Set on a quiet bay, Strahan is a small, picturesque frontier-style town with an abundance of character and a variety of stories to tell of the West Coast's pioneering days. From its beginnings as the location for bushmen seeking precious Huon pine, Strahan became the railway port for a rich copper mine inland. Those days are long gone, and the only reminders of the copper boom days are an impressive post office and steamship offices.
What everyone come to Strahan to see these days is Macquarie Harbour, on whose shores the town stands, and the Gordon River, which flows through ancient Tasmanian rainforests, emptying its water - browned by the oils of the huon pine - into Macquarie Harbour south of Strahan. Unlike many other Tasmanian destinations, Strahan's landscapes, waves and weather are wild and elemental - typical of the south west Tasmanian World Heritage Wilderness in which it is located.
How To Get There: Drive south along Lyell Highway from the north-west, or north from Hobart to Queenstown; follow the signs to Strahan.
Visitor Centre: The Esplanade, Strahan. Ph 1800 352 200
IMPORTANT: If you plan to visit Strahan, be aware that Telstra is the only phone/internet communications provider that services the town. Phones and tablets operating on other networks will not function in and around Strahan. The only wi-fi available is to guests of some accommodation providers. If you intend to use your mobile phone or other communications device during your stay in Strahan, be sure to verify that your accommodation provider has wifi facilities for guests before booking, or take an activated post-paid or pre-paid Telstra sim card with you for use in Strahan.
Surprisingly accessible by road, Strahan has become an eco-tourism mecca without sacrificing any of its waterfront charm. Coaches move in and out of the town each day, bringing wide-eyed visitors eager to taste the fresh lobster caught earlier that morning, take a steam train ride through the untouched forest wilderness, or cruise the ancient, mirror-like waters of the Gordon River.
Macquarie Harbour is fed by many rivers, not the least is the Gordon River. Appearing to stand silent within Tasmania s pristine World Heritage Area, this majestic river winds its way from deep in the South-West to the mouth of Macquarie Harbour. The Gordon which would have been damned many years ago had not the Federal Government intervened and saved it in 1984. The Franklin River flows into the Gordon.
Macquarie Harbour is steeped in history. It was on its southern shore that Tasmania s first penal settlement was established in 1822 on Sarah Island (Port Arthur was established in 1834, after Sarah Island was declared unsatisfactory). Mining and forestry operations based around the magnificent Huon pine, famous for its oily shipbuilding qualities, commenced in the 1880s, making Strahan, the small fishing village now the centre of activities on Macquarie Harbour, the second-busiest port in Tasmania a century ago.
In The Area
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 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.
Macquarie Harbour is fed by many rivers, not the least is the Gordon River. Appearing to stand silent within Tasmania's pristine World Heritage Area, this majestic river winds its way from deep in the South-West to the mouth of Macquarie Harbour. The Gordon which would have been damned many years ago had not the Federal Government intervened and saved it in 1984. The Franklin River flows into the Gordon.
The dense, temperate rainforest is dark, gloomy and teeming with life. It is through this wild environment that Australia's most stunningly picturesque tourist railway, the West Coast Wilderness Railway, winds its way from Strahan to Queenstown on tracks laid down more than a century ago to carry ore from Queenstown's mines to port facilities on Macquarie Harbour. The 40km-long Ocean Beach receives waves unimpaired since they left Patagonia on the southern tip of South America.
Macquarie Harbour is steeped in history. It was on its southern shore that Tasmania's first penal settlement was established in 1822 on Sarah Island (Port Arthur was established in 1834, after Sarah Island was declared unsatisfactory). Mining and forestry operations based around the magnificent Huon pine, famous for its oily shipbuilding qualities, commenced in the 1880s, making Strahan, the small fishing village now the centre of activities on Macquarie Harbour, the second-busiest port in Tasmania a century ago.
20 minutes drive south of Zeehan on the road south to Strahan is where you will find the largest moving dune system in Tasmania. Henty Dunes are a vast expanse of rolling white desert sand dunes extending several kilometres inland, its white hilly sand reminiscent of the Snowy Mountains. It is the last thing would expect to find amid the lush rainforest of Tasmania s west coast. Pine plantations have attempted to stop the migration of the dunes inland. The huge sand formations can be explored on foot or aboard quad bikes. Sandboarding is also popular.
Henty Dunes Quad Bike Tours: 4 Wheeler Quad Bikes of Strahan operate Quad Tours out of Strahan. The three-seater buggies leave in convoy from Strahan to the Henty Sand Dunes picnic area, just 10 minutes from the centre of Strahan along the B27 highway to Zeehan. There are plenty of opportunities for photos along the way, and the ride would suit the novice ot experienced rider. Being three seaters, you can take the kids along too. Contact: 4 Wheeler Quad Bikes, Strahan. Ph: 0419 508 175
Sarah Island (or Settlement Island) is found in the far south west corner of Macquarie Harbour. This isolated island was a Penal Settlement between 1822 and 1833, established, before the more well-known Port Arthur, as a place of 'secondary' punishment, an attempt to control the uncontrollable. Over time Sarah Island has gained a reputation as a place of unspeakable horrors and a living hell, largely due to the exploits of one of the island's 'colourful' characters, Alexander Pearce, the Cannibal Convict, and a novel "For the Term of His Natural Life" written about 1860 by Marcus Clark. The novel, although based on actual events, is a fiction which set out to create Sarah Island as a living hell for its hero, Rufus Dawes. Sarah Island is visited by cruise boats travelling Macquarie Harbour from Strahan.
Just north of Hell's Gates, the spectacular entrance to Macquarie Harbour, is Ocean beach. No visit to Strahan is complete without travelling here. Some six kilometres due west of town and facing 8,000km of Great Southern Ocean, it is Tasmania s longest with nearly 40 kilometres of unbroken beach from Macquarie Heads in the south to Trial Harbour in the north.
If you want to experience what the end of the world is really like it is worthwhile standing on this hard, flat beach watching the huge waves relentlessly breaking and realising that those waves, travelling on the Roaring Forties, have not made contact with land between Australia and Patagonia. At this point you are further south than the Cape of Good Hope and on the same latitude as the southern reaches of Patagonia, on the southern tip of South America. The beach is wild and beautiful, the sunsets are impressive. You can also watch the Muttonbirds return to their nests at dusk from a day s feeding and depart again at dawn.
Ocean Beach offers some great beach fishing that is comparable to anywhere. The main fishing from here is Australian Salmon, sharks and skate. One excellent spot here is at the mouth of the Henty River. Anyone wishing to drive along Ocean Beach to access its fishing spots should be very wary of the quick sand, common throughout this area. It is suggested to obtain local advice before the trip.
Hogarth Falls is nestled in the People s Park in the south-west coastal town of Strahan. The waterfall is about 15 metres high in total, however the main section of the falls visible from the park is 8 metres. It s an easy 2.5km round trip to the falls.
The falls track is located in the Peoples Park in the Strahan township. You can drive to the park via The Esplanade or walk there via the Foreshore Walking Track. This walk will take you through an example of mixed forest. Among the towering gum trees, you will also find species typical of cool temperate rainforest, such as leatherwood, sassafrass and myrtle.
Gordon River and Macquarie Harbour cruises
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. 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.
The first reaction to Queenstown (41 km east) 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.
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.
Hell's Gate is the name of the entrance to Macquarie Harbour, a huge inland sea on Tasmania s west coast. The Entrance Island and Bonnet Island lighthouses stand at the entrance to the Harbour. The Entrance Island light, one of the most photographed lighthouses in Tasmania, guards the notoriously shallow and dangerous 120 metre wide channel entrance to the harbour, known as Hell s Gate. The name of the channel relates to the original convicts claim that it was their point of entrance to Hell , their Hell being the Macquarie Harbour Penal Station on Sarah Island and the outlying surrounds of the harbour.
The narrow 120 metre entrance to the huge Macquarie Harbour was discovered in 1815. Within a year, timber cutters moved in and navigating the narrow entrance and its sandbar was an essential hazard to getting the timber out to Hobart. A signal station was erected near Cape Sorell in 1822 to indicates conditions entering the harbour. It was manned by convicts from the newly established penal settlement at Sarah Island.
The conditions were so bad at the new Sarah Island that the convicts named the entrance to the harbour Hells Gate. Other records indicate the name was used due to the enormous rush of the tides through the entrance to the harbour which can create very dangerous conditions. In the 1890s the discovery of silver and lead at Zeehan greatly increased the traffic entering the harbour. Works taken to improve the entrance included the building of a breakwater and the lighthouses.
The lighthouses can be reached by boat from the port of Strahan. There are regular tours of Macquarie Harbour that include the lights.