An Introduction to Bouldering in Tasmania

Words by Marco D'Alessandro, Photography by Simon McLaine

Tasmania is an interesting place. A kind of zion for retirees and despised by a large portion of the youth for the slow speed of the lifestyle and the fact that nothing seems to “happen” here. Despite this it's an absolute mecca for lovers of the outdoors. The weather is fickle at best with a mere couple of months of “stable”, warm weather each year and seasons that seem to morph into the next with snow and days in the low teens, even at sea level, when its least expected. There's few places in the world where rocky summits, beautiful coastline and developed areas share such an intimate and arguably harmonious relationship.

Thousands come to Tasmania each year for the well-known, world class bushwalking and a smaller group of visitors for the quality climbing, particularly on the Organ Pipes, a line of improbable looking alpine flutes of dolerite that dominate the city of Hobart, or the wave washed sea cliffs of Freycinet. For me these things are certainly appealing but I'm involved in a slightly different discipline; bouldering.

Bouldering involves climbing on free standing boulders or small bands of cliffs where the climbing is not so much about being out there as it is about pushing limits. The beauty of it is given the lack of need for belayers, ropes and other burdens its very easy to get into and also very relaxed as one doesn't have to worry about knowing how to use the gear properly or about who's belaying who. Problems are protected by putting a crash pad underneath, a dense piece of foam essentially, used to absorb the landing.

Tasmania isn't traditionally considered to be a hot spot for bouldering but some of the areas provide “problems”, as routes are called in bouldering, of a very high standard. These areas are also incredibly diverse geologically, from the little explored conglomerate of the far west, to the sandstone of the Midlands, the granite blocks of the east coast and the harsh alpine dolerite of Mount Wellington. Oatlands and Handsome Crag are probably the most worthwhile spots to visit in the state given the sheer number of problems, both containing over 200, and the quality and epicness of the lines. There's everything from traverses to short and brutal one movers to commiting highballs where a fall from near the top could be far from pleasant.

Bouldering is all about pushing limits, working moves without the stress of dogging back up your rope to try again or needing to find a patient belayer. And of course you're not climbing all the time; its simply a great excuse to get out there, discover new places and hang out in the natural environment with a few friends.

There's few places in the world where rocky summits, beautiful coastline and developed areas share such an intimate and arguably harmonious relationship.

The Tassie summer comes and goes quickly so when it does come we tend to make the most of it. For Tasmania's size it sure packs a lot of dramatic terrain into small areas.

Mount Wellington, an ubiquitous, looming feature anywhere you walk in Hobart offers an absolute plethora of problems. Some are quite average but there's also a lot of lines that are very much worth the sometimes considerable effort to find. Many summer mornings are spent on the mountain, pushing on sandstone shaded by the still present tree line around The Springs, or higher up, trying not to lose too much skin on the course dolerite blocks. Once you're tired or simply too hot a mere twenty-five minute drive will take you to the coast at Blackman's Bay where the waves have etched some of the most epic swimming spots in greater Hobart. The blowhole is a classic with warm(ish) waters late in summer, rock jumps and a cave that you can swim through and sun bake on the other side where the roof's caved in.

As a bouldering destination Tasmania might not be the dream for many but the lifestyle surrounding it and the locations are something else. Bouldering zones are often centred around major tourist draw cards such as Launceton's Cataract Gorge, the blowhole at Bicheno and Hobart's Mount Wellington. This all adds to the experience. Without a doubt you'll get a bit of friendly probing from tourists and locals alike and maybe even become the subject of someone's travel photos, as inevitably happens from time to time in the gorge in Launceston.