Cataract Gorge, Feb 2021

Summary: Awesome but touristy spot in Launceston with many non-native birds

Date of visit: Feb 6, 2021 [A stop on the Tasmania Trip, Jan-Feb 2021 trip]

If you’re tearing around Tasmania knocking off the tourist hotspots one by one, you’ll probably find yourself at some point at Cataract Gorge Reserve in Launceston. And a touristy spot it is too, with a chairlift (apparently the world’s longest single-span), a playground, a restaurant and café, picnic grounds, swimming pool and suspension bridge.

There’s a reason all for this infrastructure, though: the setting is a sublime natural formation carved through rock by the South Esk River. Views from the chairlift, bridge or lookouts across the river and the main picnic area (known as First Basin) are amazing. It would be hard to find a better place anywhere for a good old-fashioned picnic.

But what about the birds?

What struck us when we visited in February 2021 were the number of introduced species we found here. In fact, apart from a Superb Fairywren and a few Pacific Black Ducks, the birdlife consisted all of non-native bird species. Dozens of House Sparrows, bless their little scavenger hearts (they’re actually classified as pests in Australia…), could be found around the café and picnic areas.

Upon starting our little loop walk, beginning with Bridge Walk (which crosses the suspension bridge to the western side of the river), we found a Spotted Skink sunning itself on the rocks. Lizards are a tad easier to photograph than birds…

Plenty of people were enjoying a day out and all the tracks (and the bridge) near First Basin were packed. We detoured down Duck Reach Trail for a few hundred metres which didn’t yield any more birds, and was similarly busy.

On the western side were more introduced birds: European Goldfinch and Spotted Dove (both introduced to Australia in the 19th century), and a domestic mallard. The European Goldfinch (yet another non-native) continued to be my “photography nemesis” bird since first spotting it at Inala Reserve as well as Port Arthur, and again I was unable to obtain a clear image of it.

The western side is a little less busy and sports a Victorian garden with ferns and various exotic plants. Another non-native bird in this area was a bevy of Indian Peafowl (what most would call “peacocks”).

One of the nice aspects of Cataract Gorge is the network of walking tracks around it, including the Zig-zag Track (south side of the river) and Cataract Walk (north side of the river) both of which take you into Launceston itself – really not that far away.

We had a pleasant time at Cataract Gorge but it’s a place to go for scenery and shameless tourism rather than for searching out hard-to-find bird species. Away from the picnic areas and busy tracks you might find some interesting birds, but most of what we saw were introduced species.

Hotspot: Cataract Gorge (91 species)

Pluses and minuses:
+ Super scenic spot near Launceston city
+ Vast network of walking tracks
– A lot of non-native birds
– Quite touristy and busy

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