There are two Alum Cliffs in Tasmania: one in the south and one in the north. I visited the latter, which is located near Mole Creek and Chudleigh on the way from Launceston to Cradle Mountain. Listed as one of Tasmania’s “60 Great Short Walks”, the walk to tulampanga (Alum Cliffs) was indeed short and great!
Located in a farming region, the views from between the trees, out over nearby pastures, are rather lovely. I caught a glimpse of the mountains in the distance at one point too. Look around you: A friend saw a falcon in the sky and I spied two gorgeous pink orchids in the bush. There are several interpretive signs to help you better understand the history and significance of the area.
After 20 minutes, including stops for photos, you’ll find yourself at a small staircase. This leads to the Alum Cliffs Lookout. The view that awaits is at once understated and spectacular. It’s a humble view, of the river below and the cliffs opposite, but it’s impressive because of the sharp angles of the Alum Cliffs, especially in contrast with the surrounding bush. Sit a while and enjoy the view.
What to Bring
It really is a short walk to the Alum Cliffs Lookout so you won’t need to bring much with you. That said, weather in Tassie is unpredictable and we have some critters (snakes, ants, spiders) that can make life unpleasant at times so bringing basic first aid supplies and wearing appropriate clothing is a must on any walk in Tasmania.
Take the Bass Highway north from Launceston (or south from Devonport), turning onto the B12. Head towards Mole Creek. Shortly after you have passed through the township of Chudleigh, turn right onto Mersey Hills Road. My husband thought that we were lost at this point as the road is narrow and winding. Don’t worry! You will eventually come across a well-signposted carpark on the right-hand side of the road as it takes a sharp bend. You can’t miss it.
Free, free, free! As this is a reserve, entry to the Alum Cliffs Track is completely free, that is, you don’t need a Parks Pass. Thank you, Parks and Wildlife Tasmania, for providing yet another well-made track, complete with interpretive signs.
While you’re in the area, make sure that you look at the truly gorgeous Mole Creek Caves. Staying a while? Read about my adventures in the surrounding north and north-west areas.
Nestled in a bay, between wild capes and raging seas, is a very significant part of Tasmania: Port Arthur Historic Site. The area is home to cultural sites of the Pydairrerme people and is surrounded by the beautiful scenery of the Tasman Peninsula. Originally, it was a penal station that played a vital role in the colony. More recently, it was the site of a heart-breaking event that lead to nationwide gun law reforms. Now World Heritage Listed, Port Arthur Historic Site is remarkable.
The site is extremely picturesque. Ruins stand in sparse, grassed areas: a penitentiary, a hospital and a church. There are also more than thirty restored buildings, giving a glimpse of past elegance and ways of life. Each building and ruin contains information about the lives of individual convicts and workers.
My favourite building is the Commandant’s House. The wallpaper, the multi-levelled hallway, the wood panelling… It is a very grand place! The restored buildings are opened from 9:30am, with a staff member on hand to answer your questions. Our host gave us an informative and fun insight into the house. Look for the time-travelling Commandant, the trapezium-shaped door and a letter written by a very accomplished five-year-old!
I’ve never visited Port Arthur Historic Site during Spring before. I’m very glad that I did this year! The gardens are beautiful. I particularly enjoyed the Commandant’s House garden – a secluded area that gave a hint at what the original garden may have looked like. The site is vastly different from my childhood visits – significant and tasteful landscaping has taken place, adding to the beauty of the site.
The beauty of exploring Port Arthur Historic Site is that you can walk through the buildings and see what life was like for the convicts, soldiers, Commandants and other staff for yourself. It’s like being a child again, exploring imagined forts and dungeons… except that these buildings are real. There is a poignancy to walking through each building, to pulling closed the door to your church stall and to standing in the darkness of the solitary cell.
Port Arthur is about 1 hour and 45 minutes’ drive east from Hobart. Take your time travelling as there are many beautiful spots to stop at on the way, including Eaglehawk Neck and Tasmans Arch. There is ample parking at the site. Be aware that renovations are taking place; the visitor’s centre will look spectacular when these are completed though. You could easily spend an entire day at Port Arthur. The site is dotted with places to eat, shop and research, including small museums and cafes. The gift shop even sells last-minute supplies for those beginning their Three Capes Track experience. There are short walks to do in the area too.
Tickets to the Port Arthur Historic Site cost $39 per adult, $32 per concession and $17 per child. There are optional extras to purchase too, such as a tour of the nearby Point Puer Boy’s Prison. Family tickets are available. Included in your ticket are a complementary 40-minute guided tour and a 20-minute harbour cruise. If you’re running short of time, or If you’ve visited Port Arthur Historic Site before, skip the tour but do the cruise! If you’re heading off to the Three Capes Track, entry to the site is complimentary for two years.
Staying on the Tasman Peninsula for a while? Read about my recent experience on the Three Capes Track or visiting the sea caves at Eaglehawk Neck. Alternatively, read about my adventures in Tasmania’s south.
After visiting Cataract Gorge last week and seeing the Lady Launceston cruising between the towering rock formations, I knew what I wanted to do this week! Fifty-minute Cataract Gorge Cruises depart Home Point several times each day and I highly recommend doing a cruise if you haven’t already. You’ll visit a small portion of kanamaluka (Tamar River), North Esk River and mangana lienta (South Esk River).
Your first sight is the picturesque Seaport. Did you know that the marina at Seaport was built for the Sydney Olympics in 2000 and was originally located in Rushcutter’s Bay before retiring to Launceston? I didn’t! The yachts make for some great photos; our captain was also full of information about the surrounding buildings.
As a local, I was thrilled to be able to see up close the new hotel being built inside the old grain silos. This imposing structure has been part of Launceston’s cityscape from 1960 and stands at 35 metres high. Hobart refurbished their grain silos some 15 year ago and I have been hanging out for someone in Launceston to do the same. Our captain says that the hotel will be ready for visitors in 18 months. Start saving for a trip to Launceston!
Near the silos, Kings Wharf is an intriguing place. What at first appears to be a depository of utterly unloved ships and vehicles is in fact rich in history. The rusted shell of the Ponrabbel II, which dredged the Tamar River for about 40 years, is berthed here. The shiplift has had some rather famous boats built or repaired on it, including some of Victoria’s ferries.
After Kings Wharf, it’s time for the best part of your Cataract Gorge Cruises journey: sailing through The Gorge! On your way, you’ll have stunning views of Trevallyn’s stately Georgian and Victorian homes. You’ll also sail past local vessels as well as local landmarks: Royal Park, Ritchie’s Mill and the Penny Royal Complex with its distinctive blue stone quarry. Finally, you’ll sail underneath the West Tamar Highway and Kings Bridge. From here, you see the two bridges that form Kings Bridge more distinctly, as well as catching glimpses of the gatekeeper’s cottage (now leased to artists and musicians).
Sailing up the South Esk River was stunning. Above us, the rock formations towered. An abseiler descended one of the many registered routes. Metal spikes projected from the rock, showing the path of the wooden aqueduct that used to carry Launceston’s water supply. Beside us, lines of foam ringed the rocks, signalling a recent rush of water. The Gorge floods regularly; the 2016 floods in Northern Tasmania were particularly momentous. You’ll also learn about the history of The Gorge, including the one penny fare that visitors paid to the family who gentrified the area (so that they could recoup some of the cost). The area is also very significant for Tasmanian Aborigines as a source of food, culture and spirituality.
Cataract Gorge Cruises depart from Home Point, which is at the western end of Launceston’s Seaport. Paid parking is available at the Seaport or at Royal Park. Alternatively, walk approximately 15-minutes from the CBD. In winter, cruises depart at 11:30am, 12:30pm and 1:30pm. In the other three seasons, cruises operate on the hour from 9:30am, with the last cruise departing at 4:30pm.
At $29 per adult, this cruise was a good deal! You’ll pay $12 per child, $25 per concession and $70 per family. In summer, I recommend booking in advance with Cataract Gorge Cruises if you have a preferred departure time. The rivers are generally very calm (except when in flood, in which case you won’t be out there!) but you are exposed to the elements. Wear warm clothes and make sure that you have sun protection (sunscreen and hats are available for purchase from the booking office). I enjoyed learning a little bit more about Launceston’s history and seeing a different view of Launceston’s riverside sights.
Launceston’s Cataract Gorge Reserve (“The Gorge” to locals) is a unique place. Carved out by the mangana lienta (South Esk River), the gorge is a stunning, dolerite landscape. The south side of the river is a dry forest and is accessible via the Zig Zag Track (for hikers). The north side resembles a rainforest and has a sealed path. The Gorge is a popular area for walking, picnics, swimming (in summer) and spending time with family and friends.
We parked at Kings Bridge and walked on the sealed path to the Cliff Grounds. This walk is very picturesque. You first encounter the bridge, an entryway and then a house that seems to cling to the cliff. Artists in residence live here. Along the pathway, there are many sights to see, including native flora, rapids and a hut made by two local gentlemen in the mid-1900s. It is a peaceful walk. You can also take a short cruise up the river.
As we entered the Cliff Grounds, we saw three wallabies. They are beautiful creatures and were very tame. Please do not feed them processed food as doing this can cause lumpy jaw. I highly recommend that you read Parks and Wildlife’s information on interacting with wild animals. It is just as satisfying to take a photograph from a distance. These wallabies were very good posers!
The Cliff Grounds were “beautified” by locals in the late 1800s. They built pathways and the gorgeous Victorian structures that are dotted about The Gorge, including the rotunda. This now contains information about the history of the Gorge and Cliff Grounds. Near the rotunda, you’ll find the path to the Gorge Scenic Chairlift. This boasts the longest span in the world! I’ll have to ride it next time I visit but ran out of time today.
There are several species of trees to admire, including approximately seventy native species. There are also seventy species of native birds to admire. Although they are introduced species, there is something wonderful about walking beneath towering maples, oaks and elms. There are also plenty of peacocks to entertain you (I grew up with peacocks so I’m not so fond of them!). I spotted three peacocks on the roof of the restaurant when we left the Cliff Grounds. The Gorge Restaurant is open daily from 9am and a kiosk is also open during the day.
From the Cliff Grounds, head downhill, following signs for The Basin Walk. This will lead you across a small footbridge (with no rails) from which you can admire the rapids, the First Basin and the suspension bridge. It’s a short walk from here to the Basin Cafe, above which is the other end of the chairlift. The Cafe has an excellent view. It is situated above an amenities block, which is designed to cater for summer swimmers.
In summer, you’ll find lovely clean water in the pool and life guards to boot. Locals also swim in the First Basin, but this is not recommended due to the submerged rocks and the depth. It is about 20 metres deep, although I have been told that the bottom hasn’t yet been located… I was brave enough to get in on a hot day some years ago, albeit with a pool noddle for safety!
From the Basin Cafe, walk towards the suspension bridge, along an unsealed path. Built in 1940, the Alexandra Suspension Bridge is very elegant and the views up and down river from it are stunning. Some people (including me!) will swing the bridge from side to side as they walk across it. If you don’t like heights, wait until you’re the only one around before crossing. A short distance from the bridge, climb the set of stairs leading up to a viewing platform. Again, the view is wonderful.
Cataract Gorge Reserve is about a 15 – 30 minute walk from Launceston’s CBD. Paid parking (or free street parking if you are prepared to walk a little further) is available just off Basin Road in West Launceston. Limited free parking is available near the Cliff Grounds (Trevallyn) and limited paid parking is available near Kings Bridge at Penny Royal Adventures or on the street.
It does not cost anything to explore Cataract Gorge Reserve or to swim in the pool (when it is open in summer). You can also use the public barbecues, picnic areas, amenities and playground equipment for free. We brought a picnic lunch with us. Alternatively, purchase lunch from the Basin Cafe or book a table in The Gorge Restaurant. Cataract Gorge Reserve is a very special place. Enjoy your visit!
Last week, I visited the lovely Mersey Bluff Reserve. Dubbed “The Bluff” by locals, it has a rugged beauty, excellent facilities and is a significant location in punnilerpunner country. In summer, Mersey Bluff Reserve is crowded with swimmers, diners, children playing on the playground and people walking or running by. In winter, I arrived to find a man wheeling a car tyre past the playground and saw approximately fifteen people across the entire reserve. Everyone who stayed away because of the rain missed out though.
When you arrive at Mersey Bluff Reserve, you’ll see a giant playground, a beach, and a fascinating building, which houses the amenities and eateries. I recommend having a bite to eat here as the view is superb. Walk north along the beach and you’ll see a cement track. This leads you around The Bluff. It is a short but stunning walk. On a sunny day, at the right time, you’ll even see The Julie Burgess about (this is how I first learnt that she existed!) or The Spirit of Tasmania sail past.
One of my friends recently told me that she loves to go to the beach in winter. Now I understand why! I have never seen the water so wild before. Waves pushed up to the cement barrier on the beach. They pounded the cliffs and surged through the rocks. I stood at one lookout and watched the water pour in and out of a crevice for about five minutes. It was amazing!
I followed a father and his two sons around the track. One of the boys asked his father to read him a plaque. His father read out a poignant statement about a man who died in 1929 trying to save a little girl. Near the lighthouse, there is another plaque about a man who died more recently, again, trying to save someone else. For the sake of others, please swim only at the beach and not near the cliffs.
The lighthouse is testament to the perils of The Bluff and of Bass Strait. It is a rather gorgeous red and white striped lighthouse, perched on the cliffs overlooking Bass Strait. You first see it from a lookout just off the walkway. You cannot climb the lighthouse but admiring it from the outside is good enough.
As you walk back down the hill, you’ll see two things: a caravan park and Tiagarra. This is no accident, as a sign at Tiagarra, an Aboriginal Cultural Centre, points out: “Wherever there is a caravanpark or campsite on the ocean or rivers it is likely to be built on an Aboriginal living site, as they are in the best positions to stay in the seasons”. Tiagarra means “to keep” and is one of the oldest Aboriginal Keeping Places in Australia. Take time to read the poetry printed on the windows and to look for petroglyphs (carvings) on the rocks near the lighthouse. Tiagarra is open by appointment for groups of ten or more.
Devonport is about one hour’s drive north of Launceston on the Bass Highway and about half an hour east of Burnie. When you arrive in Devonport, head to the city centre. From here, follow Victoria Parade. This then turns into Bluff Road. There is plenty of car parking at The Bluff. If you’re keen on exercise, there is a cycling and walking track that runs alongside the river from the city to The Bluff. It is rather picturesque!
There is no cost to visit Mersey Bluff Reserve or to walk around the base of the lighthouse. If you make an appointment to visit Tiagarra (with a group of ten or more), you can purchase craft and artworks. Alternatively, buy some food at one of The Bluff restaurants or have a picnic at one of the picnic tables. I’ve always enjoyed visiting The Bluff and, as my winter visit proved, the loop walk around the coast is worth doing at any time of year.
Bicheno is a beautiful little town on Tasmania’s East Coast. I spent many a summer holiday in the town as a child. Within the town boundaries, you can shop for Tasmanian goodies, eat fresh seafood, have a decent coffee, swim, surf, dive, fish, climb to several vantage points, see Little Penguins, stand on the edge of a blowhole, or walk over a sandbar to an island. And that’s not an exhaustive list by any means! Bicheno packs a punch!
My favourite thing to do in Bicheno is to swim. Although I am a true Tasmanian, it is winter and I don’t have a wetsuit, so we did my second favourite thing: walk. There are several tracks around Bicheno, including a lovely, albeit uneven, foreshore track. From the centre of Bicheno, you can walk to many different places.
It is very short walk to Waubs Beach, a small but gorgeous place. In summer, this is where the surf lifesaving club operates. This weekend, we saw people on paddleboards, in kayaks and even going for a swim (in wetsuits, of course!). Bicheno is famous for its annual ocean swim. Australia’s famous Olympic swimmer, Shane Gould, heads up a swimming group and it may have been just this group that we spotted! The day before we arrived, whales were seen swimming nearby too. Whales are regularly seen offshore from July to November.
On the shore, you’ll find a memorial to the Merchant Navy and the grave of the bay’s namesake. This is one of the most important graves in Tasmania as it once held the remains of Wauba Debar, a Tasmanian Aboriginal lady who won the hearts of locals at a time where racism and sexism were at their worst. Shamefully, her remains were removed for scientific study in the late 1800s but she is still remembered here with her original grave site and stone.
Further south along the coast, you’ll find The Gulch. This is a small waterway and wharf protected from the elements by two Islands. On the other side of the islands lies the Governor Island Marine Reserve. This is one of the world’s best temperate dive locations, with over fifteen species inhabiting the small area. Seals can sometimes even be seen on nearby Alligator Rock. For a fantastic view of The Gulch, head to Whaler’s Lookout.
The track to Whaler’s Lookout starts from Foster Street and is well signposted. We found a track winding up from the end of James Street but it is not for the faint hearted! At the top of the hill, you’ll find two lookouts. Whaler’s Lookout looks over the township and is so named because Bicheno was originally a whaling town. You can read about this awful yet fascinating history on the information board at the lookout. From Whaler’s Lookout, keep walking on the loop track and you’ll find another lookout, this time over The Gulch. It’s a lovely view!
A short walk south, either via the streets or the foreshore track, is the Blow Hole and Rice Pebble Beach, which you can read about here. A longer walk North along the foreshore track is the surf beach, Red Bill, and the town’s most famous attraction: Diamond Island. The island is famous for its penguin colony and its accessibility via a sandbar. You can read about my visit to Diamond Island here.
Bicheno is on Tasmania’s East Coast. It is about ten minutes’ drive north of Freycinet and one hour’s drive south of St Helens. From Hobart, it will take you approximately two and a half hours via the Tasman Highway. Bicheno is just over two hours’ drive from Launceston via Campbell Town or St Mary’s. You can also take the longer route via St Helens and Bay of Fires. Wherever you’re driving from, add on an extra hour or two for stops. Its the East Coast. You see something you really want to stop for approximately every ten minutes.
Understandably, the cost of accommodation is much less in the off-season (over winter). That said, there truly is something for everyone, ranging from tent sites to caravans to luxury B&Bs. As far as attractions go, you can spend the big bucks on scenic flights and cruises in nearby Freycinet or you can do what we did and just walk around Bicheno. It is such a fascinating and beautiful place!
There is much more that I could write about Bicheno. We bought veggies from a local market, had a delicious piece of gluten and dairy free slice from The Farm Shed – East Coast Wine Centre and hope to return soon so that we can do the many things that we missed out on this time. Next time you head to the East Coast, don’t forget to visit the small but brilliant town of Bicheno.
You can read more about my adventures on Tasmania’s East Coast here.