Within both the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area and Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park, Macquarie Harbour and the Gordon River form a complex system of breathtaking rainforests and rugged mountain ranges and create a place of utter tranquility. This natural wonder combines with a layer of rich pining and convict history to form a majestic paddling destination.
We start our journey into the wilderness crossing Macquarie Harbour to the aptly named Hells Gates and continue along the western shore, exploring the pristine waters and beaches and getting a water level view of aquaculture farms. Mt Sorell dominates the skyline with Frenchman's Cap making sudden appearances from the cloud.
On our third day of paddling we enter the Gordon River, making our way upstream in the wake of so many of the early piners of the West Coast, camping on the banks of the river beneath the rainforest canopy.
The mirror-still waters of the Gordon River reflect the luxuriant temperate rainforest, surrounding you on all sides with breathtaking natural beauty. The legendary and ancient Huon Pines are common on the waters’ edge, along with sassafrass, leatherwood, celery-top pine, myrtle and native laurel painting a vast palette of greens, blues and greys.
Over three days we explore the Gordon River to the junction of the Franklin and Gordon Rivers before returning to Strahan on the sailing yacht “Stormbreaker”.
The Gordon River and Macquarie Harbour nestle in a rugged landscape of dramatic and imposing mountain peaks. Pristine fresh waters coloured by tannins from surrounding vegetation trickle down from mountain peaks, running into creeks that cascade and twist through the rocks, combining to make the many rivers which eventually run into Macquarie Harbour.
The vast Macquarie Harbour is:
It drains through the treacherous and aptly named Hell’s Gates – a 400m wide narrows at Macquarie Head.
In 1821, on the windswept and barren island of Sarah Island in the far reaches of the Harbour, a penal colony was set up. There are many dark tales of the convicts who escaped, choosing a dangerous journey over uncharted and wild mountain ranges – many dying in the attempt. It was also, surprisingly, the largest shipbuilding yard in the country during that time and the last ship built was sailed into notoriety by convicts.
Annual rainfall of over 1900mm promotes luxuriant growth including vast areas of wet temperate rainforest, buttongrass moorland and eucalypt forest. Wildlife abounds with platypus spied in the shallows of the wild rivers and echidnas and pademelons scurrying through the undergrowth. Birdsong often fills the air.
This magnificent area is probably best known as the site of the largest conservation battle ever fought in Australia: the fight to save the Franklin River. The issue dominated Tasmanian politics throughout the late 1970s and early 80s and caused huge rifts between those who supported the construction of a dam as part of the proposed Gordon-below-Franklin hydro-electric power scheme and those who believed preservation of the region’s wilderness values was imperative. A ruling by the High Court on the 1 July 1983 backed the Federal Government's bid to preserve the wild rivers.
You’ll discover for yourself just why the battle to preserve the Franklin was so hard-fought for those who saw its grandeur, splendour and natural worth as above all else.
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Photo credits in order:
1 Tourism Tasmania and Veronica Youd
2 Roaring 40s Kayaking
3 Sarajayne Lada
4 Sarajayne Lada
5 Sarajayne Lada
6 Roaring 40s Kayaking
7 Paul Fleming