Bound for the West Coast Wilderness

8 February 2014

Entry to The Wall (wood carvings by Greg Duncan) - no cameras allowed inside

Entrance to Greg Duncan’s fabulous wood carvings at “The Wall”

Luggage was packed in the car and we made an early start for the West Coast and Strahan.

Our first stop was the historic village of Hamilton where we had breakfast of Poached Eggs on Toast – worst coffee ever, but the surroundings made the experience an enjoyable one as we sat in the garden in the sunshine, opposite some heritage cottages.

After driving through Talleah (an electro scheme town) we discovered The Wall just before the village of Derwent Bridge.  There we were fortunate to see the wonderful wood sculptures by Greg Duncan, who is in the process of depicting Tasmanian history in wooden carvings on a timber wall.  It is a work in progress and when completed will be 100 metres long.  The whole beautiful gallery celebrates the timber industry in Tasmania, with floors made of Huon pin, pillars of Celery Top trees, and the sales desk is made from part of an old wooden pipe that originally conveyed water.  Totally absorbing, and we spent some time looking at the Wall and other carvings.  Unfortunately no cameras are allowed in the building (the sculptor rightly has the copyright) but I purchased a book about the project – quite fascinating!  The wonderful eagle pictured above is located at the entrance to  The Wall.

It was a long, steep and winding drive on to Queenstown – I was quite shocked at the devastation caused by the mining of copper ore from Mt  Lyell, it is reminiscent of a a moonscape.  The town itself looks very sad, perhaps reflecting on what has been destroyed around it.  We stopped to stretch our legs and bought an ice cream to keep us going!

Some new air may be breathed into the town with the re-opening in January 2014 of the Wilderness Railway that now operates only from Queenstown, and includes a Café, Gift Shop and Train Museum.  Originally the train operated from Strahan and finished at Queenstown, and a coach returned passengers to Strahan.  Best part was that passengers were served champagne and nibbles during the trip, so arrived in a very happy state at Queenstown – and didn’t have to worry about the drive back to Strahan!  Sorry to hear that food is no longer served on the train (no nibbles!) – however if you book in the Wilderness Carriage you are served with a glass of champagne when boarding the train – we booked the Wilderness Carriage!!

Another steep and very winding road to Strahan, as soon as we arrived we organised our tickets for the cruise to Bonnet Bay that night, and the Gordon River Cruise the following day.

Settled into Anchor Down Cottages for three nights – catching up on emails and blog etc. and at 7.30pm we arrived at Strahan wharf to join the cruise to Bonnet Island.  There are only 10 passengers and 2 crew on the Sophia and we set off at dusk.  Isaac was our guide, a very knowledgeable young man on the history of Strahan, and Desmond was our Skipper.

Interesting features of Macquarie Harbour are the Training Wall and Breakwater (constructed with stones to assist in keepng the shipping channels clear and deep).  A report in the Hobart Mercury on 21 October 1901 states “The object of the breakwaters, intended to project from either side of the entrance, is to set up a scour and thus deepen the sandy bar. The west breakwater has already been carried out 35 chains in the direction of the bar from the mainland-side, and there are 21 chains more to be completed. Then inside the harbour a training wall about a mile and three-quarters long has been constructed to set up a wash and deepen the north channel inside the harbour. This is nearly completed, 140,000 tons of stone having been used in the work.”

As we passed by the Training Wall and Breakwater, Isaac also explained that Button Grass is grown in the harbour.  The tannin in the grass makes the water the colour of strong tea, but helps to clean the water so that fresh water is held above the salt water and assists the vast aquaculture projects in Macquarie Harbour – the fish collect bacteria from the salt water but then swim through the fresh water as a cleansing process.

Initially our course was directed to Hell’s Gate which is at the entrance to Macquarie Harbour and can at times be treacherous – luckily for us it was a mild night.  From Hell’s Gate we waited a short while to watch the penguins “rafting” in on the waves and ripples and heading for Bonnet Island.  (“Rafting” is the term to describe how they all cluster together and surf in on the waves).

When we arrived at Bonnet Island we had an opportunity to explore, saw the remains of the 2-bedroom house that once stood on the island and housed the light house keeper and his family, and the more recently added decks so one gets a magnificent view of Macquarie Harbour.  Isaac told us some stories of shipwrecks, and the hardships suffered by the early settlers to the area, particularly the sad story of the loss of Mrs Hooper (wife of the Macquarie Heads signalman R Hooper) and their two children when the Kawatiri sank in 1907.   On returning to the boat we were served some delicious Tasmanian cheeses, and crudites with dips, and a glass of red wine.

Once dark had settled in, we armed ourselves with special torches, and again explored the island to see the Little Penguins as they returned home.  We were fortunate to see a couple of penguins arrive and tentatively jump over the rocks to find their burrow, and some penguins already in their burrow, some with baby penguins – a wonderful experience to see them so close.

It was 10pm when we set off for the run back to Strahan Harbour, sipping on a hot chocolate.  There was some cloud about, but the night was still with little wind.  The boat sped through the water, white spray gushing out either side, and a long white fountain out the back.  It was as if we were on a magic carpet gliding over the water.  Now and then the half moon would shine through a break in the clouds, sending a shimmering ray over the water, like a silver pathway – quite ethereal and very beautiful.  I didn’t want it to end, but too soon we were approaching the lights of Strahan and our wonderful experience was coming to an end.  It has been a highlight of our Tasmanian visit.

Tomorrow we join the Lady Jayne for a Gordon River cruise – you have to join me for this!

Breakfast at Jackson's Emporium, Hamilton

Breakfast in the sun at Hamilton

“Sophia” waiting to take us to Bonnet Island (ducks want to come too!)

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