The Hippo & Mt Alexandra

From John VanderNiet

Although I have walked the Southern Ranges in the past, I had bypassed The Hippo, a peak that sounded exotic and worth visiting. A Pandani group gathered to achieve that aim recently, making use of the weekend through to the Tuesday Anzac Day holiday. What was initially a group of seven, due to some last-minute illness, became a group of five. We found ourselves to be well balanced in speed and capacity, enjoyed each other’s company over the four days, and experienced more than we bargained for.

The walk commenced in typical Southern Ranges fashion. Despite a reasonable weather forecast, as soon as we had walked the old tramway into the limestone quarry, climbed 600 m and poked our heads over the ridge onto Moonlight Flats, we were hit with strong winds. By the time we reached the exposure of Hill 1 it was up to gale force. We found it virtually impossible to walk in a straight line, like the proverbial drunken sailors. Together with mist that wet us through and limited visibility, this caused us to abandon our initial objective of camping below Moores Bridge, and to walk on to the Reservoir Lakes, where there is good protection from the elements. Even so, we could hear the wind howling overhead, and some tents were challenged by occasional gusts reaching the ground.

Day 2 commenced with much better weather, the rain disappearing for the remainder of the trip and the wind abating to a moderate level. With The Hippo as our objective for the day, only about five km walk away, we set of at a leisurely 8.30 am, and reached the peak for an early lunch. The views out to Southport Lagoon, Recherche Bay, South Cape Bay and South East Cape itself were spectacular, if a bit clouded by sea mist. The Cockscomb also stood out in spectacular fashion as we walked the ridge. The whole area has an interesting rock structure, with near horizontal striations that peel off in large slabs. The ridge from Hill 3 to The Hippo effectively gave us a clear run over a rocky spine, leaving only the final climb to the peak with a little scrub and rock scrambling. Returning to camp by about 3pm and the wind having died right down, we decided to move on to Moores Bridge for the remaining two nights, which turned out to be a fortuitous decision.

At about 4.30 on Monday morning Sohee alerted us to the Aurora Australis streaming over the ridge of the hills to the south. Vertical white streaks sprang from the ridge, ebbing and flowing as we watched. A 10 second exposure on the camera showed the full range of colours, including the apparently less common red as well as green. The wind of the previous day had completely disappeared, but it was cold. Sohee and Adrian were the most intrepid of us, and climbed the ridge in the dark to experience the full colour range visible to the eye, backlighting The Hippo. Pretty special!

We were off at 7 am, not knowing what conditions we might meet on the 15 km return trip, and having only about 10 hours of daylight. Progress was gratifyingly quick, with only short sections of dense scrub breaking long open plains. Following advice from a previous Pandani trip led by Peter Murphy, we even found a king billy pine stake placed by T B Moore in 1901, the area now named Moores Garden in his honour. (This monumental effort, in four stages from 1900 to 1902, cut and surveyed a track from Hastings to Port Davey via the Old, Solly and Salisbury Rivers). The final climb to Mt Alexandra peak was a bit of an anti-climax, with the top covered by scrub and not conducive to a long stay. The views in every direction were good though, with Mts Wylly, Victoria Cross and Bisdee, and Precipitous Bluff close by to the SW (Wylly and Bisdee were the only Tasmanians to win a Victoria Cross in the Boer War), Pindars Peak and Mt La Perouse to the south, Adamsons and Hartz Peaks further away to the NE, and Federation Peak clearly in view to the far NW. A lunch break was enjoyed on the way home, and an early return meant we could relax in camp for the last few hours of daylight. 

Unfortunately, the aurora didn’t return with any conviction on Monday night, with clouds rolling in and the wind picking up. Following a dawn Anzac vigil by some, this left us with a windy but dry walk out on the last day. We decided to visit Mystery Creek Cave on the way out, and it didn’t disappoint. A relatively large cave, glow worms gave the roof the appearance of a heavily starred night sky. Very impressive! Coffee on the way home was a must, but a search for an open café in Dover, Geeveston and Franklin was fruitless. We finally ended up at Banjos Huonville for coffee, pies and custard slices; an excellent way to finish an eventful walk.

Organiser: John VanderNiet

Participants: Joe, Paul, Sohee and Adrian

4 thoughts on “The Hippo & Mt Alexandra

  1. Thanks for this John, great to get a personal account of a trip that’s unfortunately beyond my capabilities. Helen K.


  2. What a terrific report John, thank you. It’s a real treat for an armchair adventurer like me to read of intrepid trips like this (and how wonderful for you to see the Aurora!). Coincidentally, I’ve been reading a little about Wylly and Bisdee in another connection but didn’t know they had mountains named after them.


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