WEDNESDAY 1 MARCH QUEENSTOWN
We woke to another fine morning – this is almost a record for these parts!
I packed lunch and we set out for more exploring and walking. Drove out the Mt Jukes road again, past the sawmill, the lookouts and Lake Burbury. We also passed a road-killed quoll – maybe the same one we’d seen alive two days ago? The level of road kill we are seeing in Tasmania is such that it must be deliberate, on the part of many drivers. It is quite distressing to us.
Our destination today was the road’s end at the Bird River Bridge, and then the walk track to Pillinger ruins and Kelly Basin, a small bay on Macquarie Harbour. John was really keen to do this walk, which was good.
We followed the same route as on Monday, to the junction of the Kelly Basin road track and the Mt Mc Call track. We took the 5km driving track to the Bird River Bridge. This was really lovely to drive on, narrow and often through deep cuttings, as it followed the old railway alignment.
We had to park about 500 metres short of the road’s end, on a flat area sometimes used by apiarists. This was because there were National Parks workers at the road end, making a new car park and doing some roadworks. So that was going to add about a km to our 11km return walk.
In the late 1800’s, one James Crotty established the North Mt Lyell Company, in competition with the Mt Lyell Company, in Queenstown. He built a mine at Linda (now on the Lyell Highway a few kms east of Queenstown), smelters at the township of Crotty (now under Lake Burbury), a smelter and port township at Pillinger, on Macquarie Harbour – and a railway to connect them all, via the township of Darwin. This railway had much easier gradients than that of the other company’s one to Strahan.
East Pillinger township had the smelter, sawmill, brick works, three wharves, ore crushing plant and company housing. Across the Basin, and linked by ferry boat, was West Pillinger, containing government services like school, police station, and stores, hotels, housing.
The area was thriving in the very early 1900’s and it was assumed that the port of Pillinger would be the main one on Macquarie Harbour. But James Crotty died, the Crotty smelters were inefficient and in 1903, the two rival companies merged. The Mt Lyell Company chose to continue with Strahan as its port, rather than Pillinger.
The Mt Lyell Company gradually dismantled much of the settlements. But trains continued to use the railway, to transport timber for the mining operations. But in 1926 the rail track between Darwin and Pillinger was lifted. The last family left what remained of the town, in 1943.
We walked across the Bird River Bridge, with the little river brown below, and set out along the walking track, that follows the old rail alignment. It was supposed to be a 3-4 hour walk – about 5.5kms each way, but by the time we dawdled, looking at the river, fallen trees, fungi, taking photos, it took us three hours one way!
The track was affected by landslips in places, where cutting walls had collapsed, and by fallen trees, so there was some scrambling over obstacles involved. Mostly, though, it was easy walking, but we needed to watch our footing amongst tree roots.
The first section of track followed the lovely Bird River, a shallow and small stream. The rushing water noise was most enjoyable, on this part. Then the river hived off to the left and we went through an area of swamps and ti-tree. It was rather hot and humid there, although, overall, it was a beautiful day.
We came to a boardwalk that led off to some brick ruins of kiln structures, and two big old boilers.
It appeared that some restoration work may be under way and attempts to reclaim what is left, from the encroaching bush. A big tree that had been growing in part of the old brickworks had been cut down. Much of the settlement remains were well and truly in the bush so there was limited ability to explore what had been there, and no way to get over to what had been West Pillinger.
We looked out from the shore, at the pilings that are the remnants of the wharves, then sat on the modern, cement National Parks jetty and ate our focaccia roll lunch.
It was a really scenic and tranquil picnic spot, with its views over Kelly Basin and into Macquarie Harbour. This alone would have been worth the walk.
The return walk only took us about 90 minutes and it too was, mostly, really enjoyable.
John was in the lead, as usual, because of my tendency to stop for photos. He walked right past a tiger snake that was on the track – it was about a metre long, and his boot was about 15cms from its head! He didn’t see it, and the snake didn’t move. I pointed it out to him, after I’d very carefully passed it. We thought it looked rather dead, so I touched its tail with a – long – stick, and it moved slowly away. Maybe it was a bit cold? It almost certainly would not have had much contact with people, so maybe we just didn’t bother it? John was annoyed that he hadn’t seen it, and a bit shaken. Anyway, that was the daily sighting we seem to get on every Tasmanian walk we tackle.
When we reached Truck, it had a flat driver’s side front tyre. Not what we needed! John even wondered if someone had let it down deliberately, as there appeared to be no tyre damage. It took us about half an hour to change the wheel – the Landrover jack, which is a high lift type – is very slow to use.
It was very dim and semi-dark in the forest, by this time. On the drive back, we felt rather vulnerable, being in an unpopulated area with no spare wheel. We probably should have gone to the effort of carrying the other spare wheel from the van, on these forays.
The drive out there and back was 91kms.
Tea was salads and salmon, again.
After tea, we both felt really weary, suddenly, which was surprising because it had not been a particularly strenuous walk.