Low Head

There are so many beautiful places to visit along the Tamar River, and a scenic forty minute drive from Launceston, the most sublime can be found as the waters empty into Bass Strait. It is impossible to feel anything other than calm when arriving at Low Head, surrounded by the blues and greens that only nature can bestow. This fabulous old Queenslander can be rented as holiday accommodation, with a view like that I don’t think I would ever want to leave.

In 1798, explorers George Bass and Matthew Flinders circumnavigated Tasmania in their vessel, Norfolk and proved the existence of a strait separating the island from Australia (apparently, it took a long time to dig that ditch). With much difficulty, they located the mouth of the Tamar River and made landfall seven kilometres up river at Port Dalrymple, now called Georgetown. Ten years later, the crew of Hebe found the entrance more than ‘difficult’ and came to grief on the treacherous reef, the first of nine shipwrecks to come. Consequently, convict labour set to work to construct Tasmania’s second (Australia’s third) lighthouse from local rubble with a coat of stucco to help with durability and a lantern room built of timber.

First lit in December 1833, the structure slowly deteriorated and was replaced in 1888 with the double brick version still standing today. Originally painted solid white, the red band was added in 1926 to improve visibility during daylight.

The initial four-roomed lighthouse keeper’s quarters were attached to the base of the tower, as seen in this illustration that is exhibited at the site.

A new Head Keeper’s quarters was built in 1890 (now available as holiday rental) and an Assistant Keeper’s quarters followed in 1916.

Tasmania’s only foghorn was installed at Low Head in 1929. For those who might understand, it is one of the largest Type G diaphones ever constructed and is one of only two of the type functioning in the world today. Decommissioned in 1973, it was restored by a group of volunteers and became operational again in April 2001.

The foghorn is sounded at noon each Sunday and can be heard up to thirty kilometres out to sea.

The area around the lighthouse encompasses Low Head Coastal Reserve, home to little penguins, the smallest of all penguin species. Also known as fairy penguins, they are the only species of penguin that are dark blue and white rather than black and white. The Penguin Tour experience sees them waddling back to their burrows after a day in the sea under cover of darkness. We were fortunate to spy this lovely creature settled on the nest, apparently accustomed to human presence.

Mangaweka Gorge

We had no particular plan for sightseeing on the drive from Motuoapa Bay to Wellington but it wasn’t long before we saw a sign indicating the presence of a historic bridge. Of course, we went to investigate and found the Mangaweka Bridge. Built in 1904, it is the only cantilever road bridge left in New Zealand.

The bridge itself is quite impressive but the views from the centre of the Mangaweka Gorge are truly magnificent.

Across the bridge we were surprised to find Awastone Riverside Haven, comprising accommodation, a campground and café. We enjoyed coffee and cake along with a different perspective of the bridge, rising 17 metres above the riverbed and the vertical white ‘papa’ cliffs.

The Rangitikei River, one of New Zealand’s longest at 253 kilometres, has cut spectacular gorges through the soft clay on its way to the Tasman Sea. The dramatic backdrop and series of rapids along the way make it a popular destination for a memorable kayaking experience.

Since our visit, a new bridge has been built to cross the river at this point because of safety concerns. The old bridge will be retained as a tourist icon for foot traffic and cyclists and those wanting to take in the majestic views.

avian ablutions

We have had the most stupendous summer here in northwest Tasmania – long, hot, sunny days stretching into warm evenings with not a breath of breeze. It will all come to an end in the next few weeks and we will be stoking the fire and donning coat, scarf, hat and gloves to venture outside. There has been a preponderance of birdlife this season, perhaps due to the absence of our usual resident tiger snake. I could spend hours watching the antics of these wonderful creatures making good use of our many birdbaths. The Black-headed Honeyeater is endemic to Tasmania and is a very sociable sort. The youngsters have a brown head and bill, looks like this was a family outing.

An Eastern Spinebill arrives but, after observing the zealous activity, seems reluctant to take the plunge.

No such reticence from the House Sparrow, he just dives straight in.

When the splashing abates, a New Holland Honeyeater sneaks in for a quiet drink.

A lone swimmer enjoys the peaceful interlude before the next family arrive.

Florence Falls

We had worked up an appetite with our morning explorations of Litchfield Park and found a secluded spot for a picnic lunch alongside Florence Creek.

The spring fed watercourse bubbles along, tumbling over a series of cascades until it reaches the escarpment at Florence Falls.

A stunning panorama from the viewing platform takes in the lush monsoon forest surrounding the falls.

The multi-tiered falls drop around 40 metres in total while the main cascade is around 20 metres.

There are 160 steps to the swimming hole at the base of the falls. Tempting though it was to cool off in the pristine water, the return climb would have been a step too far.

Mead’s Wall

Having returned to the base of Mount Ruapehu on Sky Waka, we followed the signs to explore Mead’s Wall, named for William Perrett Mead, the first to reconnoitre the Whakapapa valley and subsequently form the Ruapehu Ski Club in 1913. The wall didn’t look particularly impressive from a distance but the 25 metre high west face has eight rock climbing routes for those who wish to indulge.

We walked the easy trail to the side of the wall, wondering how (or why) anyone would climb it.

Looking back across the ski field, chalets dotted the barren landscape that becomes the beginners run, Happy Valley, when covered in snow.

The east face of the wall presents a sheer drop of 45 metres, a little more challenging for those thrill-seekers with ropes, helmets and jelly legs

We were more excited to be standing in the vicinity of memorable Mordor scenes from The Lord of the Rings. These volcanic rocks, cliffs and ash were the location of Emyn Muil, the mountainous area where Frodo and Sam become lost on their way to the Black Gates of Mordor and first meet Gollum.

Beyond Mead’s Wall, the river valley wends its way through the Whakapapa Gorge, toward the conical shape of Mount Doom, I mean Mount Ngauruhoe.

Back to reality, as we were leaving a solo rock climbing lesson was just beginning, I couldn’t bear to watch.