Day 8 – On the Gordon

Day 8 – On the Gordon

When I was about 12 years old my parents took my siblings and I on a trip around Tasmania. One of my fondest memories of that trip was getting to go on the Gordon River cruise. The weather on that day was truly atrocious but rugged up in a raincoat my sister and I stood out on the front of the boat getting smacked by the wind and rain and loving every second. Nearly 20 years later I really wanted to do it again so Matt and I booked in.

The ferry departure time of 8.30am and the 40 minute drive into town from our camp meant we were faced with a pretty early start. I was certainly grateful for my Banjo’s coffee and breakfast quiche that we ate while looking at the harbour.

At about 8:15am we wandered over to the cruise terminal and browsed the gift shop before we were called to get on the boat. Thanks again to COVID-19 the number of passengers was next to no one so we had a ton of space to ourselves and the company was waiving the window fee which saved us $35pp. The tickets were still expensive $140 each but with the free lunch, two guided tours, and nearly 6 hours of cruising we thought that it was good value.

The boat started off by travelling out of Macquarie Harbour past the fish farms where the seals were swimming lazily around looking for escapees. The harbour is 6 times the size of Sydney and reaches a depth of 50m. We made our way through the black water and towards the mouth of the harbour Hells Gates, as named by the convicts entering Macquarie Harbour bound for Sarah Island. Near the entry we were lucky enough to see a couple of southern right whales bobbing around in the bay on the left.

Heading South/East back along the harbour coastline we sat back and enjoyed the view whizzing by and had a cup of tea. In Trip Advisor there are a couple of complaints from people that the cruising time is too long and boring but if you think that you’re really missing the point. Tasmania is all about going slow and taking in the beauty around you. The weather was on our side as the boat slowed and entered the Gordon River so we were treated to the famous reflections. Matt and I stood on the deck and looked out at the rainforest above and below.

Our first stop for the day was Heritage Landing, a short boardwalk stroll into the dense rainforest where we learnt about some of the plants and animals native to the area. I really enjoyed the information cards as I’m notoriously challenged when it comes to identifying plants. When we got back onto the boat after about 20 minutes we were organised into groups and told to come up and collect our lunch. Returning once more to our chairs, plates piled high with smoked salmon you couldn’t wipe the grins of our faces. Too good.

The second stop for the day snuck up just as we were finishing lunch, Sarah Island. We were given two options, make our own way around or complete a guided tour. Almost everyone opted for the tour and it was fantastic. I’d hoped it would go into more detail about the cannibalism of Alexander Pearce but instead learnt a huge amount about ship building, day to day life on the island, and the living conditions of the convicts. Just as we got back on the boat it started to rain.

We returned to Strahan at about 2.30pm and decided that there was enough time and daylight left to hightail it to Queenstown and stay the night next to the famous gravel footy oval. Unfortunately it was closed because of COVID so we drove up and around the bends to head down to Lake Burbury. On our way we stopped to enjoy the lookout at Iron Blow, the site of the earliest mine at Mt Lyell. That somehow turned into climbing the barren hills and then watching the sun set over the valley.

Campsite Review

Thureau Hills Boat Ramp – The no fossicking signs got me off side immediately but the spot itself was beautiful. There were toilets and a little creek which was running nicely. I think Matt may have got some cooking water from it but I don’t trust water supplies in Queenstown. One of the rivers has a disturbing habit of running orange. Not bad, not great 6/10.

Day 7 – Tackling the Western Explorer Road in a 2WD

Day 7 – Tackling the Western Explorer Road in a 2WD

The Western Explorer road or “The Road to Nowhere” as it is sometimes known is a 120km mostly white-dirt road that runs between Marrawah and Corinna. As with most of these out of the way spots in Tassie there is a fair bit of conflicting information about the road quality and the ability to drive certain cars on it (in our case a massive 2WD van) but let me reassure you that at low speeds it is easily manageable in a normal car but it will take a very long time (in our case close to 3 hours).

We left Marrawah for the 2nd time early in the morning, after shooing a blue wren out of the cabin, and began our drive south backtracking along part of yesterday’s route before turning right rather than continuing on to the Tarkine Drive. The day was cloudy, drizzling, but not too cold and the dreary weather really did just add atmosphere.

The road was incredible. It took us through a huge number of different environments, over rivers, and up mountains. The views along the way were simply breathtaking and there was no one for miles. We felt truly isolated and truly alone on the winding white road. Because the surface quality wasn’t great (think big rocks, big potholes, and an intermittent slipping) we took it very easy (50km/h) but honestly you would be wasting the beauty of the route if you did it any faster.

All too soon we found ourselves descending into the Corrina rainforest. We’d hoped to buy lunch at the Wilderness Lodge but the kitchen wasn’t going to open for another month, oh the joys of the Tasmanian off season. Instead we had some van snacks and went for a short walk in the rainforest before fronting up the $34 fee to cross the Pieman River on the Fatman Barge ($28 for a car). We were disappointed again when the barge operator turned out to be a well dressed 40yo rather than the old mate in a hat that we’d both expected.

We started to get pretty hangry and decided to have lunch in, of all places Zeehan. Matt had been spending a bit of time working in Zeehan earlier in the year but wasn’t able to provide any advice on where to eat. As a first time visitor I didn’t feel very confident about the prospects with slowly rotting houses lining the roads and police trying to set up tyre spikes in the main drag (no really!). We ended up at the Heemskirk Motor Hotel which from a decor perspective was very grim but the food turned out to be really nice, especially the stuffed potato skins.

Before the final push into Strahan we visited the Zeehan spray tunnel and walked through without the hard hat and torch advised by the entry sign. Matt did a bit of bush bashing around the site and found a mine shaft without a safety barrier entertainingly about 30m around from the one that was completely fenced in. We stayed well back.

We decided to spend the night at one of the free camps around Macquarie Heads. The first few we tried were either full or really damp so we ended up at “Scenic Site Water Views” on WikiCamps which is advertised as 4WD only. It took some maneuvering but we managed to get the van in and then set ourselves up. I used the ladder to get down the the pebbly beach and had a little wander around there until I managed to find a freshly killed cat which freaked me out so much I made Matt lock the van up. The views were truly divine.

Campground Review

Scenic Site Water Views was a lovely little free camp spot on the edge of Macquarie Harbour. Someone has obviously been making personal improvements to the site by adding a homemade table and a ladder down to the water. The only downside was a dead cat 7/10.

Day 6 – The takayna/Tarkine Drive

Day 6 – The takayna/Tarkine Drive

Takayna/The Tarkine is such a strange part of Tasmania, it feels totally wild and unspoiled but in reality it is littered with the impact from industry such as logging, mining and fishing. Made up of over 1 million acres of land it is the location of the largest temperate rainforest in Australia. It is a contradiction where you don’t know if you’re going to come around a corner and see a Tasmanian Tiger or a bulldozer. Today we did the Tarkine Drive.

Lose yourself in Tasmania's Tarkine rainforest - InDaily

The road is roughly 130km so we left our spot at Marrawah early driving south into some horrendous weather, perfect for the West Coast of Tasmania. I’ve always felt out of sorts in the West of Tasmania, the wind, isolation, and lack of people makes me nervous. It’s a hostile environment where you are reminded how insignificant you are in nature, and how quickly you would be forgotten if you left. Some parts of the coast recieve 3500mm of rainfall each year making it one of the wettest places in Tasmania. If you plan to visit, pack your umbrella.

Our first stop of the trip was West Point Reserve, a significant aboriginal site and known for its massive surf and rock formations. We then drove into Bluff Hill Point where we had a drink, checked out the asbestos and bee riddled lighthouse, and watched the weather roll in (from inside the van). After driving over the extraordinary narrow bridge that crosses the Arthur River, and the town of the same name we came to the Edge of the World, next stop Argentina.

The wind was blowing an absolute gale which forced us back into the van quick smart and down to Couta Rocks but we were uninspired which encouraged us to drive back inland to the Sumac Lookout, a viewing point across the Arthur River. The vista was absolutely magical, standing in lush rainforest and looking across mist covered hills and down into the valley where the river sat. We swung by the Julius River Campsite where we’d initially planned to stay the night on our way back towards the Western Explorer but honestly it was that wet the thought of sleeping there was pretty unappealing.

As luck would have it the weather eased off just enough for us to hike up to the lookout at the Dempster Plains and across the button grass that appeared to go for miles. We’re both very fond of the button grass landscape which Tasmania has 1,000,000 hectares of (see our wedding photo in “About Us” and you’ll notice the button grass tussocks). The plains were created by Aboriginal people using controlled burning to promote new growth and even expand the plain, this provided them with improved hunting and made travel easier.

We got back in the van and found a spot for lunch next to Rapid River. Matt cooked up some noodles under the dripping ferns while I looked around for interesting rocks and took photos of the stunning scenery. With full stomachs we continued on stopping briefly to check out the sinkhole and to take a small walk around the disappointing Milkshake Hills which was not only ruined by fire but judging by the landscape also forestry.

Our final stop for the day was the one I was most excited about, Trowutta Arch. I think I may have seen photos of this place on another travellers Instagram and the second I saw the magical sinkhole I had to go. We were lucky again that the rain held off for the 30 minute walk down into the cave. The pool at the bottom was covered in aquatic plants to the point where it nearly looked solid and we were dwarfed by the enormity of the arch. Looking back up was a window of ancient tree ferns. By far the highlight of the drive.

The rest of the afternoon turned into a bit of a shit show as we realised that we’d run out of water so we had an unplanned trip back up to Smithton where we filled up the tank properly and then, nearing dark, we hightailed it back to Marrawah. It wasn’t all bad in the end, the pub that we’d so wanted to visit was open and I ate an amazing local steak while Matt tucked into a parmi (while looking enviously at my steak). We listened to one of the locals yarn about how Marrawah was “the most Tasmanian place in Tasmania” and how cats were just “claws and bad attitudes”. Good to know.

On a more serious note the Tarkine is constantly under threat from logging and mining leases. It is an area of huge importance not only ecologically but also culturally for Tasmanian Aborigines. The destruction already caused is nothing short of criminal. If you would like to support protection of this area please check out the Bob Brown Foundation for more information and ways you can help #savethetarkine.