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Strahan and Queenstown

...including a river cruise

semi-overcast 23 °C
View Sam Smart in World War II & Back to Oz on SteveJD's travel map.

Before Strahan was named after Governor Sir George Strahan, it was called Long Bay or Regatta Point (both retained as locality names) and served the local mining industry as a port. In the 19th century, it was also a hub for the forestry industry (principally felling and transporting magnificent Huon pines). Although the town, with the lovely Macquarie Harbour, also served as a port for passengers and goods into the 20th century, the only long-lasting industry has been fishing and these days relies heavily on tourism. The harbour was named by Captain James Kelly, the first European to see the harbour, in honour of the Governor of New South Wales, Lachlan Macquarie.

Our route from Strahan to Hobart would take us through Queenstown and, having seen the nature of the roads (very twisting), we decided to visit this town from Strahan rather than take up a great deal of time on our outward route. The journey was as expected, relatively slow, with not only a winding road but also involving some quite steep ascents and descents. The scenery was magnificent but as the driver for a change, I saw little of the mountains and forests as the road took 100% of my attention!

Ar first glance, Queenstown seemed a rather dull place but it has some very attractive old buildings and some excellent sculptures near the railway commemorating 100 years of history of the town (mainly mining and logging). The landscape around is pretty stark with some fairly unusual colours. Some of the colours come from the conglomerate rock but the harsher hues are the legacy of tree felling and subsequent sulphurous deposits from mining operations, until technology improved the latter. There is some regrowth but it will clearly take many more years for the scars to heal. The remaining mine, Mount Lyell, had been closed for several years following three fatalities in two incidents but was due to open around the time we were there, so underground tours were no longer on the agenda!

Old Post Office

Old Post Office

View along main street

View along main street

Hunters' Hotel

Hunters' Hotel

Empire Hotel

Empire Hotel

Main sculpture

Main sculpture

Main sculpture reverse

Main sculpture reverse

View along water feature

View along water feature

Detail of one of the plaques along the water feature

Detail of one of the plaques along the water feature

There is also a lovely little old railway station which is now mainly a shop but if we had had more time we would have liked to travel on the West Coast Wilderness Railway which runs between Queenstown and Strahan. We saw the train at Regatta Point, Macquarie Harbour from the cruise vessel and the station buildings when we visited Queenstown. Queenstown was originally called Queen Crossing, referring to the crossing of the Queen River. Surprisingly there seems to be some uncertainty as to the origins of both names but they were almost certainly named after Queen Victoria.

Train pulling out from Strahan

Train pulling out from Strahan

War Memorial with old and new railway station buildings in the background

War Memorial with old and new railway station buildings in the background

Spion Kop is a high point on the edge of the town and gives superb views of the town and the surrounding countryside. It was named by soldiers returning from South Africa after the site of a Boer War battle, actually more of a massacre of many British troops who thought they had gained the high ground but were in fact in a 'killing ground' from a higher slope. As the day was rather dull, the starkness of the hillsides and the sulphurous colouration do not show up as well in photographs as they did to the naked eye.

View over town from Spion Kop

View over town from Spion Kop

Old cast cannon on Spion Kop

Old cast cannon on Spion Kop

Old Miner's cottage on Spion Kop

Old Miner's cottage on Spion Kop

While in the town, we enjoyed visiting a community market which happened to occur on the day we were there (a Sunday). We then drove eastwards out of Queenstown as far as the Iron Blow Lookout. Iron Blow was an open cut mine and is now a tourist draw with a cantilevered viewing platform giving excellent views down into the lake formed in the old mine and the many-hued layers of workings, as well as superb views over the surrounding mountains.

Community Market

Community Market

View back along winding road from Queenstown towards Iron Blow

View back along winding road from Queenstown towards Iron Blow

Old open-cast mine at Iron Blow

Old open-cast mine at Iron Blow

Many-hued and stained rocks at Iron Blow

Many-hued and stained rocks at Iron Blow

View from Iron Blow Lookout

View from Iron Blow Lookout

Horsetail Falls near Iron Blow

Horsetail Falls near Iron Blow

The following day we went to Macquarie Harbour to board the boat which would take us on the cruise mentioned above. Before boarding, our 'waiting room' was a Huon pine sawmill where timber aromas were quite intoxicating. Samples of Huon pine and other lovely Tasmanian timbers were available for inspection (and purchase, in raw or worked forms).

The water was calm, so we had a pleasant voyage through the harbour to Hell's Gates (believed to have been so-named by convicts for the hell that awaited them). The water in the Southern Ocean was a bit more uppity so we were glad to re-enter the harbour past the old lighthouse and cruise down to Sarah Island, passing several salmon farms en route. Subsequently we have learned that thousands of fish had either died or been killed because of a disease, both before our visit and later on.

Lighthouse at Hell's Gate

Lighthouse at Hell's Gate

Leaving Hell's Gate

Leaving Hell's Gate

Fish farm in Macquarie Harbour

Fish farm in Macquarie Harbour

The above-mentioned Captain James Kelly named Sarah Island after the wife of a merchant, Thomas Birch, who had financed his voyage. We landed on Sarah Island and were taken around the former convict settlement by a very animated and informative guide. The settlement was established in 1821 and operated from 1822 to 1833. Nearby Grummet Island (possibly named after the rings used to shackle prisoners) was used for solitary confinement for those who bucked the system on Sarah Island. The convicts were mostly men who were employed, initially, in felling Huon pines. They lived under harsh conditions and the island was considered escape-proof although a handful of men were successful. In order for the penal settlement to pay its way, the convicts were employed buildings ships and for a while it was the largest ship-building operation in the Australian colonies. Ironically, the last escape was made by ten convicts who hijacked the last ship to be built there and sailed it to Chile. The leader was one James Porter who later wrote his autobiography "The Travails of James Porter". This story was also turned into a pantomime "The Ship That Never Was" which is performed regularly in Strahan. Our guide regaled us with many other fascinating, and some awful, tales of life on the island. With the felling of the timber, much of the island was exposed to the 'Roaring Forties' blowing up the harbour and a wall was built across the island to provide some protection (mainly for the prison guards and their overseers) but little or nothing of this wall now remains and protection is now afforded by significant regrowth - nature will always win! It is a pity that only ruins remain but some remnants of the boat-building industry have survived. It would have been great to have more time to explore at leisure or for our guide to take us around at a less frenetic pace but there was a timetable that had to be adhered to.

Sarah Island with Grummet Island in the background

Sarah Island with Grummet Island in the background

Remains of slipway for launching boats built on the island

Remains of slipway for launching boats built on the island

Ruins of bakery

Ruins of bakery

Ruins in a clearing

Ruins in a clearing

Our guide in full flow

Our guide in full flow

While cruising through the harbour, we were entertained by films showing the lives of several 'piners', men who had worked their way steadily through the Gordon River valley, felling Huon pines which were then floated down the river. The conditions these men endured as they went deeper into the rainforest were quite astonishing. Our cruise then took us into the Gordon River, threading our way through dense rainforest to the Heritage Landing (named in 1989 when it was opened, coinciding with an enlargement of the existing World Heritage Area) where we disembarked for a walk through the forest. As with all rainforests we have been in, this was a humbling experience and it is amazing to see the density of growth with so many different plants being reliant on other plants and the creatures that live in the forest.

Travelling up the Gordon River, flanked by dense rainforest

Travelling up the Gordon River, flanked by dense rainforest

Reflections in the river

Reflections in the river

Heritage Landing - moss 'dripping' from trees

Heritage Landing - moss 'dripping' from trees

Heritage Landing, layered bracket fungus

Heritage Landing, layered bracket fungus

Forest giant with bracket fungus

Forest giant with bracket fungus

Heritage Landing, leatherwood flower

Heritage Landing, leatherwood flower

Sunset over the harbour

Sunset over the harbour

Grummet Island at sunset

Grummet Island at sunset

The Gordon River was named by the ubiquitous Captain James Kelly after James Gordon who provided the whaleboat for Kelly's journey. Kelly's career was fascinating to read and could undoubtedly form the basis for an excellent book (and film?).

Credits for information, as usual, go to Wikipedia and Aussie Towns but also to the Tasmanian Parks Service for much of the information on the naming of Macquarie Harbour and other places in the area.

Posted by SteveJD 01:56 Archived in Australia

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Comments

I have enjoyed reading your travel blog over the last months. We went to Straun about 4 years ago, a similar schedule to yours but as we had more time we took the train to Queenstown, fascinating but bleak. We are back in Melbourne in a couple of weeks to help with the baby. Where will you be then?!

by Elspeth

Some amazing sights, and a lot of old history. All those"filigree" iron railings are reminiscence of many Aussie buildings. There are now examples here in NZ where more recent new house developments have them as well. Not sure if they are steel,Plastic or fibreglass. Of course they existed in the Victorian Days in the UK, but they went & cut them all out for the War effort!!
Happy Tavels.
Kev & Jas.

by Kevin & Jasmine Thompson

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