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Published: March 9th 2010
Day 303 - Queenstown
After an amazing amount of rain throughout the night, we wake up to a very dim, grey, misty looking morning. If the locals are right then it’s going to stay like this for the rest of the day but if they’re wrong, well who knows when the sun will return but we’re keeping our fingers crossed that it’s by early afternoon at the latest!
We’re booked onto a Gordon River cruise later today, despite us not doing many tours this is just one of those little treats we’ve been told we really shouldn’t miss. Plus of course it’s not somewhere we can access under our own steam, it involves a boat!
That gave us a free morning, time enough to uncover more of Queenstown’s personality. The obvious place for us to start was the West Coast Wilderness railway station where the steam train was due to depart for its daily trip. It’s a great sight and really reminds us of Bewdley back home where we enjoyed the most magnificent Santa Special steam train ride with friends in 2008. It’s great watching the excited passengers hopping into the carriages and Darryl even gets to chat
with the driver. We hang around to watch it build up the steam and take off down the track giving us a ‘choo choo’ as it leaves! Beautiful! Tony & Jane will be able to experience it all first hand tomorrow when they climb aboard for the 4 hour adventure.
Our focus returns to Queenstown itself, the largest mining town on the west coast. We’ve said before that the scenery directly around the town is very ‘moonscape’ like with lots of bare undulating hills. It’s not the prettiest of the Tasmanian towns that we’ve come across so far but there’s something about it that appeals, to me anyway. It was originally developed as a service town for the copper mining at Mt Lyell. The mining has continued but not nearly as many people are employed here these days, many of them were referred to as ‘seagulls’ by the locals anyway - they never lived here, just worked here and left.
Ironically it seems that tourists are actually attracted by the strange looking landscape caused by acid rain from the sulphur emissions over the years. I can’t disagree; I find it strangely fascinating too. We’ve heard the area referred
to as ‘the place where the mining had gone wrong’. We hadn’t looked at it in that respect before, not ‘gone wrong’ anyway just perhaps ‘gone too far’.
There are plenty of grand buildings here, the main street is littered with them but it seems like almost every other one is no longer operating. The Butcher has closed down but when we look through the window it’s as though the owners shut up shop for the day and just never returned. With the exception of meat everything is still there, a bit of a clean and it could open tomorrow. We had a good nose around checking out this and that but finally made our way towards the sculpture based Miners Siding. The ‘Miners Sunday’ sculpture which heads the display depicts a miner on his day of rest, a Sunday, with his family. The detailing in the 21 facets through the waterfall are fabulous and bring to life the 100 year history of the local district with events like the opening of the railway.
After an interesting trip to the visitor’s centre where we gathered more information on the local area and some details about our forthcoming trip
into the western wilderness, we headed up to the Spion Kopf lookout. It was named by soldiers returning home from the Boer War and gives amazing views across the town including a birds eye shot of the AFL gravel footie oval! Designed that way because of the high level of rainfall (grass would have turned to mud), the gravel aspect strikes fear into the visiting players hearts! We wonder what the home team’s average is, pretty good probably! One last lookout grabbed our attention very quickly and that was a drive up the twisty, bending, mountainous road we’d come in on yesterday. From here the view was terrific looking down over the previously mined land plus we got to cheer on a crazy cyclist making his way to the top!
Our time in Queenstown drew to a close and we headed back to the caravan park to gather our things for this afternoon’s cruise. The cruise boat leaves from Strahan which is a 40 minute drive down an ever winding road. It didn’t seem to go in any one direction for more than a minute or two!
We can instantly see why many tourists prefer to stay in
Strahan over Queenstown, it’s ritzy, right on the water and definitely the more glamorous cousin. Here we find even more grand buildings lining the streets and also the very interesting Strahan Woodworks. Huon Pine is one of the most ancient and rarest timbers left in the world, yet Strahan Woodworks offer such items as lemon juicers, clocks, trinket boxes and door stops. They do this by using only reclaimed and salvaged wood with prices varying greatly from over $200 for a hanging clock to $65 for a wooden family, almost something for everyone.
All aboard, it’s cruise time! Our time to hop on the Lady Jane Franklin has arrived. With everyone stood on the dock it looked as though the boat would be chocker block so we were really surprised to find plenty of empty seats once we were off and sailing. Tony & Jane got seats by the window while we’d plumped for the standard seating in the middle ($25 cheaper per ticket - we’re such tight arses!). To be fair we’d been given excellent seats, next to Tony & Jane and slightly higher than the normal rows in the middle plus we had our own table which
came in handy when the buffet lunch was ready. Most of our time was spent on the top deck of the boat, it was pretty windy up there but we quickly worked out that the huge fans at the front spewed out hot air so that kept our legs warm at least.
The trip itself was very relaxing and the captain had us chuckling away with his very dry sense of humour. We start off in Macquarie Harbour and then headed out through Hells Gate into the open ocean. He was telling us about an 85 year old lady that he quite often has passengers waving to while she’s in her front garden in just her nightgown! From here there was nothing but open water between us and Argentina.
There was only one place on the boat we weren’t really permitted to go and that was the premier Captains seating area where tickets cost a mere $189 but you get leather seats plus complimentary drinks, cheese & biscuits. Darryl just couldn’t resist a visit and was soon taking photos of the captain then relaxing in the comfy splendour! What’s good for the goose is good for the gander
so myself, Tony & Jane nipped in for a look around too!
Everything calmed right down when the boat headed back into the river system and up through the world heritage area. We pass by Sarah Island and into the Lower Gordon River where it narrows dramatically and starts to twist and turn. This is a temperate wilderness area and one of only three in the southern hemisphere.
It’s beautiful to float by the dense forest lining the banks. Given more time there are plenty of walks we could do here, something else for the trip list next time. Gosh, it’s filling up fast!
The rest of our trip consisted of a stop at the Heritage Landing where you walk through the ancient forests and then a guided tour around Sarah Island. This is Tasmania’s oldest convict settlement and was a place of banishment for the most extreme criminals. It has a reputation for being a harsh and severe settlement during the history of transportation, on a par or worse than Port Arthur even. In its day however, Sarah Island was the biggest of Australia’s ship building yards. Under David Hoy, the shipyards became highly organised and
productive with more than 100 vessels being built during the life of the settlement.
A play runs nightly in Strahan called ‘The ship that never was’ and it tells the story of the fate bestowed to the last ship built at Sarah Island. It was ‘stolen’ by the ten convicts left on the island to finish it. They then sailed it to Chile where they set up home. They were eventually rumbled with 4 being captured and returned to Hobart for trial and 6 going back on the run. You’ll have to either venture to Sarah Island or go watch the play to see how it ended and whether they got away with it or not!
The ruins left on the island are interesting to walk around but it’s the interpretation by the tour guide which makes it come to life. She’s great fun and interacts with us all very well pulling characters from her stories out of the audience! It almost makes us forget what a dreadful existence some of these men had within the penal colonies. Many were pushed to the point of committing the most serious of crimes so they were then sentenced to hang
- this being the only way out of their misery and the only way they could say ‘Goodbye Jack’ thus ridding themselves of the devil.
By now the sun was setting and our cruise was coming to an end. It had been good fun and a nice way to spend the afternoon.
The journey back to the caravan park was a bit stop, start. Wallabies were waiting around almost every corner to bound out in front of the car but luckily we were quick to spot them without hitting anything.
We’re on the move in the morning so we sorted a few things out before settling down to a bit more Olympic action and then finally drifting off to sleep.
See you in the morning for more western wilderness adventure!
Dar and Sar
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