Autumn has arrived, my favourite season to explore Tasmania’s wilderness. The sun is less intense too so it is a perfect time for an afternoon of family beach activities. Can both be achieved in one day?
The north-west of Tasmania is without doubt the place to find some of the best wilderness experiences in the state from the iconic Cradle Mountain to our lesser known first destination of Leven Canyon. It is listed as one of the 60 Great Short Walks of Tasmania so visitor numbers are steadily increasing. While the east coast of Tasmania is best known for pristine beaches and crystal clear water the north-west has a few secret spots of its own.
The journey from Launceston to Leven Canyon is about two hours with the last stretch of road being very windy and narrow in places. This is the point where our three kids began their chorus, “Are we there yet? Are we there yet?”. If you are wanting to stop for a short break along the journey, Braddon’s Lookout is the place to do it.
Just a few minutes off the highway Braddon’s Lookout offers a spectacular view of the northern coastline around to, on a clear day, the distant peak of Cradle Mountain. It is an opportunity to stretch your legs and see where the adventure lies ahead.
For this day out we were travelling through low lying mist and light rainfall which did not help with the children’s enthusiasm for adventure one little bit (the photo above from Braddon’s Lookout was taken on another, more sunny, day out). Leven Canyon Reserve offers camp sites, picnic tables, wood fire barbecues and good toilet facilities. It was a long weekend (bank holiday weekend) so the area was busier than usual but we had no trouble finding a quiet spot to pull on our boots and have a snack before setting off on the walk. Our plan was to have a barbecue after walking but that was thwarted for two very simple reasons; finding dry fire wood was near on impossible and should you have some dry kindling, matches are a handy item to pack! Plan B for lunch had to implemented.
[Caution: jack jumper ants are common around the picnic areas so take care if using a picnic rug on the ground]
The walk is broken up into three sections; Cruickshank’s Lookout, Forest Stairs and the Edge Lookout & Fern Walk. Cruickshank’s Lookout is the easiest and the most impressive, as long as you are not afraid of heights! The path is undulating and within a fifteen minute stroll the forest canopy opens up and you will find yourself on a platform looking across to Griffiths Ridge and overlooking the Leven River far below. It is a special and wild part of the world.
The Edge Lookout is at the mid level of the canyon and can be approached two ways. The Forest Stairs, all 697 of them, will guide you down through the rainforest to the lookout. If the thought of so many stairs makes you weak at the knees you can return the way you came and make your way down the Fern Walk path to the lookout. The full loop is about 45 minutes depending on the fitness and age of your fellow travellers.
As the season changes to cooler and wetter conditions the undergrowth of Tasmanian rainforests comes alive with fungi. A Field Guide to Tasmanian Fungi is a worthwhile addition to your backpack when adventuring through the trees. Wallabies are a regular sight too and though you almost certainly will not see them this area of Tasmania is home to Tasmanian devils and spotted tail quolls. Look up and there is always a chance of spotting a magnificent wedge tailed eagle soaring over head.
For the more adventurous there is another access point to Leven Canyon, into the canyon floor itself. It is a short drive out from the main picnic area and down the road to another car park. There are no facilities here other than an area to park and information about the walk. Black Bluff, snow capped in winter, is visible off in the distance. It is a confused view because the rugged mountain can only been seen due to the deforestation, directly across the road, by the local timber industry.
As we had our three children with us our plan was to make our way down to the bridge which traverses the Leven River and back again. Across the bridge is the Penguin to Cradle Mountain trail, an arduous multi day walk from the small coastal town of Penguin to the summit of Cradle Mountain. On a previous occasion with my Dad and 12 year old son we walked down along the track to Devil’s Elbow which is about an hour and a half return. The path is narrow, uneven and at times very close to steep drop offs. It is a destination worth reaching if you can. Our kids made it to the bridge with no trouble but of course where there is downhill there is the return uphill to contend with. The thought of an afternoon at the beach, swimming and sandcastles was enough to get them back to the car without much complaining of sore legs and tired muscles.
True to Tasmanian form, as we left Leven Canyon for the sleepy township of Turners Beach, the sun broke through the clouds and by the time we arrived the sky was clear and the breeze warm. We stopped opposite the La Mar Café Providore, a great little eatery and supply store with very decent coffee should you need. The kids were into their swimmers and straight onto the beach within moments, they had temporarily forgotten their hunger. Fortunately Turners Beach has several excellent shelters with free electric barbecues. At the push of a button the hotplate was soon smoking and sausages were sizzling. It was a late lunch but a very successful one nonetheless.
After lunch our children spent the rest of the afternoon in the water. I rolled up my trousers and regretted I had not packed my own swimmers. There were not more than a dozen people taking advantage of the blissful afternoon. The fact is, even at the height of summer, you can turn up to any Tasmanian beach and you will not be confronted by hordes of people. The journey home was with contented sleepy kids. And yes, here in Tasmania you can quite easily spend the morning in the wilderness and the afternoon at the beach.
Map and directions of our day’s travel. Other places of interest along the route include Hazelbrae Hazelnuts, Christmas Hills Raspberry Farm, Ashgrove Cheese, Tasmanian Food and Wine Conservatory, House of Anvers Chocolates, Turners Beach Berry Patch.
For a comprehensive guide to all the fine fare of the north-west coast see the Cradle to Coast Tasting Trail.