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Top of the morning to you
WINTER. 10.20am, July 8, on top of Mount Wellington, to be precise.
It's cloudless and the mountain has two distinct characters _ the light side, kissed by morning sun and pushing the ambient temperature towards a balmy 3 degrees, and the dark side, where thick frost refuses to yield its crusty grip and it's somewhere below freezing.
The light side includes Hobart and, fortunately for those seeking the summit in a two-wheel-drive, the road, so any dangerous ice has been glared into submission by the sun.
The other benign aspect of unclouded winter sun is that it illuminates the stunningly beautiful city of Hobart.
On this clear day, views from Mount Wellington are sublime in all directions.
An hour earlier I had asked Hotel Collins general manager Greg Illingworth directions to the top.
He first wanted to check that the weather would be suitable so tuned a television screen into "Channel Wellington".
The hotel has cameras fixed to the roof permanently displaying views of Hobart on one channel and the mountain on the other.
And the directions. Get on Davey Street and head for the hills. Turn off when you see a sign. It takes about 25 minutes.
By 11am there are 15 vehicles in the summit car park. About 35 visitors are wandering the 1200 metre-high plateau, reading interpretation boards and slipping inside the regal shelter with its grandiose podium and 240-degree views.
A sign warns that the transmission towers on Wellington can sometimes interfere with cars' electronic locking systems and gives advice on what to do if your ride has been disabled.
As I read the sign a car alarm sounds to emphasise the point.
Otherwise, the mountain has a dignified, potent silence. Find a secluded spot and even the happy murmurings of other tourists are deep in the background of your tranquil soundtrack.
Inside the shelter, interpretation boards give a fiery history. I didn't know there was a fatal Black Friday fire in 1897 as well as the 1967 Black Tuesday fires that have been seared into the memories of so many Tasmanians.
Inside there is all sorts of information on flora and fauna, like the black currawong and the mountain shrimp. One interpretation board says it's often 10 degrees colder than Hobart atop Wellington, which roughly confirms the adage that you drop a degree for every 100 metres you rise.
Over on the northern side of the car park more boardwalks lead to superb views of the island. I think I can make out Ben Lomond's Legges Tor, the state's second-highest peak, 150 kilometres to the north.
The summit is also a good starting point for bushwalks. There are tracks heading off to Smiths Monument (90 minutes one-way) and the Springs (90 minutes or 135 minutes, depending on the route), which show that a longer linger on the mountain Aborigines call Kunanyi is warranted.
Hobart's big hill will see more than 230,000 visitors this year, or more than 600 a day. If you value some quieter time, try this time of year. And linger.
I don't reckon George Bass, thought to be the first European to scale Wellington, would have lingered much on Christmas Day,
1798, because he copped poor weather and couldn't soak in the fabulous views.
Pity he couldn't wait 211 years for the opportunity to come up on this crackerjack solar-powered morning. I'd have given him a lift.
NEXT WEEK: For peat's sake - the Lark Distillery story.