West Coast Wilderness Railway (WCWR)
I’m sorry to say that currently the MAGNIFICENT West Coast Wilderness Railway (WCWR) does not run from Queenstown all the way to Strahan. The line closed down in April 2013 when the Federal Group decided to cease operating the service. After extensive searches and lobbying to local councils, Tasmanian State Government and the Australian Federal Government a rescue package was put together firstly guaranteeing the jobs of key personnel and secondly to get the line re-opened as soon as possible and after much needed infrastructure up-grades and repairs.
In January 2014 the line re-opened from Queenstown to the strangely named Dubbil Barril (pronounced ‘double barrel’) station.
I have West Coast Wilderness Railway (WCWR) parts 1 and 2 tips plus a photo page and all three attached to my Queenstown page for further reading on the great wilderness railway.
I was told that infrastructure work continues along the line and the WCWR will return to Strahan and Regatta Point next year (2015). I would like to return and do it all over again and top marks to everyone connected to the railway.
Photo above taken from the moving water vantage point of another great but totally different journey - World Heritage Cruise - as we passed the Regatta Point station complex. The same station that will have to wait a little longer to be back in full swing.
The railway have announced that trains will be running all the way from Strahan to Queenstown and even some days, a day return. Commences December 2014, so get on line and book the amazing journey.
- Road Trip
Hell and back – TWICE
I should start off by saying that the title of this tip is really a con as it should read ‘Hells Gate’ – which is the very narrow entrance to the safe waters of Macquarie Harbour. The name was given by convicts as they passed through the channel on their journey to notorious Sarah Island (separate tip).
The area around Strahan has a fearsome reputation for the weather and I really wanted to visit Hells Gate either on land or sea. Our first part day in the town was pleasant enough as I drove to the small Strahan airport (and ONLY airport on the entire west coast of Tasmania). The road forked – one to the beach - some 4 km away - and the other to Hells Gate 11 km away. I decided on the latter, but almost immediately the bitumen surface turned into a gravel road and I could tell without looking that Lady Gaw was not happy.
I should explain my ideas on gravel road driving and the 2 distinct and separate schools of thought:
1. Drive VERY slowly over the pot holes and get to feel every bump and drivers and passengers teeth all fall out from the jolting. Yes it is safe - except someone who believes in 2 below is coming your way - fast - but will take forever to reach destination. Or:
2. Drive fast and sort of skim over the top of all the pot holes. If done correctly you and every complaining passenger will only get to feel every 2nd or 3rd bump/pot hole. Possible downside is the slight possibility of sliding out of control and crashing – I did say slight possibility. Upside – you arrive much quicker than the wimps described in 1 above. Other danger is when a driver in the 1 catagory is coming towards you and panics and gets into your side of the road - whatever that side is.
Naturally enough and correctly Sir Gaw always chooses option 2.
We arrived at a deserted clearing at the end of the gravel road and saw the sandy track that we hoped led to the promised Hells Gate - there were no signs. Sadly the weather had other ideas and the wind had sprung up and it had started to rain bordering on sleet, but soldier on we did to the beach and a short walk up the sand to a place where we could see and photograph Hells Gate (photo). Lady Gaw was quite silent but somehow I knew that underneath she was a seething mass of wanting my hide – in spite of her nice and colourful Cirque du Soleil umbrella (photo).
The wind took away any of her mutterings as she led the way back to the car and the return trip along those 11 km of sh*t road. We returned to the fork and instead of turning towards the town, I turned the other way in the hope of only a 4km each way gravel road to the beach. You don’t need to be a Rhodes Scholar to work out the reaction from the passengers’ seat.
We were very fortunate the day on board ‘The Eagle’ from Strahan – the weather was kind and allowed our ship to motor through the narrow channel that is Hells Gate and the start of the Southern Ocean. According to the chart displayed on the TV screen, we were at Lat 42 deg 12.1049 S and the next landfall heading due west is close to the town of Puerto Piramides in Argentina and around 16,000 km away. On our previous trip to Tassie, we included a drive to the Lake Pedder/Gordon area. We passed through a small town and noticed a sign – ‘This is the last golf course for 16,000 km.’ Lady Gaw failed to see the earth-shattering significance of the sign and said, “Aren’t those golfers silly, why don’t they just fly to Melbourne – it’s so much closer.” – women!!!!!
On the return through Hells Gate in the warmth and comfort of ‘The Eagle’ (not like the previous day I was reminded - AGAIN) we passed quite close to Bonnet Island and its lighthouse that stands sentinel to the harbour, which is so large that the other end some 32 km away is invisible.
So the next time someone tells me to go to hell, I’ll say I’ve already been there TWICE – once by rental car and the other in the safe hands (claws maybe) of the good ship ‘The Eagle.’
- Historical Travel
- Road Trip
The second of our off-boat excursions was to ‘Heritage Landing’, some distance up the Gordon River from Macquarie Harbour and located within the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. It consisted of a timber landing built so that boats like ‘The Eagle’ could moor and in turn allow visitors the opportunity to get up as close as possible to the magnificent cool temperate rain forest and along a specially constructed and safe board walk.
During our hour or so (I don’t think anyone except the crew were timing out time on shore as we were all so enthralled by what we saw) we walked along a slightly elevated board walkway, which was covered in wire netting (chook wire to the Australians), which gave it a non-slip surface. The walkway had various interpretive panels giving descriptions of the plants we saw, including the very slow growing Huon Pine so prized for its long lasting characteristics – the trunk only grows 1mm per year and trees several thousand years old are much prized by timber professionals. Another panel introduced us to the distinctive Tasmanian Leatherwood the large white flowers of which attracts bees in spring and summer and who produce delicious and unusual honey (we tried a sample in Queenstown and bought a large jar).
Our group of 40 or so passengers included a TV film crew and presenter for an Australian travel show. Sadly the presenters 9 or 10 year old daughter took a bad tumble when she was trying to walk on an unprotected by wire mesh and VERY slippery timber walkway. TV dad to the rescue without cameras rolling – thank goodness. The young girl was returned to the ship and recovered with TLC from the very professional crew.
We heard the ships siren giving us fair warning that we were shortly to be under way and so we all scurried back to the boat. Really there was no great rush as a crew member did a ‘sweep’ of the board walk to make sure he had all his charges on board – after a few disasters of left passengers on the Great Barrier Reef it was a very wise move on the part of the great crew of the World Heritage Cruise company.
For further reading, can I strongly suggest: Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area
- Jungle and Rain Forest
‘The Eagle’ motored sedately to our first of 2 off-boat excursions and we were told to walk along a jetty and short distance along a board-walk and to please wait. ‘Disco Dave,’ as he is known and the actor from the previous evenings show ‘The Ship That Never Was’ (separate tip) appeared. For the next hour we were guided through a series of crumbling ruins that made up the infrastructure of the island and its short lived but brutal history and I can say that Dave really knew his history of the island, which is only 600 metres in length and about 160 metres wide.
The island was the setting for the chilling novel ‘For the Term of his Natural Life’ first published in 1872 and, over 140 years later, still in print. Dave guided us through the terrible times of the remote settlement when the authorities spoke with the cat of nine tails. Men who did not perform their duties correctly were lashed and then lashed again as the pain of previous lashings made work almost impossible. Dave told us how the lashings almost ceased in 1829 and while the settlement was still a convict penal colony, work output increased and more ships were built. Perhaps (my words) it was the start of collective bargaining as we know it today. The island closed as a penal settlement in 1834 about the same time that Port Arthur started its reign of terror and infamy. Over the years of the settlement the island was cleared of nearly all of its natural vegetation, which has sine returned and almost obliterating the terrible past.
From the excellent Tasmanian Parks & Wildlife Service on-line guide to Sarah Island
Sarah Island was proposed by Lt Governor Sorell as a "place of banishment and security for the worst description of convicts" and as such developed the reputation as one of the severest of the penal settlements established during the history of transportation.
About the photos:
1, Sarah Island today from ‘The Eagle’
2. Penitentiary built1828 and had 3 floors each with 3 rooms. Total of about 180 prisoners housed in what became one of the last buildings constructed.
3. From the web site above – “The goal was erected in June 1826 and enlarged some four years later. It comprised six tiny windowless cells, measuring a mere 0.9 m wide by 2.1 m long and 2.6 m high. The cells were designed for solitary confinement, a form of punishment which became increasingly common during the life of the settlement. Convicts served a maximum of 14 days in these cells on a diet of water and bread. On occassions, each cell held as many as three men serving their "solitary confinement" together! For some, solitary confinement was welcomed as a relief from back-breaking labour.”
4, Remains of the timber fence up to 30 feet high erected along the entire 600 metre length of the island and placed there as a wind break from the ever-present roaring 40’s that would have chilled men to the bone.
5. ‘Disco Dave’ in fine voice as a great story teller.
- Museum Visits
World Heritage Cruise
Please read my additional tips on the World Heritage Cruise; Hell and back – TWICE; Sarah Island; Heritage Landing. This has been done because of the number of photos that I wanted to share on our great day out.
After checking various on-line travel sites, I decided that the World Heritage Cruise company gave a better cruise than their competitor – and I should point out in all fairness that I have not tried the other operator. Probably what really pushed the ‘deal’ their way was the slightly later sailing of 9am (we are NOT early birds). We had booked on-line some time earlier and turned up the day before sailing to pay and have a look at ‘our boat’. We were impressed with the way a VERY helpful woman had given us a guided tour of the boat that had earlier docked and was getting ready for our days sailing.
The next morning we arrived at 8.50am and got to our great positioned seat right up the front with a wide-screen TV set above displaying a chart – quite unique. The seats were airliner type with a fold out table and very comfortable. Shortly after we got under way a very informative and expert PA system commentary started up and continued for much of the cruise. It was a spectacular sight motoring away from Strahan on ‘The Eagle’ an all-aluminium 35 metre catamaran cruiser with 3 deck levels. The main and upper decks seat around 210 passengers. In addition there is the wheelhouse deck that also included outdoor seating and, within the catamaran hulls, 2 areas– one a kids zone and the other a library area (didn’t visit either).
The route took us to our first of so many highlights – Hells Gate (see Hell and back – TWICE) and then we motored along the southern side of the gigantic Macquarie Harbour. At times Lady Gaw, other passengers and I ventured out onto the forward facing and very exposed deck to watch the world ‘fly’ by. The vessel has a top speed of about 30 knots plus whatever wind is blowing it was a case of hang onto your hats.
The boat slowed down almost to a stop so we could be shown the huge pens for the fish farms that are one of the major industries in the area. We were told how the Atlantic salmon are fed and nurtured to maturity and then harvested for sale – very interesting. I chose that time to be in the wheelhouse watching the captain skillfully at work. In my imagination I thought I’d see a ships wheel and an Errol Flynn looking character steering as we went along and perhaps even singing bawdy sea-shanties. Sir Gaw had been reading far too much fiction – the captain sat in a very comfortable looking seat with a little joy-stick built into the arm rest – looked so easy and in front of him was a battery of display screens giving him important information. A centre consol, almost like they have in aircraft cockpits, had a number of controls to keep the vessel on course, on speed and on everything else. As a fellow Tasmanian, Mr. Flynn would have been suitably impressed.
As I’d done quite a lot of Google Earth viewing, I knew that we were soon to approach Sarah Island and a chance to see historic ruins of harsh times almost 2 centuries ago. See separate tip - Sarah Island.
We returned to the ship and soon after our group of some 40 passengers were told that lunch was served and to please take a plate, line up and serve ourselves. Having been in the catering game many years ago, I knew the trick of placing all the salad items first and the cold meat, cold smoked salmon and assorted cheeses last. The way around is to only serve up small quantities of the less expensive salad items, leaving plenty of room on the plate for the ‘good stuff’ – yum. (Maybe I should change my screen name to Sir Lunch-a-lot, or even steal the great name from Harry Seacombe when he was knighted and dubbed himself ‘Sir Cumference’) Some, including Sir Gaw, returned to the excellent buffet for seconds – whatever the brand of Brie was really amazing.
Perhaps more by design rather than accident we were approaching Heritage Landing some distance up the tranquil waters of the Gordon River and the excellent lunch was forgotten in favour of a rare chance to get up and close to the amazing temperate UNESCO World Heritage listed forest – see separate tip Heritage Landing.
The return to Strahan wharf was uneventful and there was even a video played on the overhead TV screens that had earlier been displaying our moving position on the chart. Some passengers dozed after all the exercise and others chattered to new found friends – and yes I did see some names and e mail addresses being exchanged.
Sir Gaw just HAD to get himself into a bit of trouble – one of the crew members had a dual role (they all did). The young woman had done time making coffee etc at the on-board licensed café. Every time we moored or cast off, her job was to use a long pole with an evil looking hook at one end to help snare or untangle ropes used to secure the boat. I just had to ask as she was safely stowing the pole away, “Are you a hooker?” Almost everyone laughed. As we were about to disembark at Morrison’s Saw Mill, the same woman was there to wish us all good by. With a big grin on her face as she saw me coming, she turned her back on me – sweet revenge! (Maybe I should have worn that long pole between the ears.) If she happens to be reading this page – sorry luv, it was meant as a joke.
It was a very memorable day out and I really cannot find any fault with the boat, meal or crew – they all did a great job.
There are 3 prices for the cruise – standard, premium and gold and all include the buffet lunch. There is also a peak season afternoon cruise that departs at 3.15pm and returns at around 8.30pm and includes dinner. See web site for current prices and note there is a seniors/pensioners discount (I got 10% off), but you need to inquire directly by phone or e mail.
- Luxury Travel
- Family Travel
The Ship That Never Was
If there is a TV quiz question asking what is Australia’s longest running play, I doubt many would be able to correctly answer ‘The Ship That Never Was.’ The play has a very impressive track record of TWENTY years and over 5,000 performances at the Strahan Amphitheatre, which is in front of the excellent West Coast Visitor Information and Booking Centre.
It was a very cold and miserable evening made even worse because Sir Gaw had insisted on the trip to Hell and Back and we both got a little damp. Although we’d dried out a bit, Lady Gaw was in fine voice, but all was forgiven when we arrived at 5.15pm for the 5.30pm show (I prefer show rather than play). We were each given a little hand-sized hot water bottle and invited to take a blanket from the large pile – I could hear Lady Gaw purring. We were quite lucky in that not too many brave souls ventured out for the show that evening – and guessing there was an audience of about 20.
Over an hour and a quarter we were treated to a hilarious show centered on the 10 convict shipwrights who completed building the last ship at nearby Sarah Island in 1834 and stole the ship – an act of piracy punishable by death – and sailed away across the Pacific Ocean and landed in Chile.
I’m not going to spoil the show for you except to say that there were 2 actors, who during the course of the show brought most of the audience in and onto the pile of bits and pieces that during the show became the ship that never was. One such audience member was a cute 8 or 9 year old with long red hair girl who became the ships cat and seemed to take great delight – much to everyone’s mirth – in mock scratching of anyone who got within claw range. Another audience member – and a lot older – became the noisy ships parrot
Lots of jokes and laughter during the show and my one BIG suggestion – see the show AFTER visiting Sarah Island on one of the 2 cruises that ply the waters of Macquarie Harbour. Disco Dave, as he is known, is one of the 2 actors who took part in the show – he also conducts the tour of Sarah Island and when 'The Eagle' had landed – err docked – gave a very interesting commentary of the Morrison’s Saw Mill.
The show is presented by the Round Earth company (web site below) and tickets cost adults $20.00, concession $15.00, student (13 yrs & over) $10.00, children (4-12 yrs) $2.00 Box office opens at 5pm and only accepts cash – remember that stuff – LOL – however tickets can be purchased using EFTPOS at the Visitor Centre or the 2 cruise companies booking office/gift shops.
Note the show is presented each evening September to early May only - much too cold and wet to be at an outdoor but undercover show during winter - brrrrrr - the Roaring 40's will get you otherwise.
- Family Travel
- Theater Travel
- Road Trip
This track is located in the Peoples Park in the Strahan township. You can drive to the park via The Esplanade or walk there via the Foreshore Walking Track.
This walk will take you through an example of mixed forest. Among the towering gum trees, you will also find species typical of cool temperate rainforest, such as leatherwood, sassafrass and myrtle, not to mention the wonderful array of ferns.
It's a pleasant easy walk that you'll be able to do with a wheelchair when the boardwalk is finished.
One of the 60 Great Short Walks series, this walk starts at the top of Peoples Park and is a gentle, meandering stroll through sweet-smelling bush to a delightful waterfall. Local schoolchildren share their connections with the place on interpretive signs along the way. For extra enjoyment, leave the car in the town centre and take the foreshore walking track to and from the park, located on The Esplanade.
- National/State Park
- Hiking and Walking
- Family Travel
Sarah Island is the site of one of Australia's worst penal colonies and was in operation between 1822 and 1833. The prison was established to house the worst convicts and those who had escaped from other settlements. It is an isolated island, separated by wild seas and surrounded by wild inaccessible country and was ideally suited for its purpose. The surveyor who mapped Sarah Island concluded that the chances of escape were "next to impossible".
There were a number of escape attempts - the most famous being Alexander Pearce who managed two escapes. On each occasion he survived by cannabalising his escape-mates.
In an aim to be economically viable the governor of the time, William Sorrell, established a shipbuilding industry using the Huon Pines (an ideal timber for this purpose). However, the island was soon cleared of this valuable timber.
The conditions for the prisoners were extremely harsh. Since no food could be produced on the island malnutrition and scurvy were rife. The convicts were so crowded they were unable to sleep on their backs in the communal barracks. Ergot, a wheat fungus, was added to the bread to make it go mouldy so it could not be stored for escape.
Records show that in 1824, a prisoner killed anther so that he could be executed rather than endure the torment.
The prison on Sarah Island was finally closed in late 1833.
The ruins that remain today are known as the Sarah Island Historic Site which is part of the larger Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area.
The island can be visited, by ferry, from the town of Strahan. It is often included in a Day trip to the Gordon River.
- Historical Travel
- Museum Visits
- National/State Park
Cruise the Gordon River and Macquarie Harbour
The waters of the Gordon River meander down from their source in the Central Highlands. They pass through an ancient, beautiful but inhospitable land of rugged mountains and temperate rainforest before emptying into the magnificent Macquarie Harbour and then to the sea.
You are in the famous Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park at the mid northern area of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. The park was created after Australia's largest conservation battle of the 1980s - the battle to save the Franklin from the Hydro Tasmania proposed hydro-electric power scheme. The statuesque Huon Pines have also benefited from the creation of the park. These slow growing trees were valued for their timber.
The Macquarie Harbour is more than 110 square miles of natural, safe harbour which opens to the seas through the narrow and treacherous Hell's Gates. It is also the site of the ruins of the convict prison on Sarah Island. Tasmania's famous salmon and ocean trout farms are also in the area.
A great way to see the area is from the Lady Jane Franklin II.
- National/State Park
The West Coast Wilderness Railway is a 35 Km Rack and Pinion or ABT Railway running from Queenstown to Strahan. The railway uses the fully restored 100 year old Steam Loco's that ran on the original rail line that was built for the Mt Lyell Mining & Railway Company.
While the engines are original the carriages are all brand new and the interiors are made from Tasmanian timbers. When taking a trip on the railway, passengers are given a description of the history of the ABT from the on board Staff
The ABT system (patented by Rinecker ABT & Co. of Wurzburg of Germany) uses a cog wheel in the engine which engages a toothed central rail to enable the engine to climb the steep inclines of some of Australia's most rugged terrain.
The railway follows the King River Gorge for most of the journey.
- Historical Travel
"Depart Strahan village by Seaplane for a scenic flight to the Franklin & Gordon Rivers. A featured highlight of this tour is a landing on the world renowned Gordon River. Other attractions on this exciting tour include panoramic views of Hells Gates and Sarah Island. Enjoy views of Frenchmans Cap as we join the Franklin River at Mt McCall. After viewing the white waters of the Franklin River you then experience a landing on the Gordon River John Falls, or you may choose to just sit on the dock and enjoy the peace and tranquillity of this majestic river. Departing the 800ft deep Gordon River Gorge we follow the river to Macquarie Harbour and return to Strahan via the eastern side of the harbour past historic Kelly Basin and the King River"
Thus says the advertising. However, the day we did the trip there was no landing. In fact, we were lucky to fly at all it was so rough; so be warned you may not land and there will be no partial refund.
It was extremely bumpy (due to the weather) and I personally felt a little ripped off that we didn't get what we paid for.
It is a scenic flight but I wanted to land on the river so was a little disappointed.
- National/State Park
- Adventure Travel
The Gordon River Cruise
Let me state right here, I didn't go on it. However, after speaking to several people who have, no-one has a bad word to say about it. It is the number one thing tourists come to Strahan to do so I thought I'd better mention here. Here is the blurb from their brochure.
•See some of Australia's oldest convict ruins on Sarah Island, a settlement which pre-dates Port Arthur by decades. Created to put the 'fear of God' into the convicts of Van Diemen's Land, this tiny outpost of 18th Century British penal history hides a fascinating tale of human triumph over adversity, brought vividly to life by expert guides;
•Hear the intriguing story of Macquarie Harbour and its settlement;
•Passage through Hells Gates the narrow entrance to Macquarie Harbour named by the convicts on their way to Sarah Island;
•See high-tech aquaculture where hundreds of thousands of Tasmania's famous Atlantic Salmon and Ocean Trout are farmed;
•Cruise past the majesty of the rugged mountain ranges in Tasmania's World Heritage-listed South West Wilderness National Park; and,
•Spend two hours in the serenity of the imposing Gordon River, complete with a stroll into the rainforest, which reclaimed the land after the last Great Ice Age.
•Listen to our narrative, which brings the river and its rich history to life complete what is an unforgettable experience.
•Enjoy a sumptuous buffet lunch freshly prepared on board - includes smoked salmon, cold meats, a selection of salads, fresh fruit, Tasmanian cheeses and local bakery bread rolls.
- National/State Park
Water plus sunset
Ah yes, the two combined can often give one such visual pleasure and though the only one I got while at Strachan (my third trip there) isn't great, it was pleasant to watch.
I made a point of getting around to Regatta Point next to the old Railway Station from where the Abt departs because there are a couple of rotting jettys there that made for a nice foreground.
Macquarie Harbour is so vast that you could choose to shoot from any number of places.
- Hiking and Walking
More on the Abt
Meanwhile, Rosemarie has teamed up with Barbara, an effervescent lady who puts life into perspective. She and her partner are seated in the adjacent seats; her partner is in a wheelchair. Turns out he has something extremely rare, similar to motor-neurone disease that has turned a once large and vibrant man into a gibbering wreck in just two years. How she copes is beyond me as she relates getting in to Hobart, not realising that Strachan is over 300 kilometres away over forever twisting and turning roads and setting out after 5 p.m. to arrive after eleven, forever terrified of running into wildlife.
As a tourist venture the railway has only been going for 8 years but is hugely popular to the point where it’s now been taken over by the Federal Group that incorporates other attractions and accommodation. The morning runs are invariably booked out in advance during the tourist season.
At journey’s end we alight and wait for our coach and a trip back along the road to Strachan that I can only remember the first few and last few minutes of. Sleep is divine. The important thing is we just returned in time for sunset, a pretty affair refected in Macquarie Harbour.
- Food and Dining
- Luxury Travel
The restored Abt has been extremely lucky in that 3 of the original steam locos have been restored and are in use. Another is in a museum in Hobart and the last one was scrapped for spare parts. They were also lucky because the two feasibility studies into the project both said it wouldn’t work.
Looking down the steep sided King’s River Canyon into the tannin stained water it’s fairly obvious why no-one in their right mind would suggest going ahead with it but fortunately some humans are made of sterner stuff and as we puff-puff our way along the narrow gauge I’m grateful they are.
At one of our five stops there is a honey stand where you can sample different honeys and again we're sucked in, this time buying a ginger laced variety of leatherwood. Leatherwood is fascinating inasmuch as the tree has to be 280 to 320 years old before it flowers in enough quantity to attract apiarists.
- Luxury Travel
- Women's Travel