Steeped in history, surrounded by spectacular wilderness and breathtaking scenery, Tasmania’s West Coast is a wonderful travelling experience. Vast tracts of ancient rainforest, jagged mountain ranges, beaches pounded by the Southern Ocean, the still, dark waters of the stunning Gordon River and the wild Franklin River.
Aboriginals, convicts, piners and miners have all left their mark on Tasmania’s West Coast, where stories of early struggles unfold within a unique natural heritage. And resting easily between the extremes of hardship and magnificent beauty, old fashioned hospitality. From the tiny historic village of Strahan, where fishing boats and cruisers moor, to the mining towns of Tullah, Rosebery, Zeehan and Queenstown, the character of the West lives on through local people.
Meet them on the water as you cruise Macquarie Harbour, as you stroll through a Huon Pine sawmill or on a wilderness walk to spectacular waterfalls in the South West World Heritage Area. An historical note: Macquarie Harbour’s population during its 11 years as a penal settlement averaged about 300 convicts and guards, all crammed onto the 15 acres of windswept Sarah Island. Zeehan was Tasmania’s third largest town in the late 1800s, with a population of about 10,000 people during its heyday as ‘Silver City of the West’.
Hub of the West
Tucked in a northern bay of Macquarie Harbour, the once-sleepy fishing village of Strahan is now the starting point for a range of West Coast adventures. Make your first stop the Strahan Wharf Centre (turn right at the Esplanade). Inside this remarkable building, the human habitation of western Tasmania is crystallised into an amazing integrated interpretive display. Be warned – you’ll need a couple of hours at least, and maybe more than one visit. (One ticket gives you multiple entry.)
From Strahan you can cross Macquarie Harbour to the lower reaches of the Gordon River, going ashore at Heritage Landing with its ancient Huon pines and visiting the remains of the cruel convict settlement on Sarah Island. Boat options range from fast ferries to a more leisurely sailing voyage. Helicopter trips and scenic seaplane flights with a landing further up the river are also available.
Strahan was the terminus for the Abt Railway which once carried copper from Queenstown. The King River Forest Drive is a section of that route to the Iron Bridge at Teepookana, on the King River. Guided tours cross the bridge and climb to the Teepookana Plateau, where a demonstration forestry operation is salvaging Huon pine limbs and stumps cut decades ago. There’s excellent interpretation at the Iron Bridge, on the Teepookana Plateau and at the Forestry Tasmania office in Strahan.
Take the short drive from Strahan to Ocean Beach, where Southern Ocean swells crash endlessly on kilometres of deserted sand. Explore the beach on horseback or on foot – visit in the evening to see an ocean sunset and watch the shearwaters fly back to their burrows from the sea.
Strahan – NW
Two routes link Strahan to the north-west. The B27 passes the extensive and spectacular Henty Dunes, where interpretive signs explain these massive wind-constructed dunes. There’s exciting sea-run trout fishing in the Henty River. The road reaches the old mining town of Zeehan, before joining the A10 and passing through Rosebery and Tullah. The Hydro lakes Pieman, Murchison and Mackintosh all offer good fishing.
Near Rosebery, the Montezuma Falls are Tasmania’s highest – reach them along an abandoned 13 km railway track, providing RV and foot access. An alternative route to the north is via the scenic Anthony Road, 13 km north of Queenstown. This route runs through glaciated landscape at the foot of the dramatic Tyndall Range.
Forty-two km beyond Tullah is the junction of the C132 to Cradle Valley. The A10 continues north, meeting the coast at Somerset near Burnie. Excluding breaks, you should allow three and a half hours driving from Strahan to Burnie, or about two and a half hours from Strahan to Cradle Valley. Be careful when checking map distances – they can be deceiving on western Tasmania’s winding roads.
Between Donaghys Hill and the Franklin River is the access track to Frenchmans Cap. One of Tasmania’s Great Bushwalks, the Frenchmans Cap trip is a multi-day expedition through forests and river valleys to an elevated alpine landscape, with the gleaming peak of Frenchmans as the goal. The full trip takes at least three days, but it’s wise to allow extra in case of bad weather.
An hour’s drive east is Derwent Bridge, and the turn-off to Cynthia Bay, the southern gateway of the Cradle Mountain Lake St Clair National Park. Near the lake is an extensive visitor centre and a range of camping and accommodation facilities. A lake ferry runs scenic trips to the head of the lake for sightseers and bushwalkers on the multi-day Overland Track. You can cast for a trout in the lake or explore the shores – watch out for a platypus!
Several excellent short walks begin from Cynthia Bay, taking you around the lake shore through forests to nearby peaks and plateaux. Remember that map distances can take much longer on winding roads.