Esk Highway


The Esk Highway, which passes through the Fingal valley, provides the shortest access to Tasmania's East Coast from the north of the island. The valley's picturesque countryside contains numerous former mining towns and abandoned mine sites and settlements on the southern slopes of Ben Lomond. Its western end begins at the Midland Highway at Conara Junction, just north of Campbell Town. This end of the valley is dominated by Stack's Bluff. Its eastern end passes through St Marys and then deviates in a north-east direction, where it connects to the Tasman Highway. Another road, which follows a path south-east from St Marys, joins the Tasman Highway at Chain of Lagoons after traversing Elephant Pass.

Location: north east Tasmania

Length: Launceston to St Marys 130 km

Features/attractions: Esk Valley, Evercreech Reserve, Fingal Valley, Lake Leake, Ben Lomond Plateau, St Patricks Head

The Journey: Starts and finishes in Launceston.

Recommended duration: 1 day

The Journey

Take the Midland Highway south out of Launceston towards Launceston Airport. At the roundabout at Breadalbine, just before reaching Launceston Airport, take the Midland Highway (right) towards Perth. At Perth, turn right into Drummond Street which leads into Illawarra Road and the pretty Georgian village of Longford. There are some wonderful old colonial buildings to look at here, including the Old Mill. The latter is home to an excellent cafe and bakery. Proceed south out of Longford, taking the left fork into Wellington Road in the middle of town. A short distance along this road is Brickendon Estate, a World Heritage listed convict site. It is home to a colonial farm and homestead, fully intact and maintained in its original condition. A visit is highly recommended.

Continue along the road and you will come to another World Heritage listed farming complex - Woolmers. Guided tours through the homestead, farm buildings and rose garden are a highlight of a visit.

Continue along Woolmers Lane to the highway, turn left then right towards another quaint Georgian era colonial village - Longford. The village host an annual pennyfathing race every January. Again, there are plenty of beautiful Georgian buildings to admire, and some excellent places around town to enjoy morning tea, lunch or a drink.

Return to the Highway, turning right towards Campbell Town. Around 33 km south of Evandale, turn left onto the Esk Highway. Nestled between the junction of the St Pauls and South Esk Rivers, the small village of Avoca (28 km south west) is the most westerly of the Fingal Valley settlements and is overshadowed by the sentinel of the entrance to that region, 1027 metre high St Pauls Dome. The town was officially settled in 1834, and has relied almost continuously upon farming and mining for its economic stability, likewise enduring the fortunes and failures of these industries. Sadly the coal and tin mines which for so long provided the life blood for this isolated community, are now all closed, though some fine old buildings from early times remain.

19 km north of Avoca along Story Crerek Road is Rossarden, a scattering of old weatherboard and corrugated iron buildings is all that remains of the one-time boom town of Rossarden. Nestled at the foot of Ben Lomond, Rossarden was buzzing as late as the 1960's, when the Aberfoyle mine was working to full capacity. The mine, which opened in 1931 produced wolfram - another name for tungsten - operated until February 1982, when its closure sounded the death knell for the town. The mine tried to sell its former employees their home for a dollar, but few took up the offer and the town's population fell from 500 to just 90. Within a month, what was not sold was demolished and carted away.



Continue along the Esk Highway to Fingal, the centre of Tasmania's coal mining industry. The Fingal area is believed to have been named after Fingal's Cave in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland rather than Fingal in Ireland. The town of Fingal came into existence in 1827 as a convict station, and experienced a boom when Van Diemen's Land's first payable gold was discovered in nearby Mangana. Throughout the 19th 20th centuries, the valley was a major producer of gold and tin. Major deposits of black coal were discovered in the valley in 1863. The completion of the railway line to St Marys in 1886 enabled the establishment of large scale coal mining in the Fingal Valley and this area has provided the majority of Tasmania's coal since this time.

23 km north of Fingal, Evercreech Forest Reserve reserve is home to the tallest White Gums in the world. They are known as 'White Knights' because they grow to a height of 90 metres. The reserve has many short bushland walks through the forest including a loop past the White Knights  and to Evercreech Falls. Apart from these spectacular trees, large ferns and mountain streams abound, many flowing dramatically over falls deep in the forest.

To the west of Evercreech Forest Reserve is the village of Mathinna was once the scene of an important gold strike. Some 70 plus metres tall, Mathinna Falls consists of four drops, only two of which can be seen from the viewing area. Access is a via a 30-minute return walk from the car park and picnic area. The falls are located off Mathinna Plains Road near Mathinna, close to the Evercreech Forest Reserve.

To the north-west of Fingal is the remains of the settlement of Mangana. It became the first gold mining site in the Fingal Municipality and indeed, in Australia, when alluvial gold was discovered there in 1852. A minor gold rush to The Nook, as it was then known, resulted, and soon 500 prospectors were panning the creeks and digging tunnels and shafts. The township of Mangana gradually declined as one by one the mines closed, and none is operational today. A few of the town's original buildings remain. Stacks Bluff on the Ben Lomond plateau can be seen looming out of the clouds beyond tin mine tailings near Rossarden.

Return to Fingal and coninue travelling east along the Esk Highway. The tiny settlement of Cornwall, half way up the hillside as you near St Marys, is home to the Coalminers Heritage Wall and Heritage Walk, a monument to the miners who hand-tunnelled a coal mine beneath the Mount Nicholas Range. Coal has been mined in various areas of Tasmania from the earliest days of European settlement, with major deposits of black coal being discovered in the Fingal Valley in 1863. The completion of the railway line to St Marys in 1886 enabled the establishment of large scale coal mining in the Fingal Valley and this area has provided the majority of Tasmania's coal since this time.

Competition from oil caused a decline in the coal mining industry until more efficient mining and transport methods introduced in the mid-1960s allowed steaming coal to become competitive. The Cornwall Coal Company is the only supplier of coal mined in Tasmania. The company currently mines black coal from underground and open cut mines near St Marys, from where the product is transported to a washery at Duncan Siding near Fingal, from the Duncan Colliery at Fingal, and from Kimbolton in southeast Tasmania.

Jubilee Mine is about 5 kms out of St. Marys along German Town Road. The walk takes approximately 90 minutes return. The path follows an old pony track some of the way and is mainly through rainforest, with patches of Eucalypt forests. At the old mine site there are relics left from the miners living quarters. The cement entrance into the old tunnel can still be seen. Birdlife is abundant, and the species found include Blue Wrens and Robins.


View from St Patricks Head

Nestled beneath the impressive rocky outcrop, St Patricks Head (694 metres), St Marys is located the junction of the Tasman and Esk Highways. The challenging climb to the top of the cone shaped St Patricks Head is rewarded by stunning forest and coastal views. It is a not an easy walk (there are places where metal cables and ladders are used to help the climber) but the view is spectacular and well worth the effort. A more accessible vantage point is South Sister Peak. The coast, the valley and the Mathinna Plains are just a few landmarks that can be seen from South Sister.

From St Marys, there are three ways by which to return to Launceston. Backtracking along the Esk Highway is the shortest, at 128 km. The second is to travel down St Marys Pass to the coast, then north to St Helens (36 km) and on to Launceston via Scottsdale (161 km for St Marys). The third option to is take Elephant Pass Road from St Marys, drive down Elephant Pass and turn right upon reaching Tasman Highway at Chain of Lagoons. Follow the highway south through Bicheno, taking Lake Leake Highway to the right before reaching Swansea. Follow Lake Leake Highway to Campbell Town, turn right into Midland Highway and return to Launceston. (203 km from St Marys).

In the area


Stacks Bluff

Stacks Bluff: at 1,527 metres, this peak on the Ben Lomond Plateau at the southernmost end of the escarpment is the sixth highest point in Tasmania. A major feature of the Ben Lomond National Park, it is a popular venue with bushwalkers and mountain climbers. The track to the summit begins at Story's Creek.

Meadstone Falls: a pretty waterfall, however it is seasonal and can be little more than a trickle in summer. The walking path leads to a viewing platform. Located east of Fingal along the Esk Highway, Valley Road branches off to the right towards the logging area of Mt. Puzzler.

Hardings Falls: situated in the Hardings Falls Forest Reserve. The walk from the car park and picnic area is through dry forest dominated by eucalypts, oyster bay pines and banksias. There is a steep walk from the lookout down to the Swan River. Rocky platforms along the river bed provide a great place to relax and observe the tranquil series of cascades. Located off the MG Forestry Road, Fingal Valley via Avoca or Fingal.

Tasmanian Road Distances


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Destinations

Longford
A quiet, inland locality that has been classified as an historic town, Longford is located close to Launceston in a farming district noted for its wool, dairy produce and stock breeding. Longford district has many buildings included on the Tasmanian Heritage Register. The pick of them in Longford is Christ Church, a sandstone building which dates from 1839. The church clock and bell were gifts from George IV; its stained glass window is impressive, and the church's graveyard includes many prominent Tasmanian families.


Evandale
An agricultural and administrative centre located on a knoll rising from highly modified plains. A classified historic town, Evandale is a storehouse of superb Georgian heritage buildings which remain in largely original condition. Clarendon House is arguably one of Australia's greatest Georgian houses still standing today. It has formal gardens and grounds, a tree lined avenue, Italianate facade, restored early colonial outbuildings and is owned by the National Trust.


Avoca
Nestled between the junction of the St Pauls and South Esk Rivers, the small village of Avoca is the most westerly of the Fingal Valley settlements and is overshadowed by the sentinel of the entrance to that region, 1027 metre high St Pauls Dome. The town was officially settled in 1834, and has relied almost continuously upon farming and mining for its economic stability, likewise enduring the fortunes and failures of these industries.


Ben Lomond
The magnificent mountain of Ben Lomond with its imposing cliffs and peak are visible over much of the northern midlands of Tasmania. Ben Lomond National Park is invaluable for the conservation of the flora communities and species diversity of the imposing Tasmania s alpine areas. The area consists of an outstanding variety of glacial and periglacial features which are considered of national significance. The snowy slopes of Ben Lomond in Winter are a centre for downhill skiing in Tasmania.


Mathinna
Somewhat of a ghost town today, Mathinna was once the scene of an important gold strike. After gold was discovered at Mangana, Mathinna was for a time was the third largest town in Tasmania.


Fingal
Situated in the Esk Valley, Fingal is the centre of Tasmania's coal mining industry. Evercreech Forest Reserve in the Fingal area is the home of the famous White Knights, the tallest white gums in the world. Fingal Valley Festival and World Coal Shovelling Championships staged in early March each year. It attracts both interstate and overseas competitors as well as thousands of spectators. Veterans cycling race, sheaf tossing, wood chopping (inc.tree felling), the Tasmanian shearing titles, Sheepdog trials, arts and craft stalls and childrens entertainment are all part of the action.


St Marys
A small town that is a centre for dairying, pastoral, timber getting and coal mining in the nearby St. Nicholas Range. St. Marys is surrounded by hills, trees and majestic lookouts with fantastic views of the coast below. It sits in a valley between the grandeur of the Douglas Apsley National Park and the visual signpost of St. Patricks Head. The challenging climb to the top of the cone shaped St Patricks Head is rewarded by stunning forest and coastal views. It is a not an easy walk (there are places where metal cables and ladders are used to help the climber) but the view is spectacular and well worth the effort.