Cataract Gorge Cruises

Traversing Cataract Gorge Cruises
Cataract Gorge Cruises
Cataract Gorge Cruises © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

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).

Seaport
Seaport © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

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.

Silo Hotel under construction
Silo Hotel under construction © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

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!

Ponrabbel II, Kings Wharf
Ponrabbel II, Kings Wharf © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

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.

Royal Park
Royal Park © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

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).

Abseiler
Abseiler © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

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.

Foam
Foam © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

Getting There

Kyeema
Kyeema © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

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.

Cost

Cataract Gorge and Kings Bridge
Cataract Gorge and Kings Bridge © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

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.

Staying in Launceston for a while? Read about my visit to the Cataract Gorge Reserve (on foot) and my journeys in Tasmania’s nearby north and midlands.

Cataract Gorge Reserve

Traversing Cataract Gorge Reserve
Cataract Gorge Reserve
Cataract Gorge Reserve © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

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.

Walkway
Walkway © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

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.

Wallabies
Wallabies © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

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!

Cliff Grounds
Cliff Grounds © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

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.

Peacock
Peacock © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

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.

Bridge
Bridge © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

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.

First Basin
First Basin © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

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!

Alexandra Suspension Bridge
Alexandra Suspension Bridge © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

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.

Getting There

Cataract Gorge Reserve
Cataract Gorge Reserve © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

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.

Cost

Cataract Gorge Cruises
Cataract Gorge Cruises © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

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!

Want more ideas about what else to do nearby? Read about my experience Cataract Gorge Cruises and my adventures in Tassie’s north and midlands.

Mersey Bluff Reserve

Traversing Mersey Bluff Reserve
Mersey Bluff Reserve
Mersey Bluff Reserve © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

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.

Walkway
Walkway © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

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.

View of Bass Strait
View of Bass Strait © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

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!

Memorial
Memorial © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

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.

Lighthouse
Lighthouse © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

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.

Tiagarra
Tiagarra © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

Getting There

Lighthouse
Lighthouse © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

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!

Cost

Mersey Bluff Reserve
Mersey Bluff Reserve © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

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.

Staying in Devonport? Read about my visits to Home Hill, Bass Strait Maritime Centre or The Julie Burgess. Passing through? Read about my adventures in Tasmania’s nearby north west or north.

Spirit of Tasmania

Traversing Spirit of Tasmania I
Spirit of Tasmania
Spirit of Tasmania © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

The easiest way to travel to Tasmania is via aeroplane. On a clear day, you’ll see stunning aerial views of the state and of the stretch of water separating it from mainland Australia. This bird’s-eye-view of Bass Strait gives you no idea of its breadth . It is not. To fully experience Bass Strait, take a ride on the Spirit of Tasmania.

Port Melbourne
Port Melbourne © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

The two Spirit of Tasmania vessels sail between Port Melbourne and Devonport. They ferry people, pets, vehicles and freight containers. In winter, there are generally sailings every day except Sunday. In summer, day sailings are also available. Both Spirit of Tasmania I and II have restaurants, bars, a reading room, a tourism hub, a playground, a cinema, and so on.

Spirit of Tasmania
Spirit of Tasmania © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

I like the night sailings and my first priority is to be out on deck while the sun is still up. There are many ways to get to the outside decks and I recommend choosing one that isn’t too crowded and faces the sunset. After this, head to Tasmanian Market Kitchen for a meal (dietary requirements are catered for).  On Deck 9, you’ll find live music from a talented Tasmanian act. I’m not one for a late night when I know that I’ll be woken up very early so I tend to head to bed after half a set.

Melbourne
Melbourne © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

You have a choice about how you will spend your night on the Spirit of Tasmania. You can either sleep in a recliner or a cabin. My husband tells me that the recliners are awful but they are much cheaper and other people swear by them. I like space, my own bathroom and lying flat to sleep so it’s an inside cabin for me. For a slightly higher price, you can book a cabin with a porthole (not worth it on a winter night sailing though!). When you get out into Bass Strait, there are waves, very large waves. If you suffer from motion sickness, make sure that you take your medication! Let yourself be rocked to sleep.

Getting There

Devonport is about an hour’s drive north of Launceston on the Bass Highway. From Hobart, it will take you about three and a half hours (four hours including a stop) to get to the ferry terminal. Once your reach the outskirts of Devonport, follow blue signs for the ferry. The ship begins loading passengers two and a half hours prior to departure (boarding closes 45 minutes before the ship leaves). In Devonport, I recommend enjoying the view from the other side of the Mersey River and taking a bit of time before boarding.

Western Gate Bridge
Western Gate Bridge © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

The easiest way to reach the ferry terminal in Melbourne is via the toll roads. You can pay for the toll in advance here. If you are averse to paying tolls, make sure that you leave plenty of time to find your way. I try to arrive at Port Melbourne at least two hours before boarding commences. Parking nearby is limited but you can generally find a two-hour spot and walk along the shore for a while before boarding.

What to Bring

Tasmanian Market Kitchen
TMK © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

You cannot access the vehicle decks after the ship’s departure. Pack an overnight bag with warm clothes (for out on the deck), toiletries, snacks and medication. Food is available for purchase on board the ship. Due to Tasmania’s strict quarantine regulations, you cannot bring fresh fruit and vegetables, plants or meat/fish with you.

Cost

Lounge Area
Lounge Area © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

Prices vary according to seasons. There are two methods for booking. Method One: book well in advance so that you get the sailings that you want. Method Two: wait for a last-minute special (but risk missing out on a sailing altogether). Either way, I recommend signing up for the Spirit of Tasmania mailing list so that you’re aware of upcoming specials. If you are taking a ute or 4WD, make sure that you account for the height of your load when booking your tickets.

Enjoy your journey to Tasmania! While you’re in Devonport, why not visit Home Hill (a prime-ministerial home) or sail on The Julie Burgess? If you just need a good feed, go to Tasmanian Food and Wine Conservatory or Christmas Hills Raspberry Farm. For more ideas for your Tassie adventures, read my posts about what to do in Tassie’s north, north westsouth, west coast, east coast and midlands.

Alexandra Battery

Traversing Alexandra Battery
Entry
Entry © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

Two fortifications that once guarded the Derwent River sit as reminders of times gone by. Both are excellent places to visit for a dose of history, exploration and stunning scenery. On the eastern shore is Kangaroo Bluff Battery. Opposite it is Alexandra Battery. I remember vividly when I first explored its ruins.

Passageway
Passage © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

I’ve always been fascinated by tunnels, hidden passageways and fortresses. Alexandra Battery is small but impressive. As a child, I relished racing around inside its towering rock walls, darkened rooms and long passageway up the hillside. While I was there this week, a father was teaching his children about the ships that used to sail up the river and the need for large cannons to defend Hobart Town. I know why his children were so excited!

Alexandra Battery
Alexandra Battery © emily@traversingtasmania 2017
View of Tasman Bridge
View Upriver © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

In addition to its appeal to adventurers, young and old, the reserve is a fantastic place to take a photograph and relax. The view is sensational. From the top of the reserve, you can see up river to the Tasman Bridge and down river to Opossum Bay. Take a moment to sit and drink it all in. You can even have beautiful wedding photos taken here, like my brother- and sister-in-law did.

Alexandra Battery
Alexandra Battery © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

The fortress is part of a larger network of batteries that was designed to protect Hobart Town. Built in 1871, the battery is a barbette battcry (cannons fire over parapets). These round areas are fascinating. Incredibly, Alexandra Battery was constructed in a hurry due to fears that Russian forces would invade! You can find more details in this 1922 article from The Mercury.

Getting There

Lookout
Lookout © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

Alexandra Battery is approximately 15 minutes’ drive from Hobart CBD along Sandy Bay Road. After you have passed Nutgrove Beach, the road climbs up. Shortly after this, turn right onto Churchill Avenue to use the reserve’s car park. If you prefer, you can park on Sandy Bay Road and access the reserve from below the fortifications.

Cost

View Downriver
View Downriver © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

Access to the reserve is free and it is open night and day, year-round. Take a picnic lunch, a sturdy pair of shoes and a camera and enjoy a slice of old Hobart Town’s history.

While you’re in the area, why not visit The Shot Tower? My grandparents used to be caretakers there. To read more about my adventures in Tasmania’s south, click here.

Tasmazia and the Village of Lower Crackpot

Traversing Tasmazia and the Village of Lower Crackpot
Tasmazia and the Village of Lower Crackpot
Tasmazia and the Village of Lower Crackpot © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

Tasmazia and the Village of Lower Crackpot is, pardon the pun, amazing. Laugh your way through the maze, with another joke just around the corner. Be propelled at lightning speed back to your childhood as you find what’s around the corner and climb through small spaces. Above it all stands the imposing, gorgeous Mount Roland. If you haven’t been to Tasmazia yet, then you need to plan to visit soon!

The House of Hadd
The House of Hadd © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

Winter in Tasmania means the winter blues combined with a good dose of cabin fever for many Tasmanians. You can beat the winter blues with a good laugh as you make your way through the Great Maze at Tasmazia. Named due to its towering hedges (even the tallest of adults can’t cheat in this maze!), the Great Maze is full of surprises, including the Three Bears House, a garden path and a monumental toilet. It’s a real hoot!

Balance Maze
Balance Maze © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

On the edge of the Great Maze are several other treats. Whizz down a fireman’s pole, make your way through the spooky house (the spookiest thing being how dark the maze through it is!) and wobble your way across the balance maze. If you want, you can even put yourself (or somebody else!) in the stocks. Kids will love this part of the maze but I can tell you that it was great fun as an adult too. I’m proud to say that I made it through the balance maze without falling off!

Once you’re finished with the Great Maze and the other attractions on its edge, there’s more! You’ll now find yourself in the Village of Lower Crackpot. This is a quirky, miniature village surrounded by four smaller mazes. The buildings in the village include tributes to local groups such as the Salvation Army and the State Emergency Services, as well as crazy, humorous buildings like the University of Lateral Thinking. The inventors of Tasmazia and the Village of Lower Crackpot do have a sense of humour! You can overlook the village from The Tower.

Yellow Brick Maze
Yellow Brick Maze © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

This part of Tasmazia has a stunning outlook of Mount Roland. As you make your way through the four smaller mazes, be sure to look up for a great view! There are three quirky hedge mazes and a paved maze filled with humorous buildings (look out for the Boot Camp!). If you’re feeling mazed-out, the best view is from the end of the Yellow Brick Maze and the funniest centre-piece is in the Hexagonal Maze.

Embassy Gardens
Embassy Gardens © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

The final attraction at Tasmazia and the Village of Lower Crackpot is the Embassy Gardens. This houses the miniature and humorous (can you see the theme?!) embassies of several countries. Make sure that you ring Belgium’s bell. Mothers, take refuge in your safe space (complete with another great view of Mount Roland!). Once you’ve finished here, it’s out the gates and to the loo.

The Village of Lower Crackpot
The Village of Lower Crackpot © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

Tasmazia and the Village of Lower Crackpot boasts the best ladies’ toilets on the planet. The cubicles are very roomy, each with its own painting and chair! There is a small gift shop and a café. While you won’t find gourmet food there (aside from the honey for sale), it is tasty, served quickly and dietary requirements can be catered for.

What to Bring

The Crapper Monument
The Crapper Monument © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

The most important thing to bring with you is a sense of adventure! Wear sturdy shoes and comfortable clothes as you’ll be outdoors for a good half day at least. Take a hat and sunscreen in summer and wear a warm coat, hat and gloves in winter. You can exit and then re-enter the maze as often as you wish but it might be wise to take a bottle of water and snacks with you. There is no (usable) toilet in the maze so keep this in mind too!

Getting There

A joke around every corner
A joke around every corner © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

Tasmazia and the Village of Lower Crackpot is about a 15 minute drive west from the town of Sheffield. From Devonport, drive south via Spreyton. From Launceston, drive north on the Bass Highway, taking the left-hand turn at Elizabeth Town for Sheffield. If you’re travelling from Cradle Mountain to Sheffield (or vice versa), Tasmazia is well worth the slight detour.

Cost

Post Office
Post Office © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

At $25 per adult, you may think that Tasmazia is a bit overpriced. Entry costs $20 per senior, $70 per family (2 + 2) and $12.50 for children (with children under four free).  I would pay the entry fee again in a heartbeat. It is worth every cent for a good laugh and a fabulous adventure!

In nearby Sheffield, you’ll find the Redwater Creek Railway, which I enjoyed visiting a few weeks earlier. For more posts about my travels in Tasmania’s north west, click here, and for more in the north, click here.