The wild west coast of Tasmania is rugged, atmospheric, intriguing and uplifting. We take a look at some of the highlights in our A to Z of the Western Wilds touring route.
Australia's longest running play The Ship That Never Was tells the dramatic and hilarious true story about the last great escape from Sarah Island. Set in 1834, 10 convicts bound for Port Arthur on The Frederick, the last ship built at Sarah Island, make other plans, kicking off a story filled with twists and turns the whole family can enjoy.
Beautifully restored, the Gaiety Theatre in Zeehan (pictured below) was once visited by Dame Nellie Melba and Harry Houdini. Now part of the West Coast Heritage Centre, you can explore the theatre, the Zeehan School of Mines and Metallurgy, Zeehan Post Office, the Police Station/Court House as well as 30 themed exhibition spaces.
Image credit: Ollie Khedun
Cannibalism was reputedly the lifestyle of choice for convict Alexander Pearce. Transported from his home country of Ireland for seven years for theft, he escaped from prison several times. During one of these escapes he allegedly became a cannibal, and was later captured and executed for murder. His fascinating (if a little creepy) story is told on a cruise on the Gordon River.
Drive your own adventure in an all-terrain vehicle and take in the magnificent surrounds of the Henty Dunes and Ocean Beach. You can take the wheel or just be a passenger as you traverse the dunes or weave in and out of forestry plantations with experienced guides, and you will be able to see and feel the wildness of the west.
Ever walked through a 100m long abandoned railway tunnel? Just outside Zeehan you'll find the Spray Tunnel Loop, an easy one-hour return walk that passes through the abandoned train tunnel that leads to what was the Spray Silver Mine. Complete with glow worms, the tunnel is unusually shaped like a keyhole. On the other side, you will find the relics of buildings and abandoned boilers – a reminder of the west's mining past.
Fatman Barge (we have no idea where that name came from!) is the only way you can get from the north to south banks of the Pieman River at Corinna. Deep within the beautiful Tarkine rainforest, the barge takes passengers and vehicles to allow you to easily continue your journey. While there, you may choose to also cruise the Pieman on the Arcadia II to experience this pristine nature up close.
Ghost towns are dotted throughout the area. One is Lake Margaret – originally a Hydro town. Due to the closure of the Lake Margaret Power Station no one lives there, but the houses still remain. Others include Gormanston and Linda, where abandoned buildings stand silent, as well as Williamsford, where you can still see the remains of the haulage system used in the mining era.
Hold onto your hats and gird your loins for an exhilarating abseil down the Gordon Dam, which at 140m is the highest commercial abseil in the world. This full-day tour works you up to the big jump slowly, and with experienced guides with you every step of the way it's suitable for all levels of experience (even none!). The views and rush you will experience are second-to-none.
Iron Blow lookout (pictured below) is located between Queenstown and the ghost town of Gormanston. The cantilevered lookout offers a unique view of the former open-cut mine and iconic landscape of the Linda Valley. The Iron Blow was the earliest major mining venture at Mt Lyell in 1883, and now strikes a stunning feature to stop and admire on your west coast journey.
Image credit: Ollie Khedun
John Butters Power Station is fed by water from Lake Burbury, which is dammed by the Crotty Dam, sited between Mt Jukes and Mt Huxley in the West Coast Range. When the dam was constructed in the 1990s, the abandoned township of Crotty was flooded. Today, you can see the remains of the township when the lake levels are extremely low.
King River Gorge boasts exhilarating grade three rapids, flowing into the serenity of the lower reaches. King River Rafting is an exciting way to discover the pristine wilderness of the west coast. And when you're done, embrace the authentic atmosphere of Queenstown with plenty of options to stop and stay the night.
Launch your boat and fish for plump trout among the skeletons of giant eucalypts at Lake Pieman, then enjoy a BBQ on the shore. Another Hydro dam, this is also the site of the Hydrowood harvesting, where long-submerged trees are being brought to the surface and turned into beautiful furniture and fit-outs.
Marvel at the colony of Little Penguins living on Bonnet Island near the entrance to Macquarie Harbour (pictured below). Site of the lighthouse that has guided many ships through the treacherous waters of Hells Gates, and lost some along the way, the island has a fascinating history as well as giving you an opportunity to see wildlife up close.
Image credit: RACT Destinations
Nothofagus gunnii is the state's only native deciduous beech, turning the Mt Field and Cradle Mountain – Lake St Clair national parks into stunning vistas of orange and gold to stop and marvel at on your journey to the west. While on your way, stop off and explore the antiques and cafes of New Norfolk, or the wonders of Cradle Mountain Wilderness Gallery.
October in Queenstown sees the arrival of The Uncomformity festival, a biennial, contemporary arts festival over three days that explores the paradoxes of this small mining community. This festival is nothing like the norm, embracing the unusual landscape of the west coast and its communities and bringing them to life through the arts.
Pack your walking shoes, pull off onto a side road and push past your limits on a range of short and long walks to waterfalls, lakes, mountains and rainforests. There are short walks dotted all around the west, and the scenery is absolutely worth stopping off for. The more adventurous may choose one of the longer challenges and mountain climbs – you will be rewarded with stunning views, such as the one below from Mt Owen.
Image credit: Ollie Khedun
Q – we bet you thought we'd take the easy option and say Queenstown, right? Well yes, it certainly is more than worthy of being on the list, but this is about the Hidden Gems, so we'd also like to highlight the quirky and unique Lyn's Teddy Bear House museum in Tullah – a collection of adorable handmade teddies that will captivate young and old alike.
Rack-and-pinion sounds like something you would find in a torture chamber, but it is the revolutionary system used by the West Coast Wilderness Railway (pictured below) to help the train ascend through the rainforest – and slow it on the way down! The only one of its kind operating in the Southern Hemisphere, it allows you to traverse deep into the wilderness and experience it like never before.
Sarah Island is the site of what was an incredibly harsh penal colony in the middle of Macquarie Harbour. It took the worst of the worst convicts, including the reputed cannibal Alexander Pearce. With the ruins of the buildings still visible from the water, you can tour the island as part of a cruise on the Gordon River.
Traverse the North East Dundas Tramway to one of Tasmania's highest waterfalls, Montezuma Falls, on the outskirts of Rosebery. An easy 4km walk takes you through the rainforest and right to the base of the falls. Departing from Williamsford, you can also take in the historic remains of early mining in the area.
Image credit: Ollie Khedun
Uncover a world of artefacts and images that capture the true spirit, nature and history of the West Coast at the Galley Museum in Queenstown. Housed in the former Imperial Hotel, one of the highlights is the extensive collection detailing the 1912 North Mount Lyell disaster, where a fire broke out in the mine, trapping men and causing chaos. Forty-two men were never seen alive again.
View the large seasonal horsetail falls along with panoramic views of Mt Owen from the 1km boardwalk near Gormanston. Rising more than 1140m above sea level, it was well-known for its sparse vegetation as a result of local mining, although it is slowly starting to recover.
Work up a sweat along the Strahan foreshore while following the six interpretive signs that highlight significant historical labour conducted in the area and guided exercises that mimic the type of activity. No wonder the original settlers are well known as being some of the toughest around!
X marks the spot where there have been reported sightings of the long-extinct Tasmanian tiger – well, it would be great if there was a marker, wouldn't there? Instead venture into the local pubs to hear tales from long-time residents – some of whom say they have seen the tiger in recent years with their very own eyes.
Yellow-tailed black cockatoos are just one of the amazing array of wildlife you will find in the west – wallabies, pademelons, wombats, Tassie devils, quolls, wedgetailed eagles, platypus, penguins, whales, brown and rainbow trout – the list is endless, and we're sure to have missed a few!
Zoom around the 99 bends – the famed entry and exit to Queenstown that winds its way through the denuded mountainous landscape that the town is famous for. The scenery provides a stark contrast to the lush green rainforests of the surrounding roads but tells an equally powerful story of the area.