Great Drives of Tasmania, Part I: Hobart to Strahan
|En route: the Galant at a coffee break in Tarraleah|
It's easy to forget - ignore, even - the beauty of your own home state when its very proximity and ease of access renders it almost invisible. That's how it was for the UMPHs, who had spent so much time travelling to places other than their island home they were missing out on the excellent touring options within Tasmania.
For international readers who may not know, Tasmania is the small, triangle-shaped island that sits below (south of) the better-known, and significantly bigger, east coast mainland Australian states of Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland. Tasmania may be small but it makes up for its lack of size in so many ways.
|Here we are!|
Tasmania is an extremely popular destination for outdoors types, keen on wilderness pursuits like bush-walking, mountain-biking and kayaking in the midst of stunning natural scenery, and those who enjoy seriously high-end food, wines, whiskies, beers and ciders. It's also home to the world renowned Museum of Old and New Art or, as it's better known, MONA, the brainchild of a local-boy-made-good, philanthropist David Walsh.
The island state is also well known as the home of the southern hemisphere's best tarmac rally, Targa Tasmania (https://targa.com.au/tc/), modeled on Italy's famous Targa Florio (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Targa_Florio) and conducted in autumn of each year on spectacular local roads. It's both a highly competitive autosports event and a cavalcade of exotic, rare, historic and classic high-performance cars being put through their paces in some of the most beautiful countryside that might be imagined.
And so it was that classic car mad UMPH and classic car tolerant Mrs UMPH found themselves en route to the coastal fishing village and tourism hub of Strahan, approximately three and a half hours' drive from Tasmania's capital city, Hobart. Their route took them and their recently refurbished 1975 GC Galant hardtop from the capital, up to New Norfolk (https://www.discovertasmania.com.au/about/regions-of-tasmania/hobart-and-south/new-norfolk), along the north-eastern side of the River Derwent, past the excellent Two Metre Tall Brewing Company (http://2mt.com.au/) and into the ex-Hydro Electric Commission (HEC) village of Tarraleah (http://www.tarraleah.com/) for coffee, much of the time following Targa competitive and transports stages.
From Tarraleah ('Tarra' to the locals), the UMPHs pushed on through Derwent Bridge, home to the excellent art installation The Wall (http://thewalltasmania.com.au/) and the highly regarded Pumphouse Point, an ex-HEC facility on the shores of Lake St Clair turned high-end accommodation (http://www.pumphousepoint.com.au/). From there, they followed the Lyell Highway past the more accessible parts of the Franklin River and Frenchmans Cap, then over Lake Burbury and through ghost towns of Linda and Gormanston, before making their way into the once thriving mining town of Queenstown (https://www.discovertasmania.com.au/about/regions-of-tasmania/west-coast/queenstown), famous for its lunar landscape hills.
Queenstown has, sadly, seen better days and is currently looking a little forlorn and the worst for wear, the result of the closure of the Mt Lyell copper mine after three miners were tragically killed whilst at work. Optimism that the mine will eventually reopen remains. However, this is yet to eventuate and, until it does, the town is likely to remain stagnant and almost lifeless until workers are enticed back, reinvigorating the local economy and bringing with them families and a brighter outlook.
Strahan (https://www.discovertasmania.com.au/about/regions-of-tasmania/west-coast/strahan), on the other hand, is thriving. It's only 41 kilometres from Queenstown on a well-maintained, gorgeously winding road but is a world away in terms of activity and 'buzz.' Empty streets and vacant shops are the predominant impression of Queenstown, whereas Strahan's town centre is awash with tourists and locals alike, especially in the 'rush-hours' that parenthicise the daily departures and returns of the two Gordon River cruise boats - the RACT's Lady Jane Franklin II, and the locally owned and operated World Heritage Cruises' Harbourmaster.
|Above and below: views from the top of the Strahan Village - where the UMPHs stayed - just outside its main restaurant|
The UMPHs elected to sail with the locals on Harbourmaster but are quite sure that either operator would provide comparably excellent sights, service and commentary, as both utilise similar catamarans, and have much the same itineraries and routes. They chose the middle-priced package of three - with premium seating next to the panoramic windows and the standard buffet lunch - and were very pleased with their choice. The large windows allowed almost uninterrupted views of MacQuarie Harbour, its fish farms and the mountains that loom towards the east, as well as Hell's Gates and the small settlement that has grown around the lighthouse that marks the passage into the harbour from the Southern Ocean, plus Sarah Island and, of course, the Gordon River itself.
There are plenty of dining options in Strahan, with Hamer's Hotel being a popular - and convenient - choice, being located almost opposite the ferry terminal. They have a comprehensive menu featuring a good range of locally sourced produce, as well as a reasonable selection of local and imported beers, wines and spirits.
Up on the hill, overlooking the town's harbour, the Strahan Village does a very nice buffet, with tempting fresh seafoods, as well as offering tastings of the excellent Hellyer's Road Distillery whiskies. The view from the restaurant isn't half bad, either.
|A cool and crisp morning: the Galant outside the Coffee Shack on Strahan's main street.|
Coffee lovers are well-serviced, too. The Coffee Shack serves all your favourite brews, be they flat whites, lattes or cappuccinos, through to short- or long blacks, or anything else that might take your caffeineic fancy. They also do a good range of biscuits and cakes while the Bushmans Cafe, located on the other side of a small gravel car park (pictured above), does a very good toastie, as well as serving up burgers and other lunch-time treats. Pastry-lovers can always grab a pie from the local bakery, situated within a few doors of Hamer's.
The West Coast Wilderness Railway (http://www.wcwr.com.au/), formerly known as the Abt Railway, takes passengers along the Mount Lyell line that was used from 1897 until 1963 to transport copper ore from Queenstown's mine to ships that sailed from Strahan to be processed elsewhere. The term Abt refers to a system whereby an engine-driven cog engages with a special rail to aid traction on very steep parts of the line (http://users.nex.net.au/~reidgck/abt-loco.htm).
Several different WCWR tours are available, with departures from both Strahan and Queenstown and full- or half-day day options. The half-day trip from Strahan, chosen by the UMPHs, leaves from Regatta Point which is only a short distance from the town's main centre. There are different types of seating - one of which includes a dining option - and food is also available from the buffet carriage. The on-board commentary is both informative and entertaining and there are plenty of opportunities to disembark from the train to experience the wilderness up-close, as well as honey tastings and, on some tours, the chance to try some excellent Tasmania whiskies.
It seems that the UMPHs weren't the only people enjoying a grand tour, with several excellent - and quite exciting - cars seen on in the area. And let's face it, who wouldn't want to put their Cobra replica, Aussie-muscle Monaro, 1950's inspired motorcycle, classic Porsche or stately British Armstrong-Siddeley through its paces on some of the world's most exciting roads and amongst such gorgeous scenery?
|Elegance and comfort all the way: three of the five vehicles taking part in an Armstrong Siddeley tour of Tasmania|
Yet to come (Part 2): Strahan to Zeehan, Sisters Beach and Rosevears, via Exeter. Please feel free to follow this 'blog to ensure you don't miss out on this upcoming installment.
U M P H
Images captured with a Nikon DSLR or an iPhone.