Gunns Plains is a rich fertile area dotted with dairy farms, potato growing, poppy growing and beef cattle. In days gone by vegetables were grown here and it was also one of the three major hop producing regions in Tasmania. The Leven River winds slowly through its pastures that support a variety of grazing stock. Agricultural endeavours are also very successful, benefiting from rich red volcanic soil. The town was named after botanist Ronald Campbell Gunn, who visited the valley in 1860.
Where Is it?: 24 km south of Devonport, 12 km north east of Sheffield.
Being approximately 30 kilometres south of Ulverstone in northwest Tasmania, Gunns Plains is easily accessible and a relatively short drive from both Burnie and Devonport. It is an ideal half day destination if you are short of time, however there is plenty to do if you devote a full day or more to explore the area. Camping, accommodation and refreshments are also available nearby.
Gunns Plains Caves are in the Gunns Plains State Reserve. The Reserve overlooks the beautiful Leven Valley farmland and has toilets, a wood barbecue and a shelter hut. A shop at Gunns Plains sells food and petrol.
Photo: Weekly Courier 1920
The Gunns Plains community was involved in a significant number of men going to the First World War. The valley had one vineyard that produced Pinot and Chardonnay. It closed due to financial struggles. Crops grown in the area include potatoes, peas and hops; dairy farming and beef cattle grazing adding much to the local economy.
Photo: A statue of Ronald Campbell Gunn in Launceston's City Park
The town was named after botanist Ronald Campbell Gunn, who discovered the valley in 1860. Gunn was born at Cape Town, Cape Colony, (now South Africa), the son of William Gunn, lieutenant in the 72nd Regiment, and his wife Margaret, née Wilson. Gunn accompanied his father to Mauritius, the West Indies, and Scotland where he was educated. Gunn was given an appointment in the Royal Engineers at Barbados, but left there in 1829 to go to Van Diemen's Land (now Tasmania), where he obtained the position of superintendent of convict barracks at Hobart Town.
Taking up the study of geology in 1841, Gunn was employed by the government to report on mining fields, and also on the general resources of the colony. Subsequently, he became recorder of titles at Launceston, holding this position until 1876 when he retired owing to ill health. He was much liked and respected and may be ranked as the most eminent of Tasmanian botanists. Gunn died at Newstead, near Launceston, after a long illness, on 13 March 1881.
Gunns Plains Caves
Hidden beneath the picturesque farmland of Gunns Plains is a fascinating world of caves, sinkholes and underground streams. Many beautiful cave formations are present, such as stalactites, stalagmites, helictites and a large array of dazzling flowstone are present in the public section of the cave. The cave is a host to an assortment of wildlife, being inhabited by the endangered Tasmanian Giant Freshwater Crayfish, Platypus, freshwater fish and eels. Glow worms (Arachnocampa) can be consistently found dangling from the ceiling on silk threads. Cave crickets and spiders are also present.
The cave was discovered in 1906 by a local Gunns Plains man, Bill Woodhouse, while hunting for possums. A possum eluded him down a hole which led him directly to the cave. This opening served as the original entrance to the cave and early tourists needed to descend by rope from it, three stories to the cave floor. 54 steps were later constructed from concrete, leading from the natural cave floor to a new entrance cut into the hillside. This steep and narrow staircase still exists in its entirety and remains the only public entrance and exit to the cave.
Interpretive guided tours of the cave are run daily at 10am, 11am, 12pm, 1.30pm, 2.30pm and 3.30pm. Upon entry a steep flight of 54 concrete steps are descended and from this point the pathway is fairly level apart from a short ladder to be climbed down. The tour route through the caves is 275 metres long. Because candlelight and torchlight were troublesome, power and fixture lighting was installed throughout to illuminate the walking track and the cave's unique features.
Wings Wildlife Park
Wings Wildlife Park is a multi-award winning family owned business and displays the largest collection of Tasmanian wildlife in Australia. We're less than a one-hour drive from the Spirit of Tasmania ferry terminal in Devonport. The Park offers the chance to see some real live Tassie devils up close. The devil feed is at 1300 daily, koala presentation at 1100 and 1430, meerkats at 1130 and 1500 and reptiles at 1400. You can feed the trout and the friendly kangaroos. Other animals you can see at the park include wombats, wallabies, quolls, sugar-gliders, wedge-tail eagles, reptiles, meerkats, marmosets, monkeys, bison, camels and much more.
Leven Canyon (25 km south) has become a popular tourist destination offering interesting and pleasant bushwalks, good picnic and barbeque facilities and views down the 250 metre Leven Canyon. It is possible to walk through the gorge but allow a full day. The Canyon is a 250 metre deep ravine that is part of a wildlife corridor from the coast to Cradle Mountain. The Leven River runs through 300-metre limestone cliffs carved through the Loongana Range, down to Bass Strait.