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
West Coast Wilderness Railway
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.
Strahan and Macquarie Harbour
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 the company town for the Mount Lyell Mining and Railway Company operations at the Iron Blow open cut copper mine in 1881 and later also became the terminus of the North Mount Lyell Railway before it closed. It is the only remaining townsite that lies in effect ‘in’ the West Coast Range.
Gormanston 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. Considerable numbers of buildings have been removed to other locations, and the local government authority was absorbed into the West Coast Council and the adjacent Mount Lyell workings have been closed down. Gormanston lies at the shoulder between Mount Lyell and Mount Owen and is south or 'up the hill' from an equally abandoned community, the remains of the townsite of Linda which is at the northern side of the Linda Valley.
Originally named the Vale of Chamoni after similar scenery in the French Alps, the Linda Valley, as it became known, has been transformed by mining. Most of the floor of the valley has been dug in search of gold. The most famous discovery was at the head of the valley - the Iron Blow, birthplace of the Mt Lyell mine.
The Iron Blow is one km from the top of Gormanston Hill. A plaque commemorates the discovery and subsequent mining of this extraordinary ore body which so puzzled the early prospectors. Steve Karlson, Bill and Mick McDonough discovered Tshe Blow. They traced gold in a nearby creek to its source on the top of the Blow. But they were at first deceived by iron pyrites or 'fool's gold', an ironstone capping over the riches beneath.
The whole area around the Iron Blow is much disturbed by old mine workings and by dumps of waste rock from the Mt Lyell mines. Beyond the car park is the West Lyell open cut which is on a mine lease and not open to the public. Quartzite and volcanics are the main rocks on Prospectors Ridge connecting Mts Lyell and Owen. The Heemskirk Range and Mt Zeehan are prominent mountains towards the northwest.
Like its neighbour, Gormanston, Linda was once a prosperous mining town, but is now a ghost town. It is well worth a visit by people interested in seeing how towns, once they have outlived their usefulness, simply die. Linda was the town supporting the North Mount Lyell mine and the terminus of the North Mount Lyell Railway when it was in operation. Ore was taken from the mine to smelters at Crotty (now under the waters of Lake Burbury) then the refined metal taken to a port at Pillinger on the shores of Macquarie Harbour at Kelly Basin.
When North Mount Lyell was taken over by Mount Lyell Mining and Railway Company in 1903, Linda was quickly reduced in significance and eventually most residents moved to Gormanston, the nearby Mount Lyell town. Linda was the site of a serious underground mining disaster in 1912 when 42 miners were killed by a fire deep within the mountain. The remains of the townsite of Linda are at the northern side of the Linda Valley, to the north or 'down the hill' from the equally abandoned community of Gormanston. Linda is adjacent to the Lyell Highway 8 km east of Queenstown.
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.
Donaghys Hill Walk
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.