Monday, 22 Jul 2019

Tamar Island. Launceston Region

Tamar Island

“Top Walks in Tasmania”

Melanie Ball

Tamar Island. Launceston Region

 Tamar Island. Tick off multiple bird species and catch a north Tasmanian sunset while strolling on the River Tamar.

Tamar Island. Launceston Region - photo 1

Tamar Island is perfect for a family stroll

Walk:

4.6km out-and-back

Time required:

1.5 hours

Best time:

A fine, mild day (there is no shelter from valley winds and sun)

Grade:

Easy

Environment:

Estuary, river island, wetlands

Best map:

This one

Toilets:

Flushing toilets at the Tamar Island Interpretation Centre and in the island picnic area

Food:

None

Tips:

Take binoculars for birdwatching.

The boardwalk is suitable for wheelchairs and prams; the gravel tracks on Tamar Island suit sturdier prams only.

 Tamar Island. Launceston Region - photo 2 Tamar Island

     Australia’s island state lays claim to more than its fair share of spectacular smaller islands. They are, however, not all like Flinders and Maria islands. Tamar Island, north of Launceston, is neither mountainous nor subject to violent strait or ocean weather. Even when wind whistling down the River Tamar rattles its fringing reeds, Tamar Island is more restful than most of the land fragments off Tasmania’s coast; and the bird haven is a perfect place to stroll on a mild, sunny day.

     Tamar Island. Born of the confluence of the North and South Esk rivers at Launceston, the Tamar is Australia’s longest navigable tidal estuary (70km) rather than a river proper, and it empties into Bass Strait through Port Dalrymple. Tamar Island is about 8km (10 minutes’ drive) north of Launceston, via the Tamar Highway (A7). Access is from a gravel parking area on the river’s west bank.

Tamar Island. Launceston Region - photo 3

Tamar Island

     A gate unlocked daily between 6.30am (summer) or 7am (other seasons) and sunset opens onto a boardwalk that leads through wetlands to the interpretation centre (see the multiple finely spun spiders’ webs on its wooden exterior). Note also the sign warning that the copperhead snake seen in this vicinity is real and not rubber so leave it in peace! The interpretation centre sits on the only freshwater lagoon in this system and you may see small fish in the water, or a rare green and gold frog (Litoria raniformis). Dragonflies often dart about the water’s surface.

     In the late 19th century, seven-hectare Tamar Island was a base for dredging the river to support increased shipping to Launceston. The island and surrounding flats were subsequently drained and farmed but staff at the interpretation centre, open daily until 4pm (winter) or 5pm (other seasons), will enthusiastically explain the importance of wetlands and the complex food chain they support, from insects through to predating raptors. Look around and have a chat. Then collect a walk brochure (from an outside pigeonhole when the centre is closed) and move on, stopping at numbered sites.

Tamar Island. Launceston Region - photo 4

Tamar Island

     Tamar Island. Initially following an old levee bank, the boardwalk doglegs among reeds; the white-flowering vine growing up them is native bindweed, which is on the Tasmanian threatened species list. River water lapping at its uprights at high tide, the boardwalk then cuts through a melaleuca (paper bark) thicket.

     Turn right towards Tamar Island at a junction, leaving the bird hide, straight ahead, for later. Look for the remains of duck hunters’ hides in the reeds as you approach a footbridge crossing to an islet (see point 1 on map). To the left, down the Tamar, you can see the remains of barges, ships, and floating docks scuttled in the river’s western channels to redirect the river’s flow to the main channel; they are now a popular perch for birds. Pelicans cruise the water and perch on the uprights, black swans often dot the land and estuary, and purple swamphens stroll the silty shore. About 60 bird species have been identified in the reserve.

Tamar Island. Launceston Region - photo 5

Tamar Island

     Rattling reeds provide background music as you walk to the end of the boardwalk, on Tamar Island proper. Treading compacted gravel now, ignore a track coming in on the right from the top of the island (you will come out that way). Instead continue straight, past an old ground well. It’s been capped but the fine brickwork lining is visible.

     Tamar Island. The track leads to a picnic area with free gas barbecues where superb fairy-wrens let people quite close. Just to the right, a final length of boardwalk and pontoon put you on a sliver of island in the river current. Here you’ve got a lovely Tamar Valley view, taking in the metropolis of Launceston, upstream and right, and rounded hills rising from the river’s east bank. To your left the river disappears towards Bass Strait. There’s a bench seat so you can just sit and watch and listen. A river-facing sign reminds anyone landing by boat that camping and dogs are prohibited on Tamar Island.

 

Tamar Island. Launceston Region - photo 6

Tamar Island

     Retrace your steps to the picnic area and swing left and uphill, keeping right when a side track branches left to the toilets. Up top are leafy old oak trees, gnarled pines, elms, and fruit trees in need of a prune; these were planted when the island started to become a popular picnic spot (see point 2 on map). One of the oaks, marked with a number 13 (on the walk brochure) has grown around a rusty plough. The slight gain in elevation gives you a surprisingly broader view, albeit broken up by tree trunks, of river and wetlands, and Launceston in the distance.

     The track loops clockwise and then descends the hill, passing under a cathedral-like oak tree whose branches touch the ground before depositing you on the main track, where you turn left. The reed beds, the hills behind (thick with eucalypts and European trees), and the paperbarks sheltering the bird hide paint distinct stripes of different greens as you head back towards the boardwalk junction.

 

Tamar Island. Launceston Region - photo 7

Tamar Island

     Turn right and tread a compacted earthen bank between lagoons and through shadowy melaleucas to the bird hide for some avian voyeurism. Look for egrets, swans, cormorants, swamphens, gulls and more here, and as you head back along the boardwalk to your car.

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