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Gorgeous Cataract Gorge

Thursday, June 24, 2010
People love Tasmania's superb wilderness, unspoiled beauty and fresh air. It's an adventurer's paradise. There are many destinations where you can enjoy all of this but take some time to reach and require a bit of preparation, but Dermott Brereton has come up with something you can do without a lot of fuss.

Cataract Gorge is just a 15-minute walk from the centre of Launceston, Tasmania's second-largest city. It has spiritual significance for many Aboriginal people. Fairy Dell on the northern side is recognised as a place of deep peace and comfort.

The first Europeans were amazed by its natural beauty — as are today's visitors. The earliest recorded European visit was by settler William Collins in 1804. By the 1890s it was developed as a resort in true Victorian style by the citizens of Launceston.

The Gorge extends from the mouth of the South Esk River at Kings Bridge, winding its way to the Trevallyn hydro electric dam 5km upstream.

An 1890s pathway along the banks of the Tamar River leads into the Gorge. It takes you by the cliff face, looking down onto the South Esk River. Trails vary from 1km to 5km and you can head off alone or go with a volunteer guide.

Gorgeous Walks Volunteers has been operating for a few years and is made up of a small band of dedicated people proud of their special place and who enjoy showing it off.

The walks operate from Basin Cottage, which has memorabilia dating to the 1860s. Walks can be an easy one-hour 1.3km option or a more challenging 5.1km outing. Guides cover history, gardens, geology, monuments and lookouts. In winter, monthly events are held at the cottage.

The gorge's chairlift span crosses the enormous, naturally formed basin which is filled by the waters of the South Esk. The longest section is 308m long and is believed to be the longest single chairlift span in the world. The gentle ride covers a total of 457m from the terminal at First Basin to the idling station at Cliff Grounds.

Travelling at just 40m a minute gives passengers time to take in views of the river, dolerite cliffs and beautiful gardens. It's not surprising artists, writers and photographers have been inspired by the beauty of it over the years.

The gorge is the heartbeat of Launceston and provides fantastic recreational activities. There's a 50m-long pool with a wading area for children, playground, abseiling, rock climbing and whitewater rafting. Peacocks wander around the picnic lawns which have free barbecues and there's a first-class restaurant and cafe where you can enjoy the finest Tasmanian produce. There's also a kiosk, rotunda and footbridge.

In contrast, Cliff Gardens on the shady northern side is a Victorian garden with a wilderness of ferns and exotic plants.

Further upstream is the historic Duck Reach Power Station, now an Interpretation Centre. Commissioned by the Launceston City Council in 1893, it was the largest hydro-electric scheme of its time. By 1895 it was lighting up the city.


Cataract Gorge, 15 minutes from Launceston.


Gorgeous Walks tours and events cost $5 per person. Accompanied children younger than 16 can access the Basin Cottage free. Walks are on a casual basis as guides are available. Group pre-bookings preferred.

Launceston's Basin Chairlift costs $12 for adults and $8 for children one way. Return trips are $15 and $10.

Virgin Blue has one-way flights to Launceston from:

  • Melbourne $69
  • Sydney $99
  • Adelaide $139
  • Canberra $159
  • Brisbane $169
  • Perth $279
  • Darwin $329

There are limited seats which may not be available at peak times or on all flights. Fares quoted are one-way booked on the Internet. An extra $15 will be charged for phone bookings. A credit card surcharge of an additional $2 per person per one-way flight is applicable. Prices are correct at June 24, 2010, and are subject to change.

For further information

Virgin Blue
Ph: 136 789

Launceston's Basin Chairlift
Basin Road
West Launceston 7250
Ph: (03) 6331 5915
Fax: (03) 6331 0995

Gorgeous Guided Walks
Basin Cottage
Basin Road
Launceston 7250
Ph: (03) 6344 7685

Launceston Travel & Information Centre
Ph: (03) 6336 3133

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