The above view of the Tamar River shows the curious link to the left where the South Esk River has carved its way through solid rock to create the Cataract Gorge. If you have plenty of time on your hands, you can take the walk from the centre of Launceston along the river to the first Basin. This is illustrated by the yellow line along the river in the map on the left below. It’s a walkway that was originally built by volunteers in the 1890s. However if you are time poor, you have to jump in your car and take the circuitous route around West Launceston shown by the yellow road on the map on the right.
There was a light misty rain falling when we arrived at the gorge car-park so there were a few decisions to be made. The main one was whether we were going to take the chairlift across the edge of the first basin and then over the river to the restaurant and park land on the other side of the river. The main issue for me was my ‘acrophobia’ (fear of heights), the symptoms of which, in the case of a chair-lift, would be that my uncontrollable psyche would insist that I hurl myself from the chair-lift down to a cold drowning in the river below. If I refused that option, I knew that the chair itself would decide that this was the perfect opportunity to break free and sail down into the roaring river which would then deliver me swiftly down to central Launceston. My decision-making wasn’t helped by the statistic that this was the longest single-span chairlift in the world! I stubbornly refused to let my fears dictate my life so before I knew it, I was handing over the cash for two tickets to the other side (…of the river.)
In regard to the internal argument about whether to catch the chairlift, I decided that it was going to be the best spot to get the photo of the flooding waters flowing down the South Esk River, swirling around the First Basin and swooping off down the gorge to merge with the Tamar River.
To my surprise we made it to the other side and really appreciated the ability to glide across the gardens and spot the peacocks looking slightly out of place amongst the tree ferns. Given the rain, it wasn’t surprising that we were the only people on the chairlift and the attendant that greeted our arrival was able to explain why there seemed to be a large posse of Bennets Wallabies waiting for us as we climbed off the chair-lift. Apparently tourists like us were feeding them.
From the end of the chairlift, the path took us down past the peacocks and the restaurant and along the edge of the basin that led to the Alexandra Suspension Bridge. The bridge was built in 1904 and unsurprisingly didn’t escape destruction in the 1929 floods that we had already heard about in Derby. It was reconstructed again in 1934 and again in 2003. It was renovated and repainted in late 2020 so I was confident that the moving and shaking it was doing as I walked over was just part of the design to promote fear and trepidation amongst the visitors.
With more time I would have loved to have added another of Tasmania’s great short walks to my list of accomplishments for the day but alas the 6 Km, 1.5 hours return trip to Duck Reach was a bit much for us with the day starting to fade. At the Duck Reach destination, there is a building that housed a power station (see photo below right). Built in 1895, it was another casualty of the 1929 floods. It too was rebuilt and served for another 26 years before being decommissioned in 1955.
On the huge dolerite rocks that we passed on the way back to the gorge car-park, I noticed a sign pointing out the Zeolite crystals on the rock face. These rocks are over 200 million years old and the crystals were made of a silicate material that developed during the formation of the dolerite rocks. I thought the crystal formations were amazing but I was surprised to find that some folk interpret them in a very different way. You can source Zeolite crystals in Crystal shops today where they have the reputation of having a “soft gentle healing energy and are useful for detoxification and purification of the body, mind and physical environment. They are happy stones, helping to promote positive and supportive energies and remove negative energies.”
I must admit I appreciate more the indigenous folklore below from a sign at the Cataract Gorge than the ‘crystology’ of the above sales pitch.