It is the valleys and the peninsulas that are a feature of the landscape south of Hobart that make it such an interesting base for spending quality time when touring Tasmania. It was towards the end of our time in Tassie and our day’s plan was to explore the Huon Valley south-west of Hobart. To do the valley justice you of course need more than one day as there is a lot to see and experience but we had to make do with the one day. It is a beautiful drive once you are out of Hobart and it just gets better when you reach Huonville and begin the drive along the banks of the Huon River. Our first stop for morning tea was at the old timber town of Geeveston, where the Huon Highway turns inland following the Kermandie River.
Geeveston is 62Km south west of Hobart and one of its claims to fame is that it is the most southerly administrative centre in Australia. The initial settlement was set up in the early 1860s and employment in the area was based on the timber industry and fruit growing; you were either a timber-getter or an orchardist. Timber cutting started on a significant scale when it was realised that the valuable Huon Pine grew in the area. We learned over on the west coast how valuable this rot-resistant timber was for the boat building industry of the 19th century. However the trouble with such slow growing timber is that cutting it down is easy but replenishing stock is impossible as it is so slow growing. The whole timber industry in Tasmania reached a crisis point in Southern Tasmania in the 1970s/80s due to environmental concerns, particularly around the area of Tasmania covered today by the Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park. The issues reached a peak in Geeveston between 1962-82 when the pulp mill set up in town became the largest employer in town. Its closure after 20 years devastated the economy of the town.
Apart from administering the shire, the main activity of Geeveston’s town hall (below left) these days is tourist information for travellers like us. Outside the town Hall there is a noticeboard that displays a lengthy essay about the town’s history. I liked the positive take on one of the benefits of cutting down the forests for the overall district.
One of the main issues we learnt about 21st century Tasmania on our trip there was the social impact on settled communities when the justification for their existence disappears. Sheffield on the road between Devonport and Cradle Mountain is a good example of this. Its original rural industries were displaced by the arrival of the Hydro-power industry in town and the associated influx of workers and money. When it finished, the industry and the workers left and the town had to reinvent itself. These same issues affected Geeveston when the timber industry wound down in the area after the 1980s.
The town noticeboard is very upbeat about the town’s attitude to these new times. It starts by explaining… “With the current population of just 880 people, Geeveston has a surprising range of industries that keep the town afloat. And with a self-reliance born of isolation, many of its people are self-taught and self-employed – literally making their own living.” One of the areas this is occurring in is still linked to the local area’s timber. “There are also the evocative timber sculptures of local identities carved by artist Bernie Tarr. They might not have as much to say as the Green Jackets but they can still tell you much about Geeveston. There’s Miss Jessica Hannabury, a generous and well-respected lady, and long-time supplier of haberdashery. Then there’s Simon Burgess, Olympic Rower, youth mentor and a descendant of a long line of local orchardists.”
The map on the right shows the centre of town in Geeveston. Its population of 880 is spread widely around town where the house blocks are very large and no doubt support the citizens that want to be as self-sufficient as possible.
Like so many other towns in Australia that feel compelled to put their town on the map, Geeveston decided they needed a ‘big’ symbol that could represent their town on their tourist brochures. Of course their choice of symbol was limited to either an apple or a tree as sheep, cattle and the many varieties of seafood have been used already in other Australian towns. So just on the edge of the centre of town is the ‘Big Log’ where travellers can picnic and enjoy the huge Swamp Gum log and the timber sculptures.
However, the one achievement that sets Geeveston apart from all the other challenged communities in Tasmania is that it has managed to attract an Australian television series to film in the town. The show Rosehaven has now completed five seasons here and the state government has invested $2.45 million in the series. It has provided work for 500 cast and crew and has developed careers for Tasmanian screen practitioners. If only many more towns could attract this bonus industry to their community!
One of the curious developments in attracting visitors to travel to these Tasmanian towns who have lost their original industries is to pursue their advantages in providing non-urban ‘adventure’ attractions. For example, old mining towns like Derby and Queenstown are now attracting the thrill seekers to their mountain biking attractions. Geeveston is now promoting itself as the gateway to Forest adventures. Rather than cut down the forest and ship it in small pieces to Chinese paper factories, many people are starting to see more commercial value in leaving their forests as wilderness. Due to the huge area under forestation, Tasmania has an impressive record in achieving net zero carbon emissions targets. On top of this, if the forest can provide jobs in the community through building adventure infrastructure within it, this seems to be an excellent idea when approaching a future in jeopardy due to climate change. A great example of this was our next destination for the day, Tahune Adventures, 29 kilometres into the forest along Arve Road from Geeveston.
Tahune Adventures is a business that is built in the forest on the banks of the Huon River as it runs through the valleys on the way to Huonville on the coastline. It provides a series of adventure activities for thrill seekers young and old to enjoy. They are…
- The Airwalk (Steel canopy Walkway)
- Eagle Hang Gliding
- Twin Rivers rafting or kayaking
- Bushwalking along the Huon River
The few hours we spent at Tahune involved a slow stroll on the airwalk above the trees of the forest before descending down to the edge of the river and completing the ‘Swinging Bridges’ walk where we crossed both the Huon and Picton rivers before walking back to the Lodge and Cabins area.
This forested area on the Huon River is tough country to run a business. The first indicator of this is when you reach the bridge over the Huon River and spot the signs that record the local flood levels. In July of 2016, the level of the waters crossing above this bridge reached 8 metres. If this wasn’t tough enough, 3 years later a bush fire started by dry lightning (lightning without rain) roared through Tahune and impacted over 63769 acres. The information board on site explained… “The airwalk survived the fire but was damaged and required significant refurbishment before opening to the public. One of the supporting guywires snapped, the timber entrance and exit structures destroyed…over 9000 guywires were replaced totaling 992 metres. The structure was completely repainted.” If its possible to find advantage in such natural destruction, the airwalk noticeboards use the 2019 fire as an educational tool for the public as they walk around its platforms. An early example of this is a blackened, but alive stringy Bark Tree showing that the fire reached 55 metres up into the forest canopy.
Of course it was all uphill reaching the entrance to the Airwalk, 619 metres of walkway through the Eucalyptus treetops of this Wilderness World Heritage Area. Bushwalking is generally a ground level tour of the forest so this was a perspective that is rarely found. From ground level, “trees are trees”; from the canopy level, the following information shows the difference between looking up and looking down on the forest. “You can see into the upper branches of some nearby surviving rainforest plants – Sassafras, celery-top Pine, Myrtle, Leatherwood, blackwood. These are much shorter than the giant stringybark Eucalyptus towering overhead, and much taller than the shade loving shrubs below.”
There was another interesting piece of forest information at the first landing of the Airwalk seen to the left below.
“Just a few metres away, between here and the Huon River is a healthy surviving patch of Gondwana rainforest, with Huon Pines, Myrtles, and Blackwoods all in a tight green tangle. There is also a grove of younger Stringybarks about 80-150 years old, tightly clustered and growing happily after the fire. Below, a number of large fallen Giant Trees are of a size indicating they were about 300-400 years old.” One of the interesting sidelines of visiting places like Cradle Mountain, Strahan and Tahune was the information shared about the plants and animals that are descendants of species that once lived on the supercontinent Gondwana that Australia separated from around 45 million years ago.
One of the issues of my own walking the Airwalk at Tahune is the grappling with acrophobia (fear of heights) that aerial walkways of this nature provoke in me. If my tentative shuffling along the walkway that was only twenty metres above the ground wasn’t bad enough, when I got to the cantilevered viewing point (Skyview) that was 50 metres above the ground, it took a lot of will power to get to the platform at the end of it.
In the image on the right of ‘Skyview’, the confluence of the Huon and Picton Rivers can be seen, which we would inspect later on our walk along the river.
In the image below can be seen Pear Hill (630m) and other peaks associated with the Tasmanian World Heritage Area. It is in these mountains that the January 2019 bush fires began.
SWINGING BRIDGES WALK
We were told the Swinging Bridges walk would take an hour return and this was about right for us. It was a straightforward bushwalk, this time at ground level so you could get up close to the flowering shrubs. Basically our target was the point where the Picton River merged with the Huon River. Apparently along the length of the Huon River, it is joined by 25 other tributaries.
The first swinging bridge extends for over 100 metres across the Huon River. It would be an exciting experience for children as it rocks and rolls depending on how many individuals are walking along it. For adults who are suspicious of rope bridges hanging over wide gaps above a raging river, not so exciting!
Once across this bridge we were able to walk down to where the two rivers collide and admire the river views. We could spot the cantilever at the end of the airwalk from here. It wasn’t far to the bridge over the Picton River which, as can be seen in the image below, the bridge had to start higher on one side to ensure the 60 metre length swaying bridge could connect with the other side.
It was a relaxing walk back to the main bridge over the Huon River, just in time to get a drink from the café before the facility was closed up. It was here that we also discovered that if we were interested in the Hang-Glider ride across the Huon River, we also just a little late for this adventure.
As we realised on the drive back to Hobart, the many sights of a trip down the Huon Valley can’t be appreciated in one day. Even the time we allowed for our trip to Geeveston and Tahune Adventures wasn’t quite enough time to do justice to all aspects of the two sites. I also would have liked to have visited another attraction further down the Huon Valley on this trip to south-east Tasmania but we just couldn’t fit it into our time frame. In 1973 I had spent the last of my holiday money on a tour from Hobart to Hastings Caves and I would have loved to have repeated this adventure in 2021. Alas this was not to be but two friends of ours who were touring Tasmania at the same time as us chose to visit these caves rather than visiting Tahune Adventures. They kindly shared some of their photos with us.
Hastings Caves is another 48 Kilometres on from Geeveston, inland from Southport. It is a series of caves and natural warm springs and apparently the largest dolomite cave in Australia. The caves were discovered in 1917 by timber cutters and it was opened to the public in the 1920s