Mt McCall Wilderness

Where: Mt McCall Track in the Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park (World Heritage Area)
Permits: National Park Entry Fees + permit and key required from Parks and Wildlife Service in Queenstown.
Costs: National Park Entry Fees (we have a two month permit which cost $60 and provides access to all National Parks in Tasmania
Difficulty: The end section of the track drops steeply into the valley and requires low range and careful wheel placement. You may meet oncoming vehicles – use UHF Channel 40
Days required to do it justice: 1 day (the track is 1hr from Queenstown and took us 2hrs to drive the 23kms with many stops)

Most of you will recall Tasmania’s wilderness battle in the 1980’s over the damming of the Franklin River. It became an international debate over retaining the wilderness and wild rivers versus compromising the wilderness and using the river to generate hydro electric power. After a fiercely fought campaign and several high profile arrests, the wilderness won and in 1983, after a ruling by the high court, the plans to dam the Franklin River were shelved and a large portion of Tasmania’s south-west was declared as a World Heritage Area – the Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park.

World Heritage 4WD-ing

World Heritage 4WD-ing

Very few people get to experience the heart of this wilderness area unless travelling on foot. There is however a little known access track called the Mount McCall Track which was originally used by the Hydro Electric Commission (HEC) to reach the proposed dam site on the Franklin River and has been kept open by the Parks and Wildlife Service. The track was meant to be closed as part of the original World Heritage plan but never was and now provides a really unique 4WD experience into one of only three large temperate wilderness areas remaining in the Southern Hemisphere.

There’s a lot of hoops to jump through to get permission and a key to the track and we were stalled by three days of heat-waves which culminated in a catastrophic bushfire warning and closed all access. When permission was finally granted we were required to thoroughly wash the underside of the car to prevent the spreading of Root Rot within the Heritage Area. With final approval we drove the 37km from Queenstown out to the locked gate at the start of the 23km long Mount McCall Track. The gate itself required a rather high IQ to open  (Helen failed the test) but eventually we were on our way up the steep gravel tracks to the summit of Mount McCall (760m).

Mountainous views on the Mount McCall Track

Mountainous views on the Mount McCall Track

Eight kilometres in the track passes a helipad which was used as a supply point during the Franklin Dam investigation period. Protestors left their lasting mark here with the ‘No Dams’ slogan painted onto the pad. The road continues to climb past dramatic scenery to the summit of Mount McCutcheon and then Mount McCall before nosediving down an extremely steep rocky slope towards the river itself. The Park Ranger omitted to tell us of this dramatic drop, only that we may meet vehicles from rafting companies coming the other way at any point on the track (rafting companies use this to supply their paddlers on the Franklin River). Of course we met them at the start of the tricky section which made for an interesting reverse back along the narrow track.

A lasting reminder of the fight against the damming of the Franklin River

A lasting reminder of the fight against the damming of the Franklin River

The track comes to an abrupt end halfway down the hill and the river can then only be reached on foot. We were told it was a twenty minute walk down and a minimum of an hour and a half walk up the steep slopes. We settled for a glimpse of the wilderness river through the trees and paused to enjoy the peaceful silence that reigns in a World Heritage Area and to watch three wedge tail eagles glide in the thermals above.

A glimpse of the Franklin River at the point the damming was to take place.

A glimpse of the Franklin River at the point the damming was to take place.

This was undoubtedly one of the most unique 4WD experiences I have had. Sadly I suspect it won’t be long before this track is closed for public use. Yes, this is World Heritage wilderness but its important people get the chance to experience just a glimpse of it via tracks like these.

Leave a Reply