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 only). 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.
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!