I thought I knew The Gorge. I grew up in Tassie’s NW, just a short leap from Launceston’s inner-city playground. Most of us locals would recall the first time our legs dangled from the world’s longest single span chairlift. It required the kind of bravery normally reserved for a moon-landing mission. But about 30 years on, I stepped into The Gorge with GWT’s Managing Director, Matt Will. From the first few steps I knew I was about to be introduced in a whole new way that’d leave me feeling more like a tourist on home turf.
We hadn’t even made it into the Gorge when Matt began explaining that the bridge we were standing on (Kings Bridge) had been constructed in England and transported across the high seas to Launceston. Apparently, that was a practical idea back in 1862. It arrived in 500 pieces, was put together locally and meticulously floated into place. I was shaking my head in wonder before we’d even left the sounds of traffic behind.
I won’t go into all the secret snippets of this tour, to ruin any wandering reveals, but let’s just say we also ‘went back in time.’ We saw the gorge in full flood, we saw picnic goers perched on rocks in full hat and dress – even though we were ‘standing in today.’ Matt has some immersive ways to connect with the past. The walk is as much about the fresh air and natural attributes as it is about some good old-fashioned storytelling.
As we move into the Gorge proper, a coolness falls around us. This is courtesy of the bold dolerite walls rising either side – formed some 200 million years ago during the Jurassic period when dinosaurs roamed. As we stroll the relatively flat pathway, Matt reels off a ripper about a swim team who used to dive off the bridge for entertainment. The blokes called themselves the ‘tadpoles’ and would draw some serious crowd.
The further in we go, we meet with manicured Victorian gardens and a flock of peacocks that are only too happy to have their best side photographed. No one really knows why they’ve hung around but judging by their confident strut, it appears the fine-feathered mates feel ownership of this wilderness haven just minutes from the city.
On the suspension bridge looking down on a swimming hole wrapped by bushland, I’m reminded what a gem the Gorge is. To walk with someone who has spent hundreds of hours exploring it since boyhood and had his nose deep in history books peeling back its layers, gives me a renewed appreciation though. A new admiration for this accessible haven.
We cover only a few kilometres across the three hours – at a pace that lets us breathe it all in. Just before a steeper zig zag climb homeward bound, Matt shares a story that goes down with a giggle. As a young boy he hopped aboard at the wrong end of the chairlift. Turns out, at the other end, the staff were ready to switch off and go home. He and his family were left mid-air for a couple of hours high above the gorge. Such an event was but a mere terrified thought back when I was an eight-year-old in the same seat.
Living to tell the tale, Matt then takes us on through to Stillwater Restaurant for a delish lunch of local Tassie produce. It’s a fitting way to end our time together – surrounded by warm timbers recycled from the original Ritchie’s flour mill. No surprises why there are so many stories to tell – being the country’s third oldest city. And the best way to hear a swag of them is out on foot.