Poison snakes. Leeches. Endless rain and knee-deep mud. The path to Tasmania’s Darwin Crater is fringed with hazards. The old woods track leading down to the crater is unmaintained, thickly overgrown, crossed with downed trees and pocked with muddy bogs.

Very few people in the world have made it into Darwin Crater. If you want to be part of the elite few to visit this impact crater- the blog post that I’ve written out should be all the information you need to get there.

If you haven’t come across the one other Darwin Crater trip report (from 2009)- check out this link:

http://kauscience.k12.hi.us/~ted/Craters/darwin.htm

There are some nice pictures of snakes and good images from google earth showing the crater.

Make sure you bring waterproof hiking boots, full rain gear (pants and parka), TASMAP’s “Engineer #3831” 1:25000 scale map, and a GPS / Altimeter. The latter is needed to let you know when you are at the proper elevation. The crater is not readily discernible and the condition of the trail can make it a little difficult to know when you are in the right area.

 

GETTING TO THE CRATER

The drive to the crater is very scenic. Give yourself plenty of time to explore the local area. Queenstown, the nearest town to the crater, is a worthy and useful stop. It has numerous hotels, a museum, petrol station, two grocery stores and a half dozen or so places to get a meal and a beer. There’s an authentic feel to the town and tons of mining history everywhere.

You’ll need a key to a forest service gate if you plan on driving to the crater parking area. Keep in mind that the Forestry Office, located on the outskirts of Queenstown, is open only from 8:30-9:30 AM. Be sure to give them a call if you need or want a key for gate access. If you don’t manage to get a key- you can park nearby and have a 1km walk uphill to the trailhead.

From Queenstown, take Mount Jukes Road south towards the Darwin Dam on Lake Burberry for (approximately) 20-25 km. As you get closer, there are a couple of scenic pullovers for great photos:

Sunshine hits the peaks over Lake Burberry for a brief moment. White blossoms of leatherwood in the foreground make the best tasting honey in the world!

Sunshine hits the peaks over Lake Burberry for a brief moment. White blossoms of leatherwood in the foreground make the best tasting honey in the world!

 

After descending towards the lake, you’ll pass one camping area along the shores. It’s very basic- pit toilets, a barbecue and picnic tables. The ground was really swampy when I was there. You wouldn’t really want to pitch a tent there if it has been raining heavily. It’s a fine spot if you have a camper van.

After passing the dam, the pavement ends and a very well-maintained unsealed road continues onward. You’ll pass a dirt track on the right. This goes to the former town of Darwin. Today, nothing remains of this short-lived mining settlement. Then, you’ll cross a bridge and the sign for the Franklin Gordon Rivers Wilderness. This is probably a good place to mention that, try as I did, I never found any Darwin Glass on or along the road. The road appears to have been resurfaced since the 2009 trip report.

Eventually, you’ll reach a fork in the road. The left turn (Franklin River Rd.) goes up and towards the Darwin Crater. You’ll reach the gate. It’s a bit tricky and takes some awkward finagling to get the lock open and closed.

The trailhead is easy to find. It is on the left side of the road about 1 kilometer past the gate.

The trailhead is easy to find. It is on the left side of the road about 1 kilometer past the gate.

 

 

PATH TO THE CRATER

At first glance, the trail looks decent. However, in a little while, you’ll be completely swallowed by the dense forest. There are a series of gentle ups and downs. For the first kilometer or two you’ll generally gain elevation.

Typical trail conditions. Small patches of swampland are the only clearings you'll come across. Fallen trees along the entire way make for very slow progress along the 3.5km length.

Typical trail conditions. Small patches of swampland are the only clearings you’ll come across. Fallen trees along the entire way make for very slow progress along the 3.5km length.

 

Tussocks of Cutting Grass provides a welcome respite to the dense and overgrown brush.  Just don't touch the sharp, sand-papery leaves!

Tussocks of Cutting Grass provides a welcome respite to the dense and overgrown brush.
Just don’t touch the sharp, sand-papery leaves!

 

Eventually, the track cuts into a ridge and descends straight down for about a 100m. Portions can be steep and slippery. You’ll know when you hit the area of the crater when these three things happen:

1. the track becomes an overgrown tangle completely impenetrable to man.

2. you wonder to yourself, “why did I try walking in this far?”.

3. mosquitoes start to bite you.

The crater elevation is about 175 meters while the high elevation along the trail is about 330 meters. If you’re using a GPS- expect the elevations to be off due to thick forest cover and the fact that a handheld GPS doesn’t produce ultra-accurate elevation readings. However, a GPS is still useful for measuring that 150 meter difference.

I found the hike back much quicker. Keep your eyes out for the forest’s apex predator- the Spotted Quoll. They’re common in the area and they let you know it with the abundant scats and tracks they leave all over the trail.

The rest of my time in the area was spent finding quality specimens of Darwin Glass- outside of the National Park and well away from the vicinity of the crater. That’s an adventure in itself and I’m happy report that I found some amazing specimens very different from what is seen on the internet and on the collector’s market. The next blog posting will get into detail about what I found.

If you have the time on the drive back down- take the turn onto the Bird River Road. Its at the fork where you make the turn onto the road to the Darwin Crater.

This well-maintained road consists of an old railroad cut through tall, dark thickets of man-ferns and rainforest. You’ll end at a parking lot near a restored railroad bridge and a trail that will take you to Macquarie Harbor and the ghost town of East Pillinger. This gently sloping 15km (round trip) trail was one of the highlights of my visit to Tasmania and I highly recommend it. It more than makes up for the difficult visit to the crater!

 

Crumbling kiln walls. Nearly all that remains of East Pillinger.

Crumbling kiln walls. Nearly all that remains of East Pillinger.

 

 

Martin J. Novak – See more of Martins blog