at the foot of it. However, the track across it is clearly marked and the large boulders make it easy to cross. It is a welcome relief on the feet compared to football-sized rocks on the previous stretch of track. It does make for a fantastic sight when you are standing in the middle.
After about 15 or 20 minutes of boulder-hopping, the track re-entered dense forrest as it snakes its way up hill. After plenty of huffing and puffing, the forest begins to clear again as you reach a plateau of various button grass and other small shrubs and plenty of mud. This was the second reason why I was glad I wore my full hiking boots. With plenty of mud and puddles to trek through, they did an excellent job at keep my feet dry. This area is the highest point of the track at around 890 metres high.
Not long after comes the steep descent down into the valley where the North West Bay River runs and feeds the Wellington Falls. The decent takes you through a thick Richea dracophylla forest that was very lush and green. Walking down, all I could think is "I am not looking forward to walking back up this," as it was by far the steepest part of the track.
After emerging from the steep decline, I was greeted with the roaring sound of the water rushing over the falls and a sign pointing to the official Wellington Falls lookout. I had arrived here after just over 3 hours of walking (including stopping for filming and dealing with the aforementioned camera problems).
The view from the lookout is not that great, to be honest, and terrible for photography. So the goal was to get to the base of the Falls. The problem was I didn't know how to get to them as there is no set track as such.
First, I continued pass the lookout turnoff and kept heading along the Wellington Falls Track. That was a bad choice as that takes you Neika. I wondered back to the lookout at which point I saw a rock cairn over the edge of the lookout. This is where things got interesting, or should I say frustrating.
To follow the rock cairns requires a degree of scrambling as the hill side is super steep and I was not prepared for it. With my camera bag on my back, camera in one hand and tripod in the other, I tried to make the descent. I made it about 30 metres down, but even in that short distance is was slipping and having the ground give way underneath me. And with no hands to hold onto trees or rocks, I was likely heading on a hiding to nothing by continuing down the slope.
After about 15 minutes of considering my options, I decided to pull the pin and give up. By now it was about 3.45pm. So even if I was in a position to record a time lapse, I had run out of time to get back to my car before it got dark. You'd think with all the gear I carried I would have some kind of torch with me to walk in the dark. Sadly not. It was the one thing I took out of my bag before I left home.
So with that, I bumbled my way back up to the look out, took a quick drink and headed off on my way back to the car with no meaningful pictures of Wellington Falls or the Disappearing Tarn.
The walk back was much quicker given I didn't stop for photos or filming as it only took just over 2 hours. By the time I got back to my car I was totally spent. I could hardly lift my arms above my head due to the weight of my gear. Nevertheless, I was relieved to be back and away from the rocks and get my boots off.
While I was disappointed not to capture what I was after, I did gain valuable experience in going on one of the longer day walks on Mount Wellington and will have more of an idea of what to expect for the next time I visit the Falls.
And yes, I will visit the Falls again!