Julie and I came to St Columba Falls with some expectations given that it was said to be one of Tasmania's tallest permanent waterfalls at 90m thereby drawing quite a bit of fanfare and literature devoted to it. When we showed up, we saw the impressive waterfall in somewhat of a wishbone shape though its flow looked to be far less than what was typically shown in the literature in addition to what the signage here had indicated. While that first visit took place during the Great Australian Drought of the 2000s, we had a similar experience on a second visit in late November 2017 following an unusually dry and warm Winter and Spring in Eastern Tasmania even though the climate anomaly of the prolonged drought wasn't nearly as pronounced in that later decade.
Speaking of its flow, the South George River, which was responsible for the falls, was said to be fed by a very large 4200 hectare drainage in an area that would typically get high rainfall (e.g. Mt Victoria and Mt Albert). In fact, we read a sign here that said the falls had never been known to run dry since its discovery. That said, Julie and I wondered if that claim would be tested if Climate Change would continue to alter rainfall distributions worldwide. Further adding stress to this watercourse was the presence of clearfell logging, which was on total display when we drove the Mt Victoria Road between Ralphs Falls and St Columba Falls on our latest visit in late 2017. Such denuding of the forest could destabilize the soil, accelerate erosion, and reduce the ability of the soil to retain the moisture that would not only attract clouds but also keep the river flowing.
From the car park and trailhead, we were already able to get distant views of the falls from across the gorge. While the partial views of the falls could be satisfying as we were nearly eye level with most of its drop from here, we wanted to get closer for a more immersive experience. So we passed through a shelter full of interpretive signs about the area's past before embarking on the downhill 600m track to get as close to the falls as we could. The track was pretty well-shaded for most of the way as we were flanked by tall umbrella ferns throughout the well-developed walk. The presence of these ferns tended to indicate that we were indeed in a rainforest.
At the end of the walk, we stood on a lookout platform in a partial opening revealing the St Columba Falls near its base. When the South George River would flood, it was said that the lookout would be sprayed with mist. This wasn't the case in either of our visits. It also appeared that on our first visit, the track went a little further (as shown in the photo at the top of this page), but I'd imagine that erosion and flooding over the years forced the lookout position back to a more conservative spot. In any case, we spent about 30-45 minutes in our visits to the falls as most of the energy and time spent was on the walk going back up to the car park.
The first time we drove up to St Helens via Hobart, we took the coastal road passing by the town of Bicheno and its blowhole along with some interesting stained rocks like these
Prior to visiting St Columba Falls, we stayed at the charming bayside town of St Helens. We really wished we had planned to spend more time here because it was beautiful
After visiting both St Columba and Ralphs Falls the first time in late November 2006, we then continued onto Launceston, where we got a magical experience in the Cataract Gorge at twilight
On our most recent visit to St Columba Falls, we stopped by the Sideling Lookout, which provided an expansive panorama looking across the Bass Strait towards Gippsland as well as Tassie's northeast
On the Mt Victoria Road between Ralphs Falls and St Columba Falls, we drove through this depressing stretch of denuded old growth forest, which we'd imagine couldn't be good for the long term life of the South George River that sustained Pyengana for so long
Parking alongside the St Columba Falls Rd
Looking across the South River Gorge towards the falls from near the trailhead
View of the falls from a similar perspective back in late November 2006
Approaching the start of the walk for the falls
The same trailhead seen in late November 2006. As you can see not much has changed except the signage
The well-developed downhill walk towards the bottom of the falls
The further down we went, the more green and lush the rainforest became
Abundant ferns flanking the trail indicated to us that we were indeed in a rainforest
This section of the track was prone to a landslide so they urged us not to linger in the next 25m
Near the bottom of the downhill track, we found ourselves looking up at these umbrella ferns
Approaching the lookout at the end of the track
Looking up at the St Columba Falls from the end of the track
The typically misty lookout platform for the falls from back in late November 2006
Portrait view of the falls from the end of the track in late November 2017
Frontal look at St Columba Falls from the lookout platform further along in late November 2006. I don't think this vantage point is sanctioned anymore
On the way out, we paid more attention to these unusual fuzzy trees with ferns growing out of some of the branches. I believe a sign here called them epiphytes
Last look back at the falls before returning to the car park
Since the nearest city of reasonable distance is Launceston, we'll describe the driving directions from there. We were also able to make a visit here from Ralphs Falls as well as St Helens so we'll describe those driving routes later in this section.
From the Launceston CBD, we'd head east onto the Tasman Highway (A3) for about 62km to the town of Scottsdale. Note that the Sideling Lookout was about 48km along the A3 from Launceston. Once in Scottsdale, we turned right to continue on the Tasman Highway (A3) and took it for another 72km to the St Columba Falls Rd turnoff on the right near the farming town of Pyengana.
After going onto the St Columba Falls Rd, we continued another 12km to the signed trailhead and car park for the falls. Just beyond the trailhead, there was space to do a U-turn as well as some picnic tables. Overall, this 144km drive took us over 2 hours.
Coming from Ralphs Falls, we continued east on the Mt Victoria Rd for about 11km. We then turned right onto the St Columba Falls Rd and followed it for about 1.6km before reaching the car park and trailhead.
From St Helens, we drove the Tasman Highway (A3) for about 24km to Pyengana. Then, we turned left onto the St Columba Falls Rd (C428) and drove for about 11km to the trailhead and car park for the falls.
For some geographical context, Launceston was about 103km (over an hour drive) east of Devonport, 167km (over 2 hours drive) west of St Helens, and 201km (nearly 2.5 hours drive) north of Hobart.
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