Tuesday, 1 Dec 2020

Cataract Gorge. Launceston Region

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Cataract Gorge
- A man with a seven-inch (18 cm) penis may proudly compare his organ to the average man’s five to six inches (12-15 cm) but be intimidated when learning another wields an eight-inch (20 cm) rod.

“Top Walks in Tasmania”

Melanie Ball

Cataract Gorge in Launceston

       Cataract Gorge. Venture beyond the lawns and screeching peacocks and discover the bigger picture of a Launceston landmark.

Cataract Gorge. Launceston Region - photo 1

Cataract Gorge. Over time, the South Esk River has fashioned many holes in the floor of Cataract Gorge, where it forms eddies and little rapids



9km loop

Time required:

3–4 hours

Best time:

Mild, sunny day year-round


Easy–moderate (there are several steep and stepped sections)


Dolerite gorge, river, eucalypt forest, historic power station

Best map:

This one


Toilets in First Basin picnic area


The First Basin kiosk sells fried foods, snacks, ice creams and drinks. Meals, Devonshire teas and drinks are available from the Gorge Restaurant and Gorge Kiosk, in the Cliff Grounds on the opposite side of the gorge at the base of the chairlift.

There are free barbecues in the lawn area so bring the makings of a feast to cook up after your walk.


Don’t rely on the map boards around the gorge area for this walk. They do not show enough or consistent track names to easily follow this route.

Bring your bathers/togs/swimmers for a dip in the pool.

Cataract Gorge. Launceston Region - photo 2

Cataract Gorge

Cataract Gorge. Map

     Millions of years in the making, Cataract Gorge is a fault line, formed by the final breakup of the Gondwana supercontinent, widened and deepened by water, and excavated by ice. Alternatively, it’s the handiwork of an ancestral being who came down to Tasmania and cut Mangana lieta (South Esk River). Whatever its origins, geological or mythical, Cataract Gorge has long been a meeting place, where First Australians gathered over millennia to hunt, trade and perform ceremonies, and modern Australians have picnicked and played for over a century.

     Two minutes’ drive from the CBD, Cataract Gorge is one of Tasmania’s major tourist attractions. Many Launceston locals visit to work out in the open air. Visitors come to ride the world’s longest single-span chairlift, eat scones with cream and jam, and take peacock selfies. This loop walk ventures off the best beaten paths to reveal more about the geological wonder. The walk starts at the First Basin car park (follow the road signs from York or Frederick streets). Parking is cheap so pay for the day. Cataract Gorge.

     Stay high and right on the paved footpath beyond the stone entrance shelter, with the chairlift, free gorge swimming pool and historic Alexandra Suspension Bridge to your left, and the screech of peacocks cutting through the voices and laughter from the lawns. Footpath becomes unsealed walking track and you turn hard right and steeply uphill through bush on the unformed Zig Zag Track, reaching the top almost under a house balcony. Cataract Gorge.

Cataract Gorge. Launceston Region - photo 3

     Cataract Gorge

Cataract Gorge. History

     Cataract Gorge. Before the Zig Zag Track was cut in the early 20th century, the only access from Kings Bridge, at the river mouth, to First Basin was by boat up the Cataracts. Now the track is popular with walkers and joggers who bypass the small lookout on the left but you shouldn’t; it delivers a good view up to the suspension bridge and chairlift.

Duck under power lines before zigzagging down the gorge wall. From another lookout you can see water, industrial suburbs and the beautiful houses that watch the world from the opposite cliff top. Kings Bridge comes into view as you pass a huge standing boulder like a carved head from Easter Island and steps bring you down onto the bridge.

     Cataract Gorge. Officially opened in 1864, the elegantly arched steel-girder bridge spanning the South Esk’s mouth was fabricated in Manchester, England, shipped to Launceston, and assembled on a pontoon from which it was lowered onto brick abutments on an outgoing tide. The original single-lane bridge was duplicated forty years later and now, bypassed by the West Tamar Highway, it carries Trevallyn traffic. Downstream from Kings Bridge, the South Esk and North Esk rivers become the Tamar.

     Cross the bridge and turn left past a small wooden shelter – a fee was initially charged to enter Cataract Gorge and there were turnstiles here – and the gorge caretaker’s residence (see point 1 on map), built in 1890, and now a base for Launceston City Council’s Artist in Residence program. Cataract Gorge. 

Cataract Gorge. Launceston Region - photo 4

Cataract Gorge

     Cataract Gorge. Admire the remarkable columnar dolerite structure of the opposite cliff as you promenade along the north side of the gorge, past a huge, horizontal balancing rock and the cataracts that give the gorge its name. Keep to the footpath past the beautiful timber Music Pavilion, presented to the Cataract Cliff Grounds in 1896 by the Ladies of Launceston. (The Gorge Restaurant and Kiosk are down to the left and toilets are beneath the pavilion.) Look for peacocks on the lawns and up the trees as asphalt becomes gravel track.

     Turn right immediately over a footbridge onto the Trevallyn Walk, a narrow unformed track heading up a creek shaded by ferns. Ignore another track going right over the creek and back down the other side. Still climbing, the track pulls away from the creek into towering eucalypts, native cherry trees and cutting grass, Launceston again becoming visible behind you. Wallabies like to graze these slopes; watch for echidnas too. Cataract Gorge. 

     Having walked under more power lines you reach a four-way junction with Snake Gully Track ahead (for a longer walk, keep straight on to Trevallyn Dam) and Reedy Gully (north and south) running left and right. Turn left for Duck Reach Power Station. Here you are treading a two-metre-wide track bordered with bracken and gums but you can’t long forget that you’re in a city, because Launceston’s town clock, installed in 1909 above the General Post Office, chimes every 15 minutes (hourly at night). Cataract Gorge.

Cataract Gorge. Launceston Region - photo 5

Cataract Gorge

Cataract Gorge. Tours

     About 1km from the Reedy Gully junction (see point 2 on map), cream-on-green signs direct you left to Duck Reach Power Station. Another sign warns that descending the Penstock Ladder involves many steep steps but they are not very steep, and offer a good view of the opposite dolerite gorge wall and the five stone cottages built atop the cliff in 1895–1897 for engineers and workers.

     Cataract Gorge. One of the world’s earliest publicly-owned hydro-electric power stations and Australia’s first, Duck Reach Power Station generated electricity near-continuously from 1895 to 1955, interrupted only by the devastating 1929 Trevallyn flood.

     One controversial aspect of constructing it was tunnelling 850m through a dolerite hill to provide more pressure from the water feeding the turbines. After 16 months of near non-stop drilling from opposing ends, the tunnel met within an inch of accuracy. From the tunnel mouth, wooden steps follow one of the two rusty penstocks (pipes) down the gorge wall. You have to duck under the pipe twice before reaching the turbine hall, now an interpretive centre. Cataract Gorge. 

Cataract Gorge. Launceston Region - photo 6

Cataract Gorge

     Power station equipment and personnel were initially transported across the river by flying fox. Pass the flying fox winch house on the left (the flying fox is being restored – for show) and cross the suspension bridge that superseded it. Cataract Gorge. 

     Having looked back at the power station and penstocks, step up from the bridge and follow the signs to First Basin, along the gorge. This last leg of the walk fords tributary creeks, and climbs and descends the gorge wall, revealing fine examples of dolerite geology on route to Sentinel Lookout, a mesh walkway projecting over the gorge (see point 3 on map). Cataract Gorge. 

     Ignore the side track to Denson Road car park beside this lookout and keep to the cliff, cutting a switchback almost to the gorge floor. Down below you, the river forms eddies and little rapids, its passage over time having fashioned holes in the rocks.

     Cataract Gorge. As you cross a gully beside a man-made weir you’ll again see Alexandra Suspension Bridge and the First Basin. On reaching the bridge you can cross for another gander at the gorge or head straight for the kiosk and ice cream.

More information read here Wikipedia


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