Gold Rush,Railways,Burgers and Convicts. Queenstown and Strahan – Part 12 of A Taste of Tasmania
At the end of the road that cuts through the Franklin – Gordon Wild Rivers National Park, past the orange and yellow fields patterned by fibrous long-stemmed black spinofax, lies Queenstown. To get to the settlement the road climbs steeply up past deforested mountains and disused black buildings silhouetted against a gashed landscape of stratified abandoned quarries before dropping into the valley.
In 1818 gold and copper were discovered here whilst in 1880 silver and lead were found in the small settlement of Zeehan close by. The surrounding area of deserted buildings, stripped land and exposed quarry faces is testament to an era gone by. Today, all that remains is a small copper industry, a historic museum and a few locals attempting to make a living from mining and the wilderness railway tourist attraction. Unfortunately, even these look like they are due to close and Queenstown may be destined to become a ghost town.
Most people stop over here because of the Abt Railway. Over 100 years old it runs between Queenstown and Strahan, a 3 hour journey which takes passengers along the Queen river, through rainforest to the King River and then over it on a 400m bridge before continuing on to Strahan’s Regatta Point. Originally built to transport precious metals, it has now been restored and transports tourists up and down its length on a twice daily basis. A friend of mine has travelled on this train and thought it was a wonderful experience however that was some years ago and prices have gone up considerably. We decided to give this a miss as $130 for a basic and over $200 dollars for a ticket with food was way out of our budget.
However, we did take time to walk around the town, stop off at JJ’s for an awesome reasonably priced burger and found it to be full of charm and historic buildings.
However, the best thing about Queenstown is that they have free wi-fi in most of the cafes/hotels “no conditions attached” and believe me when the rest of Tasmania is charging a dollar per 10 minutes or free for only 45 mins if you spend so much, this place should be on travellers list of things to do even if it is only to catch up with the rest of the world and email your mum that you’re still alive.
Thirty Seven K’s down the road is Strahan, situated on Macquarie Harbour close to the Gordon River. In the past, rough seas, the rugged coast line and lack of natural harbours made it an ideal place to establish a penal colony. One was built on Sarah Island in the middle of the natural harbour. Here the worst criminals were incarcerated and made to work up to 12 hours a day felling pine then taken back to the island to work in the saw pits and carpentry shops. In 1934, after the establishment of Port Arthur which was allegedly ‘escape-free’, the Island was abandoned . Boat cruises will take tourists on a journey up toe Gordon and to the Island.
We arrived in Strahan hoping to book into a caravan site/cabin/room/backpackers and found that the town was fully booked out. February in Tasmania is apparently ‘grey-nomad’ season. Which, if you have not heard of the phrase before, is when school holidays having finished the retired population of Australia gets in their R/V’s and take to the road. Hence high season continues long after the kids have gone back to school and rocking up to a campsite without booking becomes problematic in the more popular areas of the state. It’s amazing what you learn along the way! Anyway we were told that there was a campsite out at Macquarie Heads, close to the beach we were intending to head out to for the ‘spectacular sunset’ that night. It sounded good. What’s more it was only 7 dollars a night! Basic toilets, no showers but if we got desperate there were FREE showers in the council car park in town (I love Tasmania).
Thirteen kilometers later on an unmade road, for the most of it driving through a dust storm as 4 wheeled drives, lorries, campervans and even a horse and cart overtook us, we arrived at the site and met the ‘caretaker’. Tall, rangy, shabbily dressed about 55 -60, missing several front teeth, inclined to over-share, definitely a little eccentric – I took an instant liking to the man. The feeling was mutual and I could tell he warmed towards me as he warned me about the basic toilet and lack of shower facilities and saw that I wasn’t bothered.
The campsite was amazing and went all the way past the Heads Estuary down to the sand dunes behind the beach.
Looking forward to a ‘spectacular sunset’ we packed the camping stove to dine al fresco by the beach with a glass of wine in hand. Gales force winds along the estuary put paid to that idea and the sun set in the wrong place so we went for a long walk instead. The scenery was stunning. I came away feeling like my face had been resculpted by wind blasted sand, found a sheltered spot, fired up the stove and cooked up a storm.
The next morning I was up early and although I may not have got a sunset the sunrise more than made up for it
and as an extra bonus mother nature threw in a couple of yellow tailed parrots who decided to hang around the campsite.
Life can be real good at times.