Nestled between the Southern Ocean and gateway to Tasmania’s World Heritage area, Strahan is a charming little town and former west coast port. The town that sits on Macquarie Harbour banks is a popular hub for exploring the wild West Coast of Tasmania and is full of some of the best Tasmania tours.
Here is your list of what to in Strahan and all the activities you shouldn’t miss on your next trip.
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The Best Things to do in Strahan Tasmania
Gordon River Cruise
The Gordon River Cruise is a must-do when you are on the west coast of Tasmania, and what we believed to be the best out of the two Strahan cruises available. The cruise takes you on a journey through the UNESCO World Heritage area. If you are searching for an activity to witness pristine natural beauty while learning about Tasmania’s history in comfortable surroundings, then this day trip is ideal.
The new vessel ‘Spirit of the Wild’ departs daily at 8.30 am. On the six-hour journey, you will travel through Macquarie Harbour, turning around at Hells Gate and continuing to cruise along the Gordon River. Throughout the trip, the guide shares a wealth of knowledge about this part of the west coast.
About the Spirit of the Wild
The Spirit of the Wild has three areas, the main deck, the premier upper deck, and a viewing deck at the top. Every level offers spectacular inside and outside views. The main deck level is perfect for families and larger groups with access to an outside viewing area in front, at the back, and on the very top.
The premier upper deck offers access to all areas and a private viewing area at the front. The premier deck is highly recommended for those wanting to travel in comfort with paired plush leather seats lined alongside the large glass windows. Both decks serve a fresh buffet lunch offering Tasmanian produce; the premier upper deck has a few added luxuries from a light breakfast, morning, afternoon tea, and drinks.
Gordon River Cruise Tour
At the beginning of the tour, passengers will be taken out into Macquarie Harbour, Australia’s second-largest natural harbour, six times the size of Sydney Harbour. As you cruise out towards Hells Gates, you will learn about how events in the past dramatically impacted sailing the harbour today.
Macquarie Harbour was not always easily accessible by boats. In 1898 rock was quarried nearby put on a barge, and a triangle-shaped rock wall was laid in the harbour by 300 men. The wall was completed in 1901 and at 2.8km long and 6km deep, now makes the harbour deeper for vessels to sail through.
The Macquarie Harbour highlights are venturing out through Hells Gates, a narrow body of water which convicts referred to as the “gates to hell” due to the hazardous tidal currents. We did not experience the rough seas and high waves this area is renowned for on a relatively calm day. However, we did hear the story of a broken bungee cord recording the highest wave on record in this area at over 23 metres in size.
Hells Gates is the perfect photo opportunity and when out on the deck, keep an eye on the island with the lighthouse; Bonnet Island is home to the fairy penguins, the smallest of the penguin species.
Cruising back through the harbour on your way to the Gordon River, you will learn about the salmon and ocean trout farms that you pass and how important they are for the Tasmanian economy.
Once the vessel enters the Gordon River, enjoy quiet cruising in the pristine World Heritage area. The new vessel has state of the art electric motors, and quiet cruising means they can shut down the engines allowing for a peaceful experience, so you can fully appreciate the surroundings.
On a day with little clouds and no breeze, you will be lucky to experience the incredible mirror reflections on the river formed from the lush green forests lining the banks.
Gordon River is part of the World Heritage Area, which covers 1.38 million hectares approx. 20% of the state and stretches from Cradle Mountain to the Southern Ocean. UNESCO first listed it in 1982 after the site complied with seven out of the ten possible criteria, making it one of the world’s two highest-ranking areas.
Stops on the Gordon River Cruise Tour
Along the Gordon River, there are two stops where you will disembark. The first stop is the Heritage Landing nature walk. You stop for around 30 minutes and stroll the boardwalk around various rainforest species and the ancient Huon pines, the slowest growing tree in the forest (one millimetre per year) and the oldest (up to 3000 years).
A disturbing part of Tasmania’s convict past is revealed at Sarah Island, the cruise’s second stop. Learn about the convict history of Tasmania and how events carved in the past is what made Tasmania the state it is today. Sarah Island was a fascinating stop as you are taken by your guide around the former 1820’s penal colony.
The guides do a brilliant job of describing in detail the misery and hardship that occurred. Some ruins remain, and the guides tell stories of prison escapes, brutality, cannibalism, and murder, along with how this small island became a shipbuilding centre in its day.
Highlight of the Gordon River Cruise
Cruising down the World Heritage Gordon River, knowing this area is home to ancient species of trees, every rock type possible, and home to over 200 species of threatened plants and animals is an incredible feeling.
West Coast Wildnerness Railway
Whether you are a train enthusiast or not, you will be sure to enjoy the experience on the award-winning West Coast Wilderness Railway. Step back in time as you ride on the majestic locomotives as they take you on a journey through time and the rugged wilderness on the west coast of Tasmania.
Constructed in 1896 to transport ore from Queenstown’s mines to Strahan’s port, the railway is now one of the most popular tourist attractions in Tasmania. The railway was deemed impossible by many, who said this part of Tasmania was far too wild with enormous mountains, deep valleys, and thick forest standing in the way. Thanks to perseverance and some innovative engineering designs, the track was completed.
In 1963 the Abt railway closed, and for three decades, it lay dormant until it was reopened as the West Coast Wilderness Railway from Regatta Point to Queenstown in 2002 for tourism purposes.
West Coast Wildnerness Tours
You can choose various half or full-day tours from on the West Coast Wilderness Railway that runs on different days of the week.
Depending on where you are based, the half-day (four hours) tours depart from both Strahan and Queenstown, or you can enjoy a full day experience from Strahan to Queenstown.
Departing from Queenstown: Rack and Gorge – The tour departing from Queenstown takes you on a journey through temperate rainforests and over steep mountainside using the Abt rack and pinion system, the only Abt rack and pinion system in the Southern Hemisphere. There are several stops on the track to allow you to stretch your legs and enjoy the scenery. One of the Rack and Gorge line highlights is stopping the old Lynchford gold mine to pan for gold.
Departing from Strahan: River and Rainforest – As we were staying in Strahan, we took the scenic journey from Strahan to Dubbil Barril. The return four hour trip on the 35km track follows the impressive Macquarie Harbour and King River, taking you deep into Tasmanian’s cool temperate rainforest.
River to Rainforest Tour
As you travel alongside the King River and see the beautiful mirror reflections from the tree-lined mountainside, it is hard to imagine this landscape looking different from what it is today. Unfortunately, this is far from the case with the King River considered Australia’s most polluted river due to the copper mines’ waste disposal in the 1880s.
When the mines were prosperous, no animals or plant life could be found near the river due to acid volume in the water. Since the mines’ closure and over time, the acidity has reduced. Yet, it is far from the pristine environment you will find around other areas of Tasmania and serves as an important reminder to learn from past mistakes.
You will pay homage and marvel at the impressive engineering skills as the train takes you over historic bridges, including the Iron Bridge, and witness the remains of the 244-metre trestle bridge at Quarter Mile. The final destination of Dubbil Barril is where you disembark for a short rainforest walk and watch the train being turned on the manual turntable.
River to Rainforest Station Stops
Along the journey, there are several station stops, where you can take scenic walks and have the opportunity to taste the finest Tasmanian honey. At each station, there are poster boards with stories of incredible strength and perseverance from up to 500 men who worked in ghastly conditions for very little money to build this railway.
History of the West Coast Wilderness Railway
The train journey is made all the more entertaining and interesting by the enthusiastic guides on board who share the railway line’s history and the incredible hardships that the workers and engineers faced creating engineering greatness in such a remote and unknown part of Tasmania.
The diesel locomotives that feature on the lines are an integral part of the railway’s history. One of the stories told on the River and Rainforest line was Abt Locomotive No.1 arrived in Tasmania in pieces without assembly instructions, which was a huge test for the workers at the time who had never seen a locomotive before.
Out of the five Abt steam original locomotives used on the line, three of these are still in service on the West Coast Wilderness Railway today. What happened to the other two, you ask? One is in the Transport Museum in Hobart, and the other is buried in a quarry in Queenstown. If for any reason, the steam engines are not operating, there are also diesel locomotives available.
West Coast Wilderness Carriage Options
There are two carriage options for visitors on the West Coast Wilderness Railway. For passengers who select the Wilderness carriage at the back of the train, they receive a glass of sparkling wine to start and complimentary hot beverages during the journey.
Depending on the journey and time of departure, these guests will be treated to either a tasting tower including Tasmania’s finest produce or canapés and a light lunch. There is the option in this carriage to venture outside on the small viewing platform to take photos.
There are café stops at some of the stations where you can refuel with coffee and snacks for the visitors on the other carriages.
Highlight of the West Coast Wilderness Tour
Dubbil Barril is the final station for the half-day tours, and the rainforest walk is a lovely way to stretch your legs and see the wild west up close. For a great photo opportunity, watch as the locomotive is turned on the manual turntable.
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Other Things to Do in Strahan
One of Tasmania’s great walks, the Hogarth Falls track starts from inside Peoples Park, a short walk from town. The easy 1.2km walk (one way) with a mixture of boardwalk and gravel underfoot is one of the best free things to do in Strahan. The walk through the cool temperate rainforest is beautiful, with towering gums, trees, and large hanging ferns lining the path. As you inch closer to Hogarth Falls, you will follow flowing water and some of themost tea-stained rivers you will encounter on the west coast. The stairs at the end of the track offer you a perspective from the falls base as it cascades over the rocks. Later in the day, as the sun is low in the sky, the light filters through the trees casting a magical glow over the falls.
Bushman’s is rated as the best restaurant in Strahan, serving hearty dishes in a relaxed and comfortable ambiance. The perfect place for dinner on a cold night with the enclosed wood fire burning inside the federation-style building.
Banjo’s Bakery is a great place to refuel with a snack and lunch or start the day with a wholesome breakfast. Dine-in or grab a takeaway and continue exploring.
Weather Averages by Season
- December-February: 10 to 21 degrees
- March-May: 7 to 20 degrees
- June-August: 5 to 13 degrees
- September-November: 6 to 18 degrees
Strahan Village is a popular choice for accommodation, offering a range of options giving visitors convenient access to the main activities, sights, and restaurants in town.
We chose to stay in an Airbnb, as Strahan has many unique and well-priced properties that can be found here.
If you are travelling to Stahan as a couple, you may find the below recommendations helpful:
- The Salt Box Hideaway – a lovely quaint cabin by the water.
- Captains Rest – a trendy waterfront heritage cabin that has been featured in many magazines.
Travel Distance to Strahan
- Launceston to Strahan – 3 hours 34 minutes via Murchison Hwy.
- Strahan to Hobart – 4 hours 18 minutes via Lyell Hwy.
Due to the windy nature of the roads, I would suggest a halfway stop in-between each place.
Do you have any questions about Strahan? Ask in the comments below.
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