As you drive into Queenstown town centre, the major focal point is the railway station. This station is part of a tourist investment to recreate the train line between Queenstown and Strahan. The original railway was built in 1861 to transport copper to the port of Strahan. The West Coast Wilderness Railway runs twice daily. The route goes through the King River valley and climbs to Dubbil Barril on a 1:16 rack and pinion track system. The return trip is by bus. We watched the train leave before driving the 40km or so to Strahan.
The conversation between the engine driver and the motor cyclist went along the lines of:
MC:”When I grow up I want to be an engine driver, but my wife says there is no chance.”
Driver: “of growing up or being an engine driver”
MC: “she says growing up”
My immediate thought: We never grow up, our toys just get more elaborate or expensive.
We continued the drive arriving in Strahan a little after midday. A visit to the harbour found us booked on an afternoon 5 hour cruise with World Heritage Cruises. This was not expected, but as we subsequently found out there was demand from a bus tour operator.
The boat that would take us around Macquarie Harbour was a catamaran, Eagle.
Our boat for a 5 hour cruise. If we get blown out of the entrance, the next stop is South America.
Interestingly, Macquarie Harbour is more than twice the size of Sydney Harbour. It is only accessible via a small entrance (75 metres wide) named by convicts as Hells Gates.
Hells Gates - Entrance to the Harbour and to the dreaded convict settlement on Sarah Island
Bass and Flinders passed it by, thinking it was the mouth of a river. James Kelly found his way into the Harbour in 1815 and noted the rich stands of Huon Pine. For 12 years between 1822-33 it was a dreaded convict penal settlement celebrated in the Marcus Clarke book For the Term of his Natural Life.
There were two things that stood out on the Harbour:
The tannin colour in the wake of Eagle
T The first thing was the colour of the water. This was a brown colour rather than the normal blue. This colouring is caused by tannin leaching out of the peat substrate upon which certain vegetation communities (such as buttongrass, tea-tree scrub and rainforest) grow.
The other is the number of fish farms. These farms stared in 1990 with 40 ton . The now produce in excess of 15000 tons per annum. The major fish harvested are Atlantic Salmon and Brown Trout.
Next stop was Sarah Island. Nearly all traces of settlement have disappeared from the island, however The Round Earth Company conduct walking tours around the island telling stories of events on the island. Our storyteller, Janelle, certainly made the stories real as well as entertaining.
Sarah IsIand was named by James Kelly in 1815 after Sarah Birch, wife of the doctor who financed the expedition.
Sarah Island could be compared to Devil’s Island. It was set up as one of the first places in the British Penal System to use ‘behaviour modification’ techniques to root out moral depravity of the criminal classes. Hard labour, cruel and vicious punishment and the deprivation of all contorts in a harsh and fearful landscape made Sarah Island a please to be dreaded. For 12 years this penal settlement served as a warning to anyone attempting to buck the system.
Leaving the Island the boat headed for a quiet cruise up the Gordon to Heritage Landing, an elevate boardwalk through the forest. On the cruise up river, we enjoyed a buffet dinner. The walk through the forest was similar to the walk at Geeveston. The Huon Pines here were in excess of 400 years old. There was on fallen tree, still growing that had been aged at 2000 years old. We were certainly gobsmacked.
Nearly 700 years old.
Huon Pine was logged in and around Macquarie Harbour during the convict period and from 1860 until 1964 when cutting of the timber was prohibited. The captain of Eagle showed a DVD on the trip back to Srtahan The Oldest Living Tasmanian: Huon Pine, if you get a chance to watch it, we can thoroughly recommend it. The history of these timber cutters known as Piners is incredible.
And so our day ended with walk back to our van. Just before the weather turned. The wind sprung up and during the night the rain cam bucketing down. This was to continue well into the day as we proceeded up the coast to our next stop.