The chairlift in Launceston takes its time, so you can snap tons of photos along the way. It lasts about 15 minutes in one direction to get a panoramic, bird’s eye view of the Cataract Gorge. You’ll see a lush, tree-filled landscape populated by the random wild kangaroos, wallabies, echidnas and peacocks. Large boulders of Dolerite rock force the waters to turn to white rapids as it moves downstream underneath you.
The rickety journey over the gorge may seem old-fashioned. The chairs, which allow participants to recline back in a semi-comfortable, semi-nervous position, may swing a bit too much. But the chairlift’s track record is surprisingly good for as long as it’s operated. There have been two breakdowns, with the most recent happening in 2001. That year, five people were stranded when the magnetic brake malfunctioned. It took two hours for cranes to lower the chairlift (and riders) to safety. Now, the mechanics are serviced quarterly, with bearings replaced every year.
Plus, the well-maintained property and walking trails make it a lovely spot for a picnic on either ends of the chairlift. In season, there are pretty flowering bushes, private gazebos and plenty of hidden nooks to get lost in a slice of famous Tasmanian nature.
Opened in 1972, the Gorge Scenic Chairlift is 457 meters from station to station, with the central, world-record-holding span of 308 meters offering a ride from the First Basin in West Launceston to the Cliff Grounds in Trevallyn. You’ll be hovering above the waters in an open-air chair, held in only by a restraining bar. Even if you are deathly scared of heights, the ride is actually quite safe. No one has died – yet.
Still, it would be quite a drop into the 20-meter deep basin, where people often spend a sunny afternoon swimming or hiking on popular trails that lead to a bar offering local beers and café with especially tasty cakes and flat whites.
Think the idea of plummeting into the chilly waters from the chairlift is scary? Now imagine the event in 1987, when circus stuntman Alphonse Bugler walked along the chairlift wire in front of 6,000 people. The owner hasn’t allowed another tightrope walk since.
Plus, the city’s record-making history stretches back to the late 1800s. Thanks to a turbine-driven power station located just down the river from the current location of the chairlift, in 1895 the town was the first city south of the Equator to use water power to run its electricity. You can still take a short hike upstream to the historic Duck Reach Power Station, which includes a small interpretation center that describes the town’s history. The station was decommissioned in the mid-1900s and replaced by the Trevallyn Dam.
Round trip tickets for the chairlift cost $16 for adults, $12 for seniors, and $10 for children under 15 years old. Children under 3 are free. You can save a few dollars if you just buy a one-way ticket and walk back over the Alexandra Suspension Bridge over the river. The chairlift operates every day of the year, opening at 9 a.m. and closing in the winter at 4:30 p.m., at 5 p.m. in the spring and autumn and between 5:30 and 6 p.m. in the summer months.
The gorge, first discovered by settlers in 1804, is just a few minutes away from the downtown of Launceston. In the second-largest city in Tasmania, you can find one of the best farmer’s markets in Tasmania, great live comedy and music and some of the prettiest and more productive vineyards in Australia.
Along with the chairlift, there are other features around the Cataract Gorge that will encourage you to spend the afternoon. There’s a swimming pool that is overflowing in the summer months with locals, who also don’t mind a dip in the chilly river on warmer days. The entrance to everything on the property is free, except for a ride on the chairlift.
Now is an excellent time to check out the gorge, too, as it will soon change dramatically. Last summer, the owners of the popular chairlift announced plans to make the 10-minute trip across even more grand: They have proposed to add more than 20 new glass gondolas able to seat up to eight people. The plan will create a three-part route of nearly 1,500 meters across the beauty of the gorge and back again.
The new pivoting gondola route, once it’s built, will be one of three such designs in the world. Named the Launceston Skyway, its privately funded price tag is expected to top $20 million. The trip is expected to take 25 minutes and cost $26 for adults, according to the chairlift owners in the local Examiner newspaper. The Launceston city council has still yet to approve the project.
Visitors however in the meantime can enjoy the incredible views of the gorge, which formation was a result of millions of years of erosion and it sits in between two fault lines. But guys please don’t worry, you’ll way above ground on the chairlift, if more fractures in the earth take place!