Just a short drive north from Launceston, on the western side of the Tamar river, is a nature reserve called the Tamar Island Wetlands. At this point, the Tamar river is quite wide and, on the western side, quite shallow. The river also divides around a moderate sized island at this point. A fairly substantial wetlands area exists between the island and the western side of the river, with a couple of branches of the river flowing through between perpetually waterlogged areas. And thus, a wetlands area is born.

The wetlands area itself is naturally occurring, as far as I could tell, but the area has, like many, been affected and modified by human (mostly, colonial) activities. As a wetlands area, it is a prime location for bird spotting, and for any birders amongst you (with or without camera), I think it is probably worth your while visiting for that reason alone. I am not much of a birder, and I came back with a good collection of bird photographs. We visited on a weekday (admittedly, during school holidays) and there were a number of people around at all stages of the walk.

The Walk

The walk itself starts at the (currently, as of our visit, closed) visitors centre. There is a range of information on display outside the visitors centre for the information of visitors, however. The walk is about 3km return, and is a mix of gravel path (mostly on Tamar Island itself) and raised boardwalks. Apart from one (optional) part of the track on Tamar island, it was flat and easy walking. There are toilets available on the island – there are apparently toilets at the start of the track too, but I’m not sure if they were open since the visitor’s centre was closed when we were there.

About 500m along the walk, the path travels through a stand of remnant paperbark trees. A side path further into the small forest takes you to a permanent bird hide that overlooks one of the lagoons. The lagoon itself didn’t have a great deal of activity when we were there, but I imagine that is not always the case. The walk out to the hide is nevertheless worthwhile as the environment in the paperbark forest is quite different to the grasslands that make up most of the walk route.

In amongst the trees there were fantastic colour and light contrasts, and random gaps in the trees. Tamar Island Wetlands. Launceston, Tasmania. Sony A7Riv with Sony FE 24-70mm F2.8 GM II lens @ 24mm. 1/30s, f/18, 400 ISO.

Once you leave the trees, the rest of the walk is through tall grasses. They are apparently called reed beds, but they don’t look much like the reeds I’m used to. The rest of the walk out to the island is very exposed, and there is no shade until you reach the island itself, about 1km away from the trees. On a hot summer day, you will cook! The whole area between the forest and the island is very exposed.

Boardwalk, with Tamar Island itself in the background. Tamar Island Wetlands. Launceston, Tasmania. Sony A7Riv with Sony FE 24-70mm FE F2.8 GM II lens @ 24mm. 1/100s, f/18.0, 100 ISO.

Along the way, the path crosses three bridges over various parts of the Tamar river, each progressively being longer than the previous and crossing slightly deeper water than the previous. The Tamar river is tidal, and we arrived when the tide was well out. Despite that, there was still a large amount of water about. The outflow from the wetlands areas into the actual flowing river areas is quite limited, with the result that the water levels in the lagoons nearest the shore, did not appear to change much.

Further out, it was much harder to tell whether the grasses usually go under water with every high tide, or perhaps only on particularly high tides. It is possible that had the tide been high at the time we might have seen water amongst the grasses. As it was, we could hear flowing water in a few places but otherwise it did not appear particularly wet. Nevertheless, it was all boardwalk across much of the grasslands. This is not a bad thing, I gather, as the wetlands area is home to at least two of Tasmania’s three snake species (and all are highly poisonous). The snakes apparently do sometimes sun on the boardwalk, but are more usually visible sunning themselves on the ground beside.

One of several bridges forming the wetlands walk, viewed from the top of Tamar Island. Tamar Island Wetlands. Launceston, Tasmania. Sony A7Riv with Sony FE 70-200mm F2.8 GM II lens and Sony 2.0x teleconverter @ 400mm. 1/500s, f/13.0, 320 ISO.

The Birds

There were a few ducks and other waterfowls in the lagoons at the start of the walk, but not a huge number. However, the bridges over the flowing parts of the Tamar river were absolutely bustling with a range of water birds.

In addition, when we stopped for lunch at the picnic tables on the island, we saw a few different land species as well. All in all, quite a good selection of birdlife. I changed to the longer lens, with the 2x teleconverter, and decided to try some bird pics. My action shots were not fantastic, but when the birds were sitting fairly still I managed some very nice shots (I think, anyway!).

The history, and other stuff

When the colonists arrived, much of the surrounding land was cleared for farming. According to the Tasmanian Parks website, much of the current wetlands were surrounded by embankments to protect them from the river, and drained to make additional farmland. Much of the original vegetation would have died at that time. The strand of paperbarks is a small remnant population of what is believed was once a much larger community. More recently, maintenance of the embankments has lapsed, and the water has again returned to these areas and the vegetation is regenerating back into what it would once have looked like.

Patch of sunlight through a gap in the paperbark forest canopy. Tamar Island Wetlands. Launceston, Tasmania. Sony A7Riv with Sony FE 24-70mm F2.8 GM II lens @ 24mm. 1/40s, f/9.0, 100 ISO.

Tamar Island itself was cleared, and the shed currently on the island is a remnant of the living accommodation that originally housed workmen dredging the river, and later served the farmers who farmed the island. In later years, the local communities planted the hilltop with a range of exotic trees and used it as a picnic destination.

A relic from the days when Tamar Island was actively farmed (1) – The shed. Tamar Island Wetlands. Launceston, Tasmania. Sony A7Riv with Sony FE 70-200mm F2.8 GM II lens and Sony 2.0x teleconverter @ 140mm. 1/160s, f/11.0, 640 ISO.

There are other remnants of the colonial legacy still visible today too. A well for fresh water (the water in the river is brackish) is beside the lower path. It is little more than a curiosity, and might be easily missed if you aren’t looking out for it. The brickwork surrounding it doesn’t appear to have ever gone any higher, and finishes at ground level. I guess they weren’t worried about people falling in. Since it is so close to the river, the water table here isn’t very far below ground level. Maybe falling in was just a case of getting wet and hauling yourself out again?

A bigger curiosity is the old horse-drawn plough, now embedded in a tree. At some point a great many years ago, a farmer left the plough leaning up against a tree, ready for use another day. That day never came, and over the decades the tree has grown and it is now permanently ensconced within the tree.

A relic from the days when Tamar Island was actively farmed (2) – The plough in the tree. Tamar Island Wetlands. Launceston, Tasmania. Sony A7Riv with Sony FE 70-200mm F2.8 GM II lens and Sony 2.0x teleconverter @ 140mm. 1/160s, f/9.0, 1000 ISO.

The River

The Tamar river was the major transport route into northern Tasmania for the first 100 years or more of the colonies existence. Launceston was the port. Goods arrived and left from Launceston to and from ports all over the world. As a tidal river, the Tamar is very prone to silting, and it used to be regularly dredged. Around Tamar Island, where the river becomes quite broad and shallow, this was apparently quite a problem. To help reduce the problem, it was decided they needed to further reduce the river flow through the shallower western paths through the marshlands. This would allowing it to silt up, and increase the flow through the deeper eastern channel. Higher flow would mean less silting, and the eastern channel would effectively dredge itself.

The Wreck Line

To achieve this, a number of derelict ships were deliberately sunk in a line across the western channel. According to the ABC, up to 14 ships ultimately went into this wall, with the last being added in the 1970s. This obstructed water flow in that channel and had some of the desired effect. The line of sunken ships can still be seen if you look on Google Maps. It was low tide when we first crossed this channel, and there was a very obvious drop in height between the upstream and downstream sides of the ship line.

The iron hulled Platypus was added to the line in 1932. Most of the other ships are now only visible as outlines on the satellite image, but the Platypus, while not the most recent to be added, still defiantly sits there with some of her upper structure still visible.

Return to the index page for my Tasmania 2024 trip.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.