Saturday, 28 April 2018

Apsley Gorge Walk (Douglas-Apsley National Park)

A surprisingly adventurous circuit walk in Douglas-Apsley National Park, the Apsley Gorge Walk explores a beautiful section of the Apsley River. Starting near the Apsley Waterhole, the track initially passes through forest before descending to the gorge and following the riverbed to complete the circuit. Featuring stunning turquoise pools and Dolerite cliffs, this is a rock hoppers delight

Distance: 8 km ('tadpole' loop)
Gradient: A mix of gentle, level walking and steep descents and ascents
Quality of Path: Generally clear and well maintained trail with constructed steps along the formed trail. The riverbed walking is on entirely natural and unmodified terrain. Route finding is required
Quality of Signage: Clear and easy to follow trailhead, with clear markers until the descent to Apsley Gorge. Some rock cairns along the riverbed but route finding skills are essential
Experience Required: Bushwalking Experience Required
Time: 3-4 Hours
Steps: Many steps, especially leading down into the gorge and natural steps along the riverbed
Best Time to Visit: When water levels are low enough to walk down the riverbed
Entry Fee: Yes. National Park Fees apply
Getting There: The trail starts at a car park off Rosedale Rd. Take the turn onto Rosedale Road from Tasman Hwy approximately 4 kilometres north of Bicheno, and then follow Rosedale for 7.5 kilometres to the well signed car park. 

With our time in Tasmania coming to an end, Alissa and I headed north from Freycinet to tackle the last walk of our trip. Having enjoyed superb alpine walking in the Walls of Jerusalem and Mount Field National Parks and coastal trails in Tasman and Freycinet, our final walk would take us to a completely different landscape in Douglas-Apsley National Park as we would be exploring the circuit walk in Apsley Gorge. One of Parks and Wildlife's Great Short Walks, the full Apsley Gorge walk can only be attempted when the river levels are low enough and with no rain falling over our entire time in Tasmania, things were definitely looking up for us completing the rock hopping section of the walk.

From the car park, the track descends towards the Apsley River Waterhole. Many tourists visiting the area simply walk down to the waterhole or the walk-in campground nearby, so the trail at this point has been built to a high, tourist-friendly standard.

The Apsley River Waterhole is well regarded due to the beautiful turquoise colour of the gentle pool. The colour definitely did not disappoint in person, looking like someone chucked a whole lot of food dye into the water. The appearance of native pines along the water made the area look like it belonged somewhere in North America and that a bear might walk around the corner at any minute!

The trail continues on the other side of the river, and Alissa and I picked our way over the stone pebbles and boulders to pick up the walk on the other side. Given the low water levels, this was done with relative ease.

A short distance from the river, the track reaches a trail junction. The Apsley Gorge Track continues to the left, with the right trail joining onto the Leeaberra Track. The Leeaberra Track is a somewhat obscure three day hike that is perhaps under-recognised due to the excellence of the alpine and coastal walks that get most of the limelight in Tassie. Admittedly, while I would be keen to tackle the walk sometime in the future, the dry sclerophyll forests of the area are far less interesting and unique, and it would be some time before it rose to the top of the must-hike list.

From the trail junction, most of the on-track part of the walk is a continuous ascent through the Eucalypt-dominated sclerophyll forest. Having no access to a good topographical map with contour lines, Alissa and I were surprised at how uphill the walk was. Alissa was feeling a bit fatigued with walking by this stage and hadn't wanted to do the walk at all, so there were a fair few displeased glares in my direction when the track's climbing didn't seem to stop.

After ascending continually for about 45 minutes, Alissa and I finally arrived at a steep descent into the Apsley River Gorge itself with the path made of carefully stacked boulders creating a series of steps.

Having walked the Grand Canyon Walk in the Blue Mountains and extensively explored the gorges of Karijini National Park, I have to admit that Apsley Gorge just was not on the same level in terms of jaw-dropping beauty, with the gorge walls being less consistently sheer than either park. Apsley Gorge was perhaps more like Kalbarri National Park in that the cliff walls are not always complete and continuous, but Kalbarri is still a deeper and more impressive gorge than Apsley.

Which is not to say that Apsley Gorge wasn't beautiful; the Dolerite boulders and the reflections in the pools were very pretty, and the gentle babbling of the water as its made its way downstream contributed to an air of tranquillity.

Alissa had originally wanted to simply walk to the gorge entrance and then walk back on the constructed track, however seeing that the river was going to be a continuous downhill walk anyway made her decide to join me on the off-track rock hopping downstream back to the car park.

A major feature that is close to the start of the off-track section of the walk is a waterfall cascading into a pool below. While we had definitely lucked out in terms of no rains and low water levels, the water levels were too low to enjoy the waterfall at its best. What we saw was instead a mere trickle, however the aquamarine waters were once again impressive.

From the waterfall, the walking is mainly negotiating large boulders and picking the right or left side of the river for the easiest route. Alissa enjoys and is quite good at this kind of route finding, and I was glad to have her with me.

While the rock hopping requires route finding through rugged terrain that has often been polished smooth by the water, the walking is actually fairly straightforward for the most part. The most difficult part of the walk is picture above as there is no clear path to the other side, and it requires hikers to either wade/swim to the other side or climb up the rocks on either side.

Scouting ahead, I found a route we could take up on the left side of the gorge. Not being a fan of climbing, Alissa initially considered wading, but eventually followed me on the scramble up to the rock shelf.

Walking along the rock shelf was fairly straightforward, however the rock on the way down was smooth and slippery, and we had to descend with care to avoid accidentally falling into the pools below. At least the pools would have broken our fall, but I definitely didn't want phones and cameras to be short-circuiting.

Once back down, the relatively easy walking continued as we made our way along the shaded gorge.

After the difficult section, Alissa and I found that the walking on the right side of the river was generally easier and we crossed back over. Given that this is an off-track section of the walk, I should add that it was easier at the time of our visit and conditions could change with rising water levels and the effects of erosion. With this kind of walk it is really up to the individual to find the best and safest route for themselves and not rely too heavily on following in the footsteps of others without actually analysing the landscape for oneself.

With the sun rising overhead, the shade of the gorge gave way to sunny skies, which lit the various pools along the river in an assortment of colours. It was cool to see the water change from the cool blues and aquamarine we had encountered earlier to take on yellowy-green hues in the sunlight.

As we continued down the gorge, the walking became increasingly easy and flat, with less of the large boulders to negotiate. As with earlier, the only minor challenge was the route finding however this was still relatively straightforward. 

As we were walking along the riverbed, I stumbled upon an indent in the rocks that looked to be a fossil of a shell. With the Dolerite of Tasmania having come about due to a magma intrusion rather than the sedimentary layers of sandstone or metamorphic rock, I was surprised that there would be fossils as I would have assumed everything would have been destroyed by the magma. I'd be interested to know what this actually was - if anyone knows please comment below. 

As we continued along, the lack of boulders or large pools made the walking a bit samey. While the route finding kept us engaged, Alissa and I were admittedly getting a bit restless and looking forward to getting out of here. 

Being a bit bored by repetitive scenery, I was grateful for the appearance of a large pool along the gorge. Quiet, secluded and framed by a wall of Dolerite and native pines, this was a beautiful secret spot along the gorge and my pick for the best swimming hole.

Alissa and I commented that if we were with our friend Simon (who hiked with us on the Gold Coast), he would not have been able to go past it without a refreshing dip. 

Beyond the pool, the walking continued along the boulder-filled riverbed. At this point, the track became rockier and seemed to fork off on multiple courses through the forest. Thankfully all of the river courses lead back together so it is not too difficult to navigate. 

Walkers will know that they are near the end of the circuit when the rocks run out and the track passes into a section of forest and out only a gravelly beach on the other side. 

From the beach, it is only a short walk until Alissa and I were back at Apsley Waterhole, with a rough track running along the rocks to the right and back to the picnic area. From there it was a short walk back uphill to the car park. 

While Apsley Gorge may not be as deep and grand as the gorges of Karijini and the Blue Mountains, this combination trail and rock hopping adventure was an enjoyable and surprisingly adventurous walk. I feel that tourism bodies tend to be quick to promote family-friendly trails while devaluing adventurous walks due to being too risk-averse, so I was surprised that a walk with an off-track section (no matter how straight-forward) was promoted as one of the state's best. I think it is a credit to the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service that this walk is included for that very reason. While there was a somewhat repetitive stretch in the middle, the beautiful turquoise pools and and Dolerite formations along a river made this a worthwhile trail and a fitting finale to our time in Tassie. 


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