Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park

The Franklin - Gordon Wild Rivers National Park lies in the heart of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. It is a region of dramatic mountain peaks, beautiful rainforest, deep river valleys and spectacular gorges. The park is famous for the wild and pristine rivers that twist their way through the wilderness. The Franklin River itself has become synonymous with Australia's largest conservation battle - the battle to save the Franklin from a proposed hydro-electric power scheme which would have flooded the river.

 

The Lyell Highway winds for 56 kilometres through the heart of the Franklin - Gordon Wild Rivers National Park. Take your time to enjoy the drive through the park. Along the Lyell Highway there are several short walks and picnic stops along the way that will allow you to discover the grandeur and beauty of the Wild Rivers region.

 

The park can also be visited by cruise boats which operate out of the west coast village of Strahan.

 

Access

 

The Lyell Highway (A10) connects Hobart in the south-east of Tasmania with Queenstown in the west. It runs through the Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park.

 

From Hobart, travel west for 2 1/2 hours via the Lyell Highway, or south a similar distance from Launceston via Longford and Poatina on the Lakes Highway (A5). King William Saddle marks the boundary of the park, and indeed a dramatic change in the geology and vegetation of western Tasmania. Nelson Falls marks the western boundary of the park. The Lyell Highway may occasionally be closed by snow in winter.

 

The park can also be accessed via the lower Gordon River on one of the daily cruise boats that operate out of the west coast village of Strahan.

 

When driving at night, please be aware that you are sharing the road with wildlife.

 

Facilities

 

Much of the Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park is remote and rugged. However, along the Lyell Highway (which will take you through the heart of the park), there are a number of facilities available.

 

The Franklin River Nature Trail is a perfect spot to stop for a break. Picnic tables and toilet facilities are provided. In addition, there are a number of other excellent walks available at various points along the highway, including a boardwalked track to Nelson Falls.

 

Further west at the Collingwood River, basic campsites, a pit toilet and fireplaces are available. There is no charge for camping.

 

The Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park is also accessible by boat from the west coast township of Strahan, which provides a full range of ammenities.

 

Activities

 

King William Saddle
For visitors travelling west, King William Saddle provides the first opportunity to stop and learn a little about the area you are about to enter. The King William Saddle provides a fine view of the King William Range to the south, Mt Rufus to the north and Frenchmans Cap in the distant west. At the saddle there is a dramatic and sudden change in the vegetation and its underlying geology. To the west the high rainfall, averaging a staggering 2500 mm per annum, supports luxuriant cool temperate rainforest. To the drier east, eucalypt forests and picturesque buttongrass communities are the dominant vegetation types.

 

Surprise Valley
From King William Saddle the Lyell Highway winds around the southern side of Mt Arrowsmith above Surprise Valley. The Surprise Valley Lookout provides an excellent view across the U-shaped valley. Note how the valley has no spurs - they have been bulldozed away by the advance of immense rivers of ice during past Ice Ages. Indeed, glaciers have shaped much of the Wild Rivers landscape. For safety reasons, the Surprise Valley lookout can only be entered from the east.

 

Walks

 

Walks within this park range from short, easy strolls to the demanding 4 or 5 day walk to Frenchmans Cap.

 

It is recommended that walking boots or strong shoes be worn on all walks, due to the rough terrain. For longer walks previous bush navigation experience and the use of appropriate maps and notes are recommended.

 

Franklin River Nature Trail
After the steep descent from Mt Arrowsmith the highway crosses the Franklin River, one of the few remaining wild rivers in Australia. The Franklin flows through numerous deep gorges and some of the wildest country in the State. A one kilometre, easy grade nature trail winds through stunning cool temperate rainforest and introduces visitors to two wild rivers: the Franklin and the Surprise. Interpretive signs raise some issues about 'wilderness' and what it means to different people. The trail is suitable for wheelchairs. Picnic tables and toilet facilities are provided, making it an ideal place to stop for lunch or a break.

 

Frenchmans Cap Walking Track
Three kilometres west of the Franklin River bridge the walking track to Frenchmans Cap begins. A pleasant five minute stroll along this good dry track will bring you to the Franklin River. Across the Franklin, walkers will encounter a wash-down station used to help reduce the spread of Phytophthora root rot - a disease that can destroy our native forests.

 

For experienced bushwalkers the return trip to the summit of Frenchmans Cap takes four to five days.

 

Donaghys Hill Wilderness Lookout Walk
Stop here for a spectacular wilderness panorama, taking in the Franklin River valley and Frenchmans Cap. It is only a 30-40 minute return walk on a well-graded track. The majestic Frenchmans Cap (1443 m) dominates its surroundings and often retains some of its snow well into summer. Even when the snow has melted it remains white and shiny due to the quartzite rock which makes up the half-dome peak. This unusual formation was said to resemble a cap worn by Frenchmen - hence the name.

 

Collingwood River
This is the starting point for raft or canoe trips down the Franklin River, of which the Collingwood is a tributary. It is a pleasant place to stop for a breath of fresh air and a stroll along the river bank. A short, 5 minute walk along the eastern bank of the river will bring you to the junction of the Alma and Collingwood rivers. Basic campsites and fireplaces are available. In summer, you may see rafting parties setting out for trips down the Franklin River. Ahead of them lie two weeks of inspiration and adventure through the wild river lands of the Tasmanian wilderness.

 

Nelson Falls Nature Trail
About four kilometres west of Victoria Pass you will come to the Nelson River bridge and the lovely Nelson Falls Nature Trail. At the start of the trail, a display reveals the rich history of the men and women who once lived and worked in the area. A pleasant 20 minute return walk along a well-graded track takes you through cool temperate rainforest to the spectacular Nelson Falls. Signs along the way will help you to learn more about these ancient forests and the animals that inhabit them.

 

Strahan and the Lower Gordon River
The Wild Rivers National Park is also accessible by boat from the west coast township of Strahan. Cruises operate daily to Heritage Landing on the forest-clad banks of the lower Gordon River. The remarkable reflections of the rainforest in the dark, tannin-stained waters of the lower Gordon are a highlight of any visit to this region. Some cruises also call in at the historic penal settlement of Sarah Island, allowing you to roam around the convict ruins.

 

Scenic flights from Strahan also provide visitors with the opportunity to fly over the dramatic landscapes of the Wild Rivers.

 

While in Strahan, the West Coast Information and Booking Centre is a perfect place to discover the rich and diverse history of the west coast - a history of such importance on a global scale that it played an important part in the listing of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. The centre is a wealth of information, so try to spend a few hours here, or come back the next day to continue your visit. Tickets are valid for 24 hours.

 

Highlights

 

The Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park has a rich and remarkable heritage. In addition to being home of the last remaining truly wild rivers of Australia, it contains many Aboriginal sites which bear testimony to an Aboriginal heritage extending back over 36 thousand years; has been the scene of a rich European heritage of convicts and piners and has been the stage for the largest conservation battle in Australian history - a battle which led to the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area.

 

A spiritual land
The Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park contains numerous Aboriginal sites which bear testimony to the Aboriginal people who inhabited the region during the last Ice Age, and which continue to be of great spiritual significance to today's Aboriginal community. The original inhabitants of this land, isolated from their mainland counterparts for 10 000 years, developed a culture different to that of mainland Aborigines: a culture which was attuned to the harsh landscape. Their use of fire to clear the land and open up hunting grounds produced profound changes in vegetation communities. Today's Aboriginal community retains strong links with the region and accepts considerable responsibility for its management, with Kuti Kina Cave on the Franklin River being one of a number of sites returned to the Aboriginal community.

 

Footsteps in the wilderness
With the invasion of Europeans and the establishment of a penal settlement on Macquarie Harbour's Sarah Island in 1822, a new and bleak chapter in the history of the region began. Convicts who sought freedom from the man-made hell of Sarah Island were among the first European 'explorers' of the region: many perished in the wilderness. In 1832, at the junction of Loddon and South Loddon rivers, the surveyor William Sharland discovered a skeleton believed to be the remains of an escaped convict, while at Wombat Glen in 1840, surveyor J. E. Calder found articles of clothing thought to have been left behind by ill-fated escapees.

 

As early as 1822, Huon pine formed the basis of a pining industry that was to last for over 150 years. Timber extraction from the lower Gordon River and remote upper reaches of the wild rivers led to an increasing awareness among the few, hardy piners of the outstanding beauty of the region.

 

The gold boom of the 1850s prompted many prospecting expeditions and led to the opening of the western mineral belt. North of the highway near the Frenchmans Cap track carpark, benched into the hillside, visitors may view a remnant of the old Linda Track. It was cut in 1887 to provide access to the western mineral fields and was the forerunner of the Lyell Highway, which opened in 1932.

 

The Franklin River Conservation Issue
One of the most recent episodes in the diverse history of the region unfolded during the summer of 1982-3, when the village of Strahan became the focus of the largest conservation battle ever fought in Australia: the battle to save the Franklin River. The issue dominated Tasmanian politics throughout the late 70s and early 80s and caused great rifts between those who supported the construction of the dam and those who sought the preservation of the wilderness values of the region.

 

The issue
In 1979 the Hydro-Electric Commission (HEC) released a proposal to construct a 180 megawatt power scheme which would result in the inundation of 37 km of the middle reaches of the Gordon River and 33 km of the Franklin River valley. The scheme would add to the huge power output already provided by the State’s 23 hydro-electric power stations and generate a significant number of jobs for the west coast — an area with one of the highest unemployment rates in Tasmania.

 

There was some concern, however, among economists and academics that an increase in power output would not necessarily strengthen the economy, nor decrease levels of unemployment. Regardless of economic rationales, the focus of the conservationists was the protection of the Franklin River, one of Australia’s last truly wild rivers, and the integrity of one of the world’s last great temperate wilderness areas.

 

The ‘Greenies’
A co-ordinated campaign by the Tasmanian Wilderness Society (TWS) and other conservation groups mobilised support from a wide cross section of the community during a long campaign to bring the plight of the Franklin River to the notice of all Tasmanians and indeed, much of the world. A series of public meetings and street marches, culminating in the largest street march seen in Tasmania, brought the issue to the forefront of Tasmanian politics. Those who supported the dam responded with a campaign of their own. With the support of pro-dam politicians, they argued passionately for the economic benefits that the construction of the dam would bring.

 

The politicians
In order to stem the growing wave of concern over the construction of the dam, the State Labor Government of Premier Doug Lowe sought a compromise, passing legislation that paved the way for the construction of a dam on the Gordon-above-Olga, an alternative that did little to appease either pro or anti dam groups. In 1981 a referendum was held in an attempt to resolve the issue, giving the Tasmanian people the opportunity to express their support for the construction of either the Gordon-below-Franklin or the Gordon-above-Olga scheme. The option of no dams, however, was withdrawn. This resulted in a staggering 44% of the electorate casting an informal vote by writing, ‘No Dams’ across their ballot ticket.

 

In 1982, the Federal Government nominated the Cradle Mountain — Lake St Clair National Park, Franklin — Lower Gordon Wild Rivers National Park and the Southwest National Park for World Heritage listing. The listing was accepted at the December UNESCO meeting on World Heritage. The Western Tasmanian Wilderness National Parks World Heritage Area had satisfied all the criteria for listing as a natural property and three of the six cultural criteria. In doing so, the listing had satisfied more criteria than any other World Heritage Area on Earth. Yet the World Heritage Committee expressed that it was ‘seriously concerned at the likely effect of dam construction in the area on those natural and cultural characteristics which make the property of outstanding universal value’.

 

Prior to the listing, however, a State election was held at which the Labor Government was defeated. The new Liberal Premier, Robin Gray, was a staunch proponent of the dam who considered the Franklin River, ‘nothing but a brown ditch, leech-ridden and unattractive to the majority of people’. On the 16 June 1982 the newly-elected Gray Government revoked parts of the Wild Rivers National Park, paving the way for the development of the Gordon-below-Franklin power scheme.

 

The Franklin River blockade
The campaign to save the Franklin River, now clearly lost on political grounds, shifted emphasis, with the organisation of what was to be one of the largest acts of mass civil disobedience seen in Australia. The Franklin River Blockade, organised by the TWS under the leadership of Bob Brown, commenced on the 14 December 1982, the day the Western Tasmanian Wilderness National Parks World Heritage Area was listed. A total of 2613 people registered at the TWS headquarters in Strahan to participate in the campaign of nonviolent civil disobedience. Protesters chained themselves to gates at the HEC compound in Strahan and formed blockades in rubber duckies at Warners Landing. As boat load after boat load were arrested, new waves of protesters came to take their place. The campaign continued throughout the summer of 1982-3 and resulted in the arrest of 1272 persons. Bob Brown was imprisoned for three weeks, and many people, including internationally renowned botanist, David Bellamy, were remanded in custody.

 

Federal intervention
During the height of the campaign, the Tasmanian Government rejected $500 million offered by Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser to construct an alternative power scheme outside the boundaries of the World Heritage Area. Further offers by the newly-elected Labor Government under Bob Hawke were similarly turned down. Then, on 31 March 1983, the Hawke Government, which had recently been elected into office on an anti-dam platform, passed regulations forbidding HEC works within the World Heritage Area. Despite this, the HEC continued with the construction of works while the Tasmanian Government’s challenge to the validity of the legislation was heard in the High Court. It was the decision of the High Court on the 1 July 1983 which, after a four to three majority ruling, prevented the damming of the Franklin River.

 

The Federal Government subsequently provided the Tasmanian Government with $276 million in compensation, the bulk of which was used to subsidise the cost of the King and Anthony HEC power schemes. Grants were also provided to assist in the management of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. The listing of the Tasmanian Wilderness as a World Heritage Area was an essential component in the landmark decision to halt the construction of the dam, but listing also gave recognition to the natural and cultural values which make the area of outstanding universal significance.

 

The Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area
Official recognition of the special natural and cultural values of the area extends back to 1908 with the proclamation of the Lower Gordon Crown Land Reserve. The Franklin - Gordon Wild Rivers National Park, proclaimed in 1981, was listed, along with the Southwest National Park and the Cradle Mountain - Lake St Clair National Park on the World Heritage list in 1982. The combined region, known as the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, satisfied more criteria for selection than any other World Heritage property. Further extensions were made in 1989, taking the total World Heritage Area to 1 383 640 ha - almost 20% of the State.

 

The Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area conserves a diverse array of both natural and cultural features of outstanding global significance. As one of only three remaining temperate wilderness areas in the southern hemisphere, the region provides pristine habitats for a range of plants and animals that are found nowhere else in the world, including many rare and endangered species. For a number of animals which have become extinct on the mainland in recent times, the area offers a last refuge. The World Heritage Area is the Australian stronghold of temperate rainforest and alpine vegetation. Its landforms are of immense beauty and reveal a rich and complex geology. Aboriginal occupation extending back beyond 36 000 years, combined with nearly two centuries of European settlement, have created a legacy of humanity's interaction with the wilderness.

 

The Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area offers all people, for all time, the opportunity to seek joy and inspiration amidst the untrammelled grandeur of nature, and refuge from an increasingly artificial world. It is waiting for you to discover it, and, perhaps, discover a part of yourself.

 

Wild Rivers National Park
via Queenstown Field Centre
PO Box 21
Queenstown TAS 7467
Phone:03 6471 2511
Fax:(03) 6471 1963
or Strahan Office
PO Office Box 62
Strahan TAS 7468
Phone:03 6471 7122
Fax:03 6471 7326

 

Information for this National Park has been supplied courtesy of Parks and Wildlife Service Tasmania

 

 

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