Discover world class natural beauty in the heart of Launceston.
There aren’t many cities where you can find a 65-million-year-old-gorge less than two kilometres from the city centre. Cataract Gorge is a gem in Launceston – a vast expanse of nature where locals gather to unwind, swim and soak up the beauty of the pristine Tasmanian bushland.
The South Esk River carves its way through the gorge, fringed by mystical forest and laced with enchanting hiking trails. And if you thought it couldn’t get any more picturesque, the park’s resident peacocks roaming the grounds are sure to add an extra dash of magic. If you’re visiting Launceston, we strongly recommend a trip. We’ve rounded up everything you need to know before you get there.
Immerse yourself in the lush woods of the Cataract Gorge between Launceston’s mountains and admire its breathtaking views. (Image: Tourism Tasmania/Rob Burnett)
Located just west of Launceston’s CBD, Cataract Gorge is straightforward to get to. If you’re driving, there’s metered parking at Cataract Gorge’s First Basin ($4 for four hours or $6 for a day between 9am-5pm). Parking here is best for accessing the chairlift, cafe and swimming pool. If you’d like to access Duck Reach, you can find parking on Corin Street.
If you’re travelling by foot, the Cataract Gorge visitors centre is around 30 minutes’ walk from the CBD, following a pleasant trail that passes by many of the city’s parks. If you’d prefer to save your energy for exploring the reserve, the ‘Tiger Bus’ runs a free service from Launceston to Cataract Gorge between December and April.
Things to do
There’s plenty to do at Cataract Gorge, whether you’re keen to get active on the nature trails, lounge by the pool or catch a great view from the chairlift. The reserve has something for everyone— photographers will have ample opportunity to capture the dramatic landscapes, history buffs can discover Launceston’s industrial past and nature lovers will surely find lots to love in the swathes of verdant bushland.
To get oriented, first head to the Cataract Gorge Visitor Centre located at the First Basin. When you’ve done that, check out some of the activities in the park below.
Discover the heart of Launceston by visiting its Cataract Gorge and make sure to dip your toes in its famous swimming pool. (Image: Nick H Visuals)
The glistening turquoise waters of the Cataract Gorge’s swimming pool beckon on a warm summer’s day. The pool is surrounded by manicured lawns, towering thickets of gum trees and fronted by the flowing River Esk, making for the perfect place to relax and unwind.
Cataract Gorge’s turquoise swimming pool attracts thousands of keen visitors every year. (Image: Jarrad Seng)
You can also opt to take a dip in the waters of the Gorge’s first basin (although brace yourself for chilly water!). Either way, make sure to bring your swimmers because taking a swim in Cataract Gorge is a must.
Ride the longest Chairlift in the World
Go aloft on Cataract Gorge’s famous chairlift for breathtaking views across the reserve. You’ll be riding the longest chairlift in the world, stretching 457 metres from end to end. Watch as your feet leave the ground and the dramatic scenery opens up around you. You’ll hear the river rushing below your feet and the resonant birdcall all around you as you glide across the gorge.
Unwind and relax by hopping into the world’s longest chairlift ride and discover one of Tasmania’s most beautiful views. (Image: Nick H Visuals)
For those who like a dash of adventure, the Cataract Gorge chairlift offers a spectacular way to kick back and take in the surroundings.
Discover Launceston’s Hydro History
Hydropower in Australia has its origins in Cataract Gorge. Take a step back in time to Duck Reach, the site of the first hydroelectric power station in the Southern Hemisphere. The station was destroyed in a flood but has since been rebuilt as a museum and interpretation centre where you can learn about Launceston’s history and industrial past. There’s a suspension bridge across the river, where you can get your adrenaline pumping as you walk across and take in the impressive views.
Walk along Suspension Bridge and admire the gorge’s picturesque views. (Image: Emilie Ristevski)
The hike to get to Duck Reach follows a lovely trail (1 hr 45 mins return) that traces the Gorge, with plenty of picturesque vistas to admire on the way.
Walk the trails
There are many trails radiating throughout Cataract Gorge where you can immerse yourself in the gum trees and watch the wildlife roam. The Duck Reach Track (mentioned above) is one of the most popular trails in the reserve, taking you on a journey through a luscious woodland that finishes up at a historic power station.
Take a trip to the past by following the Duck Reach Track where you’ll encounter the historic power station. (Image: Cataract Gorge power station)
However, there are plenty of walks to suit every activity level. For something gentle, walk across Cataract Gorge’s iconic Kings Bridge (a true feat of engineering!) That leads you to a beautiful Victorian Garden blooming with colourful flowers. If you want to test your lungs, the Zig Zag track will take you to a lookout above Cataract Gorge with rewarding views over the reserve.
Walk along Kings Bridge and get a glimpse of one of the best views of Cataract Gorge. (Image: Jason Charles Hill)
Hop on the Cataract Gorge Cruise
Take to the water to see Cataract Gorge by boat. On a Cataract Gorge cruise, you’ll cleave jade-green waters as you meander down the River Esk, flanked by beautiful bushland on either side. Let your captain fill you in on Launceston’s rich history as you trace the river and take in the breathtaking scenery. You can also taste some local Tamar Valley wine onboard— the perfect way to relax.
For the more adventurous at heart, take in the scenery on a rock-climbing tour. Launceston’s Cataract Gorge is famed for its dolomite crags and serves as a popular training ground for local climbers.
If you’ve never been rock climbing, now could be the perfect time to give it a go. In the introductory tour with Mountain Bike Tasmania, you’ll learn how to abseil over the water, taking in spectacular views as you do so. Whatever your skill level, there’s a tour that can be tailored for you.
Where to eat nearby
If you’d like to take a break and refuel, there are restaurants and eateries within Cataract Gorge, as well as lots of cafes close by in Launceston CBD. Here are our top picks for places to eat in Cataract Gorge.
Want to dine with fabulous views across Cataract Gorge? It doesn’t get better than the Gorge Restaurant. Serving up modern Australian cuisine, this charming locale is open for lunch and dinner Wednesday to Sunday with beautifully-plated meals made from fresh seasonal produce.
If you’re after a casual bite, there’s always a superb range of baked goods and decadent pastries on offer. Sip a coffee out on the patio where you’ll be surrounded by the lively peacocks and fantastic vistas of the Cliff Grounds Reserve.
Stop by Gorge Restaurant for a quick bite and enjoy the company of proud peacocks. (Image: Tourism Australia/Graham Freeman)
The Basin Cafe is an idyllic spot to grab a coffee, snack or a casual bite. Inside, you’ll be surrounded by large glass windows offering a lovely view over the water and grounds. There are plenty of sweet treats like scones with jam and cream, as well as hearty breakfast and brunch options to keep you fuelled up.
If you fancy fine dining, head to Stillwater restaurant at the mouth of Cataract Gorge (housed in a renovated 1840s flour mill!) Like many restaurants in Launceston, Stillwater pulls together fresh Tasmanian produce and local wine to craft an unforgettable dining experience. With gorgeous river views and a mouth-watering menu that’s been studded with prizes and awards, dining at Stillwater is a simply unforgettable experience.
After a busy day spent at the Cataract Gorge, treat yourself to a fine dining experience at Stillwater restaurant. (Image: Nat Mendham)
Where to stay nearby
We’ve rounded up the best options for where to stay in Launceston, whether you prefer a classic hotel or a dreamy Airbnb. If you’re seeking accommodation close to Cataract Gorge, then check out FLAX at Duck Reach— a renovated miner’s cottages steeped in Launceston’s hydro history a stone’s throw from the power station.
Spend the night in the cosiest cottage at FLAX at Duck Reach and emerge yourself in the magical Cataract Gorge. (Image: Flax at Duck Reach Airbnb)
We also recommend Stillwater Seven, located right at the edge of the Gorge which offers boutique luxury accommodation above their renowned restaurant.
Get the ultimate Cataract Gorge experience by spending the night at Stillwater Seven and sleep like a baby in one of its cosy bedrooms. (Image: Anjie Blair)
Read our ultimate travel guide to Launceston for more tips, guides and itineraries.