The rain of the previous afternoon had cleared up and we were lucky to have a sunny day to drive up the Tamar Valley to the town and resort named after the Swiss village of Grindelwald. Checking out resorts are generally not part of our travel days but we decided we needed to see this one as we had actually been to the village of the same name in Switzerland. We wondered whether it would bring back high mountain memories. The resort was the brain child of an immigrant entrepreneur who made good money in grocery shops and decided he wanted to build a resort in the Tamar Valley inspired by the original Swiss Village. We can confirm that it looked like a very attractive place to stay, particularly if you had children to entertain on holiday. However it wasn’t the resort itself that was to give us one of our favourite memories of the day; that was to come after we had decided to have coffee at the bakery within the resort.
We were having our coffee outside when I noticed a little commotion on the other side of the small piazza. There appeared to be what looked like a small Koala bear running around. This couldn’t be possible so I looked closer and determined that it was a small wombat, hairing around the area but always returning to a gentleman who seem to be the owner. It didn’t take long before people gathered, demanding to know the story of this friendly wombat and whether they could have a nurse! The couple who ‘companioned’ the wombat were happy to share and chat about this almost two-year-old marsupial. They had rescued him as a small baby from his dead mother (roadkill) and while he was very domesticated now, they knew that within a year or two, he would disappear and rejoin the wombat life-style in the wilds. In the meantime they explained he was a pleasure to look after.
After our enjoyable and educational stop off at Grindelewald, we hit the road for our next stopping point, Beaconsfield. Gold was discovered here as far back as 1847 but it didn’t develop as a significant gold mining town until the late 1870s. It was always a difficulty sourcing the gold well below ground level here, particularly as the shafts always had problems with flooding from ground water. It closed in 1914 and reopened again in the 1990s when the price of gold soared and it was decided that mining in Beaconsfield was viable again. The gold mine came to national and world prominence in April 2006 when a small earthquake caused a rock fall in the mine. Fourteen miners escaped, one was killed and two miners (Russell Brant and Todd Russell) were trapped a kilometre below the surface. The story of their rescue was played out on television over the next two weeks. The mine was closed finally in 2012. When I asked one of the ladies at the information centre whether it would open again when the gold price was very high, she explained that if it was reopened, there would be a huge amount of water to pump out before any miners would be able to go down. Visitors are allowed to inspect the old gold mining facilities by joining a tour run through the information centre.
We decided that we had lots to cover that day and headed further up the Highway. Our destination on this side of the Tamar Valley was Green Beach, the last beach at the mouth of the valley before the coastline heads west along bass Strait.
The main town after Beaconsfield is the river side town of Beauty Point where we would return for lunch. The town is built on a point where a section of the river tracks away west for about 5kms; it is called the West Arm. It is at the end of this branch that a very early part of the history of the colonisation of Australia occurred. The site is called York Town and the picture below left is the only image of this phase of the process of the English ensuring that they had claimed the strategic parts of this newly discovered continent. At the start of the 1800s, the British were in stiff competition with Napoleonic France, both in Europe and in the South Seas. The French explorer Nicholas Baudin was exploring the coastline of Tasmania in 1802 and this worried the colonial and British Governments. They were worried that the Frenchman might plant a flag in Tasmania somewhere and make a dodgy claim to the whole of the continent. So groups were sent out to claim parts of the south of the continent such as Port Philip Bay and the Derwent River in Van Dieman’s Land. Matthew Flinders in 1798 had mapped the mouth of the Tamar River and called his landing point, Port Dalrymple, which is where George Town is located today. In May 1804 the colonial powers instructed Governor King to form a settlement at Port Dalrymple to secure the strategic interests of the British Government in Bass Strait.
Colonel William Paterson (1755-1810) was chosen to lead the new settlement at Port Dalrymple and set out for the Tamar River with three ships and 200 people on board; the first ship to arrive struck a rock at the mouth of the river and the other two ships were caught in storms and arrived two weeks later; all the cows that were to feed the settlement had died en route. The settlement was moved to the end of the West Arm and survived there for a couple of years and became known as York Town. The colony survived here for a few years before being moved down to where the city of Launceston sits today in 1806.
The first sign we encountered when we stopped at the site of York Town read as follows…
“Welcome to York Town, one of the earliest settlement sites in Australia. This is a place of national importance which provides a rare window into our fascinating and often turbulent colonial past. Yet our knowledge of the site is like an incomplete jigsaw. No buildings have survived from the original settlement and there are still many questions which remain unanswered. Come and explore firsthand the York Town ‘puzzle’.
A very solid sign (Copper on stone) further along explained why York Town didn’t survive…
“York Town: It was soon discovered that the only recommendation this place possessed was plenty of good water, and very fine timber; it was impossible for shipping to come within six miles of it, and loaded boats only at high water, besides, after heavy rains, the place was a complete swamp…”
We had very pleasant stroll around the site of York Town, particularly as there were many excellent illustrative sign-boards about the original settlement, the landscape and some of the original people involved in the short lived colony
Green Beach is the last holiday place on the left side of the Tamar Valley. It has the usual large caravan park as well as a golf course. The beach gives wide sweeping views out over Bass Strait and over to Low Head and its lighthouse on the other side of the river. We got chatting with some locals who were going for a stroll on the beach and they were very happy in their retirement at this place.
There is a small National Park that covers Badger Head, a promontory that stretches from the west end of Greens Beach out into the strait. We drove in and checked out the Badger Beach lookout and the sea scape heading west from there. On the way back to Beauty Point, I couldn’t resist the classic photo of a house that has clearly decided to give up on having a future and decided to collapse in on itself.
Beauty Point…Seahorse World
We made our way back to Beauty Point and found a great café with a panoramic view out over the Tamar River. The café was on the second floor of Seahorse World, a tourist centre on the wharf at Beauty Point. The photo on the left below shows an impressive pylon that is no doubt designed for mooring boats. However at the time of our lunch, it was quite a crowded bird sanctuary where lots of seabirds came to rest, dry their wings and have a chat with their mates about best fishing spots.
After a pleasant lunch, we hit the road south, looking for our turn off over the Batman Bridge to take us over the river and back up the other side to George Town and beyond.
We arrived at George Town and immediately turned left to see if it would take us to the river. We were reminded of town’s very early history down here with a memorial to William Patterson, the soldier that set up York Town over the river. This town’s name started off as Port Dalrymple, then it became known as Outer Cove. Governor Lachlan Macquarie went through here in 1811 and as he had a penchant for naming places, he called it George Town after the King of England, George III (1738-1820), his “Britannic Majesty”, as the memorial refers to him.
“Close to this memorial Lieut Colonel William Paterson N.S.W Corps landed from H.M.S Buffalo on 11th Nov 1804 & took possession of the Northern Territory of Van Dieman’s Land in the name of his Britannic Majesty King George III.”
Not far from the memorial there was a very interesting and creative park containing the usual BBQ and play space for kids. What was unusual was the pine tree carvings produced by artist, Eddie Freeman. The whales and the local characters can be seen in the image below.
Our destination from George Town was 3 Kms up the road at Low Head. We had come to see the lighthouse; it was now our third lighthouse on this Tasmanian Tour, so it looked like we were collecting lighthouses as well as great short walks. Like all lighthouses, this one was and is particularly important, We learnt that William Patterson’s ship, HMS Buffalo, hit rocks at the entrance to the Tamar estuary on his arrival in 1804. 192 years later, the bulk carrier MV Iron Baron rand aground on Hebe Reef just off Low Head, causing the worst oil disaster in Australia’s history. One aspect of the disaster was that the local colony of small Blue Penguins was seriously affected by the oil in the water. Locals went and rescued the birds and they were taken back to the pilot station, the house behind the lighthouse, to be cleaned with dishwashing detergent.
These days the locally owned Low Head Penguin Tours takes small groups of 10-15 visitors to see the penguins as they come back to the burrows after sunset. The last line in the sign on the left, ‘Dogs Prohibited’, is an important statement. In 2018, the following story was published by ABC News…
Authorities are investigating the deaths of 58 penguins at the Low Head Conservation Area in Tasmania’s north this week, just months after a similar attack. A tip-off from the public alerted rangers from the Department of Primary Industries, who collected the penguin carcasses which have since undergone post-mortem examinations. The department has said most of the birds appear to have died because of a dog attack. Little penguins — also known as fairy penguins — are the smallest of the penguin species, growing to an average height of 40 centimetres and weighing an average of one kilogram.
After our inspection of Low Head, it was time to hit the road back to Launceston. It was getting on in the afternoon and we were lucky that the road back to Launceston on this side of the river was generally all free-way. This is probably not because of the importance of the lighthouse and the penguins, but because George Town is near Bell Bay where there is a large Aluminium and Manganese smelter. It was nearly 5pm when we got back to Launceston and I complained to mein host that we got caught in a traffic jam. He commented that this was unlucky as the traffic jam in Launceston only lasted for five minutes.