Day 1: WIMPY WATERFALLS
Julie and I awoke early despite not having slept very much given our late arrival to Hobart after the very adventurous Adamson’s Falls hike yesterday.
Nonetheless, we checked out and left Hobart at 6:25am. The drive out to the east was pretty long and eventful, and it wasn’t until around 8:12am when we arrived at some town called Swanko just so Julie could pick up some meat pies for brekkie.
When we got out of the car, we were looking around wondering where the falls was supposed to be. Then, we realized that the reason why we had trouble finding it was because it wasn’t flowing! Thus, it wasn’t producing any sounds.
In a trip so full of dry waterfalls, I guess Tasmania wasn’t immune either. So that was a royal bummer.
So we were right back in the car at 9:07am seeing that there wasn’t much of a reason to linger any longer.
I wondered whether this was normal, or if this was merely a casualty of the drought. I guess speculating about it now didn’t do us any good so we took off.
We ended up driving north across the B34 then continued going onto an unsealed road bound for Meetus Falls. On the way up there, we noticed a couple of wombats (which were slumbering fat furry four-legged creatures) as well as a bunch of kangaroos and even a trio of big black eagles (the same ones picking on roadkill that we saw way back in WA earlier this year).
At 9:41am, we finally arrived at the Meetus Falls Lookout Car Park. At least with this waterfall, we could hear it so that got us to hasten our paces towards the lookout where indeed we saw the tall waterfall with a partial rainbow going across it. The walk was said to be 20min return, and it was probably spot on though we got there pretty quickly.
All we did was photograph the falls, and we didn’t linger any longer where there was a separate walk going to some kind of lookout of the ocean. I guess with more waterfalling to do on this day, we didn’t tarry any longer than we felt we had to. So we were back at the car at 10:04am and continued our long drive further up the eastern side of Tassie’s coast.
The first thing we did was go right to the Bicheno Blowhole, which we knew from our pre-trip research was the main scenic attraction here. However, when we got there, the blowhole wasn’t blowing too well though it was indeed blowing.
So we spent quite a bit of time trying to time our photographs while waiting for the blowhole to at least make one big spew. But these were so few and far between that we never really got the photo of the blowhole doing its thing in the way we hoped.
We then returned to the car at 11:40am and headed further into the town for a lunch. I think all we had was some greasy fish and chips so it wasn’t particularly memorable.
From Bicheno to the next waterfall was a fairly long and non-trivial drive. It was starting to get late in the day and we still had at least two waterfalls to visit before checking into St Helens. So time was getting short.
We’d eventually arrive at the Mathinna Falls car park at 2:17pm after driving some mostly unsealed roads (B43) when we left the A4. Apparently, had we approached from the north (from Fingal to Mathinna), it would’ve been more sealed, but we didn’t know it at the time.
The unsealed roads here tended to be somewhat rockier and bumpier than what we were used to throughout the rest of Australia. On the flip side, I guess these roads were possible because they were logging roads for logging the Fingal Forest.
Anyhow, we did the short and straightforward walk to the falls, which was on the order of 20-25m tall. The falls had decent flow, which made us think well of this experience. There was a little bit of a fallen tree obstacle that we had to get around after hanging a left at a fork before the bridge just as the trail was going uphill.
At 3:06pm, we were back at the car. Now, there was one more waterfall to check out, and it wasn’t far from this one.
So we went on the unsealed roads again and eventually arrived at the Evercreech Forest Reserve car park at 3:43pm. Little did we realize that this place was more known for giant trees than it was for the waterfall we came out this way for.
At first, we went right to what was called the White Knights. It was a short 5 minute track leading right to the base of a whole cluster of these giant white-barked gum trees (almost reminiscent of Kauri Trees in New Zealand).
Even though it was only a 5-minute track to these trees, we made a loop out of it that was around 20 minutes that allowed us to get a more elevated view of these giant trees.
However, there was a bit of scrambling to do because there was a fallen tree that practically obliterated a large section of the track. So with that rough bit of bushwhacking, we lost a little confidence about how easy this track was. Apparently, a detour to get around this obstacle hadn’t been made yet so this fallen tree probably happened not that long ago.
But once we got around it as well as a short stream crossing, then we eventually made it to the rather anticlimactic 5-7m tall falls. Actually, the falls was not on the same stream that the walking track followed most of the way.
We’d eventually get to our accommodation there (The Bayside Inn) by 6:18pm, which was right by the water. So before going out for a quickie dinner, we actually spent a few moments on the beach here while watching the sun disappear inland. This was one of those places where perhaps it would’ve been nice to spend another night or at least allow ourselves a little more time just to enjoy the scenery at this accommodation. However, that was not meant to be.
Day 2: A MAGICAL EVENING IN THE GORGE
Julie and I awoke at around 5am.
We had planned on seeing several waterfalls today, but my enthusiasm for this day was curbed by the waterfall results of yesterday (i.e. lackluster waterfalls and even one that ceased to flow). It was then that it dawned on me that perhaps Tasmania was also adversely affected by the drought, and now I began to wonder how the falls of today would behave – and I wasn’t very optimistic we would see anything even remotely close to the photographs shown in the Tasmanian Waterfalls book I picked up in Geeveston.
It didn’t take long to get to St Columba Falls as we had arrived at its trailhead at 7:15am. The entire drive to get here was sealed, which was unusual for a waterfall in a rural area. I reckoned this must be a major tourist attraction for this part of Tassie.
As we left the car, we could see the wishbone-shaped 90m waterfall across the valley from where we stood. The falls wasn’t anywhere near as misty as what the waterfall book had shown. None of this was surprising though. But at least this waterfall still looked like it had satisfying flow.
We took some time to walk towards the base of the falls. There, we saw a sign that said the falls had never been known to dry up. Maybe this year might challenge that claim. But still, the falls were still flowing somewhat strong given its dimished flow.
But on a more normal year, I could totally see how the overlook would be completely misty and very difficult to take photos. We had no such problem on this November morning.
At 7:44am, we regained the car and took a fairly rough and narrow unsealed road towards Ralphs Falls. Having already seen the photo of this waterfall in the waterfall book, I wondered how well this one would flow if St Columba Falls already had a dimished flow. I certainly hoped Ralphs Falls wouldn’t go completely dry on us.
As we took the unsealed road, we couldn’t help but notice how dry and brown the trees around us were. It really looked like a forest that was just ripe for a bush fire. And all this did was reaffirm my fears that the drought also affected Tassie and hence our waterfall-viewing experience.
At 8:11am, we arrived at the car park for Ralphs Falls. The short walk to its overlook platform was shaded and easy. The cliff hugging final portion to the so-called Norm’s Lookout offered expansive views in the direction of the Ringarooma township as well as a direct view of the Ralphs Falls itself.
We regained the car at 8:41am and proceeded to drive towards Lilydale. There, we expected to see the Lilydale Falls, which was a popular but tiny pair of waterfalls.
After locking the car, we proceeded to take the easy walk towards the First Falls which flowed in a double-barrel with a standing fallen log leaning against and concealing one of the columns of the falls. Later, we continued on the track past the First Falls towards the smaller but still charming Second Falls.
It was around 11:30am when we entered the Launceston CBD, but once again we noticed detour signs and road closures. Upon passing one of the streets, the quantity of people standing on the streets made it obvious that we had just stumbled onto yet another parade – just like our first go in Melbourne.
It’s almost as if there’s a conspiracy to prevent us from getting to our accommodation in a timely and efficient manner.
We would eventually check in to our accommodation at the Comfort Inn Commodore Regent at 11:47am and we proceeded to go for a stroll around town along with a little supermarket shopping for more grub and water that would last us the remainder of our time in Tassie.
It was about 1:35pm when we finally left Launceston and headed for Liffey Falls – the last waterfall for today.
As I was driving the Hwy 1 in the direction of Devonport, I couldn’t help but notice the Liffey Falls signs. We had planned on taking only the highways (which was a little bit longer distance-wise), but those signs basically convinced me to take one of the exits earlier than I wanted to. And so I proceeded to follow these signs, which took us through rural roads instead of the main Highway.
What a mistake!
The roads started off as two-lane rural roads that were a bit narrow. Then, they became nontrivial unsealed roads before finally becoming the single-lane unsealed road that ultimately ended at the car park for the falls. I reckoned we could’ve saved at least half an hour taking the longer but more highway-oriented way we had originally intended (oh well, we figured we could do that on the way back to Launceston).
We got to the Liffey Falls car park at 2:37pm. There were plenty of cars here already. It was clear this was a very popular tourist attraction.
So Julie and I walked the well-developed path and noticed numerous people walking back and forth. It definitely had a more touristy feel to it than some of the quieter waterfall hikes we had been on in Tassie.
And it wasn’t long before we started to hear and see the first two of Liffey Falls’ cascades. A pair of viewpoints let us look at the falls, which were both short. The bright sun also made photography of these cascades a bit difficult.
The falls looked like it could’ve been able to span the wide watercourse under wetter conditions, but seeing how we were in the midst of a drought, only the near side of the watercourse had water.
That was too bad.
So onwards we walked. Just minutes afterwards, we saw the third waterfall, which consisted of a small cascade before plunging through a chute that lunges 7m into the shadowy depths below. And like the first two cascades, this one wasn’t tall nor did it appear to have anywhere near the normal volume.
As for the falls itself, it cascaded in one main wall followed by several smaller tiers. It was too bad we were looking against the sun because this looked like one of those falls that could really benefit from long exposure photography in much the same way that Purakaunui Falls did in the Catlins Forest of New Zealand.
Still, given the less-than-normal waterflow, I couldn’t help but wonder how wide these falls should’ve been and how much more photogenic it would’ve been. So once again after we took the obligatory photos, I gave a sigh and returned with Julie back to the car park.
I couldn’t help but think about what a bummer it would be if the rest of the falls in Tassie would suffer from the drought. And that was the prospect I was facing with the realization after seeing less-than-average flows for the last two (possibly three) days.
Clearly, this was depressing, and it was having an effect on my mood.
So we returned to the car at 4pm and quickly made our way back to Launceston. I did have to fight a bit of fatigue while driving the fast-moving highways, but we figured we ought to spoil ourselves with a dinner at Stillwater – a fine dining fusion establishment near the famed Cataract Gorge.
Julie and I were a bit underdressed for our dinner at Stillwater, but the waitress serving us was real nice to us anyways. The food was quite expensive as you had to order by the finite course selections and choose between the specific items that comes in each course. It was a little bit of a different way of ordering things, but we cared only about the quality of the food anyways.
The food turned out to be quite good even though the proportions were a bit limited for the price we were paying.
After finishing our mains, we walked up to the counter to pay rather than waiting for them to bring the bill to us. We still wanted to get to the Cataract Gorge as soon as possible.
Upon learning our urgency, the waitress told us that there was something going on in the Cataract Gorge. And this bit of news added further motivation for us to go check it out. Soon thereafter, we exchanged pleasantries with their staff as we left the Stillwater Restaurant.
Remembering what the waitress told us about something going on in the Cataract Gorge, this hastened our pace as were determined to explore the gorge further than initially thought. Besides, we had to work off the food we had just eaten.
So as we proceeded to cross the King’s Bridge and entered the entirely paved walk, we basked in the fading light of the day. The incredible views of the gorge with houses perched high above easily made this the most scenic developed river/gorge walk I had ever been a part of, I reckoned.
The steep gorge and developed track really seemed like a strange combination, but it added to the mystique of the place. We could certainly feel something was going on this night. Families were walking back and forth in both directions – not at all concerned about the coming darkness nor any safety or potential for crime.
Julie and I heard music echoing faintly in the background. It beckoned us closer as if everyone was heading towards some spooky outdoor gathering. Of course we were curious to see what the source of the music was so we kept on walking further into the gorge.
As darkness started to dominate, the floodlights started taking over. The night sky was mostly still and even the partial moon’s glow helped the floodlights illuminate the gorge.
After nearly 20 or so minutes of walking, we would eventually reach an overlook where we could see way across the gorge the natural amphitheater in which the performance was happening. We weren’t quite sure what kind of performance this was, but we heard cheering and music while there were teams of youngsters dancing some choreographed routine to the music.
We weren’t close enough to truly participate in this event, and we opted not to walk any further on this strangely magical night. I regretted not bringing my camera and tripod given the low light settings to try to capture the mood of the moment. But still I wonder what it would’ve been like had we gotten here earlier and became part of this unforgettable twilight sight.
It wasn’t until about 9pm when we regained the car, but I was determined to get back to our motel room at the Comfort Inn to pick up the camera and the tripod. Once that was done, we returned to the gorge at 10pm. But by then, the magic seemed to have disappeared as heaps of people were walking away from the gorge and the costumed performers were awaiting a shuttle at the trailhead of the gorge next to the Kings Bridge.
Now the Cataract Gorge was considerably quieter and no longer possessed the energy it had just an hour earlier. I went ahead and took my night-time photos of the gorge taking advantage of the flood lights. But the whole time I was kicking myself for not having my camera and tripod ready when we left the Stillwater Restaurant.
Still, the experience of this memorable and unique event in the gorge was what Julie and I took away from this day. As a matter of fact, I don’t think we had ever been a part of a night time function as unique as this and I’m not sure if we’re ever going to experience something like this again.
Perhaps more importantly for me, it did wonders for my mood as it totally made me forget about the waterfall disappointments earlier on in the day…