The Aboriginal people that lived in this area probably belonged to the South East group whose territory ranged from New Norfolk to Bruny Island, throughout the D'Entrecasteaux Channel and inland to the Huon Valley. The recorded name for people from the Huon area was the Mellukerdee.
The Mellukerdee people would have used the coast for resources such as shellfish and muttonbirds and travelled further inland for wallabies and plant foods. The Hartz Mountains area and surrounding forests continues to have significance for today's Tasmanian Aboriginal community.
The first Europeans to explore the area were timber-getters in search of the Huon pine. They were also looking for possible routes west to Port Davey to reach the stands of pine that were there. The Hartz Mountains were named after a mountain range - the Harz Mountains - in northern Germany.
Among the early settlers in the 1840s were the Geeves family who founded the township of Geeveston. They explored much of the southwest and cut the first track from Geeveston to the Hartz Mountains. As a result of this track, Hartz Mountains became one of Tasmania's earliest popular bushwalking destinations. The spin-off for the town of Geeveston was that it would receive its first benefits from tourism. Surveyor Jones reported at the time that 'the track from Geeveston to the Hartz Range is, in the season, doing good work by attracting numbers to Geeveston'.
Memorial to Arthur and Sidney Geeves
Tragedy struck on 27 November, 1897 when the elderly Osborne Geeves, his three sons, Arthur, Richard and Osborne, and their cousin, Sidney, were overtaken by a blizzard when returning to Hartz hut from a prospecting expedition near Federation Peak.
Osborne Geeves' ill-fated party struggled on over Hartz Pass to Ladies Tarn, but both Arthur and Sidney were faltering and suffering poor vision, and their loads were taken. Within a few hundred metres of the old Hartz Hut (it was located near the present car park) all the party were exhausted and stumbling. Sidney was carried and dragged by Richard to the hut but he died soon afterwards. Arthur was left with his father, and died in his arms with the last words, 'Don't leave me, father'. Both had died of hypothermia (a lowered body temperature) as a result of prolonged exposure to severe cold. This is a stark reminder of the unpredictable nature of the weather in highland Tasmania.
Today a memorial to the two men is located in the park near the place where they perished, only five minutes walk along the Hartz Peak track.
In the early 1900s a new industry was established, which involved the extraction of eucalyptus oil from the varnished gum. The oil was distilled and used in a variety of medicinal preparations.
The increasing popularity of the Hartz Range as an area of outstanding beauty led to it being set aside as a Scenic Reserve in 1939.
The forests in the Picton Valley between here and Federation Peak were the centre of a major conservation battle in the late 1980s. Logging in these forests was the cause of well publicised protests and arrests at Farmhouse Creek. In 1989 extensions to the World Heritage Area incorporated sections of this forest, as well as the Hartz Mountains National Park.
Since then sections of the reserve have been revoked for logging, while new areas have been added. Hartz Mountains National Park now encompasses 7226 ha.
Hartz Mountains National Park ranges from 160 metres at the Picton River to 1255 metres above sea level at Hartz Peak. Most of the park is above 600 m. The sedimentary rocks of the lower altitudes, in the south, are amongst the oldest rocks in the park. They were formed from sediments deposited by marine, glacial and freshwater sources between 355 and 180 million years ago.
The great backbone of rock extending almost the entire length of the park is dolerite. This igneous rock which is very resistant to weathering, intruded into the earth's outer crust around 165 million years ago during the break-up of Gondwana. This area has also been modified over time by several ice ages. The cirques, horn peaks, aretes and glacial troughs were all formed during glacial activity on the Hartz Range.
Most animals in the park are nocturnal, however echidnas and platypus are sometimes observed during the day. In the evening Bennetts wallabies, Tasmanian pademelons and brushtail possums are often seen.
Several frog species can be heard calling during the day. This includes the moss froglet which was previously unknown until it was discovered at Hartz Mountains in 1992.
A variety of birds can also be seen in the park depending on the season. Some of the more common birds include the eastern spinebill, green rosella, forest raven and several honeyeaters.
Pandani in the foreground,
amid subalpine vegetation
As you drive into the park you will notice changes in the vegetation from wet eucalypt forest, through mixed forests dominated by stringybark (Eucalyptus obliqua), to rainforest communities with myrtle (Nothofagus cunninghamii), sassafras (Atherosperma moschatum), leatherwood (Eucryphia lucida) and native laurel (Anopterus glandulosus).
At higher altitudes the vegetation continues to change in response to the lower temperatures and extreme conditions. The trees become shorter and the canopy more open, until eventually they are replaced by shrubs. Alpine communities, those above the treeline, and sub-alpine communities, those just below the treeline, dominate the park.
The sub-alpine forests are dominated by three eucalypts, snow gum (Eucalyptus coccifera), varnished gum (E. vernicosa), Australia's smallest eucalypt, and yellow gum (E. subcrenulata). The understorey is made up largely of heath plants, including the Tasmanian waratah (Telopea truncata).