Launceston has an extensive and beautiful natural feature right on the edge of the CBD: Cataract Gorge.
Cataract Gorge was formed when the South Esk River cut through a fault line in a ridge of volcanic rock. It’s a remarkably beautiful and seemingly wild place, especially considering its location right in the middle of a city.
The gorge and the adjacent Trevallyn Nature Recreation Area are well served by a network of walking tracks, some of which can easily accessed from the Launceston CBD.
Walking the lower reach
We walked around the lower reach of the Cataract Gorge, starting at First Basin, which is about a kilometre upstream from the end of the gorge, and walked downstream along the Zigzag track to the edge of Launceston CBD, and returned to first Basin on the Cataract Walk on the other side of the gorge.
The Zigzag track
The Zigzag track climbs high above the gorge through the bush, giving lovely panoramic views from several lookouts. This is a view of the lower reach of the gorge from a high point on the Zigzag track.
In the distance you can see our starting point, First Basin, where there is a suspension foot bridge crossing the gorge. The lower reach of the gorge is in the foreground.
The Zigzag track is quite wild and steep in places, with a real bush-walking feel.
And there are plenty of sections steep enough for steps.
The hard rock of Cataract Gorge keeps the South Esk River that flows through it fast and narrow until it empties abruptly into the wide estuary of the Tamar River. Here you can see the Tamar River and the edge of the Launceston CBD from a high point on the Zigzag track.
Cataract Gorge is just out of sight behind the trees in the foreground.
The Cataract Walk
Where the south Esk River meets the Tamar River near the CBD the gorge is crossed by the graceful 150-year-old King’s Bridge, which is our connection to the Cataract Walk on the other side.
The Cataract walk is a very different route from The Zigzag track: it's wide, level, well finished, to allow it to be used by all people, and it's well lit for night time use. This is a section of it viewed from the Zigzag track.
This is the gorge looking back upstream from the Launceston end.
While the Zizag track is exposed to the sun for most of the day and is quite dry, the Cataract Walk is on the north side of the west-to-east flowing South Esk River, so it's almost permanently in the shade, especially now in the middle of winter, and the ground and the exposed rock surfaces are always wet and are covered in moss.
This is a View of Launceston, seen from the Cataract Walk. The tower is the Post Office tower in town.
Tasmania has recently experienced two lots of serious flooding in the north and even more recently flooding in the south. The flooding brought a huge flow of water into Cataract Gorge, the last of which we saw on an earlier visit. This video shows the water flowing through the gorge when we saw it a few days ago; but it had been much wilder days earlier.
The flood water brought lots of foam and scum down the river. the remaining scum floating on the surface of the now quiet lower reach makes lovely patterns that show the minute detail of the movement of the water as it moves down the river. It looks a little like the surface of Jupiter, and for similar reasons.
First Basin is a large pool which is accessible by road and is quite developed. There is a chairlift and a suspension foot bridge across the gorge, and a couple of cafes and a small funicular railway for wheelchair access.
First Basin has a 50-metre swimming pool, which was submerged in the recent flooding and now has lots of flood debris in it, including some surprisingly large boulders. The logs on the lawn were also washed in with the flood.
Both sides of the gorge have lovely eroded dolerite columnar rock formations. This one is below the Zigzag track and is seen from Cataract Walk.
This one is just upstream from First Basin.
The upstream gorge
There is another, much longer, walking circuit upstream from First Basin; we're planning on taking that walk in the near future. This is the beginning of that track as seen looking upstream from Alexandra Suspension Bridge. While the beginning of the track is built up on a suspended boardwalk most of it is steep and wild like The Zigzag track.
Wildlife in the gorge
The wildlife around Cataract Gorge is quite used to humans and so is not really that wild – we saw a number of Bennett's wallabies on the side of the track and they just sit there and let you walk right up to them, like this:
Here's a close view of that cute, furry head.
There are plenty of peafowl around too, which are a feral animal here in Tasmania. Lots of restaurants around Australia attract scavenging birds – from little sparrows to magpies, crows, kookaburras, and even big birds like sacred ibis; but here in Cataract Gorge you can have a huge bird, like this peahen prowling for scraps, land in the middle of your table!
Here’s a native bird, though – a cormorant drying its wings on an isolated rock outcrop in the river.
Cataract Gorge is a surprisingly wild place that any visitors to Launceston can easily and quickly access from right inside the city centre. It's well worth a look if you're visiting Launceston, even just for the novelty of accessing such a beautiful natural place with just a short walk from a city centre.
If you've been to Cataract Gorge too, tell me what you thought of it in the comments below!
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