A unique and unexpected urban secret.
If you’re visiting the city of Launceston in the north of Tasmania, the Cataract Gorge Reserve (known locally as the Gorge) is a unique and unexpected urban secret. Although you will feel a million miles from town, the natural formation of the Gorge is just 2 minutes from the CBD - a rare phenomenon in any city. This premier tourist attraction is located in the Trevallyn Reserve where the South Esk River, the longest river in Tasmania, enters the Tamar.
Entrance is free so pack your swimmers and a picnic and take a 15 minute stroll from the city center along the banks of the Tamar River to the Gorge where an 1890’s built pathway leads along the cliff face with panoramic views over the South Esk River.
The shaded northern side, referred to as the ‘Cliff Grounds’, is a Victorian era garden where peacocks roam proudly among ferns and exotic plants, which is contrasted with the southern side’s cafe and public swimming pool surrounded by native bush land where locals enjoy a swim (November to March) and a sunbake on the grassy banks, known to locals as Launceston's Beach. Image thanks to: Tourism Tasmania and Rob Burnett & Pete Harmsen.
Take the Kings Bridge (first floated into position in 1867) over the Gorge, or ride the world’s longest single span chairlift up over the gorge to spot peacocks and wallabies at dusk. The chairlift, built in 1972, has a total span of 457 m (1,499 ft).
You may choose to take a walking or cycling track and enjoy the lookouts.
Two walking tracks straddle the gorgeous gorge (Cataract Walk is level; the Zig Zag Track is steep), leading from Kings Bridge up to First Basin. You can also drive to the First Basin car park.
Upstream from the first basin you will find the Alexandra Suspension bridge where a 90 minute return walking track leads to the second basin and up toward Duck Reach where the earliest (1895) municipal hydroelectric power station in Australia stands.
Itching adventurers, you may choose to explore the gorge on a boat cruise through the accessible section of the river, by rock climbing, or perhaps by cable hang gliding allowing you to soar for 200 metres from a cliff top.
With rolling lawns and modern facilities, as well as a myriad of wildlife viewing, this may be Australia's most inviting urban reserve. Image credit - Tourism Tasmania and Rob Burnett.
Eating options on site include two cafes and a BBQ area. With Launceston just a stone’s throw away, there is no lack of dining options in the CBD.
The earliest known European visitor to the site was William Collins, who discovered its entrance in 1804.
Myths about the depth of the gorge have circulated throughout its existence. Whist some claim that the Gorge is an endless pit, others believe it is in fact a volcanic plug or that a submarine, which was sent down to find the bottom in the 1960’s, ran out cable before discovering the truth. In actual fact, measurements conducted in 2011 found that the basins depth is approximately 36 metres, established through erosion at the intersection of two faults where dolerite rock shattered.
Visit the historic Duck Reach Power Station, built in 1940. The building is now an interpretive museum, where you can learn more and gaze at historic photographs and paintings of the Gorge from many years ago. The Launceston City Council originally commissioned the Power Station in 1893, making it the largest hydro-electric scheme of its day. By 1895 it was lighting the city. It was washed away in the floods of 1929, rebuilt, and then decommissioned when the Trevallyn Dam was finished in 1955. Before the Trevallyn Dam was built upstream in the 1950s, flood waters could rise up as high as 12 metres. Image credit - Wai Nang Poon
Weather is unpredictable. At times tranquil, there can also be torrents of heavy rain at any point during the year.
Although there is a hotel located right at the entrance of the Gorge, there are also an incredible amount of options close by due to its proximity to Launceston.