A remote mining town 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.
The main streetscape of Zeehan is a significant feature of the town. Points of interest around the town include the Gaiety Theatre (1899), once the largest concert hall in Australia; the West Coast Heritage Centre, which is in the old School of Mines building. One of the best regional museums in Australia, it houses early pioneering memorabilia, mining equipment and steam locomotives.
Also of interest around town are the old smelters, built in 1898 and closed in 1920; the Pioneer Cemetery (400m along Henty Main Road), used from 1891 to 1930. Talk a walk, drive or cycle through the 100-metre Spray Tunnel, a narrow abandoned railway tunnel on a one-way gravel road. Lookout: King Hill, a 2km drive from Zeehan, offers great views of the town.
Where Is it?: 286 km north west of Hobart; 139 km south west of Burnie; 38 km north west of Queenstown.
In The Area
A short one-way loop track out of Zeehan that takes in some history and is a bit of fun for everyone. This is only a 30 minute return trip but is well worth it if you are passing through Zeehan enroute to the nearby 4WD Montezuma Track.
Mount Zeehan and Mount Heemskirk are named after the ships of Abel Tasman, a Dutch navigator who was the first European to explore the coast of Tasmania. On 2nd June 1639, Tasman was dispatched by Antonio van Diemen, Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies, on "a voyage to the north-western Pacific, in search of certain Islands of gold and silver, east of Japan". Tasman subsequently set out on two esploratory voyages to New Holland (Australia). The first expedition left Batavia on 14th August 1642 with two vessels, the Heemskerk with a 60-man crew and the Zeehaan with 50 men on board. They called at Mauritius, where they stayed for a month while both ships were repaired.
Intending to sail eastward at the southern latitude of 52 or 54 degrees, it became evident early on that weather would not permit this. It was decided to sail along the 44th and 40th parallels instead. The two ships reached the longitude of the islands of St Peter and St Francis on the South Australian coast, then travelled further south, sighting Tasmania on 24th November 1642. Tasman named the island after the governor of The Dutch East Indies, Antonio van Diemen, who had instigated Tasman's journey of discovery. The tips of Mount Zeehan and Mount Heemskirk were the first land to be sighted, and were named after the expedition's two ships.
The walk to the top of Mt Heemskirk (14 km west) is short but physically demanding, that rewards trekkers with uninterrupted vistas of button-grass plains and the west coast. Several creeks are crossed by this trail. Mt Heemskirk is part of the West Coast Range. The track is also used by trail bikers.
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.
Recce Dam is a 120 metre high rock fill dam, some 35 minutes drive from Zeehan via a sealed road. The road goes over the dam, continuing on to the Murchison Highway. Reece Power Station is on Lake Pieman, created when Lower Pieman Dam (also known as the Reece Dam) was built. This power station was constructed as a part of the Pieman River Power Development, between 1974 and 1987. It has two turbines, with a combined generating capacity of 231.2MW of electricity.
Dundas railway trail
Dundas is a deserted mining town once connected by train to Zeehan. It is a short scenic drive away. This historical mining locality, mineral field and railway location is located in the western foothills of the West Coast Range, and is now part of the locality of Zeehan. The town was located 5 kilometres east of the town of Zeehan, and almost 10 kilometres west of the Mount Read township. The North East Dundas Tram branched off the Emu Bay Railway approximately 3 kilometres north east of the Dundas railway connection.
Mount Dundas Post Office opened in November 1890, was renamed Dundas in 1892 and closed in 1930. The newspaper the Zeehan and Dundas Herald (1902 1922) was one of the more significant newspapers of the west coast during its operation. The Adelaide Mine near Dundas mined special specimens of Crocoite and other rare minerals. The mineral Dundasite is named after Dundas.
Trial Harbour is a 30 minute drive along a good gravel road through rain forest and button grass plains. This coastal hamlet has magnificent beaches, fishing and a spectacular view available from the surrounding hills. It was once Zeehan's port through which the region's mineral wealth was exported. Swimming, camping, fishing, bushwalking and 4WDing are popular. Shafts and buildings relating to the Federation and Cornwall tin, silver, lead and zinc can be found in the bush. There are no shops or facilities.
Magnet Mining Trail
Magnet Mine Trail begins 1.75km west of Waratah and traverses lush rainforest on its way to the Mount Magnet mine site. The mine site has relics to explore and good to camp. You can create a circular route using local roads, particularly if cycling. A great walk if you have the time and energy. Distance: 16km.
Take in the views from the top of Mount Zeehan (702m). This 3-hour walk along a gravel track starts opposite the Zeehan Smelters. The town of Zeehan was named after Mount Zeehan which had been named by George Bass and Matthew Flinders after Abel Tasman's Fluyt Zeehaen.
The mountains around Zeehan are home to numerous spectacular waterfalls. Few are easy to reach - rough mining tracks through the bush are often the only means of access - but they are well worth seeing if you have the time and inclination. Heemskirk Falls are on the Heemskirk River, 19km north of Zeehan, at the junction of Heemskirk and Pieman Rivers. The falls are visible on the side of Mt. Heemskirk from the main road.
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.
Zeehan School of Mines abnd Metallurgy
Zeehan: Brief History
The region has one of the oldest settler histories of any part of Tasmania, when Abel Tasman sighted this part of the state in 1642. An early port for Zeehan was Trial Harbour but it was very precarious in its location on Ocean Beach and was overtaken by Strahan.
Zeehan was established as a mining field, then as a town after the Zeehan-Dundas silver-lead deposits were found in 1882 by Frank Long. Mount Zeehan Post Office opened on 1 August 1888 and was renamed Zeehan in 1890. The peak period for mining was up to the First World War, though lead mining continued on up to 1963 at mines such as the Montana and Oceana. The population of Zeehan-Dundas peaked at 10,000 about 1910, over ten times the current population.
It was clearly in competition with the town further south, Queenstown, and while the silver boom lasted it was known as the Silver City. In the first decade of the twentieth century it was on a par with Launceston and Hobart for size. With a main street over two miles long (3.2 km); it also claimed over 20 hotels. In the 1970s it saw increased activity due to operations at the nearby Renison Bell Tin mine, and again in the 1990s.
Steam locomotives at the West Coast Pioneers Museum, Zeehan
Zeehan was an important railway location—the end of the Emu Bay Railway, and the beginning of the government-owned Strahan-Zeehan Railway service that connected to Strahan and Regatta Point, where the Mount Lyell Railway connected to Queenstown. Also at early stages of the town's history, a series of timber trams spread out from Zeehan towards the Pieman River as well as a number of other locations.
Some of the smaller railway operations east of Zeehan were unique. One had the honour of having the first Garratt steam engine designed and built for its operations. After the government rail connection between Zeehan and Strahan closed, the Mount Lyell Company trucked its copper ore to the Emu Bay Railway terminus at Melba Flats, a few kilometres east of Zeehan.
Grubb's tramway near Zeehan, 1900