Nestled between the Southern Ocean and gateway to Tasmanians’ World Heritage area, Strahan is a charming little town and former west coast port. The town which sits on the banks of Macquarie Harbour 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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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 the history of Tasmania in comfortable surroundings, then this day trip is ideal.
The new vessel ‘Spirit of the Wild’ departs daily at 8.30am. 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, 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 as well as 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.
At the beginning of the tour, passengers will be taken out into Macquarie Harbour, Australia’s second largest natural harbour, which is six times the size of Sydney Harbour. As you cruise out towards Hells Gates, you will learn about how events in the past made a dramatic impact on 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 is 2.8km long and 6km deep, which in turn now makes the harbour deeper for vessels to sail through.
One of the highlights in Macquarie Harbour is 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. On a relatively calm day we did not experience the rough seas and high waves this area is renowned for. 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 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 while in the Gordon River, 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. It was first listed by UNESCO in 1982. The site has to comply with one out of the ten possible criteria, here in Tasmania this World Heritage area complies with seven out of the ten possible criteria making it one of the two highest-ranking areas in the world.
STOPS ALONG THE CRUISE
Along the Gordon River, there are two stops where you will disembark. The first stop being the Heritage Landing nature walk where 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 second stop of the cruise. 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 TOUR
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 WILDERNESS 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 the port of Strahan, 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 large mountains, deep valleys, and thick forest standing in the way. Thanks to perseverance and some clever 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.
There are various half or full day tours you can choose 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.
HALF DAY TOURS
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, which is 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 highlights of the Rack and Gorge line 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.
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 any different to what it is today. Unfortunately, this is far from the case with the King River considered to be Australia’s most polluted river due to the waste disposal from the copper mines in the 1880s. When the mines were prosperous, no animals or plant life could be found near the river due to the volume of acid in the water. Since the closure of the mines 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 to watch the train being turned on the manual turntable.
Along the journey, there are several station stops, where you can take scenic walks as well as having 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.
The train journey is made all the more entertaining and interesting by the enthusiastic guides on board who share the history of the railway line and the incredible hardships that the workers and engineers faced creating engineering greatness in such a remote and unknown part of Tasmania.
HISTORY OF THE LOCOMOTIVES
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 that were 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.
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 also the option in this carriage to venture outside on the small viewing platform to take photos of the line.
For the visitors on the other carriages, there are café stops at some of the stations where you can refuel with coffee and snacks.
HIGHLIGHT OF THE 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.
OTHER MUST-SEE SIGHTS IN STRAHAN TASMANIA
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 the most tea stained rivers you will come across on the west coast. The stairs at the end of the track offer you a perspective from the base of the falls 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. The other alternative (which we chose) offering many unique properties around Strahan is an Airbnb.
Two of the recommendations for Strahan if you’re staying as a couple are:
SALT BOX HIDEAWAYS can be found HERE
CAPTAINS REST – Waterfront Heritage Cabin booked through Airbnb and found HERE
TRAVELLING 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.
YOU MAY ALSO LIKE: Four Iconic Sights to Visit in Hobart, Tasmania.
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Disclosures: We were kindly offered discounted tickets for the Gordon River Cruise and West Coast Wilderness Railway, however as always all opinions are my own. I only ever recommend brands, places and tours that I personally love!
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