George Town: The Watch House and Bass & Flinders Centre

Traversing the Norfolk

George Town is a small town in Tasmania’s north. It boasts a beautiful waterfront and some of Tasmania’s oldest buildings. Originally designated by Governor Macquarie as the hub of Tasmania’s north, it is now primarily a residential and tourist town, supporting the industry at nearby Bell Bay.

The Watch House

The Watch House
The Watch House © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

The first attraction that you should visit in George Town is The Watch House. The reason that you should visit The Watch House first is because it contains a model village of historical George Town, as it was in the early- to mid-1800s. Created by Debbie Rainbow to commemorate the 200th anniversary of British settlement in George Town, the model shows the five remaining original buildings. One of these is The Watch House. The model of George Town is a real treat as Debbie has taken the time to show the finer details of life in the early 1800s. There is something to delight people of all ages. Find a woman moving into her new home, a blacksmith hard at work and someone sitting in an outdoor toilet!

George Town
George Town © emily@traversingtasmania 2017
The Watch House Interior
The Watch House © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

The Watch House has been a police station, council chambers and a shop. Nowadays, it has been restored to reflect its original appearance (which is lovely!) but it is more of an exhibition space than a museum. When I visited yesterday, one room contained silk paintings and scarves by renowned Australian artist Barbara Gabogrecan and another contained a portion of Christina Henri’s “Roses from the Heart” bonnet display (a tribute to convict women and their deceased children). There are two cells: one contained a doll collection and the other cell was set up to show its original use.

Bass & Flinders Centre

Bass & Flinders Centre
Bass & Flinders Centre © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

Bass & Flinders Centre is a relatively new attraction, which opened in 2006. The building was originally a cinema and you can still see an (enormous!) original projector in the upstairs Gun Deck Cafe. It now houses the replica Norfolk, along with various other Bass and Flinders and maritime related memorabilia. Sounds underwhelming, right? Wrong!

The Norfolk
The Norfolk © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

When you enter the Bass & Flinders Centre, you first see a copy of Bass’s book of maps, open to the page showing his Tasmanian explorations. It is a stunning representation of Tasmania’s north coast. Sadly, Bass died shortly after completing the book. A friendly guide will then lead you into the museum. This is where the real surprise is. The replica Norfolk is huge. In fact, they had to take the roof off (it still leaks sometimes) just to get the boat in!

The Elizabeth
The Elizabeth © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

The replica Norfolk was created from Huon pine (not the original Norfolk pine) by Bern Cuthbertson and was used to reenact Bass and Flinders’ journeys in the Norfolk 200 years after the original journeys. Now a museum piece, the boat is used to show both Bass and Flinders’ voyage and the commemorative voyages. You’ll find the boat still set up as if ready to sail, with all the modern conveniences such as a torch and enamel crockery! You can climb down into the three compartments of the boat. Sit at the dining table and smell the Huon pine!

As well as the Norfolk, the Bass & Flinders Centre has several maritime delights on display. You can view Tom Thumb (Bass and Flinders’ row boat), the Elizabeth (a whale boat used to cross Bass Strait) and an old wooden surfboard. There is a small exhibition of maritime paintings, model boats, Bass and Flinders memorabilia and various other water crafts. It is an old salty’s delight! Dad, I think you need to visit!

Getting There

George Town is 45 minutes drive north of Launceston. The Watch House is on the main road (84 Macquarie Street) and Bass & Flinders Centre is just off Macquarie Street on Elizabeth Street. There is plenty of parking in George Town. Make sure that you take note of the signposted parking conditions though as some parks have a time limit or access restriction.

Cost

To visit The Watch House costs approximately $3 for adults and to visit the Bass and Flinders Centre costs $10 for adults ($8 concession, $5 student, $4 children, $24 family). I recommend purchasing a Historical Attractions Pass for $13 ($40 for families). This gives you entry to the two George Town sites as well as the nearby Low Head Pilot Station Museum, which is a bargain!

To read other posts about Tasmania’s north, click here.

Low Head Pilot Station and Lighthouse

Traversing Low Head
Low Head Pilot Station
Low Head Pilot Station © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

Low Head is one of the prettiest places in Tasmania. It’s also one of Tasmania’s oldest settlements. Named by Bass and Flinders because it is, well, a low headland, Low Head has had a pilot station in operation since 1805. It’s still in operation today. All large ships entering the Tamar River (usually commercial vessels heading to Bell Bay) are piloted into the river due to the narrow channel, which is deeper than Bass Strait in places, and the dangerous Hebe reef between Low Head and West Head. The reef was named after the first ship to be wrecked on it and it’s thanks to this reef, and the many ships wrecked on it, that such excellent artifacts can be found in the Low Head Pilot Station Museum.

Low Head Pilot Station Museum

Low Head Pilot Station Museum
Low Head Pilot Station Museum © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

Housed in the 1835 Pilots’ Row, which was designed by colonial architect John Lee Archer, the museum pays homage to the maritime history of the Tamar River, with a particular focus on the Port Dalrymple region. It has 13 rooms, each with a specific focus (lighting, diving, signaling and so on). Each room has an impressive array of well-displayed local artifacts, allowing you to imagine what life aboard a ship would have been like during a variety of eras. The ingenuity of some of the inventions, such as Walker’s “Cherub” log, which measures the ship’s speed via a spinning brass log dragged behind the ship, is staggering.

Diving Suit
Diving Suit © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

My favourite thing about the Low Head Pilot Station Museum is that it’s more hands-on than most museums. No, you can’t touch the diving suit or climb into the canvas trousers of the life buoy (even though you will probably want to!) but you can practise your Morse code… it turns out that I’m terrible at it! Look out for the button to set off the light display (to satisfy the child in us all).

The museum is located in the larger Low Head Pilot Station precinct, which is very beautiful. You can have lunch in the cafe, visit the church or even stay the night in one of the cottages.

Signaling
Signaling © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

Low Head Lighthouse

Low Head Lighthouse
Low Head Lighthouse © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

A very short drive from the pilot station is Low Head Lighthouse, the pinnacle of the signaling system. Built in 1888 (to replace the original 1833 lighthouse), the tower is very photogenic. The light station is the third oldest in Australia (second oldest in Tasmania). From the lighthouse precinct, you have views of East Beach, Bass Strait and Low Head, as well as access to (very) short walks in the Low Head Coastal Reserve. At noon every Sunday you’ll even have the privilege of hearing the restored fog horn sounding loud and clear! Penguin tours take place in the Low Head Coastal Reserve.

Getting There

View from Lighthouse
View from Lighthouse © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

From Launceston, drive north on the East Tamar Highway to George Town. Keep driving north to Low Head. The way to the pilot station and lighthouse is clearly signposted (if in doubt, follow the river north!). The drive from Launceston to Low Head takes approximately 45 minutes and is lovely. We stopped for lunch on the way at Hillwood Berry Farm which was delicious!

Cost

Boat Shed © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

You’ll always receive a warm welcome at the Low Head Pilot Station Museum. The volunteers are friendly and give you more than your money’s worth of information. Entry costs $5 for adults, $4 for concession and $3 for children or $13 for a pass to the museum plus the Bass and Flinders Centre and the Watch House Museum in George Town. Access to the Low Head Lighthouse precinct is currently free (but you can’t, unfortunately, climb the lighthouse). The museum is open from 10am – 4pm everyday except Christmas.

Lagoon Beach
Lagoon Beach © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

While in Low Head, walk at least some of the trail along the river, passing the leading lights, Lagoon Beach, the Pilot Station and, finally, reaching the Lighthouse. It’s a very picturesque area! We stopped to help a driver in distress and, as a passerby said while we were waiting for the tow truck, “enjoy the view!” We did.

To view other posts about Tasmania’s north, click here.

Notley Fern Gorge State Reserve

Traversing Notley Fern Gorge
Notley Fern Gorge State Reserve
Notley Fern Gorge © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

Notley Fern Gorge State Reserve is a unique place. You’ll find at least four varieties of fern, towering trees, Tasmanian native animals, and the giant, hollowed-out tree that bush-ranger Matthew Brady and his band of followers sheltered in during the 1820s.

White Gum Tree
White Gum Tree © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

Notley Fern Gorge is accessed via a circuit walk which supposedly takes one hour (I completed it in 35 minutes and stopped to take plenty of photos). The track is well-defined, with steps up and down the hill and bridges across the stream. You head down the hill (whichever way takes your fancy) and loop back up after walking through the gorge. It is amazing how different the flora is at the bottom of the gorge from that at the top of the hill; look out for fungus growing on fallen logs, fairy-tale moss-covered trees and plenty of ferns. Signs help you to identify the various plants, including common filmy ferns, hard water ferns, kangaroo ferns and mother shield ferns. Above the ferns are trees soaring into the sky, including white gums and blackwoods. It’s a very peaceful place.

Notley Fern Gorge State Reserve
Notley Fern Gorge © emily@traversingtasmania 2017
Brady's Tree
Brady’s Tree © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

If you’re not very steady on your feet (the ground is covered in leaf litter year-round which can be quite slippery) and don’t feel up to walking the full loop, Brady’s Tree is only five minutes’ walk from the car park. A hollowed, burnt out tree, this is reputedly where Brady and his men sheltered from the authorities about 200 years ago. It’s a fun place for kids to explore. There is also another hollowed-out tree nearby (just a few metres further down the hill).

Getting There

Information Shelter
Information Shelter © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

Notley Fern Gorge State Reserve is located on Notley Gorge Road. From Launceston, head north on the West Tamar Highway. When you reach Legana, turn left onto Bridgenorth Road and then, after about 10 minutes, turn right onto Notley Gorge Road (C731). Ignore Google Maps and, if you’re using it to estimate travel time, add about five minutes. The turnoff to the reserve is signposted (although overgrowth can make it hard to see the sign from a distance). You can also read Notley Gorge Road from Frankford Road (it’s the right turn shortly after Glengarry as you travel towards Exeter). There is a car park, toilet and information shelter at the reserve.

Cost

Bridge, Notley Fern Gorge
Bridge, Notley Fern Gorge © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

There is absolutely no cost to visit Notley Fern Gorge State Reserve. Parks and Wildlife Tasmania do an excellent job of keeping the track in good order. Please respect their conservation work by keeping to the tracks and taking your rubbish with you.

Will you see an animal at Notley Fern Gorge State Reserve? Almost certainly. I saw two lizards and a native bird (sorry Mum; I’m still not a very good bird-spotter!). Will you see a mammal? Maybe. A bandicoot dashed across the track in front of me, too fast for me to take a photograph, and I heard a wallaby thumping through the undergrowth. If you visit at dawn or dusk, you’re more likely to see wildlife (including on the roads, so drive slowly and carefully!). We have previously visited the reserve during spring and saw a few pairs of mother and baby wallabies so I highly recommend a spring visit! Even if you don’t see a native mammal, Notley Fern Gorge is a beautiful place. If you’re driving through the Tamar Valley, you should definitely stop and take in a small slice of native Tasmania.

For more posts about places to visit in northern Tasmania, click here.

Franklin House

Traversing Tasmania - Franklin House
Franklin House © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

My Nanna, a former National Trust member, would be proud of me. Today, I visited the place where the National Trust in Tasmania was formed and still has its headquarters today: Franklin House. The National Trust in Tasmania was formed in order to save Franklin House in 1960. Redemption is a common theme in the history of the house.

Upstairs, Franklin House © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

Franklin House was built by convicts in 1838 for former convict, Britton Jones. He had been sentenced to Tasmania for stealing a large quantity of lead! It is quite incredible that a former convict was able to afford to build such a beautiful house, particularly as it wasn’t his principal residence. Jones planned Franklin House as a “Gentleman’s Residence” (that is, he did not build it for his family). It was rented out for a time and then, in 1842, Franklin House became a renowned school: The Classical and Commercial School, run by Mr. Hawkes.

Charles II’s Chest © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

Set to be destroyed in 1960, the house was redeemed by the National Trust in Tasmania (which had been formed solely to save the property). Franklin House is a double-story house with adjoining school room and kitchens. It has some unique features, such as a folding door (with doors inserted in its panels!) as a partition in the large upstairs room. The National Trust have also furnished Franklin House with a variety of interesting objects. Due to its string of owners, the furniture is not original. However, you will see some stunning pieces such as a curved cupboard for curing bacon, a trunk owned by Charles II and a long case clock made by another former convict, James Oatley (who has a Sydney suburb named after him).

Getting There

Mile Stone, Franklin House © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

Franklin House is located in Franklin Village (in the suburb of Youngtown), about 10 minutes south of Launceston, on Hobart Road. This was the former highway between Hobart and Launceston. There is ample on-site parking, as well as street parking nearby.

Franklin House is open 9am – 4pm from Monday to Saturday (except some public holidays) and is open until 5pm in the summer. It is also open on Sunday afternoons from 12noon – 4pm. For up-to-date information on pricing and opening hours, see the National Trust’s website.

Cost

Gardens, Franklin House © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

Entry to the house (for a self-guided tour and a brief introduction by a National Trust volunteer) is $10 for adults, $8 concession and $5 for children. National Trust members are entitled to free entry. A lot of hard work has been put into restoring the house and grounds and nothing comes free; I also recommend bringing some loose change to donate towards having the fabulous wedding gown displayed upstairs restored. The gift shop has some unique Tasmanian items (such as Huon Pine soap and aftershave) and is well worth a look. There are tearooms and toilets on site and the gardens are just beautiful. Bring a picnic lunch and enjoy the atmosphere of yesteryear. I take my hat off to you, Nanna. History is worth preserving.

Read more about my adventures in Tasmania’s north here, and in the nearby midlands here.