A couple of glasses of Chromy pinot noir and a tummy full of pate and smoked quail, camembert and pesto-smeared crusty bread, and I’m thinking a nap back aboard the Orion would be delightful. But Mick, our expedition team leader, has something a bit more active in mind: a hike around Cataract Gorge.
Now before I talk about Cataract Gorge, I want to tell you about Frank. Frank is our shuttle driver. Big, bald, stocky bloke who speaks in a strange Tassie accent that even the other Aussies have a hard time understanding. Cheerful fellow. But, oddly enough for a bus driver, he seems to have trouble with directions. He keeps saying things like, “If you look out at the right you’ll see the Great Western Tiers (except he says “Great Weste’n Tees”) but the thing is, the craggy peaks are actually on our left. And this isn’t a one-time thing. Over and over again he tells us to look right when we should be looking left. Or vice versa. In fact, we all start getting so used to his misdirections that we just automatically look in the opposite direction from what he tells us. There must be a medical term for this but I don’t know what it is.
Anyway, I’m not saying this to belittle Frank; everyone on the bus quite likes him, including me, and, as I say, he couldn’t be more pleasant. I mention it only because Frank has told us that we’re going to “the striking wilderness of the Cataract Gorge” but he’s steering the bus through an impressive suburban neighborhood, called Trevallyn, of large, lovely hillside homes just minutes from Launceston’s city center and I think we’re all wondering just where in the world Frank thinks he’s taking us.
And then suddenly we top a rise, park beneath some shady gum trees, and there before us is a deep-green swimming hole rimmed with giant boulders from which any number of Tassie Huck Finns are diving and a delicate suspension bridge spanning the tumbling white waters of the South Esk River: Cataract Gorge.
We walk through the trees along a trail leading to a pale blue pool, fed by the clear, clean waters, in the middle of a bright green lawn, and rugged hiking trails that lead through the bushland and along the cliffs up the gorge, and even a chairlift (the world’s longest single-span chair, Franks says) that crosses over the basin pond and up the mountain. Practically right in the middle of the second largest city in Tasmania. Stunning.
Just take a look at the above photo, which I shot from the middle of the Alexandra Suspension Bridge, and look to the right (my right, not Frank’s right) where you’ll see the outline of the spring-fed pool in the middle of the lawn (no charge for a swim here!) and you’ll spot a couple of big trees beyond that. Take the path through those trees and literally in two minutes you’d be in an upscale residential neighborhood and in five minutes you’d come across a fish & chips shop and a pretty good Italian restaurant. Where else in the world are you going to find something like that?