Strahan is a quaint fishing village on the shores of Macquarie Harbour, on Tasmania’s west coast, and has been an important part of Tasmania’s history since convict times. After the discovery of the harbour by Captain James Kelly in 1815 this area was quickly settled as its treasures were revealed. Initially a convict settlement was established on Sarah Island which became infamous through the harsh treatment of prisoners, daring escapes, murders and cannibalism.
by Mike Fry
However it soon became an industrious shipbuilding centre after the arrival of Master Shipwright David Hoy. Today those fascinating chapters in the history of this area are vividly captured by tour guides on the island during the day cruises departing from Strahan. The stories also live on in the evenings at the visitor’s centre where actors perform The Ship That Never Was where the last escape of 12 convicts is relived in an hilarious and true account of their escapades across the world.
Macquarie Harbour: Gates of Hell
The great southern ocean has carved a magnificent coastline with Ocean Beach one of those “must visit” places in this area. This magnificent beach stretches for 36km from Trial Harbour to Hells Gates, the treacherous entrance to Macquarie Harbour, named by the convicts as, in their mind, they were entering the gates of hell as they were incarcerated for their term of imprisonment. Hells Gates can be deceptively beautiful on most days but the roaring forties and massive ocean swells clearly demonstrate the forces of nature as the surf continues kilometres out to sea on rough days.
Gordon River and West Coast Wilderness Railway
Fortunately most days the captain of your cruise vessel will take you out through the entrance and out as far as Cape Sorell and one of Australia’s tallest lighthouses before heading back into the shelter of the harbour and an unforgettable visit to one of the most pristine and beautiful rainforests on the planet, the Gordon River. The cruise is just one of the must do experiences when visiting Strahan.
Another is the West Coast Wilderness Railway which travels through rainforest and over mountains between Strahan and Queenstown. The original locomotives have been faithfully restored and the Wilderness Railway carriages reflect craftsmanship and the use of unique Tasmanian timbers such as Huon Pine, Blackwood, King Billy, Myrtle and Sassafras to name just a few. The train journey is complemented by tour guides who know every detail of the history of the railway and of the pioneers and prospectors who carved towns and industries out of this remote wilderness.
Strahan is often referred to as the adventure capital of Tasmania; that adventure can be as relaxed or as exciting as you wish. Seaplanes and helicopters operate most of the year and give a breathtaking view of the south west wilderness area with its mountains, wild rivers and rugged coastline.
The King River has played an important part in the development of Strahan and the mining industry. The railway runs along its banks and through its gorges but to get up close and personal Wild Rivers Jet will take you on an exhilarating trip up the King and an extended tour will take you by four wheel drive to the Teepookana Plateau where there is a massive forest of Huon pine and other west coast trees. The forestry viewing tower offers expansive views of the west coast and on a clear day you can literally see for miles.
Huon Pine: Rainforest and Timber Mill
Huon pine is endemic to the rainforest areas of the south west wilderness area and Strahan is where it is best observed in its natural state and as a valuable craftwood. The galleries and timber mills in Strahan have Huon pine on display from rough sawn tree trunks to delicate works of art. Morrison’s Mill and Western Softwoods mill the timber and a visit to these mills will be rewarded with not only the timber being processed but also a chat with a local or two as they go about their business.
The wharf area has a Huon Pine precinct with Morrison’s Mill, Wilderness Woodworks and Tasmanian Speciality Timbers where Huon pine can be purchased and if a little too large for luggage or boot they will gladly frieight the timber back to your home for a reasonable cost. That’s service!
Platypus Park to Ocean Beach
Strahan is fortunate to have a rainforest walk in the centre of town at Peoples Park and Hogarth Falls. A 40 minute walk will be rewarded by seeing numerous species of plants and trees growing alongside a stream complete with resident platypus. The foreshore walk runs alongside the Esplanade from Regatta Point to West Strahan beach which incidentally is a safe swimming beach. Do not be tempted to swim at Ocean Beach as the currents are strong with the surging surf making it difficult and unsafe to swim. It is however a great beach for a walk or a paddle at the waters edge; a great place for photography and the most amazing sunsets.
Whittle Wonders of Strahan
While walking around town make sure you visit Tut’s Whittle Wonders where one of our locals has spent a lifetime collecting pieces of timber from the bush and has made the most unusual creations. Another place to visit is the Strahan cemetery where some of the town’s founding families are laid to rest and along the Esplanade, while you walk the foreshore, buildings such as the Union Steamship Company building, the Customs House and Ormiston House built by Strahan’s founding father Frederick Ormiston Henry.
Staying in Strahan
There is too much to see and do in one day so a two or three night stay in Strahan is recommended. The accommodation is varied and covers everything from backpackers to luxury apartments, and everything in between. The places to stay are complemented by some wonderful eateries from fish and chips to fine dining. There are also self catering accommodations where you can cook your own and Strahan boasts a large supermarket that stocks most items.
Strahan really does have it all and in the words of Randy Curwin, the travel editor of the Chicago Tribune, this is the Best Little Town in the World.
Mike Fry represents tourism group Discover Strahan and Carolyn Nissen is the chairperson of Tasmania’s West Coast tourism organisation. Together they are owners and hosts of Ormiston House Bed and Breakfast accommodation in Strahan. Article and photos supplied to Think Tasmania by Mike Fry with thanks to Kylie Jones (Marketing Services Coordinator) Federal Group for allowing use of some images. Please see the Pure Tasmania website for more information.