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Derwent Bridge, TAS

Main access point to Lake St Clair and the southern end of the Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park.

Derwent Bridge is hardly a town. It is really little more than a tiny service centre for Lake St Clair which has become such a magnet for travellers that it recently built an extensive car parking area and a very handsome Visitor Information Centre. This is a World Heritage wilderness area noted for its dramatically beautiful lake, the excellent bushwalks and the rich native fauna which inhabits the foreshore.

Location

Derwent Bridge is located 174 km north west of Hobart via the Lyell Highway. It lies between Lake Saint Clair and Lake King William in the heart of the island.

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Origin of Name

One more example of the "bleeding obvious", the town was named after the bridge which crosses the Derwent River. It was the name given to the Bushy Park Post Office in 1925 and the town of Derwent Bridge was officially named in 1959. Nearby Lake St Clair, known to the local Aborigines as Leeawulena, was reputedly named after the St. Clair family who lived on the shores of Loch Lomond in Scotland. It was named in 1835 the Surveyor General George Frankland when he visited the area.

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Things to See and Do

Exploring Lake St. Clair
Inside the Lake St Clair Park Centre is a large, four panelled information board which provides a detailed history of the area from "Explorers ... and surveyors ... trappers ... and travellers".

In the beginning, as one board points out, it was known as "Leeawulenna (the sleeping water). The traditional Aboriginal name for Lake St Clair. The lake and surrounding plains were the western limit of the big Ouse River tribe's territory. Aboriginal people moved into the Tasmanian highlands about 10,000 years ago as the glaciers from the last ice age retreated from the landscape. Sweeping button grass plains are a legacy of their extensive use of fire to clear pathways through the rugged terrain and to aid hunting by attracting animals to the tender young shoots of sprouting vegetation.

"There are only a handful of reliable first hand accounts of the Aborigines by the first Europeans to venture into this country and some of the most reliable are those of escaped convicts and surveyors. All reports tell of recently burnt vegetation and well constructed huts of bark some of which were still standing 25 years after the last of the people had been removed from the region."

The Explorers panel explains that the first European into the area was probably a convict named James Goodwin who, in 1828, travelled up the Gordon and Franklin Rivers in a huon pine log canoe and then traversed the mountains passing near Wylds Crag which is west of the Derwent Valley.

The Surveyor panel describes the exploration of the area by Governor Sir John Franklin and Lady Franklin in 1842; the track cut by James Calder in 1840; and the journey through the area by Charles Sprent and a party of eight of Hobart's leading citizens in 1887. They travelled the 370 km track from Ouse to Waratah.

The Trappers panel describes how, in the 1920s and 1930s, the mountains were a magnet for fur trappers, adventurers, artists and tourism entrepreneurs and how the Overland Track was built connecting Cradle Mountain to Lake St. Clair.

And the final panel, The Travellers, describes the slow development of the area for tourism with the creation of camping sites and guest houses and the raising of the lake by the Hydro Electric Commission.

Walking At Lake St. Clair
The suggested walks at Lake St. Clair are divided into Strolls, Short Walks, Half-day Walks and Full day walks. In total there are thirteen walks of differing levels of difficulty. They are described on a large placard titled "Leeawuleena 'sleeping water'" outside the Park Centre and can be accessed on the internet at http://www.parks.tas.gov.au/indeX.aspX?base=3470. As they all start at the Lake St. Clair Park Centre the logical thing is to consult with the rangers before heading off. Remember: the constant problem with this area is that the weather is capable of change and walkers can start out on a cloudless day only to find themselves in a sub-zero blizzard. The simple advice is "dress appropriately and make sure you have enough food and water".

Strolls (under 20 minutes)
Lake and Mountain Views
This is the easiest of the walks - nothing more than a gentle stroll around the edge of Lake St. Clair. It is 500 metres and takes 20 minutes return. It goes from the Park Centre to the wharf and on a fine day provides views of Mount Olympus and Cynthia Bay.

Short Walks (under 2 hours)
Watersmeet
This short 3 km walk to the junction of the Hugel and Cuvier Rivers passes through temperate rainforest and gives the walker excellent opportunities to observe the fauna (particularly the birdlife) and flora. In summer the area is alive with wildflowers. It takes around 45 minutes return and is defined as easy. There is a useful map at http://www.parks.tas.gov.au/indeX.aspX?base=5925 which covers the main walks from the Park Centre.

Larmairremener tabelti
This is a 4 km Aboriginal cultural walk which takes around 60 minutes and has some short, uphill sections. There is a brochure in the Park Centre. This is an Aboriginal cultural walk which passes through buttongrass, tea-tree, rainforest and eucalypts. There are interpretative signs along the way.

Platypus Bay tabelti
This is a 4 km walk which takes around 60 minutes and has some short, uphill sections. The appeal of this track is that it is sometimes possible to see platypus and the beach at Platypus Bay is particularly panoramic. It meets up with the famous Overland Track.

Figure of Eight Loop
This is a 5 km walk which takes around 90 minutes and has some short, uphill sections. This is a combination of the Watersmeet, Larmairremener and Platypus Bay tracks which, obviously, combines the attractions of all three.

Half-day Walks
Echo Point-Narcissus Bay
This involves the ferry across to Echo Point, is 6 km long and has a moderately difficult track which takes around 2 hours. The walk from Echo Point to Narcissus Bay is through mossy rainforest and there are panoramic views of Mount Olympus, Mount Gould and the Du Cane Range from the bay.

Echo Point - Visitor Centre
This is a 10.5 km, moderate walk taking 3-4 hours and requiring a ferry trip across to Echo Point. It is basically a walk around the lake back to the Visitor Centre through rainforest, stands of leatherwood trees and with the possibility of seeing the uniquely Tasmanian yellow-tailed black cockatoo.

Shadow and Forgotten Lakes
Taking 3-4 hours this 14 km walk of moderate difficulty (it climbs 230 m over 7 km) traverses cool temperate rainforest, buttongrass and snow gum woodland, passes Shadow Lake and Forgotten Lake (both are small tarns), offers views of Mounts Rufus and Hugel and in summer is ablaze with the red flowers of waratahs.

Shadow Lake Circuit
A 4-5 hour return walk of 13 km through rainforest with a moderately difficult track climbing 330 m over 5 km, this track passes through snow gum woodland and sub-alpine moorland on the way to Shadow Lake. The wildflowers in spring and summer are spectacular and the track offers panoramic views across to Mounts Rufus and Hugel.

Full Day Walks
Narcissus Bay - Visitor Centre
A 5-6 hour walk and a ferry journey, this walk involves crossing Lake St Clair on the ferry and then walking 16.5 km on the southernmost section of the Overland Track. The track follows the edge of Lake St. Clair and passes through woodland and rainforest where it is possible to see myrtle, leatherwood, sassafras, horizontal, pandani, and celery-top and King Billy pines.

Mt Rufus
This is a 15 km, 5 hour return, walk which is classified as moderate to difficult because it involves a 680 m climb to an altitude of 1416 m. It is a direct walk from the Park Centre to the top of Mount Rufus through eucalypt forest, rainforest and alpine moorlands. It offers superb views of the Cheyne Ranges, the Walls of Jerusalem and Frenchmans Cap.

Little Hugel
A 6 hour return walk of 16 km involving a 540 m climb, this track goes beyond Forgotten Lake to the summit of Little Hugel. The summit is 1275 m and offers panoramic views of Cynthia Bay and both Shadow and Forgotten Lakes. There is a section of raised boardwalk between the two lakes.

Mt Rufus Circuit
The most difficult of the day walks this lasts for 7 hours and involves a walk of 18.5 km including a 680 m climb to an altitude of 1416 km. It is a circuit walk that starts at the Park Centre, goes to the top of Mount Rufus, passes Shadow Lake and returns to the Park Centre.

The Walk to Cradle Mountain
The "famous" Overland Track runs for 65 km from Lake St Clair to Cradle Mountain. It is defined as a six day walk through the heart of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. The website describes the terrain as "a landscape of spectacular glacially-carved valleys, ancient rainforests, fragrant eucalypt forest, golden buttongrass moorlands and beautiful alpine meadows. Extra bonuses include a variety of side-trips to breathtaking waterfalls and mountain summits, including Mt Ossa (1617 m) – Tasmania’s highest peak." Check out http://www.parks.tas.gov.au/indeX.aspX?base=7771 for more details and information about booking the walk. You have to book the walk.

Fauna in the Lake St Clair Region
One of the great attractions of the Lake St Clair area is the richness of the fauna. It is reasonable to expect to see (particularly if you do some walking in the very early morning and late afternoon) the Bennetts or red-necked wallaby, and the smaller, more timid Tasmanian pademelon; wombats and quolls; echidnas and platypuses which are commonly seen around Cynthia Bay and a wide variety of birds including black currawongs, strong-billed and black-headed honeyeaters, and the yellow wattlebird all of which are only found in Tasmania.

Aborigines in the area
The lake and surrounding plains were the western limit of the big Ouse River tribe's territory. Aboriginal people moved into the Tasmanian highlands about 10,000 years ago as the glaciers from the last ice age retreated from the landscape. Sweeping button grass plains are a legacy of their extensive use of fire to clear pathways through the rugged terrain and to aid hunting by attracting animals to the tender young shoots of sprouting vegetation.

"There are only a handful of reliable first hand accounts of the Aborigines by the first Europeans to venture into this country and some of the most reliable are those of escaped convicts and surveyors. All reports tell of recently burnt vegetation and well constructed huts of bark some of which were still standing 25 years after the last of the people had been removed from the region.

As early as 1849 the surveyor James Calder had reported charcoal drawings decorating the inside of some of these huts. Similar reports were made about huts in the Cradle Mountain Region.

Preliminary archaeological research in the Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park has revealed many Aboriginal sites consisting of stone tools and quarries which suggests that people moved mainly through the valleys with occasional visits to higher areas.

Lake St Clair Ferry
One of the most delightful ways to experience Lake St. Clair is the Ida Clair ferry which makes the 28 km round trip from Cynthia Bay to Echo Point and Narcissus Bay three times each day, seven days a week. The circuit takes 90 minutes. The capacity is only 22 people and this number can be reduced if hikers with large packs are among the passengers. It is possible to pre-book, tel: (03) 6289 1137. Check out http://www.lakestclairlodge.com.au/about-lake-st-clair/lake-st-clair-ferry/ for times, costs and a map of the route around the lake.

The Wall in the Wilderness
Located 2k east of Derwent Bridge, the Wall in the Wilderness, which is currently a work in progress, will eventually be a 100 metre long wall of 3 metre high carved wooden panels. It will be entirely created by wood sculptor, Greg Duncan, who explains "The carved panels will tell the history of the harsh Central Highlands region - beginning with the indigenous people, then to the pioneering timber harvesters, pastoralists, miners and Hydro workers.

"The idea for The Wall is quite a simple one. I’m carving a series of 100 panels. Each panel is one metre wide and three metres high. The panels will be placed back-to-back. So, by the time I finish, I’ll have created a wall 50 metres long with carvings on both sides - 100 metres all up.” It can be inspected seven days a week and is open from 9.00 am - 5.00 pm from September to April and 9.00 am - 4.00 pm May to August. For more information and entry fees check out http://www.thewalltasmania.com/ which, like the wall, is a work in progress. Tel: (03) 6289 1134.

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History

* Prior to European settlement the area around Lake St Clair and Derwent Bridge was inhabited for at least 30,000 years by members of the Lairmairrener Aboriginal language group. They called Lake St Clair - Leeawulena.

* The first European into the area was probably the convict James Goodwin who came up the Gordon and Franklin Rivers and traversed the mountains west of the Derwent Valley.

* In 1832 the surveyor W. S. Sharland saw Lake St. Clair from a nearby hill.

* Throughout the 1830s the Surveyor-General James Calder made a series of expeditions into the area describing the area as "a wilder scene can scarcely be imagined".

* In 1835 the Surveyor General George Frankland visited the area and named Lake St. Clair. Frankland commented on the lake's "beautiful bays and golden beaches".

* In 1840 James Calder started cutting a track from Lake St Clair to Macquarie Harbour.

* In 1842 Governor Sir John Franklin and Lady Franklin made the journey from Macquarie Harbour to Lake St. Clair. Lady Franklin was often carried on a palanquin.

* By 1887, after walking through the area, the Deputy Surveyor General, Charles Sprent, declared that "the region is well worth opening up for tourists and lovers of the picturesque."

* Pioneer tourism began as early as 1890 when Governor Hamilton had an accommodation house and boat shed built for visitors.

* By the 1920s people were campaigning to make the area a National Park.

* In 1922 an area from Cradle Mountain to Lake St Clair was set aside as a "scenic reserve and wildlife sanctuary". It became known to generations of bushwalkers as "The Reserve".

* In 1929 Paddy Hartnett, another bushman, offered to build an Overland track from Cradle Mountain for "two shillings a chain".

* In 1930 Bert Nichols, a fur trapper and bushman, finally blazed a trail from Cradle Mountain to Lake St. Clair.

* In the early 1930s a guest house was built at Derwent Bridge and a camp, with cabins and log fires, was constructed at Cynthia Bay.

* In 1937 the Hydro Electricity Commission built a weir on the Derwent River which raised the level of the lake by 2.4 metres and drowned a number of beaches including Frankland Beach.

* In 1971 a National Park of 132,000 ha was created

* In 1982 the Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park and the Franklin-Lower Gordon Wild Rivers National Park were placed on the world heritage list in recognition of their "outstanding natural, cultural and wilderness qualities."

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Visitor Information

Lake St. Clair Interpretation Centre, Lake St. Clair National Park, Derwent Bridge, tel: (03) 6289 1172.

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Useful Websites

The Parks and Wildlife Service has a useful and detailed website - http://www.parks.tas.gov.au/indeX.aspX?base=3462 - which includes detailed information about camping and walking in the Lake St. Clair area.

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