One of Tasmania’s best-loved features is its forests, and none are more beautiful than those south-west of Hobart. Flanked to the east by the D’Entrecasteaux Channel and on the west by World Heritage-listed national parks, these wet eucalypt forests blanket the catchments of several major rivers. Deep soils and high rainfall combine to produce some of the tallest trees on the planet, and enlightened management has preserved the region’s forests as a renewable resource and a valuable tourist asset.
The gateway to this arboreal wonderland is Geeveston, a small town on the Huon Highway (A6), 62km south-west of Hobart. Originally known by the whimsical name Lightwood Bottom after a type of timber prevalent in the area, the early settlement became Geeves Town after founder William Geeves who took up land in 1849 in response to Lady Jane Franklin’s request that someone establish a church in the area.
The town grew as timber-getters moved along the inland waterways in search of good timber. They plundered the area for Huon pine – highly prized in boat building – and all but wiped it out, then harvested eucalypts when the pine was depleted.
The first steam-driven timber mill in Geeveston, built by John Geeves in 1874, was capable of cutting 40,000 feet of timber per week. In later years, large-scale mills were established to process eucalypts for pulp and paper.
Today State Forests make up 16 per cent of the Huon Valley municipal area and Geeveston is the southern management base for Forestry Tasmania. Specialty timbers from the area still supply boat building, craft and furniture businesses such as The Southern Design Centre.
The Forest & Heritage Museum at Geeveston Visitor Centre showcases the history of the local timber industry and is a great place to learn more about forest management before you venture into the wild.
The main route for exploring west of Geeveston is the Arve Road Forest Drive that stretches almost 30km into the Tahune Forest Reserve to its famous Airwalk. Along the way, lookouts and nature walks help tourists explore the environment.
The first is the Blue Gum Plantation, about 4.5km outside Geeveston. These amazing hardwoods grow at the rate of 2-3m per year, so since planting in 1999 they’ve achieved quite a height. In another 20 years they will be harvested and put to many uses, from furniture to paper.
A further 4km west is the Look-in Lookout. Perched above the forest floor, it has information about all the processes that affect tree growth.
After another 4km the road crosses the Arve River, which rises below Devils Backbone in the nearby Hartz Mountains NP. Described by Sir Edmund Hillary as “some of the wildest and most spectacular scenery I have ever seen”, the 6470ha park includes the 1254m Hartz Peak, beech rainforests, and alpine moorlands interspersed with snow gums. Hidden under coral ferns, the Arve begins as a maze of tiny runnels that merge in a rushing alpine stream which descends 874 metres on its way to the Huon River, 23km north. The national park is accessible by 2WD vehicles along Hartz Road (C632), which branches off Arve Road west of the river.
Back on Arve Road, the Arve River Picnic Area Campground is tucked away near the river crossing. With barbecues and fireplaces, it’s a great spot for a picnic lunch or to get warm after some alpine adventures. The free camping area includes tent sites among the ferns and limited space for smaller campervans and caravans.
Accessed by stairs, the river is popular for swimming and fishing, while the short Arve River Nature Walk traces the river upstream then loops back through the lush rainforest of the surrounding reserve.
Further west, Keoghs Creek Walk, The Big Tree Lookout and West Creek Lookout are temporarily closed by Forestry Tasmania pending track repairs.
Near the end of Arve Road (now the C631), just before Tahune Airwalk, is the aptly named Zig Zag Track that follows part of the old packhorse trail through unlogged forest. This track is less developed and worth the 40-minute return stroll among ancient trees.
At its terminus, 29km from Geeveston, Arve Road arrives at the Airwalk Visitor Centre, deep in the heart of the beautiful Tahune Forest Reserve on the banks of the mighty Huon. The reserve derives its name from the Aboriginal name for this river and protects 102 hectares of heavily timbered rainforest that early European explorers condemned as unsuitable for settlement. It is home to the tallest flowering plant in the world, the swamp gum (Eucalyptus regnans) – one specimen, dubbed Centurion, measures 99.6 metres. In 2010, 12 more trees were added to the giant trees register, making a total of 107 within the reserve. The Tahune is also the site of the Warra Long Term Ecological Research Station, part of a UN forest monitoring and research network established under the United Nations Environment Program.
Visitors can encounter the reserve’s magnificent denizens on a number of walking trails, including the hugely popular Airwalk, a 1.6km circuit that incorporates a cantilever steel footbridge up to 37m above the forest floor and culminates in a platform with spectacular views over the Huon and Picton Rivers.
Other walks include McKay’s Track, a 3km circuit that crosses the rivers by two swinging bridges, and the Huon Pine Walk along the riverbank to the most accessible stand of Huon pines in the world.
The Tahune is the finishing point for Picton River rafting adventures, and the southern banks of both rivers are accessible for seasonal anglers (licence required) in search of trout and blackfish. Governor Sir Robert Hamilton caught a 13kg brown trout in 1887 in the Huon River, still the largest ever landed in Tasmania.
The Visitor Centre is well equipped for day-trippers, with a bistro that serves hot meals and great coffee, while the nearby Bluestone Shelter has barbecues. Accommodation options include the Tahune Airwalk Lodge and self-contained cabins, secluded tent sites beside the Huon River, and unpowered sites for campervans and caravans in the overflow carpark near the visitor centre.
The more adventurous can explore the Southern Forests on a network of unsealed 4WD tracks that criss-cross the hinterland ranges between the Esperance and Huon Rivers. Camping options are limited and such excursions work best as day trips out of Dover in the south or Lonnavale in the north. One suggested route is described here but there are plenty of more challenging options for those with an off-road vehicle and a good map or Chris Boden’s excellent 4WD Tracks in Tasmania.
Dover is the start for a 230km loop (or half the distance one-way to Lonnavale) along firm forest tracks that are rated ‘easy’ in dry conditions, although this can change as quickly as the Tasmanian weather.
These are working forests so you’ll share the tracks with logging trucks, which have right of way. The tracks are generally even but with rough all-weather surfaces made to withstand logging traffic in all seasons. This is a fantastic way to enjoy the forest environment and the views are spectacular. The tracks cross several creeks and rivers, including the Huon and Esperance – excellent for fishing, swimming and kayaking.
From Dover, follow the Huon Highway (A6) south for 3km to Raminea, then take the Esperance River Road west for about 5km to Hopetoun Road and Johns Road that track north to intersect Arve Road 7km west of Geeveston. Turn left and in less than a kilometre take the Lidgerwood and Bermuda Roads north to the Glen Huon Road (C619), which crosses the Huon River at picturesque Judbury.
On the north side of the river, there’s a pleasant picnic area near a crossroads where you turn left on Lonnavale Road and begin the Russell Forest Scenic Drive. Fifteen kilometres west of Judbury, the road reaches the gate of the River’s Edge Wilderness Camping where you’ll find flat, grassy tent and caravan sites beside the beautiful Russell River. Excellent facilities include a communal shelter with a kitchen and wood-heated lounge area, barbecues and picnic tables near swimming holes, and great trout fishing.
The return loop continues along Lonnavale Road for 1.6km to a left turn on Link Road then another on Denison Road towards the hamlet of Southwood near the confluence of the Huon and Arve Rivers. Just over the bridge, the Edwards Link branches right towards the Tahune Visitor Centre or, keeping straight ahead, the Southwood Road continues south to join Lidgerwood Road. At the Arve Road junction, you can backtrack to Dover or take an alternative route by turning right towards the Look-in Lookout then left onto Bennett’s Road and Esperance River Road. Just before the junction with Hopetoun is a beaut picnic area beside the river, with a barbecue, shelter, fireplace and toilets, and free camping.
No matter how you do it, there are plenty of ways to explore these magnificent Southern Forests and enjoy a quintessential Tasmanian experience.
Geeveston is 62km south of Hobart along the Huon Highway (A6). The Tahune Forest Reserve and Airwalk is 29km west of Geeveston via the Arve Road. Dover is 23km south of Geeveston along the Huon Highway. Judbury is 16km west of Huonville via the C619 minor road.
- Tahune Forest Reserve and Airwalk
- Rafting and kayaking
- Scenic and off-road driving
- The Southern Forests are a year-round destination, but weather conditions can change dramatically and suddenly at any time of the year.
- Fuel and supplies are readily available at Huonville, Geeveston, Dover and Southport.
- Within the Southern Forests, camping and some caravan facilities are available at the Tahune Airwalk, Arve River Picnic Camping Area, Esperance River Picnic Area and River’s Edge Wilderness Camping near Lonnavale.
- A range of caravanning and other accommodation options can be found at Huonville, Dover and Southport.