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Published: April 16th 2014
My first view of Tasmania
After spending quite a few dollars getting my Suzuki ready for some off-roading and camping, I left Sydney early on Sunday morning for the long drive (880km) to Melbourne. My ultimate destination was Tasmania, but the only way to drive there is via the ferry that leaves from Melbourne. The drive was uneventful and I arrived at the ferry terminal at 6pm.
Loading took some time, but that’s understandable as there were plenty of cars to load. Once aboard, we had to leave our cars below deck. I took what I needed for the night and headed up to my cabin. I had paid the extra money for a cabin for myself. I opted not to pay extra money for a porthole cabin because the journey was overnight so what would you see? Dinner on board was pretty ordinary, and quite expensive which is to be expected.
We were told that we would begin disembarking at 6:30am so there would be a wakeup call at 5:30. I slept pretty well. The crossing was fairly smooth – I could feel the motion of the boat once we left Port Phillip but it wasn’t disturbing. I woke
This is the ferry that carried me and my car across Bass Straight
up at one point and checked the time. It was 5:55 so I immediately assumed I had missed the wakeup call. I hurriedly started getting ready, deciding to skip having a shower. At 6:00am, however, the wakeup announcement was made. I guess we were running late, so into the shower I went.
Disembarking and quarantine took some time, but nothing excessive. Once off though I had some breakfast. Then I hit the road. The road I hit (figuratively) first was the Bass Highway. For a main road, it was quite a nice drive – particularly in the sections where it was close to the coast.
It wasn’t long until I reached the town of Wynyard where I was turning off the main road. My guide book was Off-road Tasmania by Chris Boden and I planned to follow some easy to medium tracks to my first destination, Dip Falls. This started well and when I reached the gravel I stopped to let a little air out of my tyres. The first bit was the aptly named Zig-Zag road which wound its way through some nice forestry terrain. Pleasingly, the roads and tracks were all shown
on my GPS.
At about the point where I expected to reach the first medium difficulty track, I hit my first hurdle. The track seemed to be diverted and got into serious 4wd territory. Most concerning though, was the track now left where my GPS said it should be. I pressed on for a bit, passing through some decent mud puddles and climbing a hefty hill with some steep runoffs. I was very proud of the Suzuki handling it without a worry. The track was clearly heading in the wrong direction though, so I decided to turn back. On the way back, I could see where the track was supposed to go but it had been blocked, presumably by the forestry people.
My guidebook showed another way to go, so I took it. This threw out the mileage of the guidebook though so I had to do my best to navigate. I found where the other track came out and continued on. Somewhere along the way I took a wrong turn and was lost again. However, I tried the GPS and it knew the way. I turned around again and began following it until
I got to a “No Through Road” sign. So I headed back to the highway and drove to Dip Falls that way. This was a bit disappointing, but I had still driven through some great terrain and had enjoyed myself.
I arrived at the falls and decided to have a couple of sandwiches before descending the path down to the base of the falls. It wasn’t long, but it was steep. The falls were stunning. The rocks are basalt columns like those at the Giant’s Causeway in Ireland. The walk back up was quite an effort, but worth it. I then headed down the road a short way to the other nearby attraction - Big Tree. It sure was, but nothing special if you’ve been to places like California’s Sequoia National Park and Western Australia’s Valley of the Giants.
I was now running low on both fuel and time (I didn’t want to set up camp in the dark) so I headed back to the highway and drove to Marrawah – the last fuel stop before Zeehan. From Marrawah, however, it was a short drive to Arthur River where I was planning to camp
After paying my camping fees, I headed on to Prickly Wattle campground. It’s a large campground with isolated camping spots so I have no idea if anybody else was there. I didn’t see anyone though. I picked a campsite within walking distance of the long-drop toilet, and set up camp. The night passed uneventfully. It was pretty cold but thankfully my sleeping back and swag were more than up to the challenge. It was great camping in such solitude – birds, insects and a couple of wallabies excepted.
The next morning I cooked breakfast and packed up my camp. My aim for the day was to drive down the “Western Explorer” to Zeehan before continuing to Strahan where I would spend a couple of nights in a motel. First stop was Couta Rocks, a small, scenic settlement on the West Coast within the Arthur Pieman Conservation Reserve. There wasn’t much there, but I got some nice photos of the scenery. Next stop was Temma, an even smaller settlement with similar views. The road continues after Temma but is rated hard and it is apparently not wise to do it without other vehicles.
This is the lower section of the falls
So I turned around and headed down the Western Explorer. I was planning to visit the old mining settlement of Balfour. The Balfour track is a very difficult track from Temma, but the final section, after it crosses the Western Explorer, is supposed to be easy. That’s probably true, but I don’t know because I somehow missed the turn-off. The fellow at the ferry in Corinna suggested the sign may have been stolen by souvenir hunters, but I suspect I just missed it. In my defense, the scenery on the Explorer is pretty stunning and the road requires plenty of a driver’s attention. At one point I stopped to take some photos. One of the very few cars I had seen (other than on the Bass Highway) stopped to see if I was okay. I told them I was just taking some photos, but it’s nice to see people looking out for others.
After a few hours of pleasant driving I arrived at the end of the Explorer, at the small town of Corinna. The most notable thing about Corinna is the ferry you need to take to cross the river there. It’s a
Upper section of the falls
small ferry – 1 vehicle at a time. Thankfully it was on its way to my side of the river when I arrived, and there was no queue so I was soon on my way. The guy running the ferry recommended a quick detour to the Reece Dam before heading on to Zeehan where he suggested I go to the museum there.
The Dam was pretty impressive, not least because you can drive along the top. I took some photos and then headed to Zeehan. The road was sealed and seemed pretty new – a great driving road. Once in Zeehan I stopped for some home-made sausage rolls at the Pit Stop Café before heading to the museum. The lady there suggested I start at the outside exhibits because it was getting late. As it turned out though, I will have to go back because somewhere I lost the rubber eyepiece on my camera. After only having spent 30 minutes looking around I then spent the next 45 minutes searching for my lost eyepiece to no avail.
I left Zeehan, planning to head back on Thursday as there are some 4wding tracks nearby. The
drive to Strahan was also on a sealed road – again, a nice driving road. Thankfully I arrived before dusk because I didn’t want to hit any of the native wildlife. One thing I have noticed driving in Tasmania so far is that there is a lot of roadkill around.
I checked into my motel which is quite nice. I had a fantastic shower (partly because I had camped the night before, partly because it really is a great shower) before walking into town for some dinner. I had a delicious home-cooked meal at the Bushman Bar and Café which I highly recommend – not just for the food, the guy running the place was really nice too.
On Wednesday morning I was up nice and early for a cruise on Macquarie Harbour and the Gordon River. I walked into town and boarded the boat. There are two companies that run similar cruises in Strahan. I had booked a gold seat with World Heritage Cruises. This gave me a seat up the front of the upper deck.
We were soon underway and our first destination was Hell’s Gates – the narrow
entrance to Macquarie Harbour. The harbour is twice the area of Sydney Harbour, yet six times the volume which points to the deficiency of the Australian habit of using Sydney Harbour as a unit of measurement. I have never understood why it is used. I can see Sydney Harbour from my desk at work, yet I still have no concept of how large it is. I can’t imagine how people who have never seen the harbour manage, yet it still persists.
Anyway, we soon reached Hell’s Gates and were fortunate to be blessed with relatively calm seas. This allowed us to head out to the ocean as far as the ship can go. The narrowness limited the use of Strahan as a port because large modern ships can’t enter. Apparently, during WW2 the allies were planning to use explosives to widen the channel if the Japanese invaded Australia because Macquarie Harbour would have made a useful naval base. Fortunately that wasn’t required.
We then headed back into the harbour. We stopped briefly to look at some of the fishery farms where they farm salmon and ocean trout. The next stop was Sarah Island, the
location of one of Tasmania’s most notorious penal colonies. The convicts nicknamed it Devil’s Island, hence giving the name for Hell’s Gates. It was the location of the book “For the Term of His Natural Life”. We disembarked on the island and were divided into 2 groups for a tour. Our tour guide, Reuben, gave a great tour with plenty of fantastic stories.
The hour on the island flew by and we then had to head back to the ship. We were then heading up the Gordon River and lunch was served. It was a delicious buffet that included Tasmanian salmon and cheeses, among other meats and salads. I washed it down with a Tasmanian cider.
The cruise up the Gordon River was at a more sedate pace and was very relaxing. We soon reached our destination though – a walk through the World Heritage rainforest. The walk was quite short, but gave a great glimpse of the rainforest. We also had a fascinating talk by one of the ship’s crew about the rainforest, and specifically about the Huon pine. I had heard the name before, but had no idea what a fantastic timber
it is. Unfortunately, they take at 1,500 years to grow to full size so they have to be protected.
We were soon embarked again to head back down the river and back to Strahan. After having taken a lot of photos during the day, I decided to relax in my seat with a couple more ciders. Once we were back onto the harbour my relaxation was interrupted when a pod of dolphins was spotted. The captain slowed the ship down and circled around to give us some more photo opportunities. Unfortunately the water is quite dark so it was hard to predict where they were going to surface. I managed to snap a few though.
The ship headed back to Strahan. It was a fantastic day, all in all, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. If you find yourself in Tasmania, this is an absolute must-do!
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