If you want to experience a beautifully rugged and scenic destination, breathe in the world’s freshest air, and delve into Australian history – West Coast Tasmania is calling to you!
This unique part of the world can’t be experienced in a simple day trip. It’s somewhat isolated location means that you can’t just stumble across it, but have to have intention to visit.
Whether you choose to fly into Launceston or Hobart, it is several hours of driving from either city. However, if we were to recommend a more scenic drive, it would be the one from Hobart to Strahan, via the Lyell Highway.
You will need transport to get you to the west coast, and a luxury campervan hire from Hobart is a perfect combination of wheels and accommodation. Having a bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, heating and living room along for the vacation, allows you to travel in comfort and style, to this exceptional part of the world.
Hobart to Strahan via the Lyell Highway
Hobart to Strahan on the West Coast of Tasmania, is about four and a half hours with no stops. But you will definitely want to stop. Leaving Hobart, you will pass through New Norfolk. A gorgeous country town that is a mecca for antique hunters.
Don’t be fooled by looking at the kilometre distance and thinking it is a short trip up the road. The roads have lots of twists and turns and you have to drive to the conditions. This also allows you the to take in the scenery (Hint: there are lots of camera-worthy shots)!
Derwent Bridge “The Wall in the Wilderness”
Coming to the Derwent Bridge there is an absolute must-see, “The Wall in the Wilderness”. Handcrafted out of Huon Pine, sculptor Greg Duncan started a project back in March 2005 that was to be three metres high and one hundred metres in length, which showcases the history of the Tasmanian Highlands. There is also a café and other restaurants nearby.
Note that to avoid missing out it is recommended you book online before midnight the day before. It is extremely popular, and there is nothing like it anywhere else in Australia. If you drive past this or don’t organise tickets in time, you will be missing out. Unfortunately, it is seasonal, so if you’re travelling in the middle of winter, you will have to see it next time.
Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park
There are two noteworthy stops you will want to take along the way, the first is a Nature Trail, a short comfortable stroll through a mossy rainforest. The second, and the one you should do if you only have time for one or the other, is the Nelson Falls walk. The Nelson Falls are a stunning waterfall in the heart of the cool temperate rainforest. There is easy parking right at the start of the trail, and a toilet block here too.
Iron Blow Lookout
You won’t drive much further before you come to Gormanston, home to the abandoned open cut mine, which displays a historic snapshot of the regions mining past. The view here is spectacular, albeit a little sad – due to the trauma that has been inflicted on this now stark landscape.
The road from here to Queenstown forms the infamous “99 bends”, an epic windy road through a barren panorama. Arrival into Queenstown can feel a bit surreal, it is a very small community, steeped in history.
The railway here, which was established in Queenstown in 1897 to transport copper to Strahan, was the only means of bringing the ore to market. Until 1932, when the road to Hobart opened, this railway was the only way to reach Queenstown. The West Coast Wilderness Railway currently offers trips on those same tracks for passengers.
Queenstown is experiencing a reinvention of itself. Home to artisans, and drawing in tourists as it is the gateway to the wild west. You can spend your time visiting art galleries, museums, lookouts and the surrounding Lake Burbury (created in in the 1980s after the flooding of the King River).
Strahan is full of tales from the days of the pioneers and convicts, whether it is a quiet fishing community or bustling with tourists. Strahan was formerly a port town that played a significant role in the development of the local mining villages. It was also essential to the timber industry, with its pioneering workers leaving a legacy that is still evident today.
Gordon River & Sarah Island
The Gordon River cruise to Sarah Island is a highlight and a must-do. It is one of the main reasons travellers visit Strahan. The reflections on the river, which mirror the surrounding wilderness, are simply breathtaking. You will undoubtedly spend the cruise up on deck, marvelling at the incomparable views.
The convict history of Sarah Island will explain how the prisoners laboured in the worst conditions possible while living in the island’s rainforest. Here they were forced to harvest Huon pines for use in making boats.
The convict ruins now provide a frightening glimpse into the harsh realities of convict life, and are especially arduous given the unforgiving environment. A walking path connects significant locations, and knowledgeable guides are a wealth of information, really making this tour a memorable one.
And whilst you are there breathe deeply. Tasmania has the cleanest air in the world, monitored by the Cape Grim Baseline Air Pollution Station. This is because of the remote position of Tasmania in the Southern Ocean, far from other landmasses, plus the dense rainforests, combined with the small population of Western Tasmania.
The Ship that Never Was
Strahan is home to Australia’s longest-running play, “The Ship That Never Was”, starring local residents that tell the dramatic and hilarious true story about the last Great Escape from Sarah Island. Performed at the Richard Davey Amphitheatre in Strahan at 5.30 pm every day (September to May inclusive).
You get more than a history lesson in this one-hour 15-minute play. It’s interactive, so participation may be required. An 1834 incident is the basis for the drama. Ten convict shipwrights took control of the last ship constructed at the Macquarie Harbour convict settlement as it was about to leave for the new Port Arthur jail.
This is an especially great attraction for those who have already done the Sarah Island cruise, as it acts out some of the history you will learn about in your visit to the island.