Have you ever wanted to look at Tasmania differently? Would you like to see spectacular scenery and learn about Tasmania’s past while avoiding well-known tourist destinations? But you don’t want to slog it out on foot carrying a heavy backpack? Then you would enjoy a family-friendly tour of Tasmania’s Hydro Electric heritage.
Family-friendly Tasmanian Hydro Tour
Mid-July 2014: Graham, James, Rusty (our dog) and me (Christine) spent five days exploring the hydro electric heritage in highlands of Tasmania. We stayed overnight in Queenstown (two nights) and Derwent Bridge (two nights). We covered 1003 kms from Branxholm via Deloraine and Moina to Queenstown and from Queenstown to Derwent Bridge. Then we drove home via Bronte Park and the Highland Lakes Highway.
This was not just a tour of Tassie’s amazing hydro electric past, but also of the Cashion family heritage.
Day One Hydro Electric Heritage Tour: East to West Drive
Sunday morning we were going to get away early. You know this story. After packing clothes (easy bit), organizing food, last-minute housework (ha! I wish) we fee the alpacas and checked the chooks. The we socialised with our cottage guests, packed the car and locked the house—don’t forget the windows. Finally we left at the deadly early hour of 11:30 (am, in case you were wondering). I think I fell asleep, while Graham was driving.
A Perfect Winter’s Day for Driving
It was a beautiful sunny winter’s day. when we stopped for lunch at Chudleigh. The Honey Farm was doing a roaring trade and there appeared to be a function happening in the local hall. Rusty made friends with a small fluffy white, friendly but vocal, dog, and drank from a fountain. Our home-prepared picnic was great ham, cheese, chutney sangas washed down with a hot cuppa. Oh yes, I had done the mother thing the day before, cooking bread, bolognaise sauce, pumpkin soup, chocolate peppermint slices and gingerbread biscuits.
We drove through Mole Creek. I remember an enjoyable stay at a guest house here when James was a baby. We drove down narrow roads lined with shrubs—very English—with sheep grazing in green pastures. Who are the lucky people who get to live in Tasmania? Oh! That’s right I live here. (I asked myself this question on my first visit to Tasmania over 20 years ago.)
The scenery changed from lush temperate rainforest to alpine scrub as we drove to Moina and across the Middlesex plains. Snow drifts had settled on the plains. There was a line of 4WDs exiting the Cradle mountain turnoff, most heading back to Launceston, I guess. It must have been a busy weekend at Cradle Mountain. We drove on to Queenstown taking the ex-hydro road past Lake Plimsoll rather than the A10 highway through to Rosebery.
Accommodation in Queenstown
We arrived just in time to collect our accommodation key from the owner (Mrs Barbra Gumley) at the newsagency. Greengates on Central, not easy to find on the internet, but is really comfortable and good value accommodation. This was the second time we had stayed there (2014). It has four units each with two bedrooms, lounge, kitchen/dining and bathroom. You can’t easily cook a meal in the kitchen, but it is better than trying to fill up the kettle in a motel bathroom!
It was cold and raining on this first night, but Rusty preferred to camp under a tree, rather than curl up on a blanket on the front verandah. The owner told us that the cottages were for sale, as well as their other businesses (supermarket and newsagency). The quiet main street was bristling with For Sale signs and closed or quiet businesses. In 2014 Queenstown was suffering the loss of the Mt Lyell mine.
Eating in Queenstown
There was not much open on a Sunday evening. We bought lamb souvlaki from a local greasy spoon café. It was not the best choice, but it was easy. The following night it was a toss-up between the Maloneys and the Empire, so we dined at the Empire Hotel. I love the old hotel—it has a grand stair case and glorious history—a prime minister (which one?) and Nellie Melba dined there! The restaurant had hardly changed since we were there four years ago (2010). It was dark, cozy, quiet and with friendly service. The hotel priced the excellent chicken korma, succulent (large!) beef steak and chicken schnitzel at usual pub prices ($16 to $23 per plate). BTW there are three IGA supermarkets in Queenstown. We were able to buy everything we needed for our breakfasts and lunches at the IGA in the main Street.
Second Day Hydro Electric Heritage Tour: Lake Margaret
Aren’t Tasmanian connections great? Paul Coull, the engineer who signed the final certificate for our micro-hydro generator at Tin Dragon Trail Cottages, also installed the new turbine at lower Lake Margaret. So we scored a personal introduction to a Hydro maintenance engineer who was happy to show us around the Lake Margaret power station. We learnt much from our personal guide who shared his valuable time and incites with us.
BTW you can catch Paul at our Renewable Energy Field day and work shop in September this year (2019).
Heritage-listed Power Station
You can read more about the history of the Lake Margaret in the local hall and book a tour to view the power station with RoamWild Tasmania.
The Lake Margaret Power Station is the third oldest hydro-electric power plant in Tasmania. It was constructed by the Mount Lyell Mining and Railway Company between 1911 and 1914. The short lived Duck Reach station near Launceston and the Moorina station were earlier constructions. The mighty little Moorina power station—near us at Branxholm— was continuously operated for 100 years!
The awesome Lake Margaret timber pipes have been constructed three times. The original pipes were made from Canadian Oregon pine but were replaced with King Billy pine in 1938. The wood stave pipeline displayed here became unserviceable in 2006. After a major reconstruction, this time using Alaskan yellow cedar, the wooden stave pipeline and power station were recommissioned in 2009.
The Walk to the Lake Margaret Dam
The Lake Margaret dam face is high up on Mount Sedgwick. We drove 330m above the power station on a short very rocky steep track to the top of the penstock.
This is the view from the top of the steel penstock pipeline.The power station and abandoned village are in the middle-ground.
After an exciting drive up to the penstocks, we walked to the dam face. This was a gently sloping walk along 2.2km of duckboarding. There were awesome views out over a deep valley to the highlands. Along the way there were also alluring glimpses of Basin Lake appearing suspended in the mist. Of course all the time there were the amazing timber staves snaking close to the mountain face.
Graham and James didn’t wait for me. I dragged the chain taking photos then doing a crazy fast walk to catch up—too slippery to run!
Foreground: The new wood stave pipe is constructed from yellow cedar. Background: The old staves were constructed with native King Billy pine.
For just a moment the mists swirled away to reveal lake Margaret beyond the dam wall
A solitary King Billy pine tree was growing just in front of the old Lake Margaret dam face.
A long-abandoned maintenance shed sits just below the dam wall.
The wood stave pipeline snakes close to the cliff high above the valley.
The newer wood stave pipeline needs on-going maintenance to repair leaks.
Lake Margaret Power Station & Abandoned Village
After our walk, a small verandah in front of the public toilets became our site for a welcome picnic lunch and hot cuppa. Rusty had a brief sniff of the cool air and a drink, then jumped back into our car. We then headed over to the Power Station to view the powerful turbines in action. The Lake Margaret power station is still putting power into the Tasmanian grid. We also read about the station’s history in a small visitor’s room. Now (2019) you can view an expanded history display in the village hall.
From the Lake Margaret Power Station it is a short walk across the Yolande river to the old hydro village. Time stood still here in the mid-1960’s when the village was abandoned. The houses had been prefabricated and moved into position in 1914.
Below the bridge there is a weir, which directs water into the pipes that feed the lower Lake Margaret mini hydro power station.
We imagined the families who had come and gone over the years as we explored the silent street of the old hydro village at lake Margaret.
Lower Lake Margaret Mini Hydro Power Station
After exploring the abandoned village we drove back towards Queenstown. We stopped at the turn-off to the lower Lake Margaret power scheme, but the gate was locked. So off we walked, leaving James and Rusty in the car. We had to see our engineer’s ‘baby’. It’s was an enjoyable walk—down, down, down…oh yes…then back up, up, up—about 7kms in total. Of course, the power station was locked, too.
That night we all slept well, after another Empire pub meal.
Third day Hydro Electric Heritage Tour : Zeehan & Cashion Family History
We decided to pack several attractions in between Zeehan and Derwent Bridge because we weren’t due to check-in to our next accommodation till 3:00pm. So after farewelling the West Coast Wilderness heritage train in front of our Queenstown accommodation we back-tracked to Zeehan. This town was named after the Dutch explorer Abel Janzoon Tasman’s ship, the Zeehaen. I suspect this is a town often left off tourist itineraries.
We were cold so we stopped at the only open café, The Pit Shop, for a coffee. The friendly young girl serving in the café spoke with a pronounced Tasmanian drawl. Although I have lived in Tasmania for more than 20 years, I am still fascinated by the Tassie accent. James was cold and hungry so he ordered a hot dog. This was a saveloy in a white bread roll with nothing else added. The coffees needed to be hotter and stronger. Almost $20 for this small meal was not good value for money.
Tasmania’s West Coast Mining History
We were totally blown away by the West Coast heritage Centre in Zeehan’s main street! You need a whole day to explore all there is to see and read in this remarkable museum. Although rushed, we still felt it was worth every cent of our $36 family ticket. We learnt about the development of the area including the Zeehan School of Mines and Metallurgy. We also walked though a mining tunnel, viewed beautifully restored steam trains, black smith and wheelwright shops and a comprehensive mineral collection. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to visit the old Gaiety theatre or Freemasons temple. The centre appears to be open most days of the year. I can’t imagine you would ever need to fight your way through a crowd of visitors in this sprawling complex.
The Spray Tunnel
We drove down Fowler St at the northern end of the town, past the golf course and left onto a narrow gravel road in search of the Spray Tunnel. Because the road was so narrow, a vehicle had to back up to allow us to pass. The couple were loading a tray-back vehicle with firewood, so we had to wait for about 15 minutes.
At the end of this short road there was a car park and picnic table. Also there were interpretation signs and paved walking tracks. While we ate our picnic lunch I was noticed the wheelies etched into the lawn and the bullet holes blasted in a nearby cement wall. I guess the wall was part of the old mine structure. Then I remembered the friendly girl at the café warning us to be careful near the Spray Mine. Apparently the trail bike riders who practiced their driving and graffiti skills at the site had a bad reputation!
The Spray tunnel is an unusual keyhole shape, which is said to be the result of the top part of the tunnel having been enlarged to allow passage of steam boilers that were brought through the tunnel to the mine.
In 1901 the British Zeehan Silver Mining Company extended the Argent Tram line. This continued up the side of Summit Hill and passed through a tunnel to connect to the Spray Mine. A small loco christened “Spray” was used to work the line until the mine closed.
Driving the A10 to Derwent Bridge
Driving back through Queenstown we stopped above the town to take a photo.
The stark hills surrounding the town are mesmerizing in their sinister beauty and a reminder of the historic disregard for the environment.
When leaving Queenstown you can take a short side-trip to the Iron Blow.
The A10 highway to Derwent Bridge soon leaves the mining past behind to meander through spectacular world heritage beauty.
We stopped briefly at the Nelson Falls car park. Rather like visiting a memorial, we viewed the black & white photo of the Cashion family camped by the Lyell Highway at Mt Arrowsmith. Graham’s grandfather worked on the construction of the Lyell Highway in the 1930’s. We can’t drive past here without this brief stop.
We reached our accommodation at Derwent Bridge just before 5:00pm. That night we ate the spaghetti and bolognaise sauce I had prepared the previous Saturday, with the salad I had collected from our garden. Graham and James took Rusty for a long walk beside the highway and later we relaxed in front of a DVD, ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’. James and I really enjoyed this quietly romantic comedy. But Graham voted with his feet and went to bed early. Rusty slept well in out in the car.
Fourth Day Hydro Electric Heritage Tour : Visiting Graham’s Power Schemes
Graham had worked on turbines at Tarraleah and Tungatinah as a machinist-fitter. During this time he lived in the Tarraleah village. So we left our accommodation mid-morning to drive along the A10 to the Tarraleah power station.
Graham is fourth from the left. As a young bloke Graham worked with the Hydro, becoming ‘apprentice of the year’ in 1967.
This is a Graham emerging from the inspection hole of the number 5 turbine at Tarraleah Power Station (1969)
Tarraleah and Tungatinah Hydro Power Stations
We found the Tungatinah power station was locked. However the neighbouring Tarraleah power station was open. So we ignored the signs suggesting that unauthorized personnel were disallowed entry and parked in the visitor’s area.
Inside the Power Station we viewed the working turbines through a glass visitor’s area. The number five turbine was stripped down and an engineer was looking earnest while inspecting printed diagrams. Graham had actually worked on the same turbine nearly forty years ago.
I love the Art Deco style of these old buildings
Hydro turbine number five (LHS)
Once outside again, we looked up at the steel penstock pipes towards the Tarraleah village. Many years ago Graham had lost a bet that he could walk or climb to the top faster than the small worker’s bus could deliver workers to the village.
As we returned to the car Graham pointed out remnant paintwork on the transmission towers. During the war an army of workers with paint and brushes in hand covered the steel transmission towers in camouflage colours to prevent potential airborne attack. I wonder how they might have hidden the stark tree-less corridors along the path of the transmission lines.
Graham’s dad had been deployed to guard the Shannon Power Station and Miena dam during the early war years.
James inspected a Pelton wheel at the base of the penstocks outside the Taraleah Power Station.
Looking back at the power station from Tarraleah village
From the power station, we drove the short distance up to the Tarraleah village. Now known as the Tarraleah Estate the old village offers a range of accommodation from budget to luxury. We found this village with its wide streets and neat lawns was deserted (winter 2014). The lodge and restaurant also appeared to be closed.
Clark Dam and Butlers Gorge Hydro Power Station
Returning from Tarraleah to the A10 highway, we turned right onto the C603. Our journey followed the fast-flowing canal past the Mossy Marsh Pond, then up to the Clark Dam and the Butlers Gorge Power Station. The canal delivers water from Lake King William into the penstocks above the Tarraleah Power Station.
We mused about how much fun it would be to ride down the fast flowing canal stream. But of course, being sucked into the pipe at the end of the canal would be show-stopper! Perhaps a net strategically placed…but the low foot bridges and struts across the cement flumes would put your head in serious danger of disconnection.
Out at Butler’s Gorge the wind was bitterly cold, so we didn’t linger. Graham and James stayed in the car while I dashed out to take a few photos.
There are stories describing migrant dam workers being in tears as they battled the cold harsh climate. The hardship faced by these workers is depicted in Richard Flanagan’s novel, The sound of one hand clapping.
On the return drive we looked for evidence of the former workers’ camps. But all we found were collections of coloured tags on wires pinned into the ground. I had no idea what the significance of these were.
The water in the Clark dam was dark blue and choppy.
Too Cold for a Picnic
There was a picnic table near the Nive River, but it was too cold and wet to stay. Instead, we chose to return to our accommodation taking the unsealed C602 past Mossy Marsh Pond and Laughing Jack Lagoon. At one point a contractor was busy trimming the overhanging bush, and at another a fully laden log truck rumbled past. This was clearly a logging road.
Lake St Clair National Park
After our lunch break, we drove to Lake St Clair for a quick look around. It was windy and starting to rain, so we didn’t stay. On the way out of the park we took a detour to view Pumphouse Point eco tourism development. Wow! This is another unique, but exclusive, tourist experience for Tasmania.
The Wall in the Wilderness was our next stop. This is the gallery where Greg Duncan is creating a sculpture telling the history of the harsh Central Highlands. The stories include both indigenous and European activities. One section depicts the Hydro workers. The cavernous timber building was warm and inviting,with a roaring fire at one end. The overall experience was well worth the admission price.
Eating in Derwent Bridge
After another long, satisfying day, we dined at the Derwent Bridge Wilderness Hotel. We were impressed by the timber architecture, the huge fire place and the friendly service. Although over salted for my taste, I enjoyed my Shepherd’s pie with salad. James and Graham were less impressed with their rather ordinary fish & chips and kid’s sausages.
The prices here are for a captive audience, as there are no other restaurants nearby. Our meal and drinks nearly cost as much as our night’s accommodation. This situation has been consistent over several years.
We were a captive audience for a meal at the Derwent Bridge Hotel.
Derwent Bridge Accommodation
Our accommodation at Derwent Bridge Chalets. Not sure what I can say here. The accommodation was warm and comfortable but not friendly. We slept well yet didn’t enjoy the experience. I am reminded of the importance of hospitality. We felt treated like the ‘enemy’ rather than ‘valued guests’. We left promptly the next morning. Prices here were higher than equivalent or better accommodation in North East Tasmania.
After receiving some very unusual and insulting behaviour from the owner, I started reading on-line reviews for our accommodation. This made me quite paranoid about the need to leave the cottage really clean and tidy. Consequently I took photos of how we left the cottage, including the inside of cupboards and drawers. The owner would have been hard pressed to tell that we had been inside the cottage – apart from sleeping in the beds. We stripped the beds and folded the linen, too.
Of course, we have empathy with accommodation owners wanting to protect their property. Furthermore we totally understand how cleaning costs can wipe away profits. But there were many bad reviews with complaints from guests receiving unexpected cleaning charges. For us, as accommodation operators, it is distressing when a cottage is left in poor condition. But we rarely have had to invoice guests for additional cleaning or damage.
Fifth Day Hydro Electric Heritage Tour : Over the Top of Tasmania
This was the best drive of our journey. Tourists really shouldn’t be worried to visit Tasmania during the winter months.
We glimpsed the old nurse’s accommodation at Bronte Park as we drove through. Years earlier, Graham and a group of young hopefuls set out from Tarraleah on a quest to invite out a group of nurses. They were quickly shown the road by some ugly young blades threatening extreme violence. They were told not to ‘touch’ their women… Ah! The good old days of the 1960’s.
James was totally chuffed when it started to snow along the Highland Lakes Highway. We took heaps of photos.
We drove through Miena over the central highlands to Great Lake and continued to the turn off to Tods Corner. Here we turned right onto the C178, then drove through pretty highland farming land to the historic Waddamana power museum
Waddamana Hydro Power Museum
Waddamana was the first Hydro Tasmania power station, soon being joined by Waddamana B and the Shannon.
In 1988 an Australian bicentennial project converted the decommissioned Waddmana A power station into a museum.
Waddammana A had been decommissioned in 1964 and by 1994 all three power stations were decommissioned.
This well presented and maintained museum is a must for any tourist interested in Hydro history.
Graham Meets up with an Old Friend
Bernadette, the museum attendant, was happy to chat with us and we spent over an hour wandering around. Then it was bound to happen! Graham met an old friend, Frank Cooper in the museum. Frank and his wife Helen were long-term residents of Waddamana till a couple of years ago when they retired as the manager-owners of the Waddamana Field Study Centre. The Field Centre was sold but now stands closed and empty—apparently not the lifestyle the new owners had expected.
The bright sun warmed the air as we ate our picnic lunch in front of the power station. Rusty had a brief run around the car and then it was time to head home.
In the centenary year of hydro generation in Tasmania we were more than ever impressed by the scale of the engineering that has delivered clean energy for Tasmania.
If you wish to learn more about our tourist accommodation in North East Tasmania, please explore our Tin Dragon Cottages web site. We look forward to hosting your next stay in Tasmania!