2016 - The year it was

By Craig Doumouras

Published on 03 Jan 2017

A waterfall is a waterfall right?  I mean, it's always there, it's always consistent, and it never really changes.  Most people recognise that although waterfalls do tend to dry up a little in the warmer months in Tasmania, they return back to their normal flow in wetter / winter periods.

2016 challenged the above belief system. In a year of epic disasters, I learned that Tasmania's natural beauty is not as stable as I had believed.  I realised how fragile Tasmania's unique beauty is, and how mother nature can take it away!

The year was a dry one

The year commenced in the grip of an epic drought. A water shortage so severe that many waterfalls on creeks and small rivers completely dried up. Even larger waterfalls, like Dip Falls and Russell Falls were mere fractions of their normal glory. For the first time in many years, the beautiful Horseshoe Falls in Mt Field National Park had lost most of it's flow, and one entire half of the waterfall failed to flow at all.

Horseshoe Falls in the grip of drought.
Photo by Marg Davies

Keen waterfall chasers consistently posted photos in our Facebook Group of thirsty looking waterfalls. The dry period across Tasmania, along with the hot conditions was the catalyst for significant changes that occurred for many waterfalls.

The unusual dry weather brought about peculiar weather patterns. Electrical strorms that produced no rain broke out across the state, starting bushfires in World Heritage areas, National Parks, and the beautiful Tarkine region of north west Tasmania. Fires were fierce; so rampant that thousands of hectares were burned beyond recognition. Dozens of Tasmania's favourite waterfalls were impacted.

When we documented Gadds Falls on our website prior to 2016, we described it as 'one of the prettiest short walks to a waterfall'. Gadds Falls, situated south of Mole Creek in Tasmania, was burnt significantly from the 2016 fires. What was once a gorgeous place to visit became a desolate place reduced to ashes. Similarly, the magnificent Beckett Falls (also known as Wes Beckett Falls) was affected by the destructive Tarkine bush fires. Beckett Falls, the iconic centerpiece of the 'Save the Tarkine' campain and used to promote the Tarkine region, was heavily impacted by a summer of destruction.

Beckett Falls - Before and after 2016 Bushfires.

Eventually, the fires were contained and Tasmania was left counting the true cost of the damage.

During the same time, construction work was coming to an end for two bridges that were being built in the Meander Falls State Forest, south of Deloraine in Tasmania. These bridges were reconstructions of previous bridges that were washed away by floods in 2011. The bridges re-opened vehicle access to the popular hiking areas for Meander Falls, Smoko Falls, and Chasm Falls.

The year was a wet one

The drought continued for months, and water storage levels across Tasmania were at all time lows. Tasmanians prayed for rain, and their prayers were answered in a dramatic way.

June of 2016 saw huge amounts of water being dumped onto all Tasmanians, and our very dry rivers and creeks came back to life. The deluge was so significant that major flooding occurred across Tasmania. The hardest hit areas being in the Mersey Valley and Tasmania's north-west region. The floods were destructive. The sheer amount of water gushing through the river systems was so fierce that entire trees and vegetation was uprooted and pushed downstream with ease. In fact some waterfalls, such as the lovely Westmoreland Falls near Mole Creek, were transformed with at least 5 metres of vegetation on each side of the river eroded away. The floods tore through most of the river systems in Tasmania, leaving behind much debris at the foot of the falls. 

Extensive erosion and damage caused by floods at Westmoreland Falls.

Roads and bridges were washed away across northern Tasmania making some waterfalls impossible to get to by vehicle. The entire Walls of Jerusalem National Park was cut off due to massive landslides washing away roads.  Damage was so significant there is still no set date to restore the damage and get roads repaired. Currently, the Walls of Jerusalem can only be accessed by hiking into it. Popular tourist destinations like Liffey Falls in Tasmania's north remain closed due to landslides. However, those new bridges that were completed in Meander State Forest remained intact.

More concerning, however is the combination of the fires and the floods. In the Mersey region, home to Gadds Falls, seeds were dropped by burned trees ready to regrow life in the area. Fear has been expressed by scientists that the floods in the very same regions may have washed away many of the seeds and new vegetation, and that these areas will never recover to their pre-2016 glory.

The year was a poor (and rich) one!

2016 commenced with a promise that it would be a good one for waterfalls. Construction was taking place to provide excellent access with a viewing platform for Horsetail Falls near Queenstown in Tasmania. Work progressed nicely, with Parks and Wildlife providing photos of the construction. However, work stalled as funds dried up, with priorities quickly turning to the natural disasters that Tasmania endured during the year.

But not all projects came to a grinding halt.  Dip Falls in Tasmania's north west received a new viewing platform. Initial reactions from waterfalls enthusiasts described it as an 'eyesore', 'interference with nature', with some even calling it 'sacrilege'! What the new platform did provide for people was a safe way of viewing the waterfall.  It also provided a new aspect for photographers, and even though many in the community wish the viewing platform was never constructed, they do appreciate the advantages it brings.

Down in southern Tasmania, a new volunteer Wildcare Inc group known as 'Friends of Billy Brown Falls', (FOBBFS) had completed a very successful working bee late in 2016. In an effort to reduce anti-social behavior in the region, the crew installed new signage, installed a seat along the walking track, and cleared sections of the track.

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