Directions - Located 5km east of Queenstown in the western part of Tasmania, take the Lyell Highway out of town and climb up the winding road until you reach the car park on the corner of Iron Blow Road. There is plenty of parking and the trail head is on the southern side of the car park.
The Hike - With all day to drive the two hours from Lake St Clair to Strahan, we were taking it easy and stopping off at every trail along the Lyell Highway. The first three stops at the Franklin Nature Trail, Donaghys Hill and Nelson Falls were all very enjoyable and each provided something different to experience. Horsetail Falls was not a trail that was on my radar so after arriving on the edge of Queenstown and the rather different looking scenery to what we had just been through, I was curious when I saw a sign for this one. Caris at this point was not overly enthused about another trail as the winding roads getting from Lake St Clair was not enjoyable for her.
Convincing her I would only be a short while given the length of the hike, I grabbed my camera and headed off towards the start. What had struck us about this area after crossing over Lake Burbury was the sparse nature of the hills surrounding Queenstown. It felt like the Wild West with exposed rock everywhere covered in grasses, not trees. The reason for this is thanks to the various mining operations over the years stripping the hills of timber for smelting and the resultant loss of topsoil thanks to erosion (this area receives about 2400mm of rain per year). The trail design for this one is quite simple, a metal walkway leading along the edge of the hill and then a sharp right where it provides views overlooking the valley and the falls. Hoping to get this one to myself, I unfortunately had a large family ahead of me, all dispersed along the walkway so it was hard to get clear shots. I worked with what I had and around the only bend in the trail, I eventually had some clear views of the walkway. This was less of a worry here as all the main action occurs to your right thanks to the Moore Creek Valley carving it's way down the hill and eventually towards the Queen River. Early on I was fascinated by the colour of the rocks here with a pink and grey hue provided by the conglomerate rocks of nearby Mount Owen.
It was a delight to photograph thanks to the contrast and quartz like appearance of the colouring and was entirely different to the greens and browns of the forests I'd been in so far today. Switching between photographing the rocks of the hill and the views looking across the valley, I noticed a "Welcome to Queenstown" sign on the opposite hill, a nice touch by the locals. Rounding the corner of the walkway, the falls came into view and look exactly as described with the way the water cascades down the rocks similar to a horses tail. Given the nature of the terrain here, the falls are quite a distance away so even with my zoom lens, it was hard to get a wow shot. It's still a very nice view with the greenery of the valley, the falls and Mount Owen in the background providing a lot of contrast to the photo. The walkway extends up the hill but it seems a bit superfluous as the views don't really improve as you reach the lookout at the end. If anything, the best views are just after the bend as you get to see more of the falls and have Mount Owen directly in the background. Snapping away at different focal lengths, I headed back to the car and had completed the whole thing in just over 18 minutes, an acceptable time for a waiting Caris.
Final Thoughts - As I said in some of my previous Lyell Highway posts, having these options to stop and break up what is a mentally demanding drive to this part of the state is a welcome addition.
I love surprise trails and Horsetail Falls provided a different experience that I'll remember more for the colouring of the rocks and the views across the valley than anything else.
It's a pleasant walk that is worth stopping for and given the short length, is easily done by most people. If you're staying in Queenstown then definitely add this to your itinerary.
Get out there and experience it!
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