Butlers Gorge is the site of the Butlers Gorge Power Station, a hydro-electric power station at the foot of the 67 metre Clark Dam on the Upper Derwent River. It is fed by the waters from Lake King William and was commissioned in 1951. The opening ceremony was 22nd November 1952. It has one Francis type turbine, with a generating capacity of 12.2 MW of electricity. There is an observation area with a car park.
There are camping sites around the edge of Lake King William. Facilities are basic, but include a boat ramp. The water from the lake is drinkable, and there is an plenty of firewood to be found around the edge of the lake. It is a very peaceful and relaxing location with an abundance of birdlife, some great walks, and spectacular views.
Butlers Gorge village
The village of Butlers Gorge is considered to be the Grandfather of the Tasmanian Hydro Electric Commission villages and the first of the true construction villages that were built to house construction workers, then abandoned where construction was finished.
On 30th December 1938 the first office for the construction of the Clark Dam was moved from Tarraleah to the new site and work soon began on the first house – for the Resident Engineer. Progress in the village was slow during 1940; the retail store opened for business in September and by Christmas the Post Office, recreation hall and medical centre were complete. By the end of the year 10 staff cottages had been completed and 30 workers cottages. In February 1941 the cinema equipment was installed and the first picture show was held on 1st March. The school was also held in the hall for this first year. As many as 21 children attended the school then and by November with increased numbers the hall was overflowing.
In November 1945, at long last, concreting began on the Clark Dam. The last pour of concrete on the Clark Dam took place on 25th March 1949. In September 1952, with the dam and power station completed, work turned to the building of the No.2 canal from an intake at the dam through to the Tarraleah Power Station. Although the workforce continued to live in the Gorge the job was directed from Tarraleah itself and the main office was moved from the village and on to the next scheme at Wayatinah. The work on the canal involved the building of two tunnels. A short one close to the Butlers Gorge village was built by the Commission. A second longer one, at a spot known as Mossy Marsh, was let on contract.
All activity in the area wound down in 1955 with the village being officially closed on 16th September. The Commission approached the Tourist Department to see if it was interested in taking over the Staff House as holiday accommodation. The offer was declined. The village site has now reverted to a natural form, which shows barely any signs of such a large and thriving community as existed during the years from 1940 to 1955.
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Where is it?
On the Upper Derwent River. The turnoff road to Butlers Gorge on the A10 is between Tarraleah to the west and Wayatinah on the eastern side. The access road is a good gravel surface, but logging trucks regularly use the road so extreme care must be taken.
Kayaking Butlers Gorge
The Upper Butlers Gorge section of river flows only when Lake King William is spilling or when water is released from Clarke Dam (which has only occurred a few times since 1950). After negotiating the weir at the Mossy Marsh Syphon, a 500 m warm-up leads to the main gorge where a series of waterfalls lead to the base of the HEC washaway below the Tarraleah canal. The first and second falls are grade 4 and paddled on the left, the third being grade 5, a large drop into a trench followed by Butlers Falls, a 6 m clean drop into a turbulent plunge pool encased by cliffs.
After the gorge, good grade 3 whitewater follows for 5 km until several large grade 5 rapids are encountered, after which more grade 2-3 continues until the logging track reaches the river, signaling the start of the grade 4 lower section. Most parties paddling the upper section will continue to the bridge at Wayatinah (45 minutes more paddling) rather than doing a more difficult shuttle, carrying the boats to the rim of the gorge and missing some more great whitewater.
This journey begins at the Mossy Marsh Syphon Pumps downstream from Clark Dam, and ends at the bridge over the Derwent River at Wayatinah. Distance: 17 km. Average grade: 17m/km; Difficulty: Grade 4-5; Paddling time: 5-7 hours.