As we wound our way ever upwards through varying swaths of eucalypt forest the clouds grew heavier and thicker, until we were enveloped in an almost impenetrable fog. Visibility shrunk to just a few metres and we slowed to a crawl as the switchbacks that the mountain is so well known for began.
When we got to the top — only apparent by the sign we could occasionally see through the drifting mist — we stopped and got out of the vehicles, but that didn’t help matters and apart from that it was a darn sight colder. It was a timely reminder that cold weather and even snowfall can come at any time in Tassie, especially on the high peaks. The lookout point nearby was a lookout in name only, so we slipped back to the vehicles to wait in vain for the weather to clear.
Originally, the only access to the top of the Ben Lomond Plateau was via a rough walking trail from the south. While other walking routes followed, the one and only road to the top of the mountain was only pushed through, up the near sheer cliffs of its western ramparts, in 1963.
Today the route — known as Jacobs Ladder — remains narrow, unsealed and with a speed limit of just 30km/h. It also rates on the ‘Dangerous Roads’ website, but they do beat it up quite a bit! Still, it is reportedly a pretty impressive drive and from the photos on Instagram and Facebook it looks pretty darn good. I guess, if nothing else, we have an excuse to come back yet again.
Our most recent trip had started the day before when we had driven off the Spirit of Tasmania, rushed our way through the outskirts of Devonport, bypassed Launceston and stopped for the night at a handy park just outside Launceston.
Then, after our abortive drive up the Ladder, we back tracked and headed to the north-east coast where the weather is reportedly milder and sunnier.
THE NORTH-EAST COAST
Among light showers of rain and a strong wind, we set off for our first beach drive for the trip. We cruised through the dunes of East Sandy Point, just west of the holiday town of Bridport on Tasmania’s northern coast, to drop onto the beach of St Albans Bay. The rain had made the beach pretty benign for the 10km run to the small village of Bellingham. Even the Little Pipers River near the trip’s end, which can be a trap at high tide or whenever it is in full spate, was a doddle.
That evening we camped in the 18,500ha Mt William National Park, at one of the camping areas dotted along the coast of Stumpys Bay, an easy day’s drive east of Devonport and just a couple of hours from Bridport. It was a top camp too, situated just back from the beach in amongst tall tea-tree and banksias with just a couple of other travellers sharing the large shady camping area.
The park itself takes up a stretch of east coast just south of the north-east tip of the island at Cape Portland. This wild coast features rocky outcrops often near completely covered with bright orange lichen, while seemingly endless stretches of powder-white sand set against a backdrop of crystal-clear turquoise water links each and every rocky headland.
There’s plenty of wildlife here to enjoy while the wallabies and pademelons (a smaller member of the 'roo family) were friendly — and thirsty. They nuzzled their way into and around our camp, while a bucket of water quickly became a favourite for them.
If you are into lighthouses then the nearby Eddystone Point lighthouse, which began operations in 1889 and is the first place to greet the morning sun in the ‘Island State’, is located in the southern section of the national park. It’s a beauty and a must visit.
THE BLUE TIERS & A BEER DRINKING PIG
For a change of pace, we headed inland and wound our way to the old tin mining town of Derby (now a somewhat famous MTB centre) before we pushed on, finding our way onto a dirt road to explore around the Blue Tiers. From 1870 till 1996 this area produced over 11,000 tonnes of tin and was first proclaimed a Forest Reserve in 1958. The area now protects over 5,000ha of open grasslands, heathland and cool temperate rainforest, dotted with waterfalls and cut by a number of walking and mountain bike trails.
Poimena, where there is now a carpark and info shelter, was once the main town in this rich mining area. However, it wasn’t your normally rip-roaring mining settlement as the one and only pub selling grog was outnumbered by two tea-total temperance hotels, plus the normal buildings you’d find in such a spot — a butchery, blacksmith shop and a number of stores and cottages.
Just down the hill a few kilometres from Poimena is the short walking trail to the historic and impressive Anchor Stamper. In 1880 a vast tin reserve saw the Anchor Mine Company install a 40-head stamper, which increased in size to a 100-head mill, initially driven by a water wheel some 20 metres in diameter.
It must have been an incredible operation and a noisy one when it was thumping away crushing the rock into fine powder to extract the semi-precious metal.
Today, just a few heads of the stamper can be seen, the walk to them taking you through delightful forest dotted here and there with tall tree ferns that help cover the man-made scars that can still be seen by the observant walker.
From there we headed downhill to lower, warmer altitudes to the small spread-out hamlet of Pyengana, the first European settlement, known as St Columba, having been established here in 1875. Today that name is perpetuated in the nearby spectacular 90 metre high St Columba Falls, that some consider to be Tasmania’s finest waterfall.
While the town began in this lush valley as a place to service the mines in the region, it was the rich grass that helps produce high quality milk and cheese that the place is now famous for. Among other attractions, the community is also home to the famous, ‘Pub in the Paddock’, and a beer swirling pig or two, while the nearby camping area is a beauty.
Over the next few days as we headed in an anti-clockwise direction around the island we next sampled the beaches at the Peron Dunes and then the high sheer cliffs at Cape Tourville. Next was Hobart to sample some of the fine whisky, gin and rum that is now being made in some of the 50 odd distilleries that have opened on the island in recent years.
After a day driving the rocky trails behind Hobart and in and around Mt Wellington we pulled into what turned out to be everyone’s favourite campsite, at Rivers Edge Camping, on the magical Huon River near Lonnavale. With platypus in the river, pademelons and quolls in the bush and a multitude of birds chirruping in and around every camp, it would be a delightful place to pull up for a few days, while exploring the nearby area and checking out the Tahune Forest Air Walk, which has just reopened after the devasting bushfires of nearly two years ago.
ACROSS THE CENTRAL PLATEAU
Next morning we packed and headed off, finding our way through the outskirts of Hobart before turning west and following the Derwent River valley through the quaint and historic villages of New Norfolk and Hamilton, both established before most of Australia’s mainland cities and towns had even been thought of. On reaching the small enclave of Ouse we turned onto the more minor C173, climbed through some low rounded hills where the bitumen gave way to gravel as we climbed up onto the Central Highlands of the island state.
The Central Plateau as it is otherwise known is centred around the Great Lake, but includes dozens of other smaller bodies of water and takes in about 12 per cent of the land mass of Tassie. The waters of these lakes have been harnessed for hydro electricity generation and, in fact, were the site of Australia’s first hydro power station at Waddamana on the Great Lake in 1916.
It’s worth more than a cursory look, and on an earlier trip we had spent over a week wandering around these lakes from Interlaken in the east to Arthurs Lake and Flintstone to the Great Lake and Doctors Point in the heart of the Central Plateau. Then we had turned south and found our way to Dee Lagoon, via a plethora of dirt roads and narrower tracks across the high plains.
This trip, once we got to Dee Lagoon, we set about finding a spot to camp. The lagoon itself was created in 1955 as a water storage for the Tungatinah hydro power station situated further south with water from the Dee River being diverted via a tunnel to Bradys Lake just a little further west, before plunging thru’ the turbines of the power station. Dee Lagoon is an excellent trout fishing location (as all of the lakes of the Central Highland are) with a self-sustaining population of brown trout while rainbow trout are regularly released to keep the population sustainable. There are four boat ramps around the lagoon and these are pretty basic you gotta say, but even so there were a couple of boaties out chasing a trout or two.
We first checked out the eastern shore along Lake Echo Road but nothing grabbed us as inviting, but just west of the small hamlet of Dee we found a great little spot for our group to set up camp on a bit of a low bluff overlooking the water and a kilometre or so off the main road. A few scattered gums provided shade during the rest of the day, while that evening a campfire kept the chill at bay.
From there we had wandered along the blacktop (there’s little choice really) through Derwent Bridge, stopping to admire ‘The Wall’, a modern masterpiece depicting the history of Tasmania in carved and sculptured Huon pine. No photos are allowed of ‘The Wall’, the artist adamant that cameras be left outside and phones in pockets while publicity is purely, word of mouth; it seems to work!
West of Derwent Bridge the road winds across button grass plains and crosses the headwaters of the famous Franklin River, before winding amongst more rugged peaks to reach Queenstown, the gateway to the fabled West Coast.
Our adventures along this wild western coastline were recounted in the March 2020 issue of Camper, but it was by no means the end to our Tassie adventures. We had then headed to Woolnorth, the historic and fabled property that takes up the north-west corner of the island, then on to take in the view from atop of The Nut, before wandering back into the mountains to experience Cradle Mountain. From the tourist enclave of Cradle Mountain, instead of taking the main road, we made a diversion along the eastern edge of Lake Cethana, eventually finding our way over the Emu Plains and then the Borradaile Plains back into civilization at Mole Creek.
Our lap of Tasmania was complete as we headed through Sheffield to the ferry terminal at Devonport. This month-long adventure, our third in our southern-most state, was over and again we had missed heaps, enjoyed lots and vowed we would come back once more.
THE PLACE TO START: For a touring intro to Tassie with lots of things to see and do, check out tasmania.com
BEST TIME TO GO: Spring through to early autumn (November to April), but the weather can be cold and/or wet at any time, with occasional snow.
GETTING THERE: Take your own rig on the Spirit of Tasmania ferries. For more details, check the web at spiritoftasmania.com.au
MAPS/GUIDES: The best guide for the 4WD tracks and bush camping in the state, is 'Offroad Tasmania’, by Chris Boden. Check the web at roving.com.au. Don’t go without this guide! The best touring map is the 'Tasmania Visitors Map', which you can pick up on the ferry. Otherwise check out tasmania.com/maps/tasmania
HOBART & SURROUNDS — ACCOMMODATION & CAMPING
There’s a heap of accommodation in and around Hobart, the state capital. For caravan parks try hobartcaravanpark.com.au and richmondcaravanpark.com.au
AROUND HOBART AND SOUTH
- For permits for the 4WD tracks behind Mt Wellington, visit wellingtonpark.org.au/driving
- For info on Rivers Edge Camping, visit riversedgecamping.com.au
- For info on the Tahune Forest Reserve, the Air Walk and camping in the area, see tahuneadventures.com.au
CENTRAL PLATEAU CAMPING
TASMANIA NATIONAL PARKS
You can organise your campsites and purchase a Parks Pass at parks.tas.gov.au/explore-our-parks