Day 109 - Wilderness Highway & Tasmanian National Parks

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March 7th 2014
Published: April 16th 2014
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Friday 7th March, 2014. Wilderness Highway & Tasmanian National Parks

We left early and started the drive along the Wilderness Highway back towards Hobart. We had resolved that today we will purchase a park pass and do the things that we missed on the way over to the Wild West. The first place we stopped was called Rinadeena Lookout which is located on the side of the road between Queenstown and Strahan. Looking up the King River valley towards Queenstown it gives an insight into the rugged nature of the terrain over which the ABT Railway travels (and which we wouldn't be able to ride). We took a few snaps before continuing on our way.

We continued on until we reached Queenstown which is in a valley on the western slopes of Mount Owen on the West Coast Range in Tassie's Wild West. We had stopped here on the way over but had only hung around long enough to establish that the train ride was a non starter and to get shouted at by an irrate coach driver. The town has a population of around 2000. It has long been tied to the mining industry - this mountainous area was first explored in 1862. It was long after that when alluvial gold was discovered at Mount Lyell, prompting the formation of the Mount Lyell Gold Mining Company in 1881. In 1892, the mine began searching for copper. The final name of the Mount Lyell company was the Mount Lyell Mining and Railway Company.

Queenstown Post Office opened on 21 November 1896. A Queenstown South office opened in 1949 and closed in 1973. In the 1900s, Queenstown was the centre of the Mount Lyell mining district and had numerous smelting works, brick-works, and sawmills. The area at the time was finely wooded. The population in 1900 was 5051; the district, 10,451 - many more people than there are today. The town was the base of the Queenstown council up until amalgamation with other west coast councils in the 1990s. The town in its heyday had a collection of hotels, churches and schools that have all significantly reduced since the demise of the Mount
Lyell company.

The town was the base of the Organisation for Tasmanian Development started in 1982. There was a brief boom in prosperity in the 1980s, with the building of several nearby dams by the Hydro Tasmania Company. The Darwin and Crotty dams that comprise Lake Burbury (a popular fishing a recreation venue) were built during this period. These followed the cancellation of the Gordon-below-Franklin Dam in 1983 after strong campaigning by environmentalists in the 'No Dams' campaign. Today, the town and district attracts significant numbers of tourists, on either organised tours or the hire car 'circuit' (us) around Tasmania. Some features continue to fascinate tourists (and us), either the mountains, the slag heap or the gravel football ground. We took the opportunity to catch a glimpses of the town's past simply by driving up Orr Street, the old main street now with closed pubs and the dominant Post Office tower.

The mining operation at the original Mount Lyell mine continues, with Copper Mines of Tasmania operating between 1995 and 1999 independently, after which it became part of an Indian company group - and its concentrates are shipped to India for processing. Exploration continues within the West Coast region for further economic mineral deposits, and due to the complexity of the geology, there is always the possibility that new mines will open: the Henty Gold Mine is a good example as it commenced operation in the 1990s.

In 1883 three gold diggers, Mick and Bill McDonough and Steve Karlson pegged out 50 acres of land in the Valley "Chamouni", (later to become known as "Linda Valley"). The area that they had pegged included the large Ironstone outcrop which became known as "The Iron Blow". And so with the first pegging of the Lyell fields, began one of Australia's great mines. With this in mind we continued our drive and turned off the road for the Iron Blow Lookout. This was a brand new parking area & Viewing platform above the Iron Blow. The Mt Lyell "Iron Blow" Is where it all began for Mt Lyell. The three prospectors were looking for Gold, but instead, they found a huge outcrop of copper. We could see the Iron Blow and the Township of Gormanston & Mt Owen in the background from the viewpoint.

We continued on the Wilderness Highway until we came to Lake Burbury. Lake Burbury is a man-made lake created by the Crotty Dam made by Hydro Tasmania inundating the upper King River valley that lies east of the West Coast Range. Its waters feed the John Butters Hydroelectric Power Station. It was named after Stanley Burbury former Governor of Tasmania. The lake lies to the west of the Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park. The lake is fed mainly by rivers from the north, including the upper King River, and the Eldon River. Valleys that open to the area include the Linda Valley mentioned earlier. It also has a natural lake just north of its northern shore known as Lake Beatrice which is at the eastern end of Mount Sedgwick. It has a surface area of 54 square kilometres. The Crotty Dam site had been surveyed in the early twentieth century but the proposed dam did not proceed at that time. It was re-visited in the 1980s and involved in the last major dam construction by Hydro Tasmania. Today it is popular as a fishing lake, but is susceptible to extreme weather. Its feeder rivers are the Upper King, Nelson, Princess, and Eldon Rivers. There are design features in the Crotty Dam to lower the surface level rapidly in the event of severe floodwaters. The HEP technology is mind blowing!

We continued on our way to Hobart and returned to Nelson Falls where we purchased a 24 hour park pass. This would last us until about 1.30 tomorrow!!! Nelson Falls is a gorgeous 30m high wall of water shaped like an inverted wine glass. The short 700m long (20 minutes return) walk took us through a temperate rainforest that was one of the healthiest ecosystems we had encountered.

The interpretive signs along the track had us imagine we were in a time machine. By doing so through those signs, we learned that this part of Tasmania was not only under water, then under ice, and then split up from neighboring forests that would now be in New Zealand and even South America, but that the species of fern that were along the walking track also happened to occur in those distant places. The primal and wild feel to the rainforest here was aided by the fact that Nelson Falls was part of the undeveloped Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park, which was part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area.

Although the legislative protection helped maintain the health of this area, we could see that prior efforts to find mineral riches as well as a way to traverse the boggy and rugged wilderness on the former Linda Track resulted in pretty harsh living conditions. No wonder why the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area that dominated much of the western and southern parts of the state of Tasmania remained one of the largest contiguous tracts of undeveloped land throughout Tasmania. We learned that the Lyell Highway that passed through the Tasmanian Wilderness, including Nelson Valley, was the remaining legacy of the original Linda Track. If it wasn't for that highway, this waterfall probably wouldn't be nearly as easily accessible nor could it be the opportunity for us to break up the drive from Queenstown towards Hobart.

Even though the signs said it was merely a 20-minute return walk, We spent about 45 minutes here. We were simply taking our time enjoying the pleasing waterfall while also letting the taste of the Tasmanian Wilderness sink into us along the way (M was also looking for a platypus! -unsuccessfully).

Our next stop was Cradle Mountain–Lake St Clair National Park, with its ancient rainforests and alpine heaths. It is home to the world-famous Overland Track and iconic Cradle Mountain. Part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, the park is one of the state's most special places, where ancient pines fringe glacial lakes and icy streams cascade down rugged mountains - right up our street!!

We made our way to the Lake St Clair Visitor Centre where we learned that there were variety of shorter walks (i.e. Shorter than the Overland Track) that would pass through beautiful old-growth rainforest. The Lake St Clair section of the National Park is a walkers' paradise, with leisurely lakeside strolls and the aforementioned longer forest walks. We opted for a stroll as we were short of time. With the map that we had obtained at the visitor centre we followed an itinerary walk. One of the first stops was a glacial erratic - which we had problems spotting (one rock looks pretty much the same as another). What clinched it though, was the number proudly displayed on it which matched our map. We took a snap and one with M proudly standing on it. We continued until the trail split
and headed down the circular route back to the visitor centre via the beach. We watched the St Clair ferry dock and took some snaps of basking lizards. Avoiding the snakes (warning signs all over the place) we made our way back to the car and onward towards Hobart.

Next stop was Russell Falls which was where we had refused to purchase the park ticket on the way to Tassie's Wild West. This is billed as one of Tasmania's 60 Great Short Walks. Today we had plenty of time (and a ticket to enjoy it!). The Russell Falls are said to be one of the most accessible, and beloved, waterfalls in Tasmania. They are situated within the Mount Field National Park. The path to the Falls is an easy 600m circuit. We did this but also continued for a further 10 minutes past Russell Falls, via a steep track, to reach the gorgeous Horseshoe Falls, one of the highlights of the Mount Field National Park.

Throughout the walk we were shaded by towering gum trees. There were two varieties of gum in the forest, Red Gum Trees and Swamp Gum Trees. Tasmania has 29 species of eucalypt. Eucalyptus ovata, (swamp gum) are an important food source for swift
parrots (didn't see any though - wrong time of year). These parrots only breed in Tasmania. They arrive here in spring and feed on the nectar from blue and swamp gum flowers. Besides the blue gum, the swamp gum is the most important source of nectar for swift parrots during the breeding season.

A medium-sized swamp gum tree, under the right conditions can reach up to 30 metres in height. The base of the tree is usually covered in rough, dark grey bark extending a short way up the trunk. The rest of the trunk and branches shed long ribbons of bark, leavinga smooth creamy white or pink surface.Juvenile and adult leaves are rounded (ovate) and the adult leaves are longer and thinner. The leaves are a rich glossy green, alternate (each pair of leaves offset rather than directly opposite each other) on the stem and hang downwards. The buds are diamond-shaped and have up to seven flowers.

We returned to the car park following a track on the other side of the river below Russell Falls. On the way we encountered a Bennetts Wallaby. Further along we came across another critter. It could have been another Bennetts Wallaby but we think it could have been a Pademelon. The Pademelon is a stocky animal with a relatively short tail and legs to aid its movement through dense vegetation. It
ranges in colour from dark-brown to grey-brown above and has a red-brown belly. Males, which are considerably larger than females, have a muscular chest and forearms, and reach up to 12 kg in weight and 1 - 1.2 m in overall length, including the tail. Females average 3.9 kg in weight. The unusual common name, Pademelon, is of Aboriginal derivation. It is also sometimes referred to as the Rufous Wallaby. The species is abundant and widespread throughout the state of Tasmania. It is commonly seen around many of
the state's national parks. It was dusk which is when the Pademelon comes out of the undergrowth to feed.

We arrived back at Hobart and returned to the quiet room in the middle of the building. We found a cheap Chinese for dinner and had a really good meal.

Additional photos below
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24th October 2016
4. Hunters Hotel, Queenstown

Hunter's Hotel to re-open after 20 years
We fell in love with this building in January and have since purchased it. We just couldn't see it decline further so we are starting renovations end of 2016 with the goal of re-opening 2017/18. If you love the outside, the inside is incredible, like a time capsule with so many Victorian features still intact. Please visit us next time you are in Queenstown.

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