The Cataract Gorge is a river gorge in Launceston, Tasmania, Australia, approximately 1.5 km from the city centre. It is one of the region's premier tourist attractions. It is found at the lower section of the South Esk River.
A pathway, known as the King’s Bridge-Cataract Walk, and originally built by volunteers in the 1890s, runs along the north bank of the Cataract Gorge, and is a popular tourist destination. The original toll house at which pedestrians had to pay to enter the walk can still be seen near King's Bridge on the northern edge of the gorge.
In the past, there was a power station at Duck Reach, about 2.5 kilometres (1.6 miles) from a suspension bridge which was built in 1904. It was washed away in the floods of 1929, rebuilt and then decommissioned when the Trevallyn Dam was finished in 1955. The building is now an interpretive museum.
The First Basin on the southern side features a swimming pool, the aforementioned chairlift, two cafés, a funicular railway and an open area surrounded by bushland. At the bottom of the funicular railways is a small cottage which contains photographs and paintings of the basin and downriver Gorge. The basin itself has created many of myths about its depth: some locals say it is a bottomless pit; a volcanic plug; or that a submarine sent in to find its bottom during the 1960s ran out cable before accomplishing this feat. In fact, the basin was formed by erosion at the intersection of two faults - the Basin Road Fault and an un-named fault approximately at right angles which the South Esk is following. Where the two faults meet, the Dolerite rock is badly shattered and hence more easily eroded, giving rise to the formation of the basin.
Measurements in 2016 found the maximum depth is 20.5 metres (67 ft).
The northern side, named the Cliff Grounds, is a landscaped Victorian garden containing ferns, exotic plants and peacocks. It is now provided with facilities for visitors.
Further upstream is the historic Duck Reach Power Station, now an Interpretation Centre. The Launceston City Council originally commissioned the Power Station in 1893, making it the largest hydro-electric scheme of its day. By 1895 it was lighting the city.
Prior to the development of the Trevallyn Dam there were three lesser basins upstream of the "First Basin", with the second and third still visible on a map, while the fourth is flooded by Lake Trevallyn.
At the lower end of the gorge, the South Esk spills into the Tamar River going under King's Bridge and another more modern bridge on the way. The King's Bridge was the only bridge leading north out of the city for nearly 100 years.
This section of river is a well recognised section of whitewater. It provides world class kayaking. An inaugural race is usually scheduled in late January, thanks to Hydro Tasmania.
- Bladen, F. M. (Frank Murcott), ed. (1897), Historical records of New South Wales, Volume 5—King, 1803-1805, Sydney: Charles Potter, Government Printer, p. 306, archived from the original on 30 March 2011
- "Cataract Gorge Reserve". 15 June 2008.
- "Cataract Gorge". 15 June 2008.
- "Longest Single span chairlift". 22 September 2007. Archived from the original on 24 July 2008.
- "Formation of the Cataract Gorge". 20 February 2008. Archived from the original on 9 March 2017. Retrieved 28 February 2017.
- "The depth of the First Basin". 18 February 2018.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2 November 2014. Retrieved 13 November 2014.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
- Green, Anne (2006). The Home of Sports and Manly Exercise : Places of Leisure in Launceston. Launceston City Council. ISBN 0-9596090-7-5.
- Media related to Cataract Gorge at Wikimedia Commons
- Original video of the Cataract Gorge in flood, August 2009
- Photographs of Cataract Gorge - 1915