Wild Waterways of Tasmania’s West Coast

Wild Waterways of Tasmania’s West Coast

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Tasmania’s wild and wonderful West Coast is famous for its rich mining history and winding roads through mountainous terrain. But your visit to this stunning region wouldn’t be complete without exploring everything that its waterways have to offer. From relaxing river cruises and adventurous white water rafting to waterfall walks and fishing opportunities, here are some suggestions to add to your itinerary:

Waterfall walks

There are countless beautiful waterfalls to discover throughout Tasmania and the West Coast is home to some of the best you will find. Undoubtedly the most impressive, Montezuma Falls tumble 104 metres. There is a viewing platform at the foot of the falls and a swing bridge spans the gorge to link the track with 4WD access from Melba Flats.

The incredible and powerful Montezuma Falls. Photo: Chelsea Bell

It is well worth the easy 7km, three-hour return rainforest walk that follows the old North East Dundas Tramway, used for servicing the silver mines in the area. Follow the gravel road from the Murchison Highway (A10), 2km south of Rosebery, to the former township of Williamsford. The track is also well-suited for mountain bikes.

Water flowing at the bottom of Philosopher Falls. Photo: Louise Fairfax and natureloverswalks.com

Philosopher Falls are situated on the upper reaches of the Arthur River, 10 kilometres from Waratah. Named after James Smith, a prospector who discovered tin in the river, which became the world’s richest discovery at Mount Bischoff. Previously closed to the public, the track has been upgraded and leads to a viewing platform near the falls. Good fitness is required as the downhill gravel walk takes 40 minutes each way and descends 240 timber steps. It is well signposted from the turnoff at the road.

Hogarth Falls Tasmania Waterfalls

Greenery and long exposure of Hogarth Falls. Photo: Waterfalls of Tasmania

Hogarth Falls is a pretty waterfall in walking distance of Strahan Village. Access to the waterfall is via People’s Park, with an easy and very pleasant 40-minute return walk to the waterfall. The walking track meanders adjacent to Botanical Creek, which is home to a number of platypus, which can occasionally be seen closer to dusk. From the Strahan Council Chambers on the Esplanade, travel towards Regatta Point to People’s Park which is 1.5 km from the Strahan wharf area.

The stunning forest landscape at Nelson Falls. Photo: Emily Smith

The start of the track to Nelson Falls can be found on the Lyell Highway (A10), 23km from Queenstown or 59km from Derwent Bridge. The car park is on the north side of the highway and is well signposted.  After an easy 1.5km, 20-minute walk on a flat gradient through temperate rain forest, the track emerges at a viewing platform to take in the spectacular 30 metre falls. The forest is mainly myrtle and leatherwood providing a protective canopy to ancient species of ferns, mosses and lichens which have their origins in the Gondwana supercontinent. Interpretive signage highlights points of interest along the way.

Waratah Falls, Tasmania, Australia

Waratah Falls, cascading on the edge of town. Photo: Emily Smith

Waratah falls, in the heart of Waratah can be viewed from two spectacular angles. The first, from a viewing platform and grassy area across from the Bischoff Hotel (pictured above), and the other viewing point is a short, 350 metre walk to the base of the falls, accessed from the main road. These falls are particularly unique, with their location in the centre of town. They also offer an incredible photo opportunity when the occasional sprinkling of snow falls in winter.

Drop a line in

Some of the best fishing spots to be found are on the West Coast. The many rivers, streams and lakes have good stocks of rainbow and wild brown trout waiting to be caught or for the adventure of a lifetime try deep sea fishing. For inland fishing a licence is required and most tourism destinations have fishing gear to hire.

lake burbury tasmania

An aerial view of Lake Burbury. Photo by Instagrammer @kim_tastagh

According to fishing enthusiast Mike Fry, Lake Burbury, on the Lyell Highway between Queenstown and Derwent Bridge, is open all year with plenty of accessible shorelines. Lake Plimsoll, roughly between Tullah and Rosebery on the Anthony Road (Route B28), is stocked with brook trout.

“Lake Rosebery at Tullah is an underrated water with some very big fish; Lake MacIntosh is close by and Lake Pieman holds some excellent specimens. Fishing below the Reece Dam during the whitebait season can be quite phenomenal. The Pieman and Arthur rivers have seen some brilliant fishing but boats are best to make the most of these great fishing rivers. Staying at Corinna is also a great option,” Mike said.

The harbour in the village of Strahan. Photo: Cat Gale-Stanton

Strahan offers harbour, river and ocean fishing with charter boats available. Within Macquarie Harbour there are a number of boat ramps, jetties and wharves where a line can be cast. The harbour contains many escapees from fish farms as well as native species of cod, Australian salmon and flathead. Tasmanian trout, both resident and sea runner brown, can be found in the harbour and Gordon River with large specimens regularly caught. The Henty River is accessible by four wheel drive from Strahan and the Little Henty River from Zeehan and then to Trial Harbour.

An aerial view over Gordon River. Photo: Gordon River Cruises

Offshore there are good catches of stripey trumpeter, morwong, shark and southern ocean rock lobster to be had if you have a local to show you the way. Take care if you bring your own boat as these waters can be treacherous . Always pay close attention to weather reports and the advice of locals.

Rafters exploring the water of Franklin River. Photo: Franklin River Rafting

Ride the rapids

White-water raft alongside forested valleys, deep gorges and mountains carved by glaciers on the furious Franklin River, in the World Heritage-listed Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park. It's a memorable way to experience this remote corner of Tasmania, and multiple companies offer tours.

Rafters usually start their journey at the Collingwood River, 49km west of Derwent Bridge, and finish at the Gordon River. Rafters can then either catch the Gordon River ferry at Heritage Landing, or charter a float plane or yacht to pick them up from Sir John Falls camp. The trip takes about 8-14 days. The best time to raft the Franklin is between December and March when the weather is relatively stable. However, you should come thoroughly prepared as the region is renowned for its wild weather at any time of year. The Franklin is a demanding river and requires intense concentration, good preparation, confidence and experienced leadership. Inexperienced rafters should consider joining a commercial trip. There are a number of good companies with experienced guides and different lengths of trips to choose from. See the Tourism Tasmania web site for a list of rafting companies.

Going with the flow! Photo: King River Rafting (Queenstown)

For a more family-friendly option, King River Rafting offers two packages in partnership with the West Coast Wilderness Railway – a half day and a full day experience, both combining an adventure on the King River with a ride on the heritage steam train. The King River Gorge Raft and Steam Experience is a six-hour epic adventure. Raft 7km of the King River Gorge’s exhilarating rapids from Newall Creek to Dubbil Barril with qualified and experienced guides then return to Queenstown through the rainforest in the comfort of the West Coast Wilderness Railway.

The King River Steam River and Raft Experience is a full-day adventure without the excitement of the larger rapids in the King River Gorge. Ride the West Coast Wilderness Railway from Queenstown to Dubbil Barril. At Dubbil Barril meet the raft on the river, change into rafting gear and raft the quieter sections of the King River 15km to Lowana. Tours are suitable for families with stronger children (10-15 years) and a minimum group of 4, maximum of 12. Trips run from November to mid-April, for details check out the King River Rafting website.

The stillness of the Pieman River at Sunset.

Relax on a river cruise

You are absolutely spoilt for choice when it comes to cruises on the West Coast.

At Arthur River, take your pick between the MV George Robinson (known as the 'red boat') and A R Reflections River Cruises to experience Tasmania's Tarkine Wilderness as they journey about 15km upstream. The river is wild - it has never been farmed, logged, mined or dammed. The surrounding landscape is pristine and changes from coastal heath to wet sclerophyll rainforest and then cool temperate rainforest. Watch the white bellied sea eagles swoop for fish. You may be lucky and spot an azure kingfisher or perhaps a platypus, spotted quoll or pademelon. Enjoy lunch with wine amid giant ferns and ancient trees in the cool temperate rainforest. A guided walk informs you of the history of the area and its flora and fauna.

Still reflections on the Pieman River. Photo: Think Tasmania

Further down the coast and you can stop at Corinna to discover the Pieman River aboard the Arcadia II - the only Huon pine river cruiser in the world. The return trip between Corinna and Pieman Heads takes four hours and provides guests with a breathtaking river, rainforest and coastal experience. With no other vessel sharing the river there is a rich interpretation of natural and pioneering heritage and an intimate experience with the rainforest and the river. The usual cruise allows time for guests to walk to the wild southern ocean at Pieman Heads - scene of many shipwrecks when Corinna was a thriving town in the late 1800s.

Pieman River Cruises also offer a shorter trip on another vessel called Sweetwater. The journey, in a smaller craft than the Arcadia, has the advantage of accessing the Savage River, where the wreck of the SS Croydon can be clearly seen at low tide, and of mooring at the board walk to Lovers Falls. On the return cruise the Sweetwater takes in Hell’s Gates and the wedge tailed eagle’s nest on the Pieman, and guests can choose to walk back to Corinna along the beautiful Savage River walk.

The wreck of the SS Croydon, in 1919 in the Savage River. Photo: environment.gov.au

The signature Strahan experience is cruising past dense temperate rainforest as you travel the calm waters of Gordon River in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area for about six hours. Leaving the jetty, the vessels cross Macquarie Harbour (Australia’s second largest harbour), past modern fish farms to its 80 metre-wide entrance, dubbed by 19th century convicts as "Hell's Gates", in anticipation of the life that awaited them. The immense Southern Ocean beckons and on a calm day, the boats venture past the lighthouse that guards the entrance, for a taste of the open sea and a sight of Ocean Beach, Tasmania's longest beach. Returning across the harbour, the boats reach the entrance to the Gordon River. Here the engines slow so that passengers can drink in the tranquility of its mirrored surface and the magical atmosphere of the thick rainforest that reaches to its banks. There's an opportunity to go ashore and walk into the rainforest to see ancient Huon Pines. The return journey includes a stopover on Sarah Island, where the island's controversial history is told. The past comes to life in the ghosts of those who once lived and worked as convicts and guards on the island.