St Columba Falls

Pyengana / St Helens, Tasmania, Australia

About St Columba Falls


Hiking Distance: 1.2km round trip
Suggested Time: 30-45 minutes

Date first visited: 2006-11-25
Date last visited: 2017-11-25

Waterfall Latitude: -41.32105
Waterfall Longitude: 147.92145

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.

With such notoriety, it drew quite a bit of fanfare as well as literature devoted to it.

St_Columba_Falls_17_035_11242017 - St Columba Falls
St Columba Falls

When we showed up, we saw the impressive waterfall in somewhat of a wishbone shape.

However, 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 our first visit took place during the Great Australian Drought of the 2000s in November 2006, we had a similar experience on a second visit in late November 2017.

That visit followed 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.

St_Columba_Falls_033_11242006 - Looking up at the St Columba Falls from the old lookout in November 2006
Looking up at the St Columba Falls from the old lookout in November 2006

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.

This drainage was in an area that would typically get high rainfall from 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.

Ralphs_Falls_016_iPhone_11252017 - We had witnessed this unfortunate display of vast clear-fell logging between St Columba Falls and Ralphs Falls during our November 2017 visit
We had witnessed this unfortunate display of vast clear-fell logging between St Columba Falls and Ralphs Falls during our November 2017 visit

Further adding stress to this watercourse was the presence of clear-fell logging.

This 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.

Visiting St Columba Falls

From the car park and trailhead (see directions below), we were already able to get distant views of the falls from across the gorge.

St_Columba_Falls_17_006_11242017 - Looking across the ravine at the St Columba Falls from the car park and trailhead area
Looking across the ravine at the St Columba Falls from the car park and trailhead area

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.

St_Columba_Falls_17_024_11242017 - Near the bottom of the downhill track, we found ourselves looking up at these umbrella-like ferns
Near the bottom of the downhill track, we found ourselves looking up at these umbrella-like ferns

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).

St_Columba_Falls_034_11242006 - Context of the St Columba Falls lookout as seen during our first visit back in November 2006. On a later visit in November 2017, it appeared that this lookout was set further back
Context of the St Columba Falls lookout as seen during our first visit back in November 2006. On a later visit in November 2017, it appeared that this lookout was set further back

However, 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.

Authorities

St Columba Falls resides in the St Columba Falls State Reserve near St Helens, Tasmania. It is administered by the Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, visit their website.

St_Columba_Falls_17_016_11242017 - The well-developed downhill walk towards the bottom of St Columba Falls as seen during our November 2017 visit
St_Columba_Falls_17_017_11242017 - The further down we went along the St Columba Falls Track during our November 2017 visit, the more green and lush the rainforest became
St_Columba_Falls_17_020_11242017 - Abundant ferns flanking the St Columba Falls Trail seen during our November 2017 visit indicated to us that we were indeed in a rainforest
St_Columba_Falls_17_022_11242017 - This section of the St Columba Falls Track was prone to a landslide so they urged us not to linger in the next 25m during our November 2017 visit
St_Columba_Falls_17_030_11242017 - Approaching the lookout at the end of the St Columba Falls Track during our November 2017 visit
St_Columba_Falls_17_037_11242017 - Looking up at the St Columba Falls from the end of the track during our November 2017 visit
St_Columba_Falls_17_052_11242017 - On the way out from St Columba Falls during our November 2017 visit, we paid more attention to these unsusual fuzzy trees with ferns growing out of some of the branches. I believe a sign here called them epiphytes
St_Columba_Falls_17_058_11242017 - Partial look back at St Columba Falls before returning to the car park during our November 2017 visit
St_Columba_Falls_17_062_11242017 - Last look across the ravine towards the St Columba Falls from the trailhead area at the end of our November 2017 visit
St_Columba_Falls_012_11242006 - View of St Columba Falls across the ravine as seen from the trailhead area back in late November 2006
St_Columba_Falls_001_11242006 - The St Columba Falls Trailhead seen in late November 2006. As you can see not much has changed except the signage
St_Columba_Falls_013_11242006 - Contextual look back at the St Columba Falls from the trailhead area during our November 2006 visit
St_Columba_Falls_002_jx_11242006 - Checking out a signboard or kiosk by the start of the St Columba Falls Walk during our November 2006 visit
St_Columba_Falls_030_11242006 - Looking up from the base of St Columba Falls at the end of the track during our November 2006 visit
St_Columba_Falls_040_11242006 - Last look at St Columba Falls from the car park at the end of our November 2006 visit

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Since the nearest city of reasonable distance to St Columba Falls 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.

Driving from Launceston to St Columba Falls

From the Launceston CBD, we’d head east onto the Tasman Highway (A3) for about 62km to the town of Scottsdale.

St_Columba_Falls_17_009_11242017 - Context of the St Columba Falls trailhead with some parked cars a little further towards the picnic area
Context of the St Columba Falls trailhead with some parked cars a little further towards the picnic area

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.

St_Columba_Falls_17_002_11242017 - The St Columba Falls Rd just beyond the trailhead where there was room to make a U-turn by the picnic tables
The St Columba Falls Rd just beyond the trailhead where there was room to make a U-turn by the picnic tables

Overall, this 144km drive took us over 2 hours.

Driving from Ralphs Falls or St Helens to St Columba Falls

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.

St_Columba_Falls_17_004_11242017 - Looking back from the picnic area towards a couple of the parked cars besides the St Columba Falls Trailhead
Looking back from the picnic area towards a couple of the parked cars besides the St Columba Falls Trailhead

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.

Checking out the falls from the end of the track


View of the falls from its base

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Tagged with: pyengana, dorset, st helens, northeast, launceston, tasmania, australia, waterfall, bass, south george river



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Johnny Cheng

About Johnny Cheng

Johnny Cheng is the founder of the World of Waterfalls and author of A Guide to New Zealand Waterfalls. Over the last 2 decades, he has visited thousands of waterfalls in over 40 countries around the world and nearly 40 states in the USA.
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