Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park
Franklin–Gordon Wild Rivers National Park is at the heart of Tasmania’s 1.38-million-hectare Wilderness World Heritage area, and spans a vast region of pristine temperate wilderness in the centre of western Tasmania. Emblematic of the area’s beauty is photographer Peter Dombrovskis’s iconic image of Rock Island Bend, which helped to save the picturesque waterways and amazing gorges from destruction in the conservation battle of the 1980s.
From Hobart via Lyell Hwy
190 km north-west of Hobart
- PWS 1300 135 513
- PWS Lake St Clair (03) 6289 1172
- PWS Strahan (03) 6472 6020
Park entry fee payable
446 480 ha
Strahan (03) 6472 6800, 1800 352 200
Featured Activities in the National Park
Cruise the waters of the Gordon through majestic riverine forests
Take in the splendid views from several lookouts on the Lyell Highway
Marvel at Heritage Landing’s 2000-year-old Huon pine
- Back to nature, Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park, Back to nature
A look at the past
For most of the 19th century the west coast was seen as untamed wilderness, too rugged to develop. There was one rough track to the coast and the European presence was centred around Macquarie Harbour’s penal settlement on Sarah Island, and pine cutting along the Gordon River. Even after the discovery of the world’s richest tin deposits at Mount Bischoff sparked a mining boom, leading to the opening of Mount Lyell mine in 1896, there was still no road to the area until 1932.
Following a proposal to dam the Gordon River and ﬂood the Franklin Valley in 1977, Australia’s greatest conservation battle was waged here in the summer of 1982. In 1983 the federal government stepped in and saved the Franklin.
For at least 39 000 years before the arrival of Europeans, the wild rivers country was occupied by the Lowreenner, Minemegmer and Lumnermareerme bands of the South West tribe. Animal bones from ancient shelter sites show that herbivores such as Bennett’s wallabies and wombats were important sources of meat. In settlements on the coast and plains, animal grazing was promoted by ﬁrestick farming – the park’s buttongrass plains are a living legacy of Aboriginal land management. Tasmania’s Aboriginal people retain strong cultural ties with the Franklin–Gordon region and accept considerable responsibility for its management, with Kuti Kina Cave on the Franklin River one of a number of sites returned to the community.
The national park takes in 450 000 hectares of untracked, forested river valleys, buttongrass plains and alpine ranges, from south of Macquarie Harbour across western Tasmania to the Gordon Range in the east. A series of parallel mountain ranges – Nicholls, Prince of Wales, Denison and Gordon – traverse the park, divided by tributaries of the Gordon River. The park’s southern boundary is the massive Lake Gordon hydro-electric impoundment, and to the north a more rugged landscape is dominated by the 1443-metre white-quartzite peak of Frenchmans Cap.
The park’s rainforests are dominated by myrtle beech. Elsewhere are stands of the rare and slow-growing Huon pine, its soft, workable and fragrant timber favoured by boat builders for two centuries.
The national park is a sanctuary for the remaining handful of orange-bellied parrots, one of the world's most endangered birds. They migrate from South Australia and Victoria to the park's buttongrass plains to breed and raise their chicks over summer. Other animals here include the Bennett's wallaby, Tasmanian pademelon and eastern quoll. Tasmanian devils were once common but are now rarely seen.
There is a range of activities on offer but many are weather-dependent and conditions can deteriorate rapidly. Roads are subject to ice and snow. There is no fuel between Queenstown and Derwent Bridge (90 kilometres).
The Franklin River Nature Trail (25 minutes) is a wheelchair-accessible walk through rainforest beside the river. The Nelson Falls Track (20 minutes return) winds gently to a 40-metre-high cascade with a beautiful rainforest-rimmed pool below. One of Tasmania’s most challenging bushwalks is the Frenchmans Cap Trek (4 days), only for the ﬁt and well equipped; the track is exposed, boggy and steep in parts.
Canoeing and kayaking
Rafting down the Franklin is one of the greatest river adventures in the world. The river's most famous features are the Irenabyss and Great Ravine, and rapids such as the Cauldron, Thunderush, the Churn and Big Fall. Paddlers must be well equipped and experienced or led by a skilled tour guide, as there are considerable dangers in the river. The trip takes between 7 and 14 days and involves some strenuous portages. The terrain is remote, inaccessible and incredibly spectacular.
From Strahan there are daily cruises across Macquarie Harbour to the ruins of the notorious penal colony on Sarah Island and into the beautiful lower reaches of the Gordon River. The river's tranquil black-tea water produces near-perfect reflections of the riverbank forest. At Heritage Landing a boardwalk goes into the rainforest to a fallen Huon pine estimated to be 2000 years old. Wildlife-watching cruises, fishing cruises and jet-boat tours are also available.
Fixed wing, sea plane and helicopter ﬂights from Strahan will give you an aerial perspective on this magniﬁcent wilderness.
The King William Saddle roadside lookout next to the 1324-metre Mount King William has views to Mount Rufus in the north. Donaghys Hill lookout platform, a moderately steep 20-minute walk from the Lyell Highway, has views to the upper reaches of the Franklin River and Frenchmans Cap.