Short 'n' Deep: hiking in Leven Canyon
March 18, 2020 • Kevin Smith
6 min read
Leven Canyon is so close to Cradle Mountain that it's often missed. But if you like the idea of free camping among magical tree ferns, spotting unique wildlife and walking down into Tasmania's deepest limestone ravine, it's one to add to the top of your Tassie bucket list.
Leven Canyon is one of Tassie's 60 great short walks and it surely lives up to its name, with stunning views into rugged gorges where a hard and fast flowing river cuts a path through age-old rock. It's rare to find a place like this, so powerful and serene yet so easy to access, where you can look up at huge ferns and massive gums towering overhead, while delicate petite ferns and coloured fungi line the undergrowth. The canyon is only an hour from the hustle and bustle of Devonport and it's well worth the drive through fertile rolling hills to see one of Tasmania’s greatest natural wonders.
Leven Canyon Lookout Track
It was a guy called Stephen McTurk who took on the massive task of opening up the area with an amazing circuit walk that takes you through a fern forest from the main carpark down to the edge of the canyon wall and return.
The facts of this build are quite staggering. Apart from the straight pieces of path they cut in, Stephen and his team installed 697 steps between the two lookouts, carried in 132 posts, 550 litres of water to mix the concrete, and enough cement bags to equal the weight of three cars. The weather conditions weren't always kind as they worked in temperatures ranging from -2 up to 30 degrees and often in frost during winter time. And yet they completed the project in just 12 months.
It takes a good hour to complete the loop but I’d allow two to sit down to enjoy the view and to soak up the whole area. There's always wildlife and abundant birdlife around if you proceed quietly, such as wrens, wattle birds, rosellas and eagles soaring through the canyon. On the floor keep still and you may see an echidna or during dusk, a spotted quoll or the ever-elusive Tassie devil.
The walk begins at the car park, which you can use as a base as the parklands have BBQs, toilets, lots of grass for the kids to run amok, shelters and free camping. As you head along the sealed path to Cruickshank's Lookout, tree ferns that are up to 150 years old tower over you. The views from here down into the gorge are no less than stunning and you can see the raging river forever making its path through the hard rock on the canyon floor.
Keep an eye out for Devils Elbow, a near perfect left-hand bend where years ago a huge landslide created a new path for the river. Towering in front of you is Black Bluff. At 1400 metres this mountain is something to behold. Often obscured by snow during winter, the bluff is covered in windswept gums typical to any alpine area. The walk to here is pretty cruisy but if you're fit enough, head down the 697 steps to complete the loop.
The going isn't too tricky thanks to the steps and rope handlines across to the Edge Lookout. From here the views are truly as spectacular. This lookout features a cantilever platform poking out to the valley where you can lookup and see Cruickshanks, more of the Leven River below and Black Bluff's amazing rock formations from a closer angle.
According to the experts this area was alive with volcanoes from around 400-500 million years ago to an era they call Ordovician period. After many eruptions, the landscape became sealed with layers of rock fragments, pebbles then through to sandstone. Lava covered the area then over the next million years the extreme weathering from huge floods and winds have worn it down to what we see today. Huge basalt rock perforations can be seen around the area and looking down to the river you can see where floodwater has moved boulders, worn different paths around the rock and even jammed massive logs between the banks.
From the Edge Lookout it's an uphill stroll back to the carpark for a well earned break before tackling the canyon floor trek. There’s two ways to approach the floor trek, either walk the 1km along the tar road to the entrance or simply drive to the gate.
Canyon Floor Walk
The Canyon floor walk is a 2km return walk down to the Leven River where the sheer power of the water and the ruggedness and remoteness of the area becomes more apparent. The walk isn’t an easy one so if you’ve got any health or fitness concerns best to sit this one out.
The path twists and winds its way down through old growth forests and around huge boulders. Little Tasmanian pademelons, just like a baby wallaby but with shorter legs, are abundant. The closer you get to the river the more it roars and when you finally round the obstacle to the river I can assure you that you’ll be blown away.
A steel foot bridge has been built above the waterline that gives you unrelenting and raw views of this untamed river. Just watching the river from the bridge you can feel its power, the noise of the raging water drowning everything else out. You’ve just walked down into Tasmania’s deepest limestone ravine and looking up you can see the other two lookouts on the Leven Canyon loop walk high above. A local walking club cut the walking trail in here, and commissioned the bridge to be flown in by helicopter due to the difficult terrain. It's estimated there's enough water flowing through the river to support 350,000 people daily.
Across the other side of the bridge brings you to a point in the walk that connects the coast to the amazing Cradle Mountain. It's a solid 80km over seven days and only for the most experienced walkers due to extreme conditions and track variants. Warning signs make it known that you need to be very well prepared in either direction along the un-maintained track, where sometimes you’ll need to rely heavily on map reading and compass skills. For us day walkers, it's 1km back up the way we came.