The Totem Pole. Photo: Matt Pickles
My head was spinning like crazy when I looked through the guidebook “Climb Tasmania — Selected Best Climbs.” The guidebook is massive. Right off the bat, I’ve got to tell you: if you’re thinking about climbing in Tasmania, do it! I hope you can spend more than two weeks there. I went for 10 days and only scratched the surface.
This “little” island has so much to offer; Tasmanian rock climbing includes trad, sport, mixed trad and sport, and bouldering. There are short bouldery routes and long endurance routes, lower grade climbs and hard climbs. The rock can be slabby, vertical, or steep. There are sea crags and rock further inland. You name it, this place has it!
There were so many crags and cool looking routes, how could we ever decide where to go? We selected 6 crags to visit during our 10 climbing days, had a look at the weather to see where to start, and planned a route online.
Our route through Tasmania
HILLWOODThe first stop was Hillwood, Tasmania’s biggest sport climbing area. Hillwood is about half an hour south of the city of Launceston. The climbs are short, 8-18 meters and the grades range from 15 to 28. There a wide variety of climbing styles on the volcanic rock here; slabs, vertical, steep face climbing, roofs, slopers, tiny crimps, and big blocks. Most of the routes are sport, but there are some trad lines too. We decided to stick to sport and started off easy at the Chessboard Wall. The shapes were new to me and the climbing was playful and interesting. It somehow felt like trad climbing with the small cracks, laybacks, and bad feet… nothing like I’ve ever climbed before!
From here, we moved on to the Dungeon and Wailing Wall. The climbing was completely different from what I’m used to, but it wasn’t too mentally challenging. Since it was still sport climbing, I was in my comfort zone. All in all, an excellent way to start the trip.
TIPS: Hillwood is on private land. Check with locals and online to see if the area is open to climbing. If the area is closed, please respect the property owner’s decision. Local climbers are working towards gaining access, ignoring the owner’s wishes could further jeopardize climbing access.
BEN LOMOND NATIONAL PARKOur second day, we went to Ben Lomond. It’s about 45 min away from Launceston at an elevation of around 1000 meters. Hands down, this place is gorgeous! The view, the everything… I’d never seen anything like it in real life!
We had no choice but to rack up and get into trad-mode, since that’s all there is here. The dolerite columns are 100 meters tall, with parallel climbs following cracks up, up, up. The rock climbing in Ben Lomond has a big variety of cracks and so many routes to choose from. I wish we had more time to explore, there’s so much here! What makes it special is that all routes here are really long, about 2 - 4 pitches of 40 meters each.
Our goal was to head to Robin’s Buttress to climb Rajah, a 3-star two pitch route comprised of two 40m pitches, both grade 18. As we arrived at the wall, we realized the crack was a bit bigger than what we had gear for. When two climbers nearby lent us some bigger cams, my partner was still hesitant. I thought, “this crack looks terrifying and super hard, let’s do it!” (Such a good way of thinking, right?!)
So, I talked him into leading it. It was the hardest 18 both of us had ever done. The crack was too big for hands (4’s and 5’s), but I loved every move! The challenge and the effort I had to put into climbing the pitches was amazing and nothing close to what I experience during sport climbs. I can’t wait to get more of that feeling where I get to push myself in more ways than just pulling with the fingers! It’s technical, twisting turning, pressing, jamming, cupping, thinking constantly on what to do to make it easier or even possible to take a step upwards. Also, I’m very happy I got the advantage of doing it top rope so I could work on technique instead of freaking out because I couldn’t let one hand go long enough to place gear.
TIPS: The climbing is inside a national park, so you have to get a pass. We got one valid for all the Tassie National Parks by putting money in an envelope at the start of the park and filling out a kind of certificate that we put in the car.
FREYCINET NATIONAL PARKWe spent the next couple of days on the east coast near Coles Bay. Freycinet National Park is described as Australia's best sea cliff climbing area. The peninsula offers both trad and sport climbs in all grades, but mostly the lower numbers. There’s a lot of slab; it’s a great place if you want to practice your footwork a bit!
Star Factory is a sport crag by the ocean with mostly harder routes. I know I would’ve freaked out a few years back about the spaced bolting a few years back. I’m thankful my head is in a better place now. The warm-up (23) was top-notch, but pretty run out. The crag is in the sun in the morning; as it got warm, it became very slick. If I could come back with more time, I’d make sure to go on a cooler day or come in the afternoon.
TIPS: Don’t forget to look for dolphins swimming around!
PORT ARTHUR and THE TASMAN PENINSULA
Heather on Pole Dancer. Photo: Matt Pickles
The peninsula southeast of Hobart is a unique squiggle of land protruding into the sea and on the edge of the land, spectacular towers rise above the water. Before we went, I knew I wanted to do Pole Dancer and the Totem Pole, but we also climbed the Moai in Fortescue Bay.
We ventured to Cape Raol with one trad route — Pole Dancer — in mind. It’s one of the pillars at the very end of the cape and in the pictures, it is gorgeous!
Determined, we embarked on the thrilling three-hour walk. The track to the viewpoint was well traveled and maintained, about an hour long. But then, we had to rappel into a gully. From there, it’s we scrambled for 20 minutes downhill to the start the first climb. This was kinda gnarly.
We racked up, climbed the pitch, walked over the top of the pillars, and rappelled down the backside to a steep path/scramble to the next climb.
The approach pitch to Pole Dancer. Photo: Matt Pickles
From here, we climbed to the top of the next pillars and traversed again to a second rappel. This brought us to the bottom of the objective! Pole Dancer is one of two pillars at the very far end of Cape Raol. This one is a superb arete!
While belaying, I spotted some seals playing and walruses on the rocks beneath me. The coastline is spectacular and being so far out there makes the view all the more stunning.
By the time we made it all the way back, I was pretty beat. Some parts felt a bit scary, but it’s a great journey that I recommend if you want an adventure! Oh, remember the rappel in the beginning?! You actually have to jumar back up it (because there’s no way you’re climbing that part), so make sure to prepare for that!
Not the worst part of the approach. Photo: Matt Pickles
The Moai is another picturesque pillar near Port Arthur in Fortescue Bay. The approach to this one is mellower than the epic walk to Cape Raol, but it still took us over an hour, including a rap, to get to the pillar. It was tough to dress for the day; in the sun it was really warm; in the shade or wind, it was so cold! This pillar has both sport and mixed climbs on it. We did three climbs on the pillar before deciding that it was time to head back to the van and prepare for the main goal of the trip.
Totem Pole is a famous and iconic climb in Tasmania. The approach isn’t very hard, I’d say it’s one of the nicer tracks we followed on our trip. Even so, it’s was a long walk.
This was, unfortunately for me, one of the worse days during the trip. I woke up with a headache, a bit of nausea, and an aching knee. I tried to get myself ready with some stretches. I kept reminding myself: “today I get to climb the Totem Pole! How cool is that?!!!” Even so, it was a struggle. I glanced at my backpack and felt panic rise inside of me, knowing that I would have to walk all the way out there with the pain in my knee and dizziness in my head. I started to prepare really slowly, probably because I was subconsciously trying to avoid it. Eventually, we got started and I tried to keep a smile on my face. I thought, “fake it till you make it.” And I do think that if I wouldn’t have faked the smile, I wouldn’t even have started the walk. So, even if my fake smile didn’t make me feel great, at least it got me going!
By the time we arrived at the rappel to get down to the pole, I was feeling a bit better. Matt set it all up and went down first to do the swing over to the pole. I heard a “rope free” and started to rap down after. Halfway down, I heard Matt screaming from below to “hurry up!” He didn’t sound very happy and when I arrived at the base... he was soaked! The waves had hit him as he was waiting for me to rap down and he was in a rush to get out of there before another big wave hit again!
So, I got down and straight away tried to pull my way up to the next few bolts around the corner. The wet rock was slippery and I had to climb all over Matt to get a draw in the next bolt. We finally moved around the corner and got everything sorted. I put all my jackets on and waited for Matt to dry up a little bit before he started the climb up the tower. Belaying at the bottom wasn’t as bad as I had expected, but still pretty harsh. The wind was strong and cold. The waves smashed against the rocks around me. I was lucky enough not to get hit (even though there were a few close ones).
The Totem Pole was a full spectrum experience for me, one I think I’ll never forget.
Climbing above the wild sea on Totem Pole. Photo: Matt Pickles
MOUNT BROWNMount Brown is another famous sea cliff climbing area close to Hobart. We parked at the Remarkable Caves, which is also worth a short visit, and started our walk from there. The 30-45 minute approach (a bit shorter than the average Tassie approach) took us over sand dunes, past the Maingon Blowhole (I had never seen one of those before, this gaping canyon where the sea rushes in a explodes upwards), and along the rocky coast.
The crag offers a variety of routes, with easier, vertical climbs on the left side and steeper, harder climbs to the right. It can be a bit slippery, since it’s right by the water. The high tide actually comes all the way up to the crag, but that just adds on to the climbing experience, right?! Despite the slippery holds, I thought the climbing was great and really fun! I would’ve definitely enjoyed spending another day or two here given the opportunity.
TIPS: You are pretty unsheltered when you’re at the rocks just by the water, so prepare yourself for any kind of weather over there! The beach at the Remarkable Caves is also a good spot for surfing if you have a board with you.
MOUNT WELLINGTON — THE ORGAN PIPESWe spent our last climbing day in Tassie at Mount Wellington. We thought it’d be nice to finish the trip with a short approach. I guess easy and short aren’t the same thing! The 20-minute approach turned out to be a super steep scramble!
The area has about 350 routes in an alpine setting and the climbs here were visually stunning amazing! There are trad routes up to 3-pitches long, single pitch sport routes on steep faces, and aretes in almost all the grades.
There were way too many appealing routes for the one day we had and going through the guidebook trying to choose what to do was hard!
I decided to get started at Flange Buttress on a route called After Midnight. It was a three-star 50m sport arete, graded 24. It was amazing! Super technical and requires balance. It’s a bit exposed and run out at points. Trying to figure out the beta on tiny holds with no skin on my fingertips, bad feet, far above my last bolt almost got to me, but I kept breathing and moved forward until all of a sudden, I clipped the anchors. Wow, what a feeling! Both happiness for actually pushing myself through it even when my body was screaming of pain or tiredness but also for the fact that I wouldn’t have to climb it again that day. I was done with almost no energy left in my muscles but so much happiness buzzing in my head.
LOGISTICSWhen should I go?
You can go all year around, but I’ve been told it’s the best place to go climbing during the summer (mid-December through February) in Australia.
How do I get there?
You can fly to Hobart or Launceston from any major city in Australia, Alternatively, you can take the ferry, The Spirit of Tasmania, from Melbourne to Devonport. You can book the ferry from Direct Ferries as well.
Where do I stay?
There are many campsites close to many of the climbing areas, some free and some for a fee. You can also rent a camper van, which is a pretty common alternative in Australia. Have a look at Jucy Rentals for nice vans and good prices!
The app Campermate is great! It’s a free Australian and New Zealand travel app where you can find campsites and accommodations (both free and with fees), public toilets, fuel stations, interesting tips, and it gives you special offers on activities and places to stay.
Our Lucy rental van at Ben Lomond. Photo: Matt Pickles
What gear do I need?
As for any climbing trip, if you’re going sport climb you need lots of draws. If you want to climb trad you’ll need cams and nuts in all shapes and sizes. But if you want to climb on the dolerite rock, you’ll need a lot of the same sizes. If you’re going to the sea cliffs, you’ll need two 70m ropes. A few extra carabiners and some slings is also a necessity.
A comfortable and safe backpack is also crucial. Be aware that the approaches are a bit longer than the European standard. The normal approach here is around between 45 and 75 minutes. The tracks are sometimes well maintained and traveled and other times off-road, through brush, or steep scrambling up or down.
What guidebook do I need?
We used Climb Tasmania — Selected Best Climbs. This seemed to be the most commonly used book. Check out The Crag online as a compliment to the book.
Where can I buy gear and food?
They have good outdoor stores in Launceston and Hobart with a good selection of equipment.
In Hobart, all the outdoor stores are on the corner of Bathurst and Elizabeth streets. They even have a second-hand store (Recycled Recreation) for outdoor gear.
Woolworths and Coles are the bigger food stores around Australia and you can find them all over the island.
The one place where it was harder to find a good food store close by was near Freycinet. But in the city centre, which is a 50m street, there’s a small supermarket with enough food to keep you going for a few days.
What else is there apart from the climbing?
There are many hikes, bike trails, and surf spots to visit around the island. You can watch wildlife; there are birds, seals, dolphins, and whales on different coasts around the island.
The app Campermate is great for this too. It shows you all the nearby sites to visit, places to explore and activities to do!
In Hobart, the Salamanca Market by the harbour is open every Saturday between 8.30-15.00. It’s a nice market with lots of local produced products and food. The week-long Taste of Tasmania food and wine festival is around Christmas and New Year’s every year.
More than just climbing! (But that's the Star Factory crag in the background!) Photo: Matt Pickles