In the beginning, the heavens and the earth were created…
Allowing easy access to the miracle, the beauty, the sheer magic of creation, this drive will take you along part of the northern fringe of the cool temperate rainforests of The Tarkine in Tasmania’s north west. Dramatic views over the Arthur River, surrounding forests and across the Tarkine, from buttongrass plains to towering eucalypt forests, this area truly embraces the sheer magnificence of a part of The Tarkine landscape. The beautiful colours of fungi, the rich vibrancy of mosses and lichen, the amazing shades of green of our native ferns all grow here in abundance amongst ancient trees both native or endemic to Tasmania, such as eucalypt, myrtle, blackwood and sassafras… it all combines and creates a sense of awe and wonder at how Gondwana truly looked. A 130 kilometre loop drive south of Smithton, the South Arthur Forest contains a group of Forest Reserves, each one so different, but all combined showing off the true diversity of this region. To get there, from Smithton take the signposted road ‘South Arthur Forest Drive’, which will take you out of Smithton and through Edith Creek (last stop for fuel here!) and eventually you will reach Kanunnah Bridge, this is the starting point of the South Arthur Forest Drive.
Kanunnah Bridge over the Arthur River
The word ‘Kanunnah’ is the aboriginal word for the Tasmanian Tiger, and here at Kanunnah Bridge you can watch the rapids of the Arthur River where it flows through beautiful tall blackwood forests; these blackwoods reputed to be the largest, tallest and straightest in the world. A place to ‘kayak’ the rapids, spend time relaxing or trout fishing, barbecues are provided to cook your catch.
Where the grey goshawk glides, the Sumac Lookout is a window to The Tarkine, breath-taking views over the Arthur River and the old growth forests which surround it. Here you can stand and survey the forests, like a thick lush carpet of varying shades of green, you will see how the forests before you fight for dominance in the landscape. The tallest trees in the far distance to the right are giant eucalypts, they indicate the path of a raging fire in a time of the distant past, the eucalypt forests are so well adapted to fire that they now require it for their continued survival in this environment. The dark green areas bordering along the river are cool temperate rainforest, mostly of myrtles (the darkest green tree tops) and sassafras (bright green conical shaped tree tops) where fire has not been for hundreds of years. Over time, the rainforest will gradually spread and again take dominance over the eucalypt forest, unless the enemy of the rainforest comes again, another bushfire rages, halts the process and then allows the eucalypts to reign again. In amongst both these forests however lies a true survivor, the blackwood (olive green tree tops), which can adapt to both environments. Though the blackwood prefers the river environment of the rainforest, they also compete for dominance in the eucalypt forests by trying to take over disturbed sites where trees have fallen over, where ground has been flooded or where small spot fires have burnt out an area. Even in our forests, the strongest and most dominant will survive, and after a bushfire it will take on average of 400-500 years for the cool temperate rainforest of The Tarkine to recover.
Julius River Forest Reserve
The perfect stopping point for barbecue or picnic, Julius River Forest Reserve has facilities including toilets, picnic shelters and wood barbecues and with disabled access makes it the ideal stop for all. Two magical forest walks, one a 30 minute walk through ancient rainforest, where the sounds of the Julius River meandering through delight the senses, the other an hour long walk to view many sinkholes in the region. In summer the sweet aroma of flowering leatherwoods fills the air, while in winter here lies the magic of fungi, lichen and mosses, one truly feels as though you are back in Gondwanaland as you stand beneath the ancient myrtles in the Julius River Forest, with tree ferns (Dickensonia) growing lush and green at 2 metres and higher. The rich deep green of the Hard Water Fern (Blechnum wattsii) plentiful on the forest floor, rattling softly as you wander through, hence it’s ‘common’ name, the rattling fern. Soft and sponge like, a yellow/green carpet of moss grows in abundance, creeping over the rich substrate on the forest floor and up and over the trees, both standing and fallen. Across the forest floor, and all over dead, fallen trees one sees so many variety of fungi, rich vibrant colours adding to the palette of colours only nature can give. As you look upwards bearded lichen (tillandsia) hangs from the branches giving the impression of ‘rainforest curtains’ in the softest, sheerest of fabrics.
Lake Chisholm Forest Reserve
Though not located on the main road, a signposted detour leads you to a circular loop car parking area where begins a magical rainforest walk to Lake Chisholm, a naturally occurring sinkhole of which there are many in this region. A 30 minute return walk takes you through a changing forest walk, huge tall eucalypts tower overhead as huge tree ferns, myrtle, sassafras complete with bearded lichen and blackwood trees grow abundantly beneath them and the clearly marked track is bordered once again by hard water ferns always rattling softly against one’s legs. Lake Chisholm is an amazing formation, one of many sinkholes in the area, but one of very few now filled with water. Sinkholes form over many hundreds of thousands of years as water slowly dissolves, deep underground, a very highly soluble rock such as dolomite which is plentiful in this region. As the buried rock slowly dissolves a sinkhole depression is left, usually having a ‘plug hole’ at the bottom where water drains into the groundwater system. At Lake Chisholm the ‘plug hole’ has become blocked with organic matter, thus creating an extraordinary lake, so sheltered by the surrounding forest, towering giant eucalypts and rainforest species, that no wind occurs and the water remains perfectly still, giving crystal clear reflections. This in turn causes the cold water to sit at the bottom of the lake, while the warm water lies at the top creating an environment for an unusual wealth of organisms and algae unique to Tasmania, where they thrive in the rich brown waters of the lake.
Dempster Plains Reserve
The drive from Lake Chisholm to Dempster Plains takes you through ‘new growth’ forest, where the old growth forests have been harvested, and now the reigning trees are predominantly eucalypt, but the other species are beginning to grow here once more and the beautiful fronds of the Dickensonia (tree ferns) borders the road in many areas. As you leave the forested area, a magic buttongrass carpet comes into view, and here Dempster Plains is the home of numerous rare and threatened species of our native flora, one a pretty little white flowered heath called Epacris curtisae. These plains have a history of burning by Aborigines, and many plant species here rely on fire to regenerate. A walkway through the buttongrass plains leads to a raised platform lookout, where one can gaze across the buttongrass plains, (a view which leaves one feeling almost as though in Africa, or just off the set of The Lion King movie) where in the distance on a clear day the Norfolk Ranges in the Tarkine Wilderness are clearly visible.
Due to severe flooding when the original bridge was washed away in 2007, Tayatea Bridge has unfortunately been closed, but will re-open at the end of June, 2012. Tayatea Bridge is another perfect stop for fishing or kayaking, and picnic facilities are available. Many kayakers choose this spot to start a journey kayaking down the rapids of the Arthur River to Kanunnah Bridge.
Note: This region of The Tarkine is home to many of our native wildlife, including our now endangered Tasmanian Devil. Much of the wildlife can be seen here both during the day and at night, especially at dawn and dusk while out foraging for food. Please take note of road signs regarding speed restrictions and help us to protect our precious wildlife.