The Tarkine is a hidden treasure and a forgotten wilderness here in Tasmania, and as such, has always intrigued me. It is the greatest expanse of cool temperate rainforest in Australia, and the second largest in the world! 477,000 hectares actually.
Like many people, I immediately thought ‘rainforest’ when thinking about the Tarkine, but as we soon discovered there is so much more to explore!
‘A relict from the ancient super-continent, Gondwanaland, the Tarkine contains Australia’s largest tract of temperate rainforest, and is home to more than 60 species of rare, threatened and endangered species. These include such unique animals as the Giant Freshwater Lobster – the world’s largest freshwater crustacean, and the Tasmanian Wedge Tailed Eagle – Australia’s largest Eagle, and the famous Tasmanian Devil. The Tarkine is also one of Australia’s most important Aboriginal regions, and contains a diverse array of landscapes, from giant forests to huge sand-dunes, sweeping beaches, rugged mountains and pristine river systems.’www.tarkine.org
We set off about 9am and asked for directions in the coffee shop as Chris grabbed his morning brew. They pointed us up the road and around, so we pulled out of Stanley and kept driving until we found a little shop where we pulled over again and asked which way to the ‘Tarkine Drive’. The lady said, ‘just keep going and you’ll see it’. So, we did.
We drove until we came across a big sign saying ‘Allendale Gardens’. I had read about and seen pictures of these gardens; 6 Acres of magical landscaped gardens and 65 acres of rainforest that was open to the public and I was really looking forward to have a look through! Sadly, there was a large red sign that seemed to have been at the end of the drive for a while. It read ‘Due to unforeseen circumstances, Gardens will be closed until further notice.’ I know they are owned and run by an elderly couple, Loraine and Max, and I really hope they are OK! But please, if you are planning on doing the Tarkine Drive – check to see if the Gardens are open, visit them and then tell me how they were!
We continued driving through the drizzling rain, following the brown and white signs saying ‘Tarkine Drive’ that took us down narrow, windy roads; past heavy machinery bouncing all over the place that were moving and stripping huge trees that had been felled; fields of tall, straight trees and fields of nothing where trees had once stood.
We continued down a dirt road until we ended up in the Trowutta Caves State Reserve at our first stop, ‘The Arch’. It took us 45 minutes to get to The Arch from Stanley, and the walk from the carpark was an easy 15 minutes.
Think faeries and goblins, unicorns’ hooves thudding on the moss covered paths and all things fairytale and you’ve summed up the magical, extraordinary and rare geological feature known as The Trowutta Arch and its accompanying sink holes.
We were not expecting what we walked into … and could hardly believe our eyes. The rainforest walk itself was magical, but when you make your way down that final slope and see the almost fluorescent green water appear with next to no warning, it takes your breath away! I’d seen pictures, but not one of them showed what we were seeing.
Think caves with walls that shimmer and sparkle when lit by torch, huge overhanging rocks and a pool of water covered in bright green moss.
Chris climbed up and around and said he saw another sink hole over and beyond … wow. The kids were impressed and so were we.
We read that the arch was created by the collapse of a cave and the creation of two sinkholes either side of it – one dry and one water-filled. This is regarded as one of the best examples of a ‘cenote’ (water-filled sinkhole) in all of Tasmania and is over 2 metres deep.
What a fantastic way to start the day! Excitedly, we all headed back to the car ready for whatever magical destination the Tarkine Drive had in store for us next.
Down some more windy roads, over the Arthur River and up some winding hills we went until we arrived at ‘Milkshake Hills’. Needless to say, the kids were excited about this one!
We drove in past a huge log with what looked like ‘MILKSHAKES FOREST RESERVE’ engraved on it and into a small carpark. It was still drizzling and a bit chilly, so we all put jackets on before embarking on the one hour return walk to the top of the Milkshake Hills.
It is a lovely stroll along boardwalk and through rainforest before opening up into a gravel path that winds its way up the side of the hill to the top where you are greeted by stunning views over buttongrass plains to the forested interior of the Tarkine.
We made it to the summit in just under 20 minutes and needless to say, the kids were tired and very disappointed there wasn’t a milkshake stand at the top!
Chris had the Nikon pointed at us and was fiddling with the focus when we all pointed behind him to where a huge Tasmanian Wedgetail Eagle was circling! Magnificent is an understatement. Australia’s largest bird of prey was soaring high on the thermal breeze, barely even flapping his wings. After some time he landed in a tall tree in the distance. These birds stand over a metre tall, weigh up to 5 kilograms and have a wingspan of up to 2.3 metres! These are an endangered species, so we feel extremely lucky to have seen not one, but two of these majestic creatures in the wild.
We walked back down the hill, Chris stopping to pick his jacket up that he’d taken off and left beside the path on the way up.
40 minutes after we’d parked the car, we were back in it and heading on to the next stop.
We continued our travels through ‘sinkhole country’ – the Trowutta/Sumac/Black River region. This particular area consists of hundreds of caves, sinkholes and underground drainage systems, and the sinkhole that we pulled up at 35 minutes later forms part of the larger dolomite karst systems of the area.
It was a brief stop – simply pulling over at the side of the road – but it was just lovely. I was the only one who got out of the car and I’m so glad I did! The rain was falling ever so gently onto the water, causing the reflection of the trees to shimmer and dance as the frogs croaked and the water filled sinkhole became the subject of some beautiful memories.
I jumped back in the car for a very short 12 minutes until we arrived at Dempster Lookout.
It was smiles all round and a few buttongrass fights between the kids while we explored. 🤪 This scenic spot is a short stroll up a boardwalk lined with long stalks of buttongrass, bright yellow flowers and lush green grass.
The viewing platform is perched upon a hill looking over buttongrass plains. These plains were created by Tasmanian Aborigines when they burned back large tracts of forest, making it easier for them to hunt and move through the landscape. There are so many Native Tasmanian animals living in these plains … and so many long stalks of buttongrass. Well, minus a few now that Aylah has antennas!
We left Dempster Lookout at 12:45 and by 1:00 we were parked up and walking to Lake Chisolm; another gorgeous water-filled sinkhole.
This too was an easy walk that took us less than half an hour and led us through a mixed forest of giant eucalypts and rainforest species until we reached the lake; one of the finest examples of a flooded sinkhole in Australia. Serene and enchanting and surrounded by majestic rainforest, the pure, cool waters of Lake Chisolm are home to many creatures including the platypus. Sadly, we didn’t see any Platypus, but Aylah did manage to find a tiny frog!
In less than 15 minutes we were at our final stop for the day – Sumac Lookout. By now the kids had had enough of walking and were pleasantly surprised to find the lookout was less than a one minute walk from the car.
This brilliant platform is surrounded by rainforest and tall eucalypts and delivers sweeping views of the river and beyond.
I simply stood and soaked up the magnificence of what lay before me before we climbed back into the car to make our way back to Stanley.
You see, we actually did the Tarkine Drive a little differently. The next day we left Stanley and set up camp in a gorgeous free camp in Marrawah, which was where we based ourselves to explore another 3 stops on the Tarkine Drive. Arthur River, The Edge of the World and Couta Rocks (and a few smaller places dotted in between).
It took about half an hour to get to Arthur River from Marrawah, and what a cute little town this is! The 2 cruise boats were moored on the banks of the river making for that ‘wow moment’ as you wind down the road to the bridge. We explored various campgrounds as it was in our itinerary to spend the following night at a free camp here. There were so many places to camp it was incredible! We ended up changing our minds and spent 2 nights at our epic campsite in Marrawah instead.
Edge of the World
Just after the bridge, we took the turnoff to the ‘Edge of the World’. Not many people can say they’ve been to the edge of the world, but we can! And it’s very windy. It’s also wild and beautiful and a must see when visiting Gardiners Point, Arthur River.
This rugged coastline, where the wild roaring forties (strong westerly winds) batter the coast from across the Great Southern Ocean really does make you feel like you are at the edge of the world.
Wind gusts of up to 200km per hour have been recorded here!
Here you can view a plaque where the words of Brian Inder explain it very well:
“I cast my pebble onto the shore of Eternity.
To be washed by the Ocean of time.
It has shape, form, and substance.
It is me.
One day I will be no more.
But my pebble will remain here.
On the shore of eternity.
Mute witness from the aeons.
That today I came and stood
At the edge of the world.”
We all raced back to the car to take to shelter from the wind, and after attempting to settle our hair down, we went on to explore the coastline until we came to the fishing settlement, Couta Rocks.
It is all breathtaking, but Couta Rocks is the place that really stood out to us as ‘wow’ … I’m pretty sure that word slipped from our lips more than once!
Turquoise waters, rocks jutting up out of both the ocean and the sand, smooth shiny shells, secluded and sheltered beaches, baby birds running around (it’s a bird breeding area) and next to no one else around by the waters edge.
There are little shacks dotted around everywhere – some are new, and some seem to have been there since settlement days! Motorbikes, tractors, old cars and 4WD’s fill the yards and driveways which are mostly made of sand.
Everywhere you turn there is something incredible to see. Oh Tassie … if only you had warmer weather! The water looks so inviting, but don’t be fooled! It’s still icy cold.
This was our final stop on the Tarkine Drive, and it was as magical as it was different to the very first stop, ‘The Trowunna Arch’.
We love heading off the beaten track and into places relatively unknown just like this.
The Tasmanian wilderness on the North West Coast is a perfect example of how diverse, beautiful, rugged and virtually untouched Tasmania truly is.