Douglas-Apsley National Park: Tasmania's spectacular and lesser-known national park

Draw a line 45 kilometres north from Wineglass Bay and Freycinet National Park, and you come to another Tasmanian national park. It has none of Freycinet's fame and a fraction of its visitors, but Douglas-Apsley National Park has features that are no less fantastic. It's not beaches and saltwater that draw you here though, it's gorges and freshwater.

The park's main entrance is seven kilometres off the Tasman Highway at Bicheno's northern edge. From the highway, the park looks little different to the rest of the east-coast hinterland, with low hills draped in dry eucalypt bush, but the true beauties here are deep within the folds of the hills.

Once an area mined for coal, Douglas-Apsley is now a park where reward comes easily. From the car park, it's a 10-minute stroll to the green waters of Apsley Waterhole, where the Apsley River widens and slows to a virtual stop. On a warm day, a swim beckons.

One of Tasmania's 60 Great Short Walks continues on from the waterhole, crossing its outlet on stepping stones and climbing over a ridge to Apsley Gorge. The four to five-hour circuit is one of my favourite Tasmanian day walks, and this day I'm not the only creature trying to cross the river at the waterhole's outlet. Ahead of me, a wombat and her joey splash through the waters to the opposite bank. I'm in the best of hiking company.

A few metres into the bush beyond the river, the gorge circuit deviates from the Leeabarra Track, a 28-kilometre north-south traverse of the national park that might well contend for the title of Tasmania's least-known multi-day hike.

The gorge walk rises over a dry ridge, ascending through sheoaks, native pines and briefly an explosion of grass trees, before dipping back to the Apsley River, upstream from the waterhole, and into the rocky world of Apsley Gorge.

You can halt here, getting a glimpse of the gorge and retracing your steps over the ridge, but for those confident of foot, this point can also be the start of the real fun. Even if turning back, it's worth venturing 100 metres downstream, to the point where a waterfall tips over a ledge into a great swimming hole and begins the gorge's turbulent journey.

I'm heading through the gorge - into the dolerite jaws of eastern Tasmania - and it's here that the walk turns into a virtual yoga class.

Picking through the gorge is like a DIY project. There are no markers and no trail - it's simply a matter of finding the best line and the best boulders, and making my way downstream. It's a rock-hopping delight, a puzzle of the feet through a deep and dramatic gash in the earth.

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The gorge's dolerite walls are polished smooth by water action, and there are beautiful potholes scoured into the floor of the gorge by time and small stones. As I head downstream, I switch from bank to bank as the cliffs dictate, while swimming holes seem to materialise below almost every cascade.

As the river gets lower, the gorge broadens, but the pools continue - the best swim holes are probably at this lower end of the gorge. I stop, swim, dry off atop boulders in the sun, and continue threading through the gorge to my next swim.

It's a pattern that continues until I'm returned to Apsley Waterhole, the largest of the river's pools. I've seen nobody since crossing its outlet early in the morning, and I wonder where everybody could be on this busy tourist coast.

Then I remember. They're all down the road at Wineglass Bay. And Douglas-Apsley National Park is all the better for it.

The writer travelled at his own expense.

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