The first reaction to Queenstown as you approach it by road from Hobart is generally one of shock - what comes into view is like a nuclear landscape, the hillsides of its famous Mt. Lyell bare and carved into geometrical forms as a result of copper mining.
These days Queenstown is experiencing a revival. Whilst many of the surrounding hills are still bare, the vegetation of the town itself is quite pretty with a friendly atmosphere with a certain kind of charm that, combined with its unique setting, makes it a refreshing stopping point for the traveller. Miner's Siding and tours of the Mt Lyell mine can be visited.
When approached from the south via Lyell Highway, excellent views of Queenstown and the surrounding area are afford around 5km out of Queenstown. There are some great walks of varying lengths that allow access to the surrounding countryside. The Donaghys Hill Walk has views to the Collingwood River, Franklin River Valley and Frenchmans Cap, which is one of the highest peaks in the area. The Bird River walk takes you deep into West Coast Wilderness rainforest, winding past streams and tree ferns. The walking track leads to the old port of Pillinger. The Franklin River walk begins 62km from Queenstown and provides access to the Franklin River via a level, well maintained path.
How To Get There: Drive south along Lyell Highway from the north-west, or north from Hobart to Queenstown
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The immensely popular West Coast Wilderness Railway runs daily through World Heritage listed rainforest between Strahan and Queenstown. The railway is significant because of its Abt system to conquer the mountainous terrain through rainforest, with original locomotives still operating on the railway today. Now operating as a tourist experience with a focus on sharing the history of the Tasmania's West Coast, the original railway began operations in 1897 as the only link between Queenstown and the port of Strahan.
The railway was the only way to get the copper from the Mount Lyell mine at Queenstown to markets. Until 1932, when a Hobart road link was completed, it was the only access through to Queenstown. The railway utilised the Abt rack and pinion system for steep sections. Because of the gradients, tonnages were always limited on the railway. The gauge is 3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm). The railway ceased operation on 10 August 1963 due to increasing maintenance costs and the improvement of road access to the West Coast from the North with the opening of the Murchison Highway. The last train run was performed by the same engine that ran the first run (ABT 1 in 1896 was the first engine to steam into Queenstown). The rail and other movable items were lifted taken off-site, leaving most of the bridges intact.
Despite various proposals post 1963, it was not until the 1990s after the demise of the main Mount Lyell Company mining operations, and the downgrading of Hydro Tasmania's activities of dam building on the West Coast, that some very committed local West Coast people campaigned for the restoration of the Abt Railway as an iconic heritage tourist attraction featuring the unique rail system and the community's mining history. The restoration of the Abt Railway was made possible through the Australian Government Prime Minister's Federal Fund, with further funding from the State Government and some private investment.
The restored railway commenced operations on 27 December 2002 as the Abt Wilderness Railway, and was officially re-opened by the Prime Minister of Australia John Howard and the Premier of Tasmania Jim Bacon in 2003. The new terminus in Queenstown is on the site of the original station yard. The station at Regatta Point terminus has been renovated. The railway follows its original alignment except for the 'Quarter Mile Bridge' near Teepookana. The toursit railway closed in April 2013 as the need for investment in infrastructure had caused the railway to no longer be viable. Following track rehabilitation work, the railway re-opened between Queenstown and Dubbil Barril on 6 January 2014, while rehabilitation of the section through to Strahan continues.
Macquarie Harbour is the second-largest natural harbour in Australia after Port Phillip Bay in Victoria. However, the real glory of Macquarie Harbour is not its size but its setting; the surrounding wilderness and the Gordon River that flows through it are other-worldly, and in recent years have attracted local and international visitors to what is one of the last easily-accessible pristine wilderness areas left in the world. Strahan (44 km west) is a fishing and tourist town located at the northern end of Macquarie Harbour. Strahan is the only coastal town on Tasmania's West Coast.
At 105 metres, Montezuma Falls is Tasmania's highest falls. To access the falls, follow the Montezuma Falls Trail traversing lush rainforest with leatherwood, myrtle and sassafras. This trail follows the former North East Dundas Tramway which ran from Zeehan to Williamsford, once a busy mining town but now slowly being reclaimed by the bush.
High on the slopes of Mount Owen, above the town of Queenstown is the remnants of the mining town of Gormanston. It was built as a mining company town in 1881. Normanston was at its peak in 1901, when it had a population of 1,760 and had a local government authority based in its town. Today there are only a handful of families still living in this historic mining town.
On the way in from Hobart, you'll pass Lake Burbury, created in the early 1990s as part of Tasmania's Hydro Electric scheme. Lake Burbury is one of Tasmania's best trout fishing spots. The view of the lake from the top of Mt Owen is breathtaking.
The upper portion of the King River valley was first surveyed for damming in 1917 by the Mount Lyell company. It was not until after the Franklin Dam issue of the 1980s that Hydro Tasmania proceeded to dam the valley. Lake Burbury was the name of the subsequently created lake over the valley, named after the first Australian born Governor of Tasmania, Stanley Burbury. The small timber mill community adjacent to the old alignment of the Lyell Highway was submerged, as was a significant portion of the old railway alignment of the North Mount Lyell Railway between Linda and Pillinger. The site of the townsite of Crotty, and the smelters of Crotty were also submerged.
John Butters Power Station is part of the King River Power Scheme in Western Tasmania. It has one Francis turbine, with a generating capacity of 144 MW of electricity, and is remotely controlled from the Sheffield Control Centre. Water is fed from Lake Burbury which is dammed by the Crotty Dam in the gap in the West Coast Range between Mount Jukes and Mount Huxley, and to the south by Darwin Dam. The power station is named after Hydro Tasmania's first general manager and chief engineer, John Butters. It was one of the last hydro electric power stations built by the HEC before its disaggregation and transformation to Hydro Tasmania.
Frenchmans Cap offers a challenging walk to the summit (1,446 metres), and is exposed to harsh weather conditions at any time of the year. Access to the summit should not be attempted in adverse weather. The well marked track leading to the summit is considerably more arduous than many other Tasmanian walks, including the Overland Track. The walk to the peak typically takes two days. The first day of about 16 km will bring walkers to Lake Vera Hut. This part of the walk includes two steep and prolonged ascents separated by the boggy Loddon Plains. The so-called Sodden Loddons are almost always muddy and crossing them may take two hours or more. In wet weather the mud can be waist high. In summer it is only knee high. Water is plentiful (and drinkable) in all seasons. Walk time from Lyell Highway to Lake Vera is between six and eight hours.
No visit to the west coast of Tasmania is complete without a cruise on Macquarie Harbour and the ancient, mirror like water of Macquarie Harbour and the Gordon River, which operate out of Strahan (44 km west). This half day cruise travels deep in the World Heritage Listed rainforests, Tasmania s world-renowned salmon farms, and the notorious Sarah Island penal settlement ruins. Visitors can enjoy one the most intimate rainforest experiences possible a stroll through a pristine forest of 2,000 year-old Huon Pine.
A huge natural protected body of water, Macquarie Harbour surrounds the ruins of Tasmania s most infamous convict stations in the south and gives way to the wild ocean through the narrow Hell's Gates. This magnificent waterway was the subject of international attention in the early 1980s when conservationists stopped the building of a dam across the river. The waters of this river meander down from the Central Highlands, through breathtaking a World Heritage-listed temperate rainforests to the mouth of Macquarie Harbour.
There are numerous great walks of varying lengths that allow access to the surrounding countryside, this is just one of them. The Donaghys Hill Walk has views to the Collingwood River, Franklin River Valley and Frenchmans Cap, which is one of the highest peaks in the area. The Bird River walk takes you deep into West Coast Wilderness rainforest, winding past streams and tree ferns. The walking track leads to the old port of Pillinger. The Franklin River walk begins 62km from Queenstown and provides access to the Franklin River via a level, well maintained path.
A remote mining town in Tasmania's west that has gone from being the third largest town in Tasmania with a population of 10,000, to a deserted ghost town until the late 1960s, and back to a prosperous mining town again, thanks to the Renison Bell tin mine (28 km north west). Many travellers drive straight through the town, not realising there is so much to see in the surrounding area.