When my wife and I visited Launceston for the first time back in January 2017, we were both staggered by the majestic natural beauty of Cataract Gorge.
To have such a rare natural phenomenon in the centre of a large regional city took us both by surprise.
During our three-day visit, we spent many hours walking through the gorge, enjoying the beautifully maintained gardens, exploring the numerous walking tracks that wind through native bushland alongside the South Esk River, and exploring the ancient dolerite rock faces that rise up towards the heavens.
We thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of our stay in Launceston. The restaurants, cafes, wineries and its unique history, as well as the slower pace of life compared to Melbourne, impressed us greatly. So much so, that by October that year I had left a 30-year career in the public service behind, we had sold our family home, said goodbye to family and friends and made Launceston our home.
We have never regretted our move and during the past two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have thanked our lucky stars and it made us even more certain that the decision to move was a good one.
First Basin in autumn.
Cataract Gorge Toll House in fog.
Autumn tones at First Basin.
A frosty morning at First Basin.
Floodwater rapids of the South Esk River.
Scientists believe that Cataract Gorge was formed through a series of large-scale cataclysmic geological events about 65 million years ago. A major faulting occurred at the time Antarctica broke away from Australia, which was the final break-up of the super-continent Gondwana.
We should acknowledge the Palawa people, The First Tasmanians who originally inhabited this region. QVMAG has a wonderful permanent installation called First Tasmanians: Our story, where you can listen to Aunty Patsy Cameron discuss significance of place and the importance of Cataract Gorge to the Palawa people.
There are so many unique aspects to explore at "the gorge". The southern side of the First Basin has a public swimming pool, a cafe, a newly upgraded playground and the piece de resistance, the longest single-span chairlift in the world, which is 308 metres in length. The chairlift was opened in 1972 by the Larter family.
The Toll House
The northern side showcases beautifully landscaped Victorian era gardens with ferns, hydrangeas, exotic flora and is home to peacocks, pademelons, wallabies and many other animal species both native and introduced, a café, restaurant and historical band rotunda.
The historical Alexandra Suspension Bridge which spans the South Esk River was opened to the public in 1904 by Lady Edeline Strickland. It was destroyed by the 1929 floods and underwent two reconstructions, one in 1934 and then again in 2003.
The Duck Reach Power Station, which is about a two-kilometre walk from First Basin, was built by the Launceston Municipal Council and generated hydroelectricity for Launceston almost continuously for 60 years - from 1895 to 1955.
It was the first publicly-owned hydroelectric power station in Australia and one of the earliest in the world. At its peak the station could produce two megawatts of electricity which was enough to light 1200 homes in Launceston.
At the beginning of the 20th century Launceston was described as the best-lit city in Australia and by the mid-1920s two major British wool mills had established themselves in Launceston, based on cheap, reliable and clean power and plentiful water.
A drone image of the northern side of First Basin.
The windy walking track amongst the dolomite rock pillars and bushland
Kings Bridge and the entrance to Cataract Gorge.
Blue sky reflections in dead calm waters
In 1929, the Duck Reach Power Station was destroyed by the worst floods in Tasmania's history, but it was rebuilt in the years that followed. In 1955 the Duck Reach Power Station was decommissioned after 60 years of continuous service - interrupted only by the 1929 floods.
The buildings stood derelict for more than 40 years, until 1995, when on the centenary of its first opening, it was reopened as a museum and has become a popular tourist attraction.
A drone image of Duck Reach Power Station.
Cataract Gorge is one of - if not the most - popular tourism attractions in Launceston and it definitely played a part in our decision-making process to move to Launceston.
I remember our first summer here when we were down at the First Basin one balmy evening. My wife and I were sitting on the lush grass watching our children playing in the pool. It was a gorgeous still night and the sun was setting behind the hilltops and the sunset turned the sky into myriad tones of pinks and reds.
Over the years, I have travelled considerably, but I was unable to think of anywhere else in world where you can sit in such idyllic natural surrounds, swim for free in a beautifully maintained swimming pool and picnic with family and friends. It really is a truly magical place and one of my favourite spots in the world.