Journey through a defile
WHEN YOU next visit Launceston, put on your walking shoes, stretch your muscles and take the well-trodden walk from the edge of the city into First Basin. Irrespective of whether you take the low, easy track or the steeper, rougher trail, you travel along The Gorge, a defile cut over geological time by the rushing waters of the South Esk River where it empties into the wide brown body of the Tamar. The Gorge is perhaps the major asset possessed by this small city/large town of fewer than 70,000 people.
The easy track sets you down amid the cold climate trees planted by people of the Victorian age. They’re now tall trees below which a mob of peacocks wander and call, eating the scraps offered by the tourists. Cross the suspension bridge (or take the chairlift if unfit legs have tired you out) and you enter a large grassy area with a swimming pool and cafe that, during the warmer months, is popular with families.
But if you like to explore a little further afield like I do, take the track that starts beside the suspension bridge and follow it along The Gorge, through the eucalypt forest. Below, the South Esk gurgles and rushes as rapids joining a chain of ponds. In flood, it becomes a torrent.
Some distance along you come to a curve in The Gorge and there, along the canyon, you see a building down by the river. This is your waypoint. Walk on and eventually emerge opposite the structure. Take the suspension bridge and explore what was Launceston’s first electricity supply — the Duck Reach power station. It’s an empty shell of a building now, with an old turbine still in place and interpretive signs to tell you about times past here. Spend a few minutes here, read the signs and reflect on what progress the coming of hydro electricity must have been for the city. It was, in reality, an emergence into a new world of light.
You won’t want to return the way you arrived, so take the steep trail behind the hydro station and climb out of The Gorge. The track is well defined though somewhat vertical and emerges at the top of the climb to take you through open schlerophyl forest until it closes the loop by bringing you to the top of First Basin. Take a coffee at the cafe in the park grounds (the Gorge restaurant that adjoins the cafe is said to be very good, though expensive) and watch out for the peacocks that are quite adept at helping themselves to your food.
For those seeking fitness, the circuit is your training ground. For those looking for a relatively easy bushwalk, you can enter and leave the trail at a number of places. For families, there’s First Basin with its swimming pool (in summer — this is Tasmania) or for the more adventurous there’s the waters of First basin (definitely only summer and only when the South Esk is not in flood). For others wanting nothing more than an easy morning or evening stroll or a coffee with friends or solitude in the open air surrounded by the vegetation of far away places, there’s the easy, paved track (an ‘accessible’ track for those with walking aids or wheelchairs) that starts on the edge of town at Kings Bridge, northern bank.