NW TASMANIA ... offroad
There’s a lot to say about Tasmania, its like a place where time has stood still with natural beauty everywhere you look, and then there’s the array of history that has been preserved from when the pioneers opened up remote areas. Tassie is one of those places where you can zip around on the main roads pretty quick and see the normal touristy things but there’s also plenty of offroad trails zig zagging the state.
My starting point on this trip was Hellyer Gorge, about 50 km south of Burnie on Tassie’s north coast heading up into the NW corner. Now while it would of been quicker to shoot up the tar for the 200km easy drive, I was given a heads up on a few offroad tracks through the forest areas near Campbell Range with stops along the way that included waterfalls sawmill relics along the Rabalga track that follows the Arthur River to the west coast.
Hellyer Gorge is a popular stopover for tourist these days where the Hellyer River cuts a path through the rugged canyon it was named after an English surveyor and explorer, Henry Hellyer who made his way into the harsh and remote environment in the early 1800’s. He mapped and worked through the North West opening up new areas, but it came at a cost as he suffered with depression and eventually life got to him and he committed suicide in September of 1832 at the young age of 42. He was laid to rest at Stanley after work on the Van Diemen Land project.
Heading west from Hellyer Gorge along Viney Road, the road winds its way through production forests where care needs to be taken if forestry are logging. Plantations through here vary from quick growing soft pine and gum that are used for pulping and are exported from Burnie which is the 5th largest industrial port in Australia. I found the roads pretty easy to follow in here as Viney blended into Farquhar's Road and then into Pioneer link, but without a good GPS you’d be in here for days as forestry roads peel off everywhere in all directions. Along Pioneer Road there is a couple good alternative tracks bypassing some pretty serious bog holes if your by yourself. These side tracks are a bit of fun with hill climbs and a couple of deep gullies, just not sure if I’d attempt them in the wet as I reckon track grades would go from fun too hard in no time flat.
Heading onto Rabalga Track soon appears and its 4wd only with good ruts, dips and creek crossings where the tracks are often lined with tall tree ferns and mossy fallen logs. One stop over on Rabalga is Dip Falls and the Big tree stop over. Dip Falls flows over several levels where million of years ago there was volcanic activity in the area and after weathering its left Basalt walls for the water to flow over the hexagonal columns.
Across the road from the falls old relics have been left behind from when there was a thriving sawmill in the area, the steam boiler has been left and is easily found. Here at the remote Dip Falls there were only 3 houses and this area contained sought after Blackwood which was eventually transported by horse and wagon to Mawbanna. It was a valued timber used for furniture and making beer barrels. Just up the road at the big tree walking track, a 60 metre high Browntop Stringybark towers over the other smaller Cooper ferns and palms. Estimated to be 440 years old and 16 metres around its a magnificent and beautiful tree, but its slowly decaying from the inside. This tree was left behind because of its deformities but walking around there is evidence where timber cutters cut shoe marks into other trees for falling all this before 1960. The area through here is now protected and no logging occurs in these valleys where moss covers most of the ground and is slowly growing up the tree trunks.
Rabalga track continues towards the Western Plains area where Eucalypt forests are prominent across the hills and during the warmer periods Apiary sites have been set up. Honey is big business in Tasmania where nearly 300 tonnes a year is produced and most of it from Leatherwood flowers. Crossing over the Pipeline Track there’s a couple of locked gates either side. The pipeline beside the track starts at the huge Savage River mine and heads 90km north to the port carrying iron ore slurry where it will be processed into pellets and exported overseas. As you hit Trowutta, a sleepy farm area a good diversion is down to the Trowutta Arch. Sign posted as a 20 minute walk, you’ll head down to a cave where a couple of sink holes have formed after rock formations have collapsed into the earth and filled up with water. Around Tassie there are dozens of these sink holes that can appear over time where Dolomite dissolves over thousands of years from undermining subterranean water flows deep underground. Further towards the west at Dismal Swamp, this is regarded as one of the largest in the southern hemisphere with a depth of 50 metres in a Blackwood forest.
A short drive from Trowutta up towards Edith Creek is tar but I headed further west from Edith Creek along Poilinna Road passing huge dairy farms filled with Tassies finest milkers and is home to its own dairy factory suppling the region. The farms give way to forest areas where thick tee tree scrub make seeing into the forest impossible. In fact back when the early explores were surveying the area some called this bush savage country where branches interlocked together. Eventually Poilinna Road intersects with the Bass Highway but I headed 3 km west along the bitumen and headed north along the Riseborough trail past Seventeen Mile Plain.
Along this trip I found quite a few gates that were open and when operations are in place they will be closed for safety concerns. Most of the roads in SF are private, but Forestry Tasmania allow the public to have access. As you make your way further towards the NW forests give way to open wind swept areas where winds shape the landscape, and this is prominent in the trees used for wind breaks that are often seen leaning to one side and the low tight shrubs that hug each other. Out here on the NW coast huge wind farms are now a feature where I saw dozens of these colossal monsters spinning away generating power for the locals.
This is Van Diemens Land where back in the early 1800’s a gamble was taken by the English to set up a huge pastoral station where over 250,000 acres of land was granted by King George IV to breed sheep for more wool. During that time there was a fine wool shortage so the hunt was on for more land, but disaster struck and they lost thousands of Merino sheep to atrocious weather conditions and wild animal attacks. During this time the nearby settlement of Stanley was setup to control the remote NW coast. While you cant get right to the tip of the NW there are commercial tours of the wind farms if you're keen. Along the way there are plenty of free camps in the forest as well as out on the coastal fringe towards Montagu on the north coast where views across Robbins Pass to several islands and then out into bass Strait, be warned thou when the wind gets up its cold and miserable.
My trip took a turn westward along the unsealed Harcus River road for another hour towards the west coast and Marrawah. Lookout for the turn off to Mount Cameron West and the Preminghana Aboriginal Area. You’ll be blown away at the stunning and awe inspiring views from the lookout at the base of the mountain along the coast where you can see the wind wind farms up on the NW tip and along the coast line. This is Pirapi Aboriginal country where they lived and survived for many years eating off the land and from the sea. Today they welcome us to their land here and its a place that has been shaped over many years by their own people and the elements which is still rich in flora and fauna.
The last leg to Marrawah is an easy drive where camping out at Green point is permitted but very isolated out on the exposed west coast. Lighthouses dot Tassies coastline and Green Point is no exception giving warnings out to those who sail past this treacherous coastline. This part of the coast is remote and seems isolated from the rest of the island but only an hour away on the Bass Highway you can be back in civilisation to freshen up for a new journey south or just to restock supplies. While you're out on the west coast head south to Arthur River and the viewing point called Edge of the World which is the most western spot on Tassie with no land for thousands of miles facing the harsh at times bitterly cold winds.
I enjoyed this trip over a few days, passing through active timber logging areas, driving through huge Button Grass plains, exploring the history and stunning landscapes that Tassie has to offer but its not until you get off the main tourist routes that this stuff can be found and truely appreciated.