Where’s Wallis? In the Wild West of Tasmania

The majority of visitors to Tasmania hit up the East coast, and understandably so with it offering a perfect long weekend itinerary of travel between the two major cities of Hobart and Launceston, including the picturesque Wineglass Bay and Bay of Fires.

We had 8 nights/9 days so thought we’d take the opportunity to get to some of the slightly more remote areas (though by no means the most remote that Tasmania has to offer!) and head anticlockwise through the western wilderness and up to the north coast.

Where we stayed:

West Coast road trip route

What we did:

Hobart:

Lake St Clair:

Queenstown/Strahan:

Stanley: 

Our first weekend in Hobart was spent with our friends, Ellen and Arthur, in a lovely little AirBnB in the suburb of Kingston. The origin of the trip was for the Cadbury Factory Running festival, but due to various combinations of injuries etc none of us actually ended up signing up for the race, but that was not stopping us having a trip away!

Ellen and Arthur up the top of Mount Wellington

Ben and I had been to Hobart together for a weekend away a few years ago, during which we went to MONA and on a Bruny Island food tour. So this weekend with Ellen and Arthur was spent exploring more of the city, we drove to the top of Mount Wellington (exceptionally windy… 130kmph!) – only a couple of weeks later that a hiker got lost near Mt Wellington and had to be helicopter rescued. We went for a beautiful stroll along the cliffs in Kingston, and spend a wonderful afternoon up close with wildlife at the Bonorong Sanctury.

The view from Mount Wellington
Kingston Alum Cliffs walk
Ellen in the woods – Alum Cliffs
A very relaxed koala at Bonorong sanctuary. Although he did kick off with a mating call after…

Ellen and Arthur could only spend the weekend in Hobart, so once we said our goodbyes Ben and I hit the road and drove a couple of hours up to Tarraleah Estate. Accommodation options were a bit limited near Lake St Clair / Derwent Bridge, so I’d been excited to find Tarraleah – a converted workers village from the construction of the hydropower facility in the 1930s and 1940s.

Tarraleah Hydro towers – the high point from which the water runs down to generate energy
And here is the big drop down to the power station in the valley below, with water hitting the turbines at 720kmph!

Hydro power is a huge part of energy generation in Tasmania, with the ability for electricity to be transferred to mainland Aus via the ‘Basslink’ (under the Bass straight).

The platypus pond at Tarraleah

I added Tarraleah to my list of ‘failed platypus sightings at places where platypus are apparently prolific‘, which already includes Kangaroo Island and Barrington Tops. It was a unique place to stay but the customer service wasn’t great and the whole place had a bit of an odd feel to it. I actually just found this article about its recent past… none of that whilst we were there though!

Tarraleah was just a 1 night stop as the next day we were off into Lake St Clair – Cradle Mountain National Park to hike part of the Overland track and then a side walk up to Pine Valley hut where we spent a night. A separate write up of that here.

The hike to Pine Valley Hut

Between Tarraleah and Lake St Clair we passed ‘The Wall‘. Now I’d seen this on the map, and had just assumed it was something nature related (as most things in Tassie are), but no, it turned out to be a slightly mysterious wood carving project that the artist has been working on since 2003. It is a series of 100, 1mtr wide x 3 mtr high panels with wood carvings depicting the history and trades of Tasmania. It was certainly impressive, but I felt that the vibe of secrecy and number of rules slightly ruined the experience. Pop in if you’re passing but I wouldn’t make a trip especially to see it (unless carving is your thing!)

Once we emerged from our night in the National Park, we hit the road heading west again towards Queenstown. As a loyal Kiwi Ben kept saying “There’s only one Queenstown”. I encouraged him to be open minded, but once we drove over the ridge and into the valley housing Queenstown, I can emphatically say he was correct. The hillsides were totally barren as a result of logging and mining, and the whole place just felt like a scar on the land versus the beautiful wilderness we’d seen in the rest of Tasmania.

Queenstown landscape

We were spending 1 night in Queenstown, mainly in order to catch the West Coast Wilderness Explorer steam train from Queenstown station first thing the following morning for a half day adventure into the rainforest towards the coastal town of Strahan.

The reason that Queenstown looks the way it does is due to the intensive mining that has taken place there. Originally it was prospected for Gold mining in the 1880s but the trade quickly switched to copper mining, the river still runs brown due to the huge quantity of mining by-products that were released into it.

The river by Queenstown
Our ride for the morning

The Empire Hotel was like the reincarnation of Fawlty Towers, with offhand staff and dodgy decor. I would recommend driving the extra 40ks on the windy forest road out to Strahan, and finding a seaside place to stay there. Within about 1 hour in Queenstown we had seen the whole town and decided to continue to Strahan where we had a divine dinner at Bushman’s Cafe. You can actually get the train starting in Strahan, and a few river cruises too, so that would be my hot tip.

The railway through the rainforest

The West Coast Wilderness Explorer was a brilliant experience. We paid slightly more for the ‘Wilderness carriage’, which meant that we were very well fed and watered all morning. You’ll see in the photo above the 3rd ‘rail’ down the middle of the tracks. This is the rack and pinion system that had to be used due to the gradient of the track, which is far greater than what a train can usually handle. In my head I compared to a rollercoaster, you know when you’re going up at the start and you hear the ‘click, click, click’ that is the pins locking in place to hold you. This was not quite that wild but similar mechanism! Without the railway, the mine would have been largely redundant, because there would have been no way to get the copper out to market (via the port at Strahan) so it was very important to the history of the region.

The view down towards the King River from the train

After our brief visit to Queenstown and Strahan we hit the road again, and had a beautiful drive up the western edge of Cradle Mountain – Lake St Clair National Park. We had been very lucky with gorgeous weather for the days we were walking, but we saw the wilder side of the Tassie weather as we drove through sudden bursts of sideways rain.

Despite it still being Australian school holidays, from when we left Hobart we saw barely any other cars for most of the trip. It was a bit busier around Lake St Clair being the end of the overland track, but other than that it truly felt like we were in the wilderness!

We were spending the last 3 nights of our trip in Stanley on the north coast. As someone who tries to pack as much into a holiday as possible, I can be guilty of not actually getting any rest and relaxation in. I have to admit it was really wonderful to have these 3 nights in Stanley, allowing us one day to explore the Tarkine Drive around the north west, and another day to do absolutely nothing except a little walk, some reading and a swim in the surprisingly warm Bass Strait.

@VDL Stanley

It didn’t hurt that where we were staying in Stanley was gorgeous and super homey so very easy to spend time there. VDL was a converted storehouse from the mid-1800s, and is named after the Van Diemens Land store company. Van Diemens Land being the name used by many Europeans for Tasmania in the 1700s and 1800s. VDL Co was a corporation that effectively ran the farming and trade out of Tasmania, with Stanley being used as a key port for their operations. VDL also gave bounties for hunting Tasmania Tigers 😦 helping to lead to their extinction. It is in fact still running as a dairy farming company today, with some controversy around the sale of the company to Chinese owners in 2016 and subsequent management.

View of Stanley

The geography of Stanley is quite unique, you drive out on an isthmus to reach the small town, with ‘The Nut’ rock looming large above it. This helps shelter the port which sits below The Nut, which is also where VDL is located.

Descending The Nut – steep

We went for a walk up The Nut one afternoon, there is a cable car option but it wasn’t running. It was deceptively large once we’d got up, there was a decent loop walk, accompanied with very high winds!!

Stanley, or Santorini?

Stanley was a gorgeous little town, but seemed to be almost exclusively holiday accommodation or churches! We wondered where did the locals live?? Every 2nd house had a BnB sign up. We mentioned this to the lady in the visitors centre that surely not all the accommodation could be filled, which she seemed very defensive of that it was (although she did work at the visitors centre….)

VDL with Nut

VDL was right opposite Hursey’s Seafood, the restaurant outlet of a local fishing company. They did the most delicious scallops, we returned for 2 of our 3 nights and got takeaway to enjoy sitting outside with a nice bottle of Tasmanian wine.

Making ourselves at home

We spent a full day exploring the Tarkine Drive, an ~100km loop drive around the remote north west region. We stopped at: Trowutta Arch, Lake Chisholm, Sumac Lookout, and ‘The Edge of the World’ where we had a picnic in the car because it was too windy outside!!

The magical walk down to Trowutta Arch

Trowtta Arch is a natural rock bridge formed due to the various sink holes in the area!

The Arch
Sinkhole selfie
Sinkhole – would not be going for a dip in there!

All the walks were relatively short, but there was so much to see, it really felt like another world. Lake Chisholm is another giant sinkhole, filled with water, the approach to which is filled with huge old trees.

Measuring up near Lake Chisholm
Playing!
The Edge of the World

The Edge of the World really lived up to its name. From here you look out onto the longest uninterrupted stretch of ocean in the world, draw a line out and it would go all the way across the bottom of the Indian Ocean, pass below the south of South Africa’s Cape of Good Hope, and continue the whole way until you hit Argentina.

After a windswept and active day we were very happy to get back to the comforts of VDL. The set up was great, there were 4 rooms within the building, although only 1 other was occupied when we were there (noted visitor centre lady!) and then there was a large communal living area, with bikes you could take to ride around Stanley. I’d definitely recommend it if you’re ever planning a visit to the area, we felt so relaxed and at home.

VDL living room

We were flying out of Launceston in the early evening, so had most of the next day to drive slowly across the north coast, through the Tamar Valley (of yoghurt fame), and past some of the Tasmanian vineyards. I’d heard lots of good things about Tamar Valley, and perhaps we just didn’t do it right (i.e. not stopping for wine!), or perhaps just because it was an overcast day, but we were a little underwhelmed. After the wilderness of the west it just felt like driving around some farms!

There are still SO many places in Tasmania I’d like to go, including: Port Arthur and the 3 Capes Track, all the east coast hot spots, the South West National Park, more of Cradle Mountain NP.

Once we are able to travel again I’ll be sure to head back to Tassie, and for now I shall happily reminisce.

Xx

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