The Wild West!!

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February 18th 2021
Published: February 19th 2021
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Yesterday we left Hobart about 9-15 and set out on the Brooker Highway. We first travelled north but soon turned onto the Lyell Highway for our journey to the West Coast. The scenery along the way was ever changing. Along the Derwent river were beautiful spots, dotted with houses along the edge of the water. Then the outlook became rolling hills, some with vegetation but others glowing yellow in the morning sun. It was a beautiful day with clear blue skies and a mild temperature. Further along we entered dense woodland, with tall trees closely knitted together.

We planned to stop at Derwent Bridge where Lake St Clair offers spectacular walks and interesting scenery/ We turned off the main road and after 5 Kms we came to the entrance to the National Park. We only planned to stay about an hour, to go for a walk and have lunch, but they had a daily pass fee of $40 per car, so we turned around and headed back to the highway. There was plenty of evidence of the hydro electricity scheme in these parts but with few cars on the road we sped along quite happily. After 3 hours or so we arrived at Queenstown. I remembered this place from 56 years ago and though there has been some regrowth, the hills are still fairly barren and the tailings from the mines are still visible.

After stopping on the top of the hill to admire the view, we drove the last 5 kilometres down one of the windiest roads you could ever encounter. We drove through the town and found the Railway station from whence we are taking a railroad trip on Friday. After finding a convenient park we sought sustenance in the local pub only to be told they weren't doing lunch that day. We were directed across the road to the cafe next to the station, Tracks. This proved to be a fortunate choice. Here we had a lovely lunch. I had potato and bacon soup which was thick, creamy and very filling. Fletcher had a Chicken BLT sandwich which he enjoyed. We then checked out the small, but interesting museum telling us of the building of the railway and its eventual closure. It has been resurrected for tourism. We actually watched the train steam into the station while we were eating and I am excited to ride it in a couple of days!!

From Queenstown it was another 45 minutes drive to our destination, Strahan. We drove into the town and saw the wharf where the Gordon River Cruise leaves from. We then went looking for our motel. Whilst doing so we saw a sign that said Ocean Beach. Having read that this was a sight worth seeing we set off down a gravel road, rather rough and bumpy. When we got to the beach though it was beautiful. 33 kms of white sand and with small rollers rushing in. A great spot. However, when driving back along the track the ride seemed far worse than before. When we got to the bitumen we discovered why. A flat front tyre!! Neither of us have changed a tyre in years but Fletcher valiantly began the procedure getting out the spare and equipment. Luckily for us another car stopped and offered to help. Mark and Jenny were the couple's names and Mark took over, easily dealing with what for us would have been difficult. As we chatted we discovered they were from near Geelong and Mark had once been a policeman, stationed in Merino, the town Fletcher's father was born in, situated in Western Victoria. Talk about small world!!

We profusely thanked them and then headed for our motel, Motel Strahan. This is a comfortable room with all the facilities we need including a basket of breakfast goodies every day. After unloading and settling in , we drove into the town and checked out where the Gordon River Cruise leaves from. I had rung Budget concerning the tyre and got a call back saying we needed to buy a new tyre and have it fitted as the spare is not meant to be for long use. The woman from Budget suggested we needed to drive to Devonport to do this. This was going to be very inconvenient. We went into the Visitor Information Centre and asked the ladies there if it was possible to get a tyre here. They suggested the BP station and said they could order one in. This sounded promising. After driving round the foreshore and checking out where the restaurants were,we saw one which looked busy. I went in to book a table and the earliest one available was 7-30pm . I booked that and then we headed to the BP. The manager there said he would check with his supplier and would ring us in the morning to confirm.

Back to the motel for a rest and the SBS news and then back to The Bushman's Retreat, which had an Asian/Thai theme. We had a pleasant meal there of spring rolls, Pad Thai and Chicken Stir Fry. The staff were friendly, and the wine not too expensive. A good night overall!

We were up early on Thursday morning as our Gordon River Cruise left at 8-30am and we were expected to be there at least 30 minutes prior. We parked in the Visitor Info Centre car park as our motel owner had told us this was the only free parking in town! Then it was check in and boarding the beautiful, Spirit of the Wild. A very modern ship, we had booked window seats on the middle deck and had a good view from there. The first part of the trip took us across Macquarie Harbour and out to Hell's Gate, the entrance from the Southern Ocean. This harbour is the second largest in Australia and is 6 times larger than Sydney. The entrance is narrow and is known as Hell's Gate because that is what the convicts thought as they were brought through it to the harsh penal colony on Sarah Island. To deepen the entrance an underwater wall was built and on the ocean side a long breakwater. We were told tales of shipwrecks, convicts and those who made money shipping the copper mined in Queenstown. We were able to stand on the front deck as we went though and it was an exciting sight and experience.

Once back inside the harbour we headed for the entrance to the Gordon River. We passed several fish farms where salmon and other local fish are raised. Then it was a sail by of Sarah Island and the small Grommet Rock next to it and then onto the prisitne Gordon River. Here, the captain switched off the diesel engines and we ran, almost silently, on electric ones. How beautiful is this wilderness area and how glad I am for those protesters in the early '80s who saved this and the Franklin from being dammed. Cheers also to Bob Hawke who brought in Federal legislation in 1983 to permanently protect this area. The commentary as we glided along pointed out the various plants and wild life which inhabit this green land This rainforest is thousands of years old and predates birds so there are very few flowers here. The water was so still that perfect reflections of the massive trees and undergrowth could be seen in the water, flowing but calm. We stopped at a Heritage Walk site.This was a short boardwalk through the trees with signs explaining the various species, such as Huon Pine, Celerytop pine and Sassafrass. At the halfway point the crew pointed out a black tiger snake curled up on a huge Huon Pine log over two and a half thousand years old!!. We spotted small white flowers on the leatherwood trees and giant fungus growing out from one of the dead trees.

Back on board lunch was served. This was a buffet with three different salads, chicken wings, ham and smoked salmon. Very fresh and delicious. The crew made sure we were all socially distanced and called out rows, one at a time so there was no crowding. We were able to buy wine to accompany it so a bottle of Tasmanian sauv blanc did the trick. While eating we slowly motored back along the river. Our next and final stop was at Sarah Island. Here we disembarked and were divided into groups of three for a tour .Our guide was terrific. She knew the history and really engaged with her audience. This place was a penal colony for the worst convicts, those who had committed heinous crimes and /or were escapees from other prisons. It was a harsh place, in the middle of the harbour and with the impenetrable forest all around provided little opportunity to get away. Grommet Rock was first used for the women convicts but later turned into a prison for the worst of the worst. We saw the remains of several buildings though usually only the fireplaces survived as they were brick and the houses were usually made from local wood. They did though, establish a shipbuilding industry here, using the convict labour and the Huon Pine which was in abundance. When they finally shut down the island, a group of convicts, determined not to be sent to Port Arthur, stole a ship and managed to sail all the way to Chile!! Most were recaptured though!

We returned to port after a very enjoyable trip. It was only 2-30 but we were feeling the effects of all that physical activity so returned to the motel for a rest. While there I explored Trip Advisor for the best places to eat and their number one pick was Risby Cove. I rang and made a booking for dinner but was offered 8pm as they were otherwise full. So a later dinner was ensured. Risby Cove turned out to be a great choice. It was further around the foreshore and was part of a motel/resort complex. The dining room was pleasant and the menu looked interesting. The staff were friendly and the place was certainly full and buzzing! Fletcher ordered the Portuguese octopus and scallops while I opted for Tassie Scallops. These were presented in a coconut curry soup accompanied by rice and pickled salad. I wasn't keen on the salad but the main dish was fantastic. I don't think I have tasted anything like it before but the curry mixing with the beautiful scallops was delicious. We had a cheeseboard to share for afters and a bottle of Freycinet Pinot Gris ( or maybe two). During the meal we were suprised when my old schoolfriend, Cate's, ex-husband David came over to say hello. He had recognised us but I had no idea who he was. But we chatted pleasantly for few minutes. Small world syndrome strikes again. A terrific day topped off with a great meal to end.

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