From Tasmania, for Becky’s blue squares.
Leaving Strahan with Hobart in the GPS, we made it to Queenstown in good time, stopping for any exceptional views along the way.
Queenstown is like many towns in Australia that began as booming mining ventures and died a slow and unattractive death as the mine failed. There are quaint and ornate buildings in the town and impressive monuments to soldiers and to miners. Large hills form a protective backdrop to the town and the train station and Empire Hotel are beautifully maintained.
Just out of town we stopped at the mine, where the green pool at the base of the deep stratified pit made the copper deposits obvious. Apparently, Abel Tasman noted that his ships’ compass needle shot north while passing this island and knew that Iron would be found in large quantities when someone found a way to approach safely.
En route to the capital we visited Nelson Falls, which was an easy and picturesque 20 minute return walk to the tiered falls. The vegetation along the way was sub-tropical ferns and trees, very green and dotted with moss.
A roadside stop took us to a narrow and sometimes steep track to the Franklin River and one-person suspension bridge. I think that for both of us it was a milestone to see the river that had been at the heart of so much controversy in the ’80s. We were a little surprised to see the number of cars parked there, suggesting that at least 20 people had undertaken the Overland Trail – lasting 5-6 days. Good examples of fungus and bright flowers were caught.
Another stop at Derwent Bridge was special. There is a well-appointed visitor centre there, and we made use of the tables to have lunch with a great view.
Reading that Tarraleah had a distillery, we made our way into that town but only found the Hydroelectric station. It is pretty impressive, with information that it is merely one of a series of such stations along the river. Commanding views.
The little town of Ouse (ooze) was our signpost to turn off to Mount Field National Park and Russell Falls. The tourist literature said it was the most impressive of Tasmania’s waterfalls, with tiers over which it cascades. The drive was beautiful and, once there, the walk was easy and the falls pretty good, considering the locals said they hadn’t had much rain and it was the start of Autumn.
Although our GPS took us to a wall that must have featured on the heritage list, rather than our expected accommodation, a quick phone call to Motel 429 brought us to the desired establishment in Sandy Bay. A good location, opposite Wrest Point Casino and calm water, beneath the brooding shoulder of Mt Wellington. There were supermarkets, restaurants and food vans on the weekend, all within an easy walk. If that wasn’t enough, we got a stunning sunset.
We were set to explore Hobart.
The drive from Cradle Mountain to Strahan (pronounced Strawn) is wooded, winding and speckled with native animal road kill that we couldn’t identify beyond the wombats. Despite the latter, it is an easy and attractive route.
It took very little time to get there and we stopped briefly at a lookout where we were reminded that we were headed for the coast by the ocean stretched along our horizon. At this lookout we met a couple from America, currently living in Melbourne, who said that they thought Tasmania was better than New Zealand. I ran this idea past my NZ friend who was in Tassie at the same time, and she reluctantly agreed!
Another stop occurred at Zeehan, which was a substantial town by Tassie standards and worth a visit. Once a thriving mining town, they have extracted gold, silver, copper and precious gems from the nearby mountains. The gem store, second hand store and cafe are interesting and/or helpful, with owners happy to have a chat. We didn’t stop at the museum but saw examples of trains and other large artifacts on display outside. The buildings are very old and the main street picturesque.
The entrance to Strahan is a little exciting, as each turn of the esplanade takes you to something more and yet never too much – places to return to when you have scouted the lay of the land.
I still think of the main street as one of the most attractive in all of Australia. Very photo-worthy. There is something about the curve of the old houses merging into shops, facing the dock. Ships perch on the water, providing reflections or silhouettes. Colour, placement, proportion. Strahan has it all.
We stayed at Strahan Village, with satisfying views of the town and a room 200% better on the inside than out.
Prioritising the available sightseeing, we drove back out to Ocean Beach with its thundering surf and then to Macquarie Heads where we walked to Ocean Beach and saw Hells Gates and the old lighthouse. A number of families were here, camping, fishing and riding trail bikes. As always, in the distance was the outline of far away mountains.
Although it is an easy walk from town, as we were already in the car we drove to Hogarth Falls, accessed via People’s Park, from where we undertook the very easy walk to the falls. Part of the way would be suitable for wheelchairs, but certainly not later. There are signs saying that in the evening you can see platypus. We didn’t see any, but the scenery is fabulous. The return trip is about 40 minutes if you stop and wait your turn for selfies at the falls.
There is a gallery near the Park and it houses a restaurant with superb views and menu. The gallery had examples of drawing, art, jewellery, glass and stones. There were some local crafts as well.
Dashing up the hill to the lookout, we made some quick attempts at sunset shots with black cockatoos then back into town. Dinner could be provided by a few very pleasant establishments, with outlooks that made the decision hard. We settled on Hamer’s Bar and Grill and had excellent meals. There is a supermarket just out of the town, up a short, steep hill, so you can buy what you need and it is priced well.
The next day, we set off early on the Gordon River Cruise. The sea was calm and glassy so our ‘up close and personal’ with Hells Gates was mildly swaying, unlike the horror tales of shipwreck and disaster that led to the name. There is a commentary at some points of the cruise and this was very interesting, from engineering feats to stories of loss and heroism.
As Tasmania was one of the first States to be settled, and predominantly by convicts, it has a rich and lively history, covering the island.
The water of the Gordon, as you watch the churning at the back of the boat, reminded me of cola, but has been referred to as the colour of tea. It is drinkable, but has this colour as a result of tannins that have leached into it from the grasses at the water’s edge.
There was a hush as we entered the Gordon River, referred to as the lower Gordon, a heritage site and the centre of a great deal of controversy in the ’80s, due to the proposal to dam the Franklin, one of its tributaries. There is a variety of flora, from dense huan forests to cold rain forest and the constant call of eagles and other birds. It is silent, magestic and so untouched. Although, there were logging parties in its early history. We made a short stop at a landing and had a quick tour of huan trees, that at 80 years of age have a circumference of about 30cm and are mature at 200 years old. A bit careless to chop them down at all, really.
Boarding the catamaran once more we had a substantial cold lunch as we watched a video about the logging history of the area.
We visited Sarah Island, a penal settlement for ‘determined’ convicts established from 1822 – 1833, and had a guided tour from rangers. It was exceptional and had not the rest of the trip been very pleasant this, alone, would have warranted the fare. Fascinating and frightening tales of what occurred there, while the view is enchanting! It is very hard to imagine being a convict and arriving at a place that was considered one of the harshest penal settlements, from which few returned, when today it seems idyllic. Ruins remain and stories are unforgettable – but I won’t spoil it.
Returning by mid-afternoon, we visited the wood shop, where you can see wood turning exhibitions and huan pine articles are for sale. Alongside is the visitor centre and the Round Earth Company, where the longest running play, The Ship that Never Was, about the escape on The Frederick, is performed daily.
The play is suitable for the whole family, very interactive, amusing and informative – worth the ticket.
A quiet dinner followed and a glass of red, overlooking the handful of lights in town.
Travel safely. Carry water. Keep those hiking boots on.