The wild and rugged west coast of Tasmania
Georgia Hopkins | March 2019
Just back from a few days exploring Tassie’s remote and wild west coast, Georgia Hopkins takes us through some of her favourite parts of the journey.
After spending the night in Launceston, we jumped in our Polo Comfortline to begin the long journey across the mountains to Tasmania’s wild and rugged west coast. Our Polo was the perfect companion - small, zippy and with plenty of power - easily negotiating the winding mountain roads from the Bass Highway towards Cradle Mountain, through little towns such as Tullah, Roseberry and Zeehan, until we reached our destination of Strahan. We were driving at dusk and had to be extra careful to avoid the active wildlife that oftentimes choose to pop out at exactly the same time (through dusk to dawn). With the landscape changing frequently, we drove through incredibly picturesque wide open plains and lush rainforest, taking us 3.5 hours from start to finish.
We arrived at Captain’s Rest in the early evening. A little shack on the quiet and pristine shore of Lettes Bay, just 5mins drive from Strahan, I had been eyeing off this little beauty for a couple of years, so it was a dream to finally arrive into its clutches. Just one of a tiny community of painted and weathered corrugated iron shacks, it is unlike anywhere else I have been or stayed before. Inside, Captain’s Rest’s creative and passionate owner Sarah Andrews, has worked her magic on creating an incredibly warm and calming atmosphere. With light streaming in through the big Georgian windows, looking out over the dark sea, we snuggled up on the cosy day bed watching the family of ducks and ducklings waddle around the water’s edge in front of us. A pot belly stove is the centrepiece of the room, and there is a large claw-footed bath to take a long soak in the bathroom. There are oars in the bedroom that can be taken out to the little rowing boat (tied up to the jetty outside) for a row. We swam in the dark sea (coming out covered in the brown tannins caused by the nearby tea trees), read, cooked (*be sure to bring your own produce and supplies with you, as you definitely won’t want to leave once you get there), drank wine, danced, did yoga on the deck, and meditated. It was perfect. Every little detail here has been so thoughtfully considered - boating relics, paintings, history books, even Captain’s Rest very own personalised ceramics. It is an incredible accommodation experience. If you are desperate for a good cup of coffee (the shack does already have its own wonderful plunger coffee), we suggest leaving only to grab a latte from The Coffee Shack in Strahan - they do a great cup. And also, best to buy your supplies and fresh produce from either Launceston or Hobart before arriving, as options are slim in Strahan. If all else fails, the local IGA supermarket will do the job though.
The river cruise.
After picking up our tickets from the Gordon River Cruise terminal, we jumped onboard the very swish looking 'Spirit of the Wild’ cruise ship ready for our journey through Macquarie Harbour and into the remote wilderness of Tasmania's Gordon River. We were on the Premier Upper Deck (and it is definitely worth paying a little bit extra for a seat up here), and settled into very comfy leather recliners that had a great view out over the water. It was raining, but it was still beautiful - mysterious, even. Ben, the captain (only 3 weeks into his new gig), was incredibly passionate about the journey and excited to share it with everyone - inviting us up to spend time with him at the helm. We learned that this amazing new boat has a hybrid diesel-electric propulsion system, which allows the Captain to shut down the diesel engines while cruising along the Gordon River, making it a super quiet journey (the only boat of its kind that can do so). The onboard staff served up a local and seasonal brekkie on arrival, as well as barista-style coffee. Throughout the day we were also treated to morning tea, a lunch of fresh Tasmania trout and smoked salmon (from the nearby farms we had just passed) - complete with local Tasmania wines and beer - and afternoon tea and canapés as well. One of the major highlights for me was passing through Hells Gates - a place that convicts referred to as the “gates to hell” - a narrow mouth out of the harbour into the ocean, that can not always be accessed due to rough seas on the other side. Luckily, the day we visited, the seas were relatively calm and we could get through ok, looking down the coast to long, empty, rugged beaches backed by huge coastal sand dunes. We passed salmon and ocean trout farms, learning about the farming process as we went long. My favourite bit of all however was on entering the Gordon River when the Spirit of the Wild’s signature electric motors were turned off, and we cruised quietly into the wilderness with a complete sense of calm. We passed native Huon Pine (the oldest living tree in Australia and the second oldest in the world, and the best boat building timber in the world), southern beech myrtle, Tasmanian native laurel, pandani palm, and lush green mosses and conifers. It was all so lush and beautiful; uninhabited and pristine. The boat stops twice along the way to enable passengers to explore some of the forest - once at Heritage Landing, a boardwalk that takes in the sight of ancient Huon pines and other temperate rainforest species; and then again to explore the World Heritage-listed Sarah Island, learning about its frightful convict history. Tasmania’s west coast is a place of characters and stories, and throughout the cruise you have the chance to ’’meet” a few of the characters who shaped the west coast along the way - including Captain James Kelly, and Lady Jane Franklin.
While in Strahan, we suggest making a few side trips to really dig deeper into the west coast. Some of our favourites included:
Our most favourite of all. Montezuma Falls is the highest waterfall in Tasmania and just 1hr drive from Strahan. An easy 4km walk into the rainforest from the trail head, the walking track follows the old North East Dundas Tramway route that used to run between Zeehan and the old site of Williamsford in the 1890s. We passed a mine shaft, railroad track remnants, leatherwood, myrtle, sassafras and giant tree ferns, and some smaller waterfalls along the way. and just 1hr drive from Strahan, it makes for an incredible morning out. The best bit is the narrow suspension bridge that spans the gorge well above Montezuma Creek from which you can view the falls. We were the only ones there and it was incredibly tranquil, while the waterfall raged on just in front of us.
Just 5min drive from Strahan, Ocean Beach is a wild and open stretch of beach with mighty waves and coastal sand dunes. It honestly feels like you are in the middle of the wilderness. The powerful swells of the Southern Ocean meet this coastline after travelling across 20,000 kilometres of open sea. You could walk along the beach for hours - fossicking for shells and smoother, coloured rocks. The sunsets here are incredible as well. Henty Dunes is where you will find 30m+ high natural sand formations, formed by the relentless window of the Roaring 40s.
One of the 60 Great Short Walks of Tasmania, Hogarth Falls is just a short walk from Strahan Village through towering gums and cool temperate rainforest, and takes about 40mins return. The walking track meanders alongside Botanical Creek, which is home to a number of platypus, which you might catch a sighting of if you are lucky (best seen closer to dusk).
Queenstown Community Markets.
Held on the second Sunday of each month (from 11am-2pm), this local community market features a range of jams, cakes, pastries, arts, crafts, jewellery, plants and flowers, and more.
Fishing on the Henty River.
Some of the best fishing spots in Tasmania can be found on the West Coast, with the rivers, streams and lakes having good stocks of rainbow and wild brown trout. Deep-sea fishing is also very popular here. Some good fishing can be done along the Henty River, which is accessible by four wheel drive from Strahan.
West Coast Wilderness Railway.
This half-day steam train journey takes you across the rack and pinion track, through old growth forest and the King River Gorge.
This part of the world is so untouched. It is remote, rugged, wild and terribly beautiful. A trip here is a must on any visit to Tasmania. Hot tip - make sure your Polo Comfortline is full of fuel from your departure point (i.e. Launceston), as you never know when you might come across the next gas station. It’s beautiful here