Because of its size and island status, some say Tasmania is the easiest Australian state for the traveller to get to know well. That may or may not be true, but what Tasmania does undisputedly offer is terrain and natural attractions vastly different from anything on the mainland.
If you love nature, you’ll love Tasmania. And if you’re the type of traveller who enjoys discovering those corners of beauty that many other tourists drive by, you’ll savour a stop at Montezuma Falls.
You’ll find the Falls tucked away just south of Rosebery on the fabulous (and very wet) west coast. This is the highest waterfall in Tasmania, tumbling more than 100 metres through a beautiful section of lush rainforest. The swirling, raging waters present as a wispy white ribbon cutting across the deep green density of the forest. Consistent rainfall in the area means that the falls usually flow throughout the year, with my favourite time being the late autumn and early winter. Even in summer the waterfall and the forest are impressive.
It’s a spectacular but subtle set of falls. This is not your Niagara or Victoria Falls experience – both of those famous tourist destinations are giants compared to the modest Montezuma. But what makes this spot so special is a superb sense of tranquility and subtlety. Montezuma is proof that a great waterfall doesn’t necessarily need great size. Its shape, width, character, obvious beauty and location all assist in making it memorable.
The base of the falls isn’t really an area for swimming. The creek which the falls tumble into doesn’t lend itself to those wanting to make a splash. Instead, this place is for nature lovers and people looking to clear the head and get some gentle exercise. There are subtle, intimate vistas to enjoy, often in relative isolation.
Montezuma was of course the Aztec emperor of Mexico at the time of the Spanish conquest. However, it’s most likely the falls were not named in his honour, but by the Montezuma Silver Mining Company which was active in the area in the late 19th Century. The falls were originally known as Osbourne Falls, but they’ve been listed as Montezuma Falls now for more than a century.
Rainforest abounds in this region. Adding to the attraction is the quality of walking paths in the immediate vicinity. The area is ideal for bushwalkers, with both easy gradient walks and longer, more arduous hikes available. Many of the trails follow the old forestry railway and tram tracks in the area.
My favourite hike is a three-hour return journey which starts at Williamsford and brings you right to the base of the falls. It follows the route of the North East Dundas Tramway and lets you immerse yourself in the sights and sounds of the rainforest. It’s an appealing walk because it’s quite long, but not very strenuous – the track is mostly level and suitable for most age groups. Arriving at the falls this way makes the vision that awaits you all the more rewarding. It’s a good idea to pack a picnic lunch, or at least a drink and a snack, to enjoy while resting by the water.
Parking close to Montezuma is really only an option for those traveling in a 4WD vehicle. Such visitors can drive 14 kms along the old tramway from the Melba Flats until they reach a carpark area only 200 metres from the falls. However, the tramway can prove tough terrain at certain times of the year. Walking is often the better option.
While the name of the falls may carry memories of the mining days, such industry ceased many years ago in the immediate area. Time, plus the heavy annual rainfall, has helped ensure the steady recovery of the local forests after such invasive toil.
The falls are located quite near the Melba Flats. Also close by is the celebrated West Coast Wilderness Railway, once known as the Abt Railway, which runs between Queenstown and Strahan. The marvellous steam train makes a 34km trip taking in rainforest, rivers, gorges and steep ascents along a majestic track which includes 39 bridges.
The railway is a remarkable feat of engineering. It was built in 1896 to carry copper and other minerals from the local mines, and continued operating until 1963, when it was closed down. Its costly revival as a tourist attraction in recent years has been met with great – and well-deserved – acclaim.
While Cradle Mountain, Hobart and Launceston remain the leading stars of Tasmanian tourism, the west coast really is something special. It’s wild, it’s wet, and in oft-overlooked spots like Montezuma Falls, it’s an enchanting combination of tranquility and natural force. It you’re in Tassie, don’t miss it.