Nov 12 Ocean Beach is the longest beach in Tasmania stretching for 40 kms facing the great southern ocean. It is home to mutton birds from October to April. On our way to the beach we notice some strange boat activity in the Macquarie Harbour. When we arrived we could see 4 whales stranded on shallow sand banks. Later, we learn that 22 sperm whales were beached on Ocean Beach and 4 hump back whales were also stranded inside the harbour. Sadly, only 2 of the whales were able to be saved and guided back out to sea. Apparently these whale strandings are not uncommon around the Strahan area.
Nov 11 The West Coast Wilderness Railway was one of the major highlights of the Tasmania adventure. The original steam railway from Strahan to Queenstown has been fully retored for a journey through dense rainforests and past cavernous gorges and rushing rivers. When the railway was built in Tasmania, it was considered one of the engineering marvels of Australia, using the unique ABT (named after the German inventor) rack and pinnion system for the steep up and down grades.
The West Coast pioneers who built the original railway in 1896 accomplished a great feat of labour. For many miles along the King River the railway line was hewn with pick and shovel out of the steep side of the gorge. Forty two bridges were built over the 22-mile long stretch of wilderness; for the ‘quarter mile’ bridge below the gorge, pylons had to be driven 60 feet into the silt with men constantly up to their waists in the cold water.
We chose a little luxury and travelled in the Premier carriage (with only 2 other passengers) to include local gourmet refreshments and wine served all day.
On one of the stops along the way, we experienced how the old gold miners used to pan for their fortunes and Siobhan actually found a nugget (note the photo is somewhat enlarged for effect).
Nov 10 Strahan is a pretty, small town on the edge of Macquarie Harbour (twice the size of Sydney Harbour). It was discovered in 1815 by the whaler and adventurer Capt James Kelly. By 1900 Strahan had become a major port servicing the inland mines of the west coast but the population declined to a few hundred when the mines closed in 1970. Today, fishing and tourism are the main occupations.
Nov 9 We leave Bothwell with the intention of an overnight stay at Bronte Park. We past through Tarraleah where there is a large hydro-electric plant. The caravan site at Bronte Park sounded lovely on the web but, unfortunately, when we arrived reality bore no relation whatsoever to the brochure. We received our money back, did an immediate u-turn and kept going towards Strahan. We made a stop at the tiny township of Derwent Bridge to visit the remarkable decade long art project by local artist Greg Duncan, known as ‘The Wall In The Wilderness’. This depicts the history of rural life in the region, carved into 3 metre high panels of Huon Pine and on completion will be 100 metres in length. No photography is allowed but here are some images from the web site.
From Derwent Bridge we head down into Queenstown, renowned for the bare grandeur of the surrounding hills, evidence of a history that once made it one of the richest mining towns in the world. Unfortunately, the methods used in mining copper in the early days have left the surrounding area extremely polluted. No wonder the Green Party are so strong in Tasmania. The drive down into Queenstown is one of the scariest we have encountered on the trip so far.
Nov 7, 8 Continuing on our trip to the west coast, we could not miss the opportunity to play the oldest golf course in the Southern Hemisphere, the Ratho Links course at Bothwell. In August 1821, a boatload of Scotsmen and their families emigrated to Van Diemens Land (Tasmania) and many of them settled in the Bothwell area. This may explain the early golf course and the nearby whiskey distillery!
One of the settlers was Alexander Reid who named his land grant ‘Ratho’ after his family farm ‘Ratho Bank’ near Edinburgh. Golf was played at Ratho some time before 1840 Making it the oldest golf course in the Southern Hemisphere. If it could be proved that clubs and featheries (golf balls) came out with Alexander Reid in 1822, the course would be the oldest outside the UK.
The course hasn’t changed much since it was formed with sheep keeping the fairway grass low and fences around the square shaped greens to keep the sheep off. Some holes have their tees behind fences and / or hedges !!
Nov 3, 4 The visit to Port Arthur and the Tasman Peninsula is completed with some more sightseeing to see some geological formations, namely 3 forms of blowholes caused by wave action erosion plus some more spectacular scenery on the coast. A round of golf at the 9 hole Tasman Golf Club featured a great challenge at the 8th hole where there is nothing but cliffs and ocean between tee and green.
Nov 2 The unique to Tasmania, Tasmanian Devil is an endangered species due to a virulant mouth cancer that is highly contagious. We visit a local conservation park where they are working to save the devil. The park also contains other local wildlife … see if you can spot the tiny Joey in the mother’s pouch.
Nov 2,3 Port Arthur is a place of National and International significance, part of the epic story of the settlement of Australia. It was more than a prison, it was a complete community, home to military personnel and free settlers. The imported convicts worked at farming and industries, producing a large range of resources and materials.
In 1830 Port Arthur Penal Station was established and from 1833 it was used as a punishment station for repeat offenders from all the Australian colonies. By 1840 more than 2,000 convicts, soldiers and civil staff lived at the site. The penal settlement finally closed in 1877.
Port Arthur was known as the ‘gaol without walls’ because of its geographically isolated position on a peninsula surrounded by water with a very narrow 9o metre isthmus of land connecting it to the rest of the state at Eaglehawk neck. As a disincentive for escape there was a ‘dog line’ of nine viscious dogs used to alert soldiers to any attempt of convict escape.
On Sunday 28th April 1996, a tragic chapter was added to Port Arthur’s history when a local gunman took the lives of 35 people and physically wounded 19 others in and around the Port Arthur Historic site. The gunman was caught and is still serving 35 consecutive life sentences in Hobart jail.