The last time I made it to Meander Falls was a few years ago now, 18 years in fact, back in July 1999. It was with a friend of
mine, George Smith (now an excellent confectionery maker), we were much younger then obviously, so packing a hefty picnic of local produce and a bottle of red wine made complete sense! There was snow on the ground and a good flow of water down the falls. I can only presume the logic of carrying in a bottle of wine was to help make the journey out a little more warming. Clearly no thought was given to the possibility of reducing the steadiness on one’s feet. This time round I was travelling with my teenage son, and sensibly no wine, who had amazingly agreed to accompany me. It is a 4 – 5 hour return walk, a time and distance he has balked at in the past. In addition I knew of an alternate route to the falls and on arriving at the car park I quipped, “Mate, how would you like to take the long way to the falls?”
Meander Falls cascades down off the Central Plateau Conservation Area which makes up part of the Great Western Tiers (Kooparoona Niara: meaning ‘mountains of the spirits’) mountain range. It is a component of the over 1.5 million hectares listed as Wilderness World Heritage Area in Tasmania. The walk is a challenging day out and the track, while well defined, is by no means easy. All along the path there are exposed roots and rocks. It is steep in places and narrow, with sections winding precariously close to the edge of sheer drops with no railings. Rightly so, the Meander Falls walk is one of Tasmania Parks & Wildlife Service ’60 Great Short Walks’ but less experienced walkers should allow up to 6.5 hours to complete the round trip.
As I mentioned earlier though, there is another route to Meander Falls, and I did put the idea in my son’s head to take that option. Whilst I was familiar with the track I had not attempted it before. It is known as the Split Rock track (Cleft Rock track on some maps), less often used, and significantly longer with stretches which demand both concentration and experience to navigate successfully. While the more direct Meander Falls track mostly follows the course of the Meander River, the Split Rock track immediately takes you across the river and plunges into steep, dense rainforest terrain. The sound of the river is left behind, markers are scarce, the path rarely trodden, and this is just the easier sections!
In a little over half an hour we had reached Split Rock, an impressive moss and fern blanketed stone protrusion divided into two, who knows how many eons ago, enabling a straight way up the hillside. A tree has kindly sprouted in the crevasse, its roots providing a natural stairway up through the split. We were fortunate to have a clear day so took a short break on the precipice to survey the area from where we had come. The expanse of forest is spectacular and what I believe to be Wild Dog Tier (still learning my geography), loomed in the distance. My son was enjoying the experience so far and had not yet asked the dreaded ‘how much further’ question. The next leg of the journey was to Split Rock Falls.
Back at the starting point two falls are mentioned on the signage, Split Rock and Shower Cave, and the map indicates them both being not far from each other. We reached the sign pointing us in the direction of Split Rock Falls without too much trouble. There are red triangular markers nailed into trees, yellow if you are travelling in the opposite direction, as well as orange ribbons sporadically tied to branches. With the constantly changing nature of the forest, trees having come down and the like, there was some guess work to be done on occasion before the next marker came into view. The descent down to the falls is well worth the effort. We only found what I presume is Shower Cave Falls, a gentle spray of water spilling from a rocky outcrop enabling us to walk in behind the falls without getting drenched. The rocks at the base of the falls are scarred with little craters from the continual shower effect of the falls. I would have happily lingered but not having a good sense of how long we had to go I wanted to get moving.
The uphill continued, steadily, and my teenage sidekick was finding it tough going. Eventually the forest opened up and Bastion Bluff towered before us. We were well over three hours into our journey and here the hike changed dramatically. The path stopped and a sea of rocks and boulders awaited. My son’s diminishing enthusiasm was revitalised, experiencing for the first time such an extraordinary and challenging landscape. He is a difficult kid to impress, engaging him for a reaction to just about anything gets a standard response, “yeah, it was good.” As I skipped ahead over the rocks to survey our route I heard, “Wow… wooow, how many rocks are here!” He was captivated. Nothing had held his gaze this long since Minecraft came into his life. As a parent these are moments you cherish, knowing you have just made an indelible mark on their memory.
From here on in small piles of stones stacked on prominent boulders every fifty metres or so would guide our way. I dread to think how you would find your way should mist or foul weather descend. We were still ascending toward the plateau between Meander Crag and Bastion Bluff. Deft footwork is required and ankles, knees and hips get a sturdy workout as you hop from rock to rock. As the land levels off plant life returns, alpine shrubs bunch together tightly, growth stunted, and almost all with prickly foliage. We came to a point where we tried four or five paths all of which came to an abrupt end. Thickets of native bush, which have survived many more winters than I have, did not want us to go any further. We had only recently passed two walkers, travelling in the other direction, and at the time I had wondered why they were wearing strong leather gloves. We had stopped for a brief chat and they were veterans of the track. It was obvious now, the gloves were to do battle with the tangle of scrub before us.
Looking over the mass of green in front of us I could see the valley below. A narrow trail of prehistoric trees indicated the Meander River below. It led back up to a cliff face from where the falls spilled down. There was also plenty more rock to descend across! In the end it was only a short struggle through to the return of the rocky terrain. Wearing gaiters and decent hiking boots I took the lead and made a way for my son to follow. The last few metres were too much and too thick for him to traverse without his legs and trousers ending up shredded. He scrambled onto my shoulders and with both luck and some acrobatic balancing I managed to deposit him safely onto the nearest boulder. The downhill, as is often the case, was more arduous than the uphill but with plenty of stone mounds as beacons we made it down without incident. We crossed the Meander River and with some relief reconnected to the more direct track that continues on to the falls. The rock hopping had taken an hour and a half to negotiate.
Making it to the base of the falls was a triumph. My son quickly removed his shoes and soaked his tired feet in the bracing pure water. We sat mostly silently watching tiny fresh-water shrimps go about their underwater business. The air was still and warm, the only sound was the flow of the falls before us. It is difficult to appreciate their full height from so close up. It was strenuous going over the plateau but it had given us a fantastic perspective of the full height of the falls. A late lunch of sandwiches, backs leaning against an ancient pencil pine, renewed our energy in preparation for the return journey, thankfully along the more direct route this time. The fagus, Tasmania’s only native deciduous tree, around the waterhole were hinting at the change of season ahead. The outermost leaves were already altering from their usual deep dark green to a striking golden amber. The remarkable native flora should not be overlooked. It is reassuring to know this tract of land and everything that grows within it is protected in perpetuity.
We gathered ourselves up and set off for the return to the carpark, not long after an exhausted voice asked, “How much further?”
“About two hours,” I mumbled, hoping it wouldn’t register.
It had been a long day and this final stretch tested my son’s resilience. His legs were pretty much sapped of energy as the carpark came into sight. “So, how was that?” I enquired.
“Amazing and horrendous,” came the shattered reply.
Map and directions from Launceston. Total walk time for us on the Split Rock/Meander Falls circuit was 8 hours. Allow 4.5 – 6.5 hours depending on experience/fitness taking the more direct Meander Falls track. There is no mobile phone reception at all along the walk, notify someone of your plans before setting off. Sounds a little too difficult, Westmorland Falls is an enjoyable and significantly easier option. waterfallsoftasmania.com.au offers a comprehensive guide to the many waterfalls to be explored around Tasmania. See Tasmania Parks and Wildlife 60 Great Short Walks (with app store link) for more adventures.