We had a staggered start to our travels in Tasmania, Paul arrived in Devonport on the overnight ferry on the 1st of March and Julie flew into Launceston on the 17th March after spending extra time in Adelaide. In the interim Paul sampled some of the north west region, the Western Tiers and the Central Plateau. First on the agenda was a short first visit to Cradle Mountain, then a visit to Susie, a friend who lives just outside Wynyard. From there he headed to Rocky Cape and Stanley on the north coast and Marrawah on the west coast, but then decided to head east again because the rain was moving in from the west and parts of the Tarkine were still inaccessible after the extensive fires which had caused havoc in the area for about three months. Plans to visit the Tarkine were put on hold, but hopefully we’ll get there before we leave and the forest will not be too badly burned. Paul then travelled east along the bottom of the Western Tiers, exploring tracks and waterfalls in the area before driving up onto the Central Plateau and around the Great Lake through Miena and down to Launceston. From there he headed north to the coast for a break in a caravan park before heading back to Launceston to pick Julie up from the airport.
From Launceston we headed north east passing through Bridport to reach some quiet beach camping at Waterhouse Point. Tasmania has numerous free camping sites in many popular locations and this was one of them. It was a great spot to relax together for a few nights before we moved on.
Continuing along toward the north east of the state we reached the Mt William National Park and after looking around the area we spent a night at Stumpy Bay. We could easily have spent more time in the area but were keen to reach the Bay of Fires slightly further down the coast just above St Helens. Eddystone Point and Lighthouse in the southern section of the National Park were worth a detour on our way. The Bay of Fires received its name after early colonial explorers saw numerous fires along the coast, which the aborigines were using for land management, but it could very well have been named for the bright orange lichen which decorates many of the rocks edging the ocean. We camped at three different campsites in the area and enjoyed our walks, drives, swims and most particularly the beautiful, fresh and cheap oysters. Paul braved the water to swim a couple of times but Julie was sensible and realised the water was far too cold.
By now it was Easter and as the area is a popular holiday spot for Tasmanians we decided we should head inland to avoid the crowds. With another dozen oysters in the fridge for later consumption we drove inland to the tiny community of Pyengana. It’s known for its heritage ‘Pub in the Paddock’ and the marvellous cheese factory. As it was Good Friday the pub was closed for the day and we had to shelve our idea of staying in the free camping area nearby and having a counter meal that night but we were delighted to find the cheese factory was open. They make a fine range of cheddar cheeses and we enjoyed all of our samples and purchased some of the prize winning aged cheddar before continuing up into the hills. Columba Falls are not far up the road and they are on the tourist trail so there is a good bitumen road and there were quite a few vehicles around. The short walk down to the falls passes between ancient tree ferns with amazingly huge trunks covered in bright green mosses. The falls are very attractive and well worth the easy walk.
After lunch we left the bitumen road and followed a gravel road through the forest toward Ringarooma. We climbed steep hills and wound our way down between lush forest and by mid afternoon we reached the carpark for Ralph Falls. At the bottom of the parking area a line of shrubs hid a flat area suitable for camping, perfect for the night’s camp. Before we set up we headed down the trail to the falls. The fungi are amazing, with wonderful colours and lots of varieties. From the lookout at the falls we saw the narrow creek tumbling off the plateau down the sheer and curved cliff and into the valley far below. Turning to look the other way we enjoyed expansive views over a valley with cleared farmland and scattered houses joined by a winding dirt road.
The trail continued past the lookout over a rocky section on top of cliff and over a small bridge spanning the creek which formed the waterfall. The grey trees are tall, slender and gently curved and, with little undergrowth to clutter the view, they appeared to be dancing sinuously. When the trail crossed small watercourses the undergrowth reappeared but as we were on the top of the hill the air was much drier and the fungi far less prolific. We reached the other side of the hill top and found a lookout over the gorge below then the track returned to the start by crossing the top of the ridge on timber planks raised above the fragile damp surface. At first we walked between head high shrubs waving in the breeze then the vegetation changed to waist high clumps of grasses so we had views over the top of the hill. We crossed the creek again and soon we were back at our camp to set up for the night. In the morning Paul headed out again before first light to capture some of the magic of the forest and Julie joined him there later. Breakfast back at camp then we set out on the road to see what we could find next.
We were heading for Ben Lomond National Park which is the major ski resort for Tasmania although nowhere near the scale of the ski areas on the mainland. From this direction there are no direct roads, just lots of dirt roads and tracks through state forests. After passing through Ringarooma we turned south and wound our way up, down and around hills until we left the forests and dirt roads behind and reached the tiny community of Upper Blessington. We took the turn toward the national park and began the ascent. Just after we left the farmland behind we reached the national park camp ground. The temperature was already cooler but it was certainly going to be even colder up the top of the range so we were glad to confirm that we’d be able to have a campfire here when we returned later.
The road continued through the bush until we reached the face of the mountain which appeared almost vertical. A zig zag road has been hewn out of the rocky face, it’s known as Jacob’s ladder and definitely not a road you’d take trailers, caravans or large vehicles up. For all that it’s an easy enough drive, just take it slowly and enjoy the views on the way. At the top there is a lookout over the valley below, definitely a place Paul would like to be at first light. A little further on is the ‘ski resort’. There are a few lodges and ski lifts but it isn’t very extensive. We took a walk around the village and we were pleasantly surprised to find lots of wildflowers in bloom … very pretty. The air was quite cold by now but we had enjoyed our short walk around the area before we headed back down Jacobs Ladder to our camp.
The fire at the camp site helped temper the cold night but it was sure cold when we packed up well before sunrise the next morning to return to the top of Jacob’s Ladder. The car heater helped a little and the coffee after photos and breakfast helped as well. The views from the top of the escarpment and the photos in the soft early light made the effort worth well while.
Easter was almost over so we headed back to the east coast with plans to stop somewhere for one more night on our way. Mathinna Falls are a short drive off the main road into another state forest area. We took the short walk along the creek to the falls, a delightful walk but the light wasn’t good for photographs so we decided not to stay for the night. Instead we drove up to South Sister lookout just north of St Marys. A steep track led to a small carpark at a communication tower and an even steeper walk to a lookout with fabulous views over St Marys and the Break O’Day plains far below. It’s certainly not an official camping area but the views were too good to pass up so we stayed the night. Naturally Paul climbed up to the lookout again before first light and the results were well worth the frozen fingers.
From there it was just a short and easy drive down to the coast and we meandered south along the coast road enjoying the views. North East Tasmania has certainly provided lots of variety, next stop Freycinet National Park and the start of our south east adventures.