More adventurous walkers are tackling the Derwent

Last January artist Justy Phillips and writer Margaret Woodward walked along sections of the Derwent finishing at Lake St Clair using the support of friends.  On some days they were accompanied by others.

This week  I discovered that a group of children are currently engaged in a ‘Derwent River catchment school program’. They started their supported walk further inland in the upper catchment areas of the Derwent River, north west of Lake St Clair, and are yet to commence their trek towards the sea. In winter!  What a strange choice of season to walk with inexperienced young bushwalkers in central Tasmania.

You can read more about their walk in the news story 

Details of the program are available on the Expedition Class website.  The site includes ‘Live reports’ which record the extreme weather rather than their progress.  They are yet to walk around Lake St Clair before tackling some of the most challenging sections of the Derwent River.  I wish them all the best.

Since starting my walk from the mouth to the source of the Derwent River late in 2014, I have met people and heard of others who are considering walking the Derwent.  Currently there are no walking paths for most of the 215 kilometres, and the dense almost impenetrable bush along the river edges in the upper reaches, makes this a dangerous activity for inexperienced bush walkers.  Readers of my blog will recall that permission to walk on private land is not always given making some river sections inaccessible – this means that future walkers might not be able to accomplish their goal.  If the numbers of people who seek to walk on private agricultural land increases, then even the most positive and supportive of landowners may decline to allow access to protect their livestock and property.

With the growing interest in undertaking such a journey, the time has come for Tourism Tasmania and the Department of Parks and Wildlife Service to examine the obstacles which need surmounting, to make a walk along the Derwent River possible and safe.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

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This novel by Rachel Joyce (Transworld Publishers 2012) is a seemingly whimsical fiction about a retired man, similar in age to me, who walks down the hill from his house to post a letter.

When he reaches the post box he walks on to the next, and then keeps going.  He lives in the south west of England but as the hours of walking pass he decides to keep walking to the north east corner of England and deliver his letter in person.  He simply cannot stop and go back home. Along the way, as he places one deteriorating tennis shoe covered foot after the other in all weathers, he begins to see the world around him, he reflects on his life, and he attracts unwanted media attention and a gaggle of followers. Somewhere along his walk, he remits his wallet and watch and all personal effects back to his wife before continuing his walk hoping for the goodness of people to survive.  Eventually he staggers into his destination, works at removing his tangled beard and taming his weathered hair.

This is an easy read but full of insights only normally attainable by the relentless pursuit of a goal via a simplified lifestyle.  Harold Fry’s story contains both humour and sadness, and is remarkable for its exposure of the rich ordinariness of a person with a grand vision.  I recommend you read this book.

Has the river of blogs dried up? Is my write up of the walks along the Derwent River over?

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 This wonderful image of ‘Hobart from Mt Wellington’ is the work of Tourism Tasmania and Garry Moore. This free photo has unrestricted copyright.

Has the river of blogs dried up?  Is my write up of the walks along the Derwent River over? The answer to both questions is no.

For a long time, blog followers have received a daily post covering my experiences after I have walked sections of the terrain from the mouth to the source of Tasmania’s Derwent River, plus my additional writings about various aspects of the social and natural history of the Derwent River.  Yesterday and this morning were a rude shock for some Australians – no blog post to absorb over the breakfast cuppas– and for my overseas followers spread across many countries, their regular daily dose arrived at many different times depending on the time zone in which they live.

Have I run out of stories to tell, descriptions to give and photos to show? The answer is a resounding no. I have much more to expose. Please be assured that you have not seen the sights of all the kilometres of the Derwent River, nor heard about all its challenges, in my blog yet.  So why the absence of new posts?

I have committed to another major project which cannot wait any longer for my sustained action. I like huge projects.

Last year I discovered that the first Tyzack in my line (3 different lines came to Australia from England in the 19th century) arrived at Port Melbourne 150 years ago this coming December.  Impulsively I decided (without research or planning just as I conceived the idea to walk the length of the Derwent River) to organise a family gathering later this year for all my great great grandfather’s descendants spread across Australia. Two family members agreed to support me –thankfully one has prepared a family tree. The Tyzack 150th anniversary organisation is now my priority, because there is a book to be put together and published, field trip guides to be developed, and much more – I still haven’t received responses to my introductory letters from most of the over 100 living descendants (almost all whom I have never heard of leave alone know) so I have a big job ahead tracking them down and getting them onside and involved.

This family event is scheduled early in October – so, if not before then, from mid-October onwards I expect to continue writing up the Derwent River walking blog stories.  Probably I won’t be able to restrain myself so that, from time to time, a post may appear.

The photo below taken by Michelle shows the eastern shore mouth of the Derwent River, Cape Direction (on the right) and the Iron Pot islet sits out within Storm Bay.

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The Derwent River – in bits

Seventeen Service Tasmania maps are needed to show the entire 215 kilometres or so length of the Derwent River.

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These maps and Google Earth maps are all out of date (most of the ‘current’ Service Tasmania maps are dated in the 1980s – only 8 were published this century) and fail to show the tracks and roads that now exist. In addition, they fail to show more recent land use, such as plantation forests, which can impede or side track any walking excursion.  I am so grateful for my wonderful small plane flight along the Derwent River from the mouth to the source and return.  The photos taken during that trip were a great boon and have helped in the planning of my walking routes.

So what does the river look like from mouth to source? The following maps (created using the Listmap service) are ordered sequentially from the source to the mouth so you can run your eyes down the images and imagine the Derwent River flowing out to sea.  In moving through these maps, you will see how the river changes direction dramatically and therefore you may understand why, from time to time, I could refer to the east or south or north or west of the river.

A Lake St Clair into Lake King William

B Derwent Bridge down Lake King William

C Lake King William to Butlers Gorge

D Butlers Gorge and Tarraleah Canal No 1

E Butlers Gorge to Wayatinah Lagoon

F Wayatinah to Catagunya Dam through Lake Catagunya

G From Lake Catagunya past Cluny Lagoon

H From Cluny Lagoon down into Meadowbank Lake

I Down Meadowbank Lake to Meadowbanl Dam

J Meadowbank Dam to Gretna

K Gretna to Plenty

L Plenty to New Norfolk

M New Norfolk to Granton

N Granton and Bridgewater to Claremont and past Old Beach

O New Norfolk to Hobart

P Mouth at South Arm and Tinderbox - Old Beach

The overview map below pinpoints the source of the Derwent River and pinpoints the two sides of the mouth where the River enters Storm Bay before the sea.  Long term blog readers know that I walked from eastern side of the mouth to the western side of the mouth via the Bridgewater Bridge before returning to the bridge and continuing the walk inland.

Start and finish pinpoints and Bridgewater Bridge 

On my blog home page, between menu items HOME and USEFUL ADDITIONAL INFORMATION, I have created another page with these maps but including written information about each in terms of my walk. In this post, I simply wanted you to be able to visualise the Derwent River and my walk in the simplest way.

Be aware that, if you want to dig deeper for further information about the specifics of my walks in the different sections of the River, you can use the Search box on my blog’s Home page (on the right hand edge). Simply add in a location or idea, click enter and up should come all the blog posts about that place or idea.

Please note some information has not been posted and will never be posted because it relates to properties along the River between Gretna and Lake Repulse Dam – I have promised some landowners I will not provide information or photographs which indicate I have been on their properties.  I feel your frustration about these ‘gaps’ in my posts because I have some exceptional photos, information I could share and stories I would love to tell. But I am happy to honour my promises.  I feel privileged to have been given access.

For newer blog readers who feel like they might follow in my footsteps, please be aware there are no walking tracks between the Bridgewater Bridge and the source of the Derwent River at St Clair Lagoon. I do not recommend others follow me except around the Greater Hobart Area where, for most of the time, formal walking tracks have been built by local government. One of the reasons not to continue past Bridgewater Bridge is that walking on the main roads is extremely hazardous – I cannot recommend it. Also, please note that after New Norfolk few public roads are sufficiently close to the River.  In addition and perhaps most importantly, all the country between New Norfolk and the source of the River is owned privately, by corporations or by the Tasmanian government.  Determining who the landowners are, researching their contact details, and asking for permission to cross their land is a slow process and not all will grant access.

On this basis, I hope my photographs and stories (more still to be written) will be sufficient for you to enjoy the Derwent between New Norfolk and the source.  However, where you can use public roads to access specific points such as St Clair Lagoon, Derwent Bridge, Butlers Gorge and parts of Tarraleah Canal number 1, Wayatinah Power Station, Lake Repulse Power Station, Dawsons Road across Meadowbank Lake, and next to the Bushy Park sports oval, I recommend you make the journey. It will be worthwhile.

Meadowbank Dam and Power Station

Meadowbank Dam and Power Station, as part of Hydro Tasmania’s electricity generating facilities, are located the closest of their properties to Hobart.  Access to the Dam is restricted.

East of the Dam, Meadowbank Dam Road makes the connection with the Lyell Highway but this is a locked gate gravel roadway.  Meadowbank Road is a quite different road; this public gravel road exits the Gordon River Road west of the tiny township of Glenora and travels in a north-westerly direction, but mostly not close to the Derwent River – so that it isn’t reasonable to be used as the conduit to ‘walk the river’. Before reaching the Dam, the road passes Meadowbank Vineyard and acres of vines under cultivation. However, access is restricted: there are quite a few lockable gates barring continuation to the Dam.

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The first unit of the Meadowbank Power Station was commissioned in 1967. This was the last such operation to be built in Tasmania.  Photos are on show on Hydro Tasmania’s website and more details are available on their Fact Sheet .  The CSIRO library holds another photo taken from a different vantage point.

I am grateful for Alex driving me as close as we could go by car.

Gates – the preferred type

I feel like I have seen them all, and experienced passing through or over most varieties.  The high gate. The low gate. Those edged with barbed wire, usually rusty and not sufficiently taut. Those with mesh that allows for a foot insert. Those with mesh that won’t support a foot. Wrought iron gates with verticals allowing no foothold.

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Those which move on their hinges and sway dangerously in unexpected ways mid-climb-over, and always when your balance is weak.  Plus combinations of the above.

I prefer the gates which do not have a padlock, or loops of intertwining wires which has been hand-twisted by a strong armed farmer into undoable knots, or any other permanent restraining device – I have seen a few ingenious specimens. The gates without these impediments do not need to be scaled, can be opened, passed through and then closed again. Sometimes with difficulty as I have had to strain to make gates reconnect with the fence again and then complete the ‘locking’ device.  Sometimes I need the force of my whole body against the fence upright to pull the gate close enough to get the chain or whatever over and in place.  Nevertheless this process seems more civilised than clambering over gates.

When a gate defeats me I least prefer having to walk up or down a long fence line that is unclimbable (ie the mesh, barbed wire and electric wires combination do not give me effective toe-holds) – and the paddocks are always huge – until I find a way to squeeze beneath the fence where animals might have made a pathway, there is a tree branch over a fence which I can use to help me cross, or by a stroke of luck there is a weakness in the wires or a wire is missing.

On the farming properties in the area between Gretna and Lake Repulse Dam, there have been many gates to negotiate, some of which I have described in earlier posts.

The preferred gates look like the ones below because they can be opened and closed with no problems, or easily stepped around.

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The best gates of all are those that are open already.

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Thank you Felicity for driving me through some gates kindly left open by the property owner so that I did not have to retrace my steps for part of one of my walks.

The least preferred gate situation is the one pictured below.

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In this case, those waiting behind the gate were the deterrent.

Water edges between Gretna and Lake Repulse Dam

Grasses, bull rushes, cliffs, rocks, thistles and thorny bushes, marsh plants and or trees edge Meadowbank Lake and the Derwent River up to Lake Repulse Dam and downstream to Gretna. Intermingled with any of these options can be weeds such as willow trees or blackberry brambles. 

 Brandon water edge

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Brandon water edge cliffs

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On the rarest of occasions, physical access to the river was possible.

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Unfortunately in relation to the photo below, a herd of cattle were headed my way – this was their drinking spot. I did not have time to go to the edge; instead I walked furiously onwards under the hot sun.

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While there was seldom a moment when I could not hear or see the Derwent River during my walks on farmland, usually a steep drop off or a thicket of trees prevented me feeling the breeze as the River flowed fast past me.