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Tasmania's West Coast Wilderness

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Macquarie Harbour

Macquarie Harbour

Tasmania, Australia’s island state, is also the southernmost part of Australia. Separated from mainland Australia by the Bass Strait, Tasmania’s west coast is wild and windswept, facing a wide expanse of ocean and into the path of the Roaring Forties. Travelling around Tasmania for two months by car and with a teardrop caravan, I was determined to visit this remote and unique area.

Arthur-Pieman Conservation Area

The Arthur-Pieman Conservation area is a huge reserve on the western side of the island. The west coast faces into the Roaring Forties and the area is bounded by the Arthur River in the north and the Pieman River in the south. It extends inland to the Gordon and Donaldson Rivers in the east and covers over 1000 square kilometres.

There are a range of camping options—some serviced with drop toilets and non-potable water, while some have no facilities. All areas require you to bring your own water, food, fuel and firewood and to take your rubbish with you as there is no rubbish collection in the area. Hotel accommodation is also available in the small town of Arthur River.

I opted to stay at Prickly Wattles campground, south of Arthur River. The campsites are generous and well-spaced throughout the bushland, so you can enjoy your own little bit of paradise. Definitely best visited in the warmer months, I enjoyed bush walks, and drove to visit some of the shack communities along the coast, enjoying a swim in a wonderfully clear lagoon (I was a little apprehensive about swimming in the open ocean even though I am a strong swimmer).

I also visited the ‘Edge of the World’, so named as it faces the largest expanse of ocean anywhere in the world with the nearest landfall being Argentina in South America. I made sure I had ample time to enjoy the tranquillity of my bush camping spot, watching birds flitting about during the day and hearing but not seeing the elusive Tasmanian devil at night, while cheeky possums raided my dogs’ food bowls for left-over biscuits.

Edge of the World

Edge of the World

The Western Tourer Route

I enjoyed my time in the Arthur River area so much that I extended my stay. But although two months sounds like a lot of time, I still had most of the island to explore, so I packed camp and headed south toward Corrina and the Pieman River.

Most of the Western tourer route is not bituminized, the exception being stretches of road on either side of the many bridges along the route. It’s a must-do, though, as it takes you through largely untouched bush to the forests around Corrina. Corrina is situated close to the Pieman River, the southern extremity of the Arthur-Pieman Conservation Area.

Unlike the Arthur River, which has a single-lane bridge, the Pieman River can only be crossed by boat. Vehicles are transported across the river on the ‘fat boy barge’ with queues waiting on either side of the river as the capacity of the barge is limited. Very large caravans cannot be accommodated on the barge and must turn off well before Corrina and make their way by road through Waratah, where there is a bridge crossing.

I had ample time to enjoy a freshly brewed coffee purchased at the Corrina Hotel while I waited for my turn on the barge. Time as well to stretch out and recover from the corrugated road I had just driven along and to chat with other travellers who were also waiting for the barge.

It’s a truly magical place, hidden away in the forest with the river flowing tranquilly through. Once I had driven my car and van onto the barge, I was able to stand on the deck and watch as we made our way across the river.

The 'Fat Boy' Barge

The 'Fat Boy' Barge

Zeehan, Montezuma Falls and the West Coast Heritage Centre

I opted to stay at Zeehan Bush Camp for a few days. Time to charge the battery in my van, top up my water and food supplies and do some laundry. Zeehan is a small town close to the west coast but someway inland. The main industry in the area is mining and workers are accommodated in single men’s quarters provided by the mining company, so the town has very few permanent inhabitants.

From Zeehan I ventured towards Roseberry and the walk to Montezuma Falls. The walk is a little over 10 kilometres overall, through rainforest and along the tram rail track used for transportation from the mine to Zeehan. The tramway was built in the late 1890s but is no longer operating. The track is gently undulating through rainforest and in my opinion, best seen when it’s raining—which it was throughout the duration of my stay in Zeehan. Montezuma Falls is one of many waterfalls in Tasmania and has the longest single drop of all the falls being 104 metres. There is a suspension bridge, which gives amazing views of the water cascading down from above.

The West Coast Heritage Centre is based in the town of Zeehan and contains a remarkable collection relating to the history of the area. There are photographs, samples of ore from mining in the area, relics of early mining in the area and an old-fashioned cinema—the Gaiety Theatre, which shows old movies from before the time of talkies. All of this is housed in a heritage building on the main street of Zeehan.

Walk to Montezuma Falls

Walk to Montezuma Falls

Strahan, the Huon, Gordon River Cruise and Sarah Island

Tasmania is renowned for its national parks and World Heritage Areas, and one of the best ways to see these is a river cruise on the Gordon-Franklin rivers. Cruises run daily departing from Strahan in the south-west, with lunch provided and a helpful and informative crew, it’s a memorable day out.

The boat first travelled to the ‘hell’s gates’ where the river spills into the sea. It was named because of its treacherous waters, which claimed many lives in the early days of settlement, and by convicts being sent to Sarah Island.

I preferred to be on deck and enjoy the amazing natural scenery! We then travelled upstream to Sarah Island. This island was an early penal settlement used for convicts who were repeat offenders.

The conditions were appallingly bad. It was bitterly cold and wet, food was scarce and often rotten, floggings were administered regularly and were so harsh that convicts sometimes died as a result. Things improved when a Scottish boatbuilder heard of the Huon Pine.

Its properties made it ideally suitable to shipbuilding, and David Hoy went to Sarah Island and worked with the convicts to establish an extremely successful and productive shipyard. I had a wonderful day out on this cruise, and it was very informative.

These days, the Huon Pine is protected, and logging of this remarkable tree is prohibited. It is still available for sale, although in limited supply. I bought a wooden cutting board for my kitchen, which will probably outlast me.

© 2019 Nan Hewitt