Monday, October 19, 2020

Waterfalls you probably shouldn't visit -2 Mc Gowan's Falls


The very top of Mc Gowan's Falls - apologies for the dull pics. The sun hadn't come up yet!


As the crow flies and according to Google maps, Mc Gowan’s Falls are only about 23Km away from Preolenna, but both neglect to mention that this is via an unmade Forestry Road, all of which vary greatly in quality. Most are unsigned and usually single lane with nowhere to pass or turn around. They can also be very treacherous. At this time of year after so much rain, you are likely to encounter wash -outs, enormous potholes, weakened bridges and possibly fallen timber across the road. Since these are private roads, you travel at your own risk and can’t complain or sue if you break an axle or write yourself or your car off. I think it's very difficult for people coming from more densely populated regions to imagine how wild and rugged Tasmania is beyond our towns and cities which cling like embroidery to its fringes. 

I always enter such roads with great trepidation and carry an Epirb (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon) in case of utmost emergency. I also drive very slowly. Don’t even consider going unless you have four -wheel drive, good maps – (but don’t trust them entirely – even Tasmaps have some of these the roads incorrectly named), and have plenty of fuel. Local knowledge is useful -if you can find anyone to ask, as these roads can deteriorate very quickly. It also helps to know if there are forests operations in progress. This is so you don’t meet up with large and fast -moving log trucks rushing our forests to distant ports. Sometimes I fear that the whole of Tasmania will soon be one big plantation with very few pockets of our ancient and unique vegetation and, as a consequence,  very few of our equally unique animals which depend on it.


Going down. There's a section here where you cross a rockface with the help of a rope


Google tells me to turn right onto the Relapse Link Road but it looks too overgrown at this end, so I do a five Km detour via the more travelled roads. About one Km before the Falls, there’s a sort of rocky ski jump followed by a long mudslide down into the valley. About halfway down on the right, there’s a small gap in the vegetation where the track to the Falls starts. At least this is marked - OK someone has nailed the lid of a can on a tree and apart from a section of rope across a rock face, the climb down to the Falls isn’t too intimidating. McGowan's Falls are  named after the  ranger who discovered them and listed them for protection from logging. They cascade in several tiers like icing on a wedding cake into a deep valley about 30 metres below and are indeed a magnificent sight, but unfortunately my joy is somewhat overshadowed by anxiety about whether I’ll be able to get my car back  up over the ski jump. The sheer weight of the van which had proved such an asset on the way down, was now going to be a real liability. The man at Preolenna the day before was pretty sure I’d get through, but thinking about it, his ute was probably much more powerful than my van, despite it' s size. 


Going down

I brightened up a bit on the way back to the car as I encountered a young couple on their way down. They’d parked before the ski jump and only had a small car, but it meant that there were other people around - it was a Sunday, and that meant that there might be some way to get help if necessary.  The road also continued on past the falls and should technically have brought me to the Link Road that I had avoided the night before. Perhaps it wouldn’t look as bad in daylight.

I found the junction and walked down the road a bit. Travelling slowly and walking ahead if I can’t see the track has saved me more than once. In this case the trees meeting overhead reached so low that not even a normal car would have gotten through much less my 2.9 m high van. It also ended in a swamp, where many vehicles had obviously gotten bogged and attempted to turn around before. 


Near the base


I trudged back up the hill and drove on until I came to a T-junction. By my estimation the fork to the right should have joined to the Pruana Road which I had driven the previous night. It looked promising. Then it turned to rock and ended in a dead end. The other fork also looked like a half decent road that would surely lead somewhere. After several kilometres of reasonable driving and the forest opening up, it too led to a kind of ski jump like the one I had come down, but where it ended down a steep hill, there was a deep quagmire in which my van would have disappeared up to the axles at least. Since there was nowhere to turn around I now had to reverse back up the slope, slipping and sliding and scaring my clutch and me out of ten years’ growth. Turning around inch by inch at the top wasn't a mean feat either. Then there was nothing for it but to return the way I had come.This is why you should always make sure you have plenty of fuel. I really wished I had had a couple of safety triangles with me or something else in the car to make a sign with to warn others.

Passing the waterfall track again where there was no sign of other visitation, I took a very big run up the slope and wonder of wonders, my van glided (glid?) right up and over the hump like a giant whale. This involved a bit more of an adrenaline rush than I had bargained for and I truly longed for the days when Forestry was much more public spirited, providing picnic tables, signs, even barbecues and the like, such as the fading wonders I'd seen at Step Falls or in the  North East.


 It's hard to do these falls justice in a photograph and all hail to Mr. Mc Gowan for having them listed, but I'm not sure they are worth the stress

 To calm my nerves, I stop at Penguin on the way back for some well -earned bakery supplies and then take the scenic route to Ulverstone. Penguin was having its own floral festival and I was sorry I couldn’t stay around for the Penguin Parade in the evening [Stanley and Burnie also have viewing platforms where you can  see Little Penguins returning at dusk], but I was looking forward to a hot date with a warm bath. How good are paved roads!


Around the North West and two Waterfalls you shouldn’t try to see

So long Table Cape

I don’t get to Table Cape very often, so before I left I thought I would do a bit of exploring. My first stop was at Fossil Bluff which proved to be a pleasant surprise, living up to its name and giving some insight into a prehistoric world of glaciers and volcanoes. Then I turned inland.


Fossil Bluff lives up to its name and takes you back about 22 million years. It also has picnic tables and a nice little walk to a lookout

As well as spring being tulip season, it is also a great time to see our waterfalls in action, even the seasonal ones. I’m pretty sure that after all the rain we’ve had, even the elusive Victoria Valley Falls would be flowing.  If you are in the Table Cape area, I can thoroughly recommend a visit to Delaney’s Falls, right near the road on the way to Gunn’s Plains or to Dip Falls to the south, which not only has a sealed road running right up to it, but viewing platforms and stairs going all the way down.


Having seen these I thought I would take a look at two others I had heard about but not seen. Normally I prefer wild waterfalls which, although more difficult to get to, make you feel as if you are close to nature, rather than being surrounded by people taking a quick selfie and jumping back in their cars. Before I left home, I downloaded the track notes and saved the maps, knowing full well that my phone wouldn’t work outside the major cities. (Note to self – I must do something about that). Despite this, both falls proved to be rather more challenging than expected.  I mention my adventures only as a warning to others, assuming we will have visitors to Tasmania again one of these days. It’s not like in Europe or even New Zealand, where every attraction is accessible and clearly signed.


1.     Preolenna/Coalmine or Garner’s Creek Falls (they are one and the same place)

After negotiating the winding backroad south to this little place – no shops, no Post office,  just a small clutch of houses and scattered farms, I drove up and down on Coalmine Road, which was where the waterfall was supposed to be, quite close to the main highway. After finding no sign I asked at one of the houses. A lovely young girl told me to go back up the road, go past the bridge and take the first left after Kinches Road. I was then to follow this forestry road around until I saw a gap in the trees. After a while I would come to a four -wheel drive track to where there’d be a bit of pink tape on the trees. 

I parked my car near said road and walked and walked. There was a very large gap in the trees, where some clear felling had taken place – perhaps she hadn’t been there for a while, and there were countless four – wheel drive tracks, but apart from one which led to a lake, none of them led anywhere. My nasty suspicious mind began to wonder if this was deliberate. Sometimes local people do like to have a bit of joke at the expense of tourists and even worse, I'd seen a lot of car parts and motorbikes out the front of the house where I had asked. That made me a bit anxious until I caught sight of my van again and saw that it still had all its wheels.  I apologise for my dark thoughts. Still disappointed that I hadn’t found the waterfall, I started heading out of town. As I paused at a turn –off, a small truck that had been ahead of me backed up and the driver asked if I was lost. He also gave me further directions to the waterfall and given that I would be unlikely to be back this way, I thought I would give it one more try. 

Back at Kinches Road

He said I should take the track directly opposite Kinches Road. He also said I should keep a lookout for the very important bit of pink tape. This unfortunately misled me into by -passing the sidetrack to the waterfall and doing another bit of a ramble in vain, but after starting over, renegotiating two enormous puddles and a place where the creek ran over the track, I eventually found the right track and the waterfall. The pink tape is at the end of this sidetrack and marks the place where you climb down to get to the waterfall. The waterfall itself was very worthwhile – about ten metres  high, set in a fern gully and running splendidly. It's also in what appears to be the only patch of native forest left here and the sound of birdsong filled the air. With just a couple of little tweaks –  small signs perhaps, or even just more pink tape at the start of the road and the start of the side track would be a big help. Along with a culvert or two, this would make this a very pleasant waterfall to visit. 


I can't remember whether this was the first or the second puddle


The other one - gumboots might seem like a good idea at this stage but bushwalking boots with grip are better for negotiating the somewhat slippery slope down to the falls


The reward for perseverance - herewith Preolenna Falls [I'll tell you about the other one in the next post]




Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Blooming Beautiful! – Morning at the Tulip Farm

Table Cape is always lovely with its lighthouse and its stunning views over Bass Straight and the North West Coast, but its even more spectacular at this time of year because the tulips are in bloom. Although the Annual Tulip Festival has been cancelled for 2020, I've heard that people are still coming to the Tulip Farm in droves, even without the usual interstate and overseas tourists. I'm here early as soon as it opens and manage to catch owner, David Roberts -Thomson, for a brief chat before the crowds come.

Early in the morning at the Table Cape Tulip Farm


Fields of colour wherever you look


David and several generations of his family have been farming here for over a century and they have been growing bulbs - mostly tulips but also Liliums and Dutch irises, for the past forty years. They grow about one hundred different varieties of tulips and sometimes, especially during the GFC, they have even exported tulips back to Holland. Although the tulips are spectacular, there are other interesting things happening here which are not necessarily visible to the naked eye. 



There are many different varieties too - ruffled ones, pointed petalled ones, as well as more traditional shapes

More than a pretty face


 If old school farming was about extracting as much as possible from the soil - “conquering nature” as it were, David and his family are about restoring, nourishing and protecting the soil so that it will yield for many generations to come. “The principles are simple,” says David. “Firstly, we disturb the soil as little as possible. There is no tillage, no ploughing and no overgrazing and we use very few chemicals. Secondly, we use cover crops to keep a living root in the soil. We don’t leave it fallow.” “The third thing is to keep the soil covered. We use mulch to keep the soil temperature down, especially in summer. That’s its ‘armour.’  After about 27oC the soil bacteria don’t work.  The fourth principle is to maintain diversity by rotating the crops we use. For example, we alternate between grasses, broadleaves, brassicas and legumes and in future it will include livestock too.”


It's a romantic setting for Sachini and Chirath, originally from Sri Lanka but who now live and work in Hobart

 Is it like ‘Regenerative Agriculture’? I ask.  This is a form of farm management which is becoming popular especially among cattle ranchers in the USA, though it has also caught on in other parts of the world.

“It is in the sense that it’s about improving soil health and increasing biodiversity," says David, “We experiment with all kinds of  ideas to see what works best here.  The whole diversification into tulips is part of that. It’s still a work in progress,” he smiles.  “More an ideal I’m working towards.” However, he’s already seeing benefits like better soil structure, more earthworms and more resilience. He also needs much less in the way of inputs. He uses fewer pesticides, no fungicides and no more broad spectrum insecticides such as the neonicotinoids, which have been implicated in the demise of pollinators such as bees, but also birds and even earthworms.  


The lighthouse presides over all


It’s good to hear a down -to -earth, regular farmer talking about such things. His methods are no longer ‘alternative’ or ‘fringe” but cutting edge and I'm hoping that this will encourage other farmers to give them a try.  As we 're talking, the first busload of visitors arrives and two of the three parking areas are  already full.  I  ask him how he feels about so many people wandering all over his farm. He pauses for a moment.


One of the fabulous floral displays inside. Not this one so much, but many  remind me of those Dutch oil paintings 

Irises and Tulips

“Well,” he says, we had people coming here anyway and I was at a crossroad. I was going to have to build more toilets so I thought I may as well make it into a business.” That seems to be going well too. In addition to the glorious floral display outside, the Two Lips Café and the Gallery are full of stunning arrangements as well. There's a gift shop at reception - all things floral or tulip -related, and David also sells bulbs and has a thriving mail order business. This makes it possibly the largest publicly accessible tulip farm in the Southern Hemisphere. Tulip season runs from around mid -September to the last week in October.

A glimpse inside the Café

Friday, October 09, 2020

Looking out for Migratory Birds

Meet the Short -Tailed Shearwater, a smallish bird which travels 30,000 km a year from Southern Australian waters to Kamchatka in Russia and the Aleutian Islands and back via the Pacific Coast of North America 
-[Photocredit: Ed Dunens
 / CC BY ( per Wikicommons]

These are the kinds of birds we mean when we celebrate World Migratory Bird Day this Saturday (10/10/2020). In the Northern hemisphere, you may have celebrated the same day on May 9 and even some of the same birds, because the movement of these birds depends on the seasons. In this case we‘re mainly talking about those which use the East Asian – Australasian Flyway which brings around two million birds to our shores each spring. 

Many of them perform the most remarkable feats to get here. The tiny Arctic Tern for instance, weighing only 113 grams (4 ounces), travels a 71,000 km in zig zag route between Greenland and Antarctica.  The speed record holder is the Bar – Tailed Godwit which flies 11,000km non -stop  from Alaska to  New Zealand in only 9 days and does so without stopping to sleep or eat. Even  non –flyers like the Adelie Penguins,  manage to clock up  17,600 Km by following the sun around  Antarctica. Read more here.




Unfortunately, as with so many other species, most of the world’s migratory birds are in trouble. By way of example, Professor Richard Fuller of the University of Queensland who has been looking at the long term trends has seen an 80% decline in the Far Eastern Curlew over 30 years and much the same is true of others, especially shorebirds. Of the 61 species which use this route, five are globally threatened and others such as the Curlew Sandpiper and the Eurasian Whimbrel, have both slipped to endangered status while the Bar -Tailed Godwit has fallen into the near threatened category.

The main reasons for this are as follows:

  1. The loss of critical nesting and resting sites  – sites which migratory birds have used for millennia. All kinds of land modification, but especially that involving marshland and estuaries  diminishes the favoured habitat of migratory birds. However, it is the building of seawalls on both sides of the Yellow Sea which seems to have had the most profound effect. After the building of South Korea’s Saegmamgeum Seawall, which enclosed an area which supported 40,000 birds, the Great Knot population reaching Australia declined by a 20%. Almost 70% of China's coastline is now walled with land reclamation proceeding at a rapid pace. This has had disastrous consequences for migratory shorebirds such at Bar -Tailed Godwit, putting both subspecies on Australia's threatened species list. Read more here.

  2. The hunting of migratory birds which have until now come reliably to certain locations, has also contributed to their decline. In some cases it is their food which is sought, such as the horseshoe crabs whose eggs are a major food source for the Atlantic Red Knot during its migration from the Canadian Archipelago to the tip of Argentina. Over -harvesting of the crabs has led to decline in a subspecies, the Rufus Red Knot which is now listed as endangered in the USA.
  3.   Pollution from industrial and agricultural activity obviously affects migratory birds as well. Plastic pollution, both fragments and nano particles were recently found to be even more concentrated- in the Arctic and those other high latitude locations favoured by these birds, than in the world’s five garbage patches, though the effects of that have still to be studied. One aspect which may not be as obvious is light pollution. Nevertheless, light from industrial activities and residential areas, even from tankers and oil and gas platforms, can disorient seabirds and shorebirds, causing injury and death, or disrupt feeding and migration patterns and can even affect their internal positioning systems, so that they can no longer find their way back to ancestral nesting sites. For more information on this as well as ways to mitigate these effects see the National Guidelines about Light Pollution.  
  4. Climate Change is already altering the delicate balance between the hatching of insects and the hatching of young birds, leading to lower numbers and smaller birds which are not as resilient. A study of Black Guillemots in Alaska showed that melting sea ice made their food less accesible, which is likely to cause similar problems. Curiously, Antarctica’s Adelie Penguins appear to be increasing in number which is believed to be due to the loss of major competitors for food, but even this is not necessarily a good omen but rather a further indication that an existing balance has been upset.

    Rising sea levels and stronger storm swells undoubtedly affect breeding sites too, as if they weren't already threatened by coastal development, growing numbers of humans, activities such as boating, and fishing, jet boats and off -road driving and predation by domestic animals such as dogs and cats. 

    While large scale habit loss in South East Asia may be a primary cause of decline, incremental loss of habitat through residential and infrastructure development such as ports is certainly a factor in Australia. This will not be helped by proposed changes to our environmental laws (see last week's post), which leaves such matters up to the states. Read more here.

    How you can help

    1.      Insist that our governments not only enact, but enforce legislation to protect important sites and work towards co -ordinated action between countries to ensure safe passage for birds along the entire Flyway.

    Although all 22 countries along the Flyway have signed agreements to protect migratory birds and their habitat, this has not been sufficient to halt their decline. The current proposals to cut “green tape’ in Australia will make things infinitely worse. 

    As predicted by Samantha Vine, head of Conservation at Birdlife Australia, developers are already straining at the bit and pressuring the Tasmanian State Government to allow major development on Ralph’s Bay an internationally recognised shorebird site and also home to the endangered handfish.

    Queensland has approved the building of a coal port at Abbot Point which supports 17 migratory shorebirds and the expansion of port facilities at Gladstone where endangered birds such as the eastern Curlew and the Bar - Tailed Godwit make their home. 

    NSW too, is expanding both residential and port facilities in the Hunter Estuary and in the Great Barrier Reef Coastal zone, both of which also pose risks to migratory birds. "It's really death by a thousand cuts," says Professor Richard Fuller. Read more here.

    2.      Stop using plastic. Refuse it, ban it, recycle it and at the very least put it in the bin.

    3.      If you are on the beach, be careful where you tread and make sure your dog is on a leash. Councils could do more to too to protect critical habitat and nesting sites with fencing and signage to ban dogs not on leads or activities such as four -wheel driving and boating around nesting sites.

    4.      Help our scientists by participating this year’s Aussie Backyard Bird Count during National Bird Week from October 19th to the 25th.

    5.      Join a group such as Birdlife Australia - volunteer, donate or take part in some of their other activities – learn how to identify birds and how you can help to prevent their extinction.

    6.      Check out the UN website about migratory birds for other ways to celebrate the day and help the world’s birds.