A wild, rugged corner of the country that begs for exploration in winter.
Mining relics, mountain train journeys, shipwrecks and untouched rainforests – the frontier feel is never far away in this wild part of the world. The rugged West Coast of Tasmania is surrounded by the stunning takayna/Tarkine wilderness, which harbours rainforest dating back to the time of Gondwana (the super continent), spectacular granite mountains, wildlife and a windswept coastline home to seabirds and culturally significant Aboriginal middens.
This area holds a special – and somewhat gruesome – place in Australia’s colonial history. Deep in the impenetrable bush in 1822, eight convicts escaped from Macquarie Harbour Penal Station and took their chances in the wild. Starving and shivering, they were no match for the hostile terrain, and eventually succumbed to the elements – and each other.
Today you can find much more welcoming options. Fresh seafood is the star, but so are traditional meals based around the tastes of the old time “piners and miners”. Winter is the perfect time to experience the area from the comfort of heated wood cabins, winding drives or train rides, and the still-playful nautically themed bars and restaurants.
The West Coast might only be around a four-hour drive from either Hobart or Launceston, but feels more than a world away.
Welcome to West Coast of Tasmania
The bounty from the coast’s wild ocean and Macquarie Harbour means seafood reins supreme in this part of the world. Inland towns bring out good old-fashioned home-style cooking.
Find a classic, cosy hideaway to sample a local whisky or pint by the fire.
Bushwalking through mining tunnels; sitting pretty on a historic railway; and exploring the wild coastline – there are a hundred ways to delve into history while seeing the stunning countryside. Bunker down in a miner’s cottage on the banks of the river or laze in luxury with a view.
Bushwalking through mining tunnels; sitting pretty on a historic railway; and exploring the wild coastline – there are a hundred ways to delve into history while seeing the stunning countryside.
The Spray Tunnel in Zeehan was once part of a mine that spread 80 acres into the surrounding hills. Built in 1887, when silver-lead ore was found here in 1900, it led to Zeehan becoming a boom town known as “Silver City”. At one point its population peaked at 10,000, rivalling Hobart and Launceston. Today it has only a tenth of that, but it’s still a proud and fascinating town to visit, with one of the best museums in the state (the West Coast Heritage Centre) and the beautiful old Gaiety Theatre. The tunnel here was once a way through for the trains that carted the ore from the Silver Spray Mine into Zeehan. To reach the tunnel you follow Fowler Street (at the north end of town) past the golf course and pick up a narrow, winding road through the bush for about two kilometres. Park your car and head into the tunnel, keeping your eye out for glow-worms (and spiders). The white light at the end of the tunnel is rimmed with ferns providing a fetching archway as you pass through the keyhole and enter into the disused mine. A loop track leads you through bush and past mining relics now being reclaimed by the forest. While it’s tempting to wander off the track, you’re best not to as there are still mine shafts in the area. There’s also an informative interpretation board at the car park displaying historical information about the mine and tunnel.
Morrison’s Huon Pine Sawmill
It was a tough life for the early Tasmanian timber workers, who felled Huon Pine along the Dennison, Gordon and Franklin rivers. Their spoils would be floated downstream to Macquarie Harbour, tied together, then rafted across to the seaside township of Strahan. In summer the water level in the rivers would often be too low to float the logs, so they’d be left in the riverbed until the next flood picked them up and washed them downstream. Morrison’s Huon Pine Sawmill in Strahan remembers and bears traces of this life. A huge vertical frame saw dating from the 1800s sits pride of place in the mill and has been there since 1940 when three brothers Morrison set up their Huon Pine business on the Strahan wharf. Here you can see the original derrick crane that hoisted logs off the rafts and into the mill to be cut up and shaped, mostly to build boats, and a demonstration of the saw in action every day at 3pm. The gift shop sells beautifully handcrafted Huon Pine souvenirs, from clocks to jewellery to bowls to breadboards and serving platters. Everything is made in Tasmania and a lot of it right here at the mill. You can even buy unfinished, seasoned offcuts to take home and craft yourself. There’s also a short film showing the life of the early timber workers and you can see historic photographs that give stark sense of what it was like to work this wild land back to the Huon Pine glory days. Give thanks you were born in a different era.
A 15-minute drive north of Strahan will bring you to the remarkable Henty Dunes. These huge natural features are the largest sand dunes in Tasmania, with some stretching up to 30 metres high. They were carved in part by the vicious “Roaring Forties” – winds that whip up across the ocean and smash onto the West Coast – and are part of an important geological formation that was formed relatively recently (if you can call some time in the last 10,000 years recent). It’s the perfect place for an invigorating and cheap day out. Hire a toboggan in Strahan and ride it down the dunes as the wind tears through your hair, then get a good cardio workout as you huff and puff your way back up to the top. It’s also a guaranteed way to stay warm on even the coldest winter’s day. There are many culturally significant Aboriginal sites here – including middens – as well as nests for the many shorebirds that live here, so care and respect for this unique place should always be shown. Tip: there are no shops, water or toilet facilities at Henty Dunes, so come prepared.
West Coast Wilderness Railway
The West Coast railway line opened in 1897 as a means to transport copper from Queenstown to the port of Strahan up, and over the mountainous, wet countryside. It ran continuously until 1964, when the development of better roads into the West Coast meant there was less need for the railway and it fell into disrepair. But in the mid 1990s the state and federal governments committed money to help rebuild the railway, and it opened again in 2001 as a tourist attraction. The original steam engines are still used, and you travel in comfort with food, drinks service and historical commentary along the way. “Rug up and chill out,” is the winter motto. There’s a timeless romance about pulling away from a station in the early morning mist and disappearing with a puff of smoke into the mountains. The Tasmanian smoked salmon and glass of sparkling wine on offer doesn’t hurt, either. Winter tours leave from Queenstown and Strahan, on alternate days, travelling to the half way point of Dubbil Barril (not a spelling mistake) then returning. It’s about a four-hour trip, so settle in. The railway celebrates Christmas in July, with mulled wine and mince pies, and when the steam looks best.
The Local's Tour of the West Coast
Winter fun indoors and out as you explore the wild coast, pick through mining relics, get a history lesson and wash it all down with whisky.
Spray Tunnel, Zeehan
Drive half an hour to the charming town of Zeehan and walk the one-hour loop track through the historic Spray Tunnel, checking out the silver-mining relics along the way. Call into the fantastic West Coast Heritage Centre on the way back through town (the op-shops are also worth a look if you have time).
Morrison’s Huon Pine Sawmill
(03) 6471 7235
Morrison’s Huon Pine Sawmill
Drive back to Strahan and call into the historic mill on the wharf to see the giant vertical saw demonstration at 3pm. Learn how Huon Pine was harvested along the river beds and floated across Macquarie Harbour to be processed right where you stand. Pick up a locally crafted Huon Pine souvenir and chat to the knowledgeable proprietors Brendan and Kellie.
(03) 4671 4200
Climb the steps to View 42 and indulge in a whisky tasting session over looking Macquarie Harbour. Compare the many shades of the local Hellyers Road whisky and learn about the distillery history of Tasmania. Grab one of View 42’s platters if you’re feeling peckish.