Destination Tasmania – Part 5 – Mountain Roads and Highland Lakes

12th to 14th February 2020

Please Note: Videos covering the material in this blog post can be found at the bottom of the post.

Clouds against mountains approaching Queenstown from Strahan

There was a suspicion of drizzle as we packed the car to leave Strahan.  In several areas, as we drove to Queenstown, our way was partly obscured by cloud cover that sat atop the mountains like a blanket. The point from which we viewed the mountains behind Queenstown the previous morning was a totally clouded, with no view at all.  As we approached Queenstown, banks of cloud hung in front of the mountain range, but all of the cloud vanished as we drove up the range towards the east to give us an almost cloudless sky.

Queenstown from the Lyell Highway heading east
Queenstown in the valley and the road east clinging to the side of the mountain
A caravan making its way up the mountain from Queenstown

We paused at Queenstown for fuel and stopped again at the observation point part way up the baron slopes for that final view of the town.

Lake Burberry is one of Tasmania’s newer dams. The Lyell Highway crosses it by bridge at its narrowest point.  A National Parks camping area on the east bank provides picnic facilities, so we stopped there for morning coffee.

Lake Burberry has a good boat launching ramp

The road from the dam to Derwent Bridge runs through endless national park, and is lined with an infinite variety of vegetation as it passes over mountain ranges and through rain forest filled valleys.

Information at the highest point on the Lyell Highway between Queenstown and Derwent Bridge
A view into misty mountains at the geographic high point

At a number of places along this road there are parking areas giving access to short to medium walks to features such as lookouts and waterfalls.  One parking area is the starting point for longer walks that extend to several days in the area of the Frenchman’s Cap range.  Another stop marks the highest point in the range that divides east from west. Interestingly, we could see Frenchman’s Cap from the boat on Macquarie Harbour.  At 1,446 metres it is quite prominent.

National Park visitor centre at Lake St. Clair

We turned at the small town of Derwent Bridge for the short drive to the Lake St Clair National Park Visitor Centre.  As well as being a worthwhile place to call, it is the southern end of the Cradle Mountain to Lake St Clair 6 to 7 day walk.  Many hikers, carrying back packs, were either arriving from the walk or waiting to leave to walk north.  A ferry service links the southern end of the walk with the visitor centre at Lake St Clair.

The official end of the Overland Trail from Cradle Mountain to Lake St Clair

We had intended to have a picnic lunch at Lake St Clair, but we were attacked by a swarm of March flies. Tasmania seems to have a March fly plague but today was the worst that we had encountered.  So the picnic went back in the car and we took refuge in the restaurant.

Arriving and departing hikers at Lake St Clair ferry

It is about 140 km from Derwent Bridge, mostly down the Derwent Valley, to New Norfolk. Most of the journey is through mountainous timbered country. The road passes a number of dams used for hydro electricity generation.  In the Tarraleah area, we saw a couple of sets of huge water supply pipes descending steeply into power stations.

Derwent Valley near New Norfolk
Hop fields, Derwent Valley

The forests finally give way to farm country with grazing cattle beside the road.  Just before New Norfolk, orchards appear along the banks of the Derwent, which is quite a substantial river at this point.

Our apartment was on a hillside overlooking the Derwent River, with views over the town on the eastern bank and the mountains beyond. We were there for three nights. New Norfolk was our first encounter with a digital reception. A sign on the door gave a phone number to call, A code was then sent, by text message. The code was our door key.

New Norfolk and the Derwent River from our balcony at New Norfolk
Lyell Highway bridge over the Derwent at New Norfolk

If someone tells you that more trees should be planted, tell them to visit Tasmania. We spent yet another day driving through trees, trees and more trees. Tasmania’s south and south west have an abundance of trees.

We started the day with some medical maintenance at a New Norfolk pharmacy and then headed for the trees and the mountains. In Tasmania trees and mountains seem to go together.

The road on the west side of the Derwent is a shorter route to Mount Field National Park. There is quite a lot to do in this extensive park but time limited us to the short walk to Russell Falls. Like many falls walks the path leads along the ravine that carry the waters of the host stream. The view of the tiered cascade is all the reward needed for the easy 30 minute walk.

Russell Falls, Mount Field National Park
Russell Falls are popular. It was hard to get photos without strangers in them.

Like Lake St Clair, the visitor centre here was busy. There are a number of walks and other attractions and it is only about 80 km from Hobart. Some walks lead to elevations that provide views back along the Derwent Valley to Hobart. Given an absence of cloud, of course.

Mount Field National Park Visitor Centre.

We then drove on a further 95 km along the Gordon River Road to reach the Gordon Dam and Lake Gordon. It is a lonely road passing through a handful of small locations, the last and most substantial of which is Maydena, followed by 70 km of sealed mountain forest road.

Misty mountain on the road to Gordon Dam

Lake Gordon and its neighbour, the better known Lake Pedder, are just over a ridge from each other at Strathgordon. There was a huge environmental fight over Lake Pedder that the Hydro Commission eventually won, which helped achieve its icon status.

The Sentinel Range near Lake Pedder

Strathgordon was only ever a dam construction town. Nothing much has changed, with administration and some worker accommodation still there. What was, I think, the single worker facility, is now a wilderness lodge that provides accommodation as well as the facilities of a pub, cafe, restaurant and coffee shop.  Fuel is available as well.

Lake Pedder Wilderness Lodge
View of Lake Pedder from the Lodge

These huge water storages look fantastic as they lie among the mountain ranges, some of which are densely forested and others massive piles of almost bare rock. A clear sky produced striking reflected blue water.

Gordon dam is 140 metres high

The dam that holds back the waters of Lake Gordon is quite a sight at 140 metres high with a pronounced curve in the wall to cope with extreme pressure. Both lakes cover more than 500 square kilometres and hold the equivalent of 37 Sydney harbours.

The bottom of the wall of Gordon Dam is accessible by these stairs. It is a long way down.
Outlet and part of the power station at Lake Gordon
Lake Pedder from the road to Gordon Dam
This channel carries water from Lake Pedder to Lake Gordon

Gordon and Pedder dams are connected by a narrow channel that carries water from Lake Pedder to Lake Gordon. Lake Pedder appears not to have its own hydro power generator. Its water is directed through the Lake Gordon.

The return journey is over the same road as we travelled outward bound. We used Maydena as an ice-cream stop, pleasantly absorbing the warmth of the afternoon sun as we enjoyed the treats. And so, back to our comfortable unit, which was easily the best accommodation that we had so far occupied in Tasmania.

The next day, Friday, dawned overcast with a chill breeze. Just the day to drive through areas where snow regularly falls during winter. We were bound for The Great Lake in the Central Highlands of Tasmania but by an indirect route.

We drove down the east bank of the Derwent River to Bridgewater and joined Highway One, heading north. Downstream from New Norfolk, the river is not as confined by its banks and sprawls into wider expenses of water, some of which are shallow and marshy. The bridge at Bridgewater is at one this wider area so the bridge is rather long with a causeway and a lift section for taller boats.

Historic houses at Bothwell are still in use

Highway One, the Midland Highway is the main road link between Launceston and Hobart. After about 50 km we turned left for Bothwell, a small rural town, full of historical buildings. A sheltered corner in the park provided a morning coffee stop and a pause while we looked at history dating back to early settlement in Tasmania. The area was settled by farmers in the 1820s.

The visitor information centre at Bothwell
Historic plaque on St Lukes church in Bothwell, The plaque dates the building at 1830.
St Lukes church was built in 1830
Part of St Lukes’ cemetery

After Bothwell, the road continues to the North West until Miena is reached. Miena is a spread out town of highland holiday houses and well housed permanent residents. A couple of small hills provide lots of water view opportunities over the southern end of the Great Lake.

The Steppes Sculptures information board

The only real point of interest along the road to Miena, about half way, is a collection of sculptures, in the bush just off the road. They are at the end of a short dirt road with a small parking area. The road is marked by a simple sign that announces the “Steppes Sculptures”.

Plinths holding animal sculptures form a circle

A short walk away a circle of twelve stone plinths each hold a bronze sculpture with a thirteenth in the centre. They are the work of Stephen Walker, a well known sculpture who has work that decorates the Hobart waterfront and who sculpted the whale memorial at Cockle Creek. More of Cockle Creek in a future post.

This appears to be a Tasmanian Devil
Sculpture of Platypus

The area is known as The Steppes, presumably because it is part of the area that “steps” up to the highlands. A historic farm house on the property can be visited either by a short walk or a short drive. We passed up on the house as it is not often open and it was not a day to be out of the car for too long without being rugged up.

Just before Miena we pulled off the road to look at the Miena Rockfill Dam the construction of which created The Great Lake by backing up the Shannon River and caused two smaller lakes to become one much larger lake. A lookout provides excellent views of the retaining wall and the lake that backs up to the north, way out of sight. On the south side of the lake is Shannon Lagoon. But more of that shortly.

Mienna Rockfil Dam holds back the waters of The Great Lake
The Great Lake viewed from the South

We drove further into this very spread out town and found the Central Highlands Lodge, a sort of guesthouse hotel of the kind that you find in these kinds of places. We were served a good hot meal suitable for the day and, of course, coffee. We then drove on through the town and along the road to the west of the lake that would have taken us to the Bass Highway, but the clouds were below the tops of the distant mountains and showers of rain were moving over the surrounding planes and across the lake. Frankly, it was quite uninviting, so we turned around and headed back into town.

Central Highlands Lodge provided a lunch suitable for a cold day
Part of the town of Miena

When I was learning about Mount Bischoff tin and Mount Lyell copper at school I was also learning about the Tasmanian hydro electric generation industry and particularly Tarraleah and Waddamana. I remembered Tarraleah because we had spent a night there 45 years ago and it had snowed. We had driven through this town two days before and noted its steeply sloping water pipes feeding the generators. But where was Waddamana? That question was answered on the drive earlier in the day when we had seen a sign pointing to Waddamana and the historic hydro electric trail. The turn was about 15 km back towards Bothwell.

The Historic Hydra Trail had information signs at regular intervals describing the project
The water supply channel as pictured on the information sign
Water supply channel as it is now

The great lake is the birthplace of serious hydro electricity generation in Australia. It all started in about 1910 when a dam was built at the bottom of The Great Lake which channelled water through pondages and canals to the top of a steep slope and shot it down the slope to Waddamana A power station. The scheme was commissioned in 1916, held up by bad weather and the start of WWI.

Penstock Lagoon was the final holding basin before the water was released into the channel and pipes that fed the turbines
Old water supply pipes protruding from the retaining wall at Penstock Lagoon
This channel leads to the point where the water enters the large pipes for the final plunge to the turbines

Shannon Lagoon was a balancing pondage which fed water into a manmade channel that carried water to Penstock Lagoon. From this temporary storage water was released into another man made channel and then down the precipitous mountain side to Waddamana A. There was a construction town named Shannon but it ceased to exist many years ago.

Entrance to Waddamana power station
Information boards for stations A and B at Waddamana

Waddamana B was commissioned 1946 so was slowed, in its turn, by WWII. This expansion of generation capacity greatly increased the output of Waddamana and helped to set the paten for future power generation.

Turbines in Station A. The water was used several times as it flowed through the line of turbines. This photo shows a turbine with its protective cover removed.

Waddamana A is now a museum with most of its turbines still in place with some cut away to show what really makes the system work. I was able to walk through among the equipment and gained a good understanding of it. Most of the pipes that fed water to the turbines are still in place although truncated and often incomplete.

A partly stripped view of the electricity generator
Truncated pipes at the bottom of the hill behind the power stations.

There was a small town at Waddamana back then which is still there but not used for power station workers any more. Some of the houses appeared to be occupied. On a hill above the town and power station a new and substantial wind farm has been built. The wind vanes were still against the afternoon sky but we heard on the news a few days later that is had been officially commissioned and was in production.

Waddamana A on the left and B on the right,.

We made our way home on an alternative road that was sealed so long ago that it was like driving on gravel but it was in surprisingly good condition. It brought us back to the Lyell Highway at the town of Ouse which is on the Ouse River, a tributary of the Derwent. The final part of our drive was again through the vinyards, orchards and hop fields of the Derwent Valley.

Destination Tasmania – Part 2 – Devonport Area and Cradle Mountain

6th to 8th February 2020

Please Note: Videos covering the material in this blog post can be found at the bottom of the post.

On our first day on Tasmanian soil our first priority was breakfast and then the purchase of some supplies. The food that we were able to take into Tasmania was limited to prepackaged items. We then drove south from Devonport to Sheffield.

Mural of Cradle Mountain
Farm scene on a church
Farm Lands and Mountains
Domestic Scene
Circus Animals on the Supermarket

This farming town is famous for its murals. It is built atop a hill, providing rural views in all directions. The most arresting view is to the south west where the huge bulk of Mount Roland fills the lower sky. The mountain is a multi peaked rocky range reaching a height of 1,234 metres. It has a number of walking tracks, but they were not in our plans. Tasmania is a walkers’ paradise, but you need time. Before we went there we had not even heard of Mount Roland, let alone its walking tracks.

Mount Roland behind the town
Farm lands at the end of the street
Mount Roland again taken, later in the day when our track came back past it.
Sheffield Hotel.

Sheffield is, like so many in Tasmania, comprised predominantly of older buildings. Many provide a suitable canvass upon which artists have painted expansive scenes. The town’s first mural was unveiled in December 1986. Since then over sixty murals, depicting the area’s rich history and beautiful scenery, have been painted on walls throughout the district.

Grazing dairy cows on the way to Railton
Topiary in Railton Main Street
Could that be a hippo?
Probably a sheep. There are a lot of sheep in Tasmania.
A crocodile?
This hedge is also a train.

After coffee, we moved on to the neighbouring town of Railton, known for topiary, which I learned, is the art of shaping trees, shrubs, hedges etc., by trimming them.

We then moved on to Elisabeth Town by continuing on the same road, until it met the Bass Highway, the main road that runs along the north coast of Tasmania. We were looking for the Christmas Hills Raspberry Farm, the sign for which was not visible from the Railton Road, which we had just driven, or perhaps we missed it.

We turned left at the intersection, stopped and entered the name into Google maps. We were directed to drive the way we were facing until we reached a left turn 8 km further on. But the indicated road was not there so the navigator revised its instructions that included a large increase in the distance. We could see that we were well towards Latrobe, a town that we wished to visit, so we kept on going.

The sign for the Australian Axmans Hall of Fame

Latrobe is known for its antiques and I am known for not being very interested in them. Its other claim to fame is that the sport of wood chopping was developed there. As the son of a onetime timber cutter, that fact held interest for me. There is a museum there which we drove past, but did not have time to examine.

But the town supplied a lunch stop on the banks of the Mersey River and a helpful lady at the information centre who supplied a map that showed us exactly where the raspberry farm was. It was a couple of kilometers in the opposite direction at Elizabeth Town.

Protective covering for raspberry vines

The raspberry then farm became our next destination. As a tourist attraction it is more a restaurant and ice-cream shop, but a walk leads past an ornamental lake (also their water supply) to the sheltered growing area. We had not long finished lunch, but ice-cream seemed appropriate. The raspberry flavour was delicious, as was the free sample chocolate coated raspberry.

Christmas Hills Raspberry Farm Restaurant
The main street of Moles Creek

The day was slipping away so we moved on. To reach Moina, where we were spending a couple of nights, we continued south to the edge of Deloraine and took Mole Creek Road. Mole creek is one of the locations where Tasmanian Devils can be seen in captivity. Just past the township we turned right, crossed a mountain range to arrive at the town of Paradise and then turned left over more mountainous roads, past more mountains before descending sharply down a steep grade and over the bridge at the foot of Cethana Dam on the Fourth River. We then climbed back up the next mountain, equally steep, to reach Moina.

Moina is situated where the road that we were on intersects with the Cradle Mountain Road. We had a comfortable unit in a bush setting. It is part of the Cradle Forest Inn, a Swiss or Bavarian themed mountain retreat that offers a café/restaurant and bar as well as accommodation. There is not much else of Moina but the road side signs suggest that there is no shortage of accommodation in the area. Logical since it is such a short drive away from the more expensive accommodation at Cradle Mountain.

Cradle Forrest Inn Reception and Dining/Bar
Our cabin was to the left. It was named “Wattle”.

During the latter part of our drive we encountered a lot of smoke haze that made mountain photography a bit difficult. Someone suggested that the cause was fires near Launceston.

The house and farm along Cradle Mountain Road.

On our second day in Tasmania we started by driving the 26 km to Cradle Mountain. The road leads through mountain farm land with a few isolated farms. The area is around 500 metres above sea level.

Part of the visitor centre at Cradle Mountain.

A new looking visitor centre has been built not too long ago, with a large parking area to handle the crowds. This is a popular place. The parking area was substantially full when we arrived at about 10.00 AM. It is possible to drive a bit further in, but our National Park pass provided free shuttle bus transport to the tourist area, so we chose that option.

After coffee in the café, I left Ruth lingering over her refreshments and caught the bus. It was quite a thrill to see Cradle Mountain for the first time. It and the picturesque Dove Lake suddenly appeared as we rounded a corner.

Dove Lake and Cradle Mountain from the bus stop
The smorgasbord of walks

After departing the bus stop I set out on the 6 km walk around Dove Lake. It is one of many walks in the area, some of them much longer, like the overland track to Lake St Clair that takes several days to complete.  Most of the Dove Lake track is an easy walk, good gravel and board walks with timber or stone steps where required. I walked clockwise as the earlier part of the walk is easier that way.

The boat shed viewed over the lake from near the start of the walk
Looking back early in the walk to the bus stop and other walkers behind me.
Cradle Mountain from about one third of the way around

The walk follows the edge of the lake for much of the distance but at about 75% of the way around there is a steep climb over a promontory that juts out into the lake, named Truginini Point. That slowed me down a bit. I was quite happy to see the old boat shed come into view as I reached the top of the ridge. The boat shed is only 10 minutes from the car park and bus terminal, so the end was in sight. Ruth had caught a later bus and was waiting at the finishing line. I achieved the 6.1 km in 1 hour 37 minutes including rests. That’s an average of about 3.8 km/hr. A few breathers were necessary on the steeper climbs.

Walking track ahead at about the half way point
The mountain from just before the start of the climb over Trunanini Point.
The much photographed boat shed on Dove Lake.

By the time we reached the visitor centre it was getting on for 2 o’clock, so we returned to the cafe for a late lunch and then returned to our unit at Moina. Then I had a nap. Totally appropriate for an 80 year old who had done all that walking.

Final view of lake and mountain from the rise near the end of the walk

We had planned Cradle Mountain at the start of our trip in the hope of getting good weather. The weather could hardly have been better. But it was now time to return to the coast and get on with our anti clockwise tour of the island.

Lake Barrington is formed by a dam on the Fourth River.

So on day three in Tasmania, breakfast done, we finished packing and headed down the mountain. At Wilmot we made a short detour to see Barrington Dam, one of three long thin dams that have been built on the Forth River. It backs up to where we had crossed the Fourth two days before. We were following the Forth River valley and rejoined the Bass Highway near the town of Forth. But now it was the 8th, the story of which will continue in the next post.,