In our family of five I have come to accept that it is just me who likes the idea of walks going beyond two hours. Even two hours for the others is a stretch unless it involves a beach and plenty of sunshine. The trick is finding a convenient time to skip town for a solo adventure into the wilderness. Can I get the kids to school, head out for an adventure and be back in time for the school pick up and their afternoon activities?
Since childhood the Great Western Tiers (Kooparoona Niara: meaning ‘mountains of the spirits’) have always been a destination for adventure. Growing up we camped under their shadow. They stretch from the north-west down through to central Tasmania for over 100 kilometres. My older brothers scaled the bluffs along the range and my favourite ‘secret spot’ in Tasmania, on the beginnings of the Mersey River, has the Tiers as a dramatic backdrop. It is an area of escape and great relaxation for me.
On the highway from Launceston you will not miss the signs encouraging you to head in the direction of Liffey Falls. Also starting out from a source high above on the plateau of the Great Western Tiers, Liffey Falls is one of the most visited falls in the state both for its ease of access and grand presence deep in World Heritage listed rainforest. Sometimes though, you want to avoid the popular, and end up away from the well worn tracks. Westmorland Falls offers seclusion and a relatively easy two hour return walk into a narrow and pretty ‘horsetail’ type waterfall.
There is only one small sign for the falls, spelt with an ‘e’, Westmoreland Falls, at a T-junction a kilometre or two before the carpark. At this point the road becomes unsealed and meanders through a cattle farm and past a side entrance, for experienced cavers, to the underground network that is Mole Creek Caves. I must admit on arriving I was disappointed to find another car already parked. How dare they know about this place. The morning was threatening rain. As I suited up appropriately into wet weather gear two backpackers emerged, in shorts and t-shirts, we said our greetings and they drove away. The track was all mine!
There are no significantly steep parts to the track. It winds its way across the hillside slowly taking you further into the depths of the rainforest. The temperature begins to drop and the trees’ trunks and limbs around you are soon enveloped in mosses and lichens. Tree ferns stand over you, tiny birds perform acrobatics in the undergrowth, and wallabies scamper off into the distance. All around you it is green, a sumptuous and vivid green.
In January 2011 there was an unseasonal torrential downpour. The creeks burst their banks and the massive volume of water that tore through the area destroyed foot bridges and parts of the walking track. It was two years before a new path and bridge were reinstated. The one time along the track that the canopy opens up is when you cross the bridge. The hugely eroded waterway is slowly returning to its former self. The forest is once again edging its way closer to the stream thanks to the dogwood saplings keen to take advantage of the previously washed away banks.
Across the bridge you immediately dive back into the depths of the rainforest. Another small stream keeps you company on your right and this waterway leads to your destination. Walking in May (and June), it is an opportunity to glimpse the array of fungi forcing their way through the undergrowth and protruding from the sides of fallen trees. The colours are confounding amongst the green and brown of the forest; bright red, purple, yellow and orange. Some stand alone and proud while others clump together forming a regiment preparing to do battle with the wintry elements.
The last stretch of the walk weaves its way between huge tree ferns, over some uneven slippery ground, and opens up to the viewing platform at the edge of the falls. Fern fronds and tree branches crowd in around the spilling water making it a difficult waterfall to photograph. Here alone though it is more than just seeing; breathing in the revitalising rainforest air, the sounds of the forest from water, wind and wildlife, give you a time of quietude that cannot be taken for granted. I am very fortunate to be living in Tasmania and to have such ease of access to these remarkable environments.
Most of the animal life within the forest, at the sound of human footsteps, swiftly disappear. Leeches are an exception. There are several species here in Tasmania and there are plenty in residence along the track eager for a close encounter. Making my way back I often stopped, stooping low to take a photo of fungi. Before too long I noticed a small black sucker hellbent on attaching itself to me. I do not know how their senses work but without eyes or apparent nose they hone in on you with surgical precision! This one though did not get a piece of me.
Of course I had been outsmarted, arriving back at the carpark I soon found two other leeches attached to my calf feverishly engorging themselves. I ended their feeding by plucking them off and flinging them back to their forest habitat. It was now time to return to my suburban habitat, refreshed and rejuvenated. On the journey home I found myself already planning my next exploration into the Great Western Tiers.
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Unfortunately between the time of walking the Westmorland Falls track and writing this blog northern Tasmania has experienced major winter flooding. Once again the track is closed due to water damage. Check the Parks and Wildlife Service closures and re-openings page for updates of all affected areas around the state. (UPDATE: March 2017 – Track is repaired and reopened)
Map and directions from Launceston. Stop in at the Chudleigh General Store for a bacon roll, coffee and some country hospitality before the walk. On the main street of Mole Creek the Mountain Huts Preservation Society have relocated Liena Hut for permanent display. It offers an insight into the lives of the ‘trappers’ who spent much of their time in the surrounding wilderness. Tulampanga (Alum Cliffs), between Chudleigh and Mole Creek, is a place of significance for Tasmanian Aborigines and the short walk provides an informative history of the area. For further information see Great Western Tiers Touring Route.