Sunday, January 24, 2016

Back in the Wild, Wild West – Day 1 Getting There



This is the real West Coast - rugged mountains, rich vegetation
I wanted to show an American friend the West Coast with its rainforests, lakes and waterfalls and  those crazy mining towns clinging bravely to life. Unfortunately, I totally wore her out just getting there. She did like the leatherwood flowers though.

It's Leatherwood season
No matter how often I travel the Lyell Highway- more times than I care to count, it never fails to thrill me to leave behind the relative bleakness of the plateau, or the smug pastoral hamlets of the lower slopes and plunge down through the Surprise Valley with its sharp, richly clothed mountains stretching almost to the sea.  It is almost always an adventure, some of which I would rather forget, but today the sun is almost shining and the leatherwoods are in bloom.

Like much of Tasmania, Hobart to Strahan doesn’t look far on the map. Only 299.7 Km from Hobart according to Google, but don’t be fooled. Whoever wrote that it takes 3.59 hours is either a Targa driver or hasn’t been there. It’s a long hard drive with big hills and sharp corners where at any moment you might confront a landslip, a broken down vehicle, or if you are really unlucky, bad weather including ice and snow. My friendly neighbourhood hydrologist always takes a thermal blanket, a thermos and some Cuppa Soup when he travels this road. Wish I’d thought of that the night we were stuck for four hours in the middle of  the night with ice crystals forming on the windscreen while waiting for the breakdown service. No matter, we are ready this time. I have the van. There’s virtually no traffic, even though it’s peak tourist season and there’s been no signal since about Ouse.

We visit The Wall, a most original concept in a very inhospitable environment. It features intricate carving using Tasmania’s unique woods to render the history of the timber industry.  It’s been over ten years in the making and the work continues. The whole place smells of Huon Pine, but sorry, no photos allowed. You have to go and see it for yourself (Entry is $12). 

We also stop at Lake St. Clair – Australia’s deepest Lake and the end or start of the Overland Track. Then there's a ritual stop at the Franklin River near the beginning of the Wild Rivers World Heritage Area and the subject of major controversy during the heated dam debates of the 80’s.  Alas, by the time we arrive at Nelson Falls, another favourite stop (and the best toilets on this stretch of road), my friend who’d been up since 4 a.m.is too tired to go in, so we stop for a rest  at the Lake Burbury Picnic Ground instead.  It’s a shame the dams are so low at the moment. It is usually a stunning sight with lowering hills all around.

Lake Burbury
For a good picture of what it usually looks like check out the excellent website: http://thelivingearth.com.au/ which also tells you a great deal about the geology of the region and  outlines a trail where you can actually see it).  Had planned to stay the night here since at $6 per vehicle/ tent etc  overnight camping is cheap, but as we were already a day late and wanted to make the most of the rare good weather, we keep going. As we approach Linda and Gormanston the illusion of timeless, untouched rainforest evaporates.

The Iron Blow - After gold was discovered there by Steve Karlson in 1883, the area was soon found be rich in  silver and copper. This marked the beginning of Queenstown's rise. Between 1895 as the Mount Lyell Mining and Railway Company, it produced 5,497,468 tons of ore, yielding 12% copper, 2 ozs. of silver and 0.065 ozs of Gold per ton.
At the top of the hill, we make a short detour to the Iron Blow – site of the long defunct North Mt. Lyell Mine, but with great views over what was the township of Linda and the surrounding countryside. If you haven’t been there for a while, there’s a new viewing platform with a lot of information about the history and geology of the area. The stories of rivalry between two colourful mining magnates, along with intrigue, mine disasters and mystery, would make a great movie. The set is all ready. It’s a great place to catch your breath before tackling the 99 into Queenstown. Victoria has its Great Ocean Road. We have the 99. The name refers to the number of bends you have to negotiate to get there. MrAgm65, has captured  this on  videocam, including the more typical weather.
I plan to spend more time in Queenstown soon, so we only do a quick lap of the town, taking in its grand hotels -relics of an earlier boom,, and cast an envious glance at the West Coast Wilderness Railway. If it wasn’t so expensive, it would be a fantastic way to get to Strahan. The train uses the original rack and pinion system to cope with the steep grades.  The hiss of steam and the smell of coal just go together on the West Coast which remained largely inaccessible  by road until the 1960’s.
 [If you are a train buff or would just like a shorter, less expensive but no less authentic train ride visit “Wee Georgie Wood” at Tullah on the first Sunday and last Saturday and Sunday of each month between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. – Closed June to October].

Seen in Q'town - sorry, couldn't resist that one
It is a beautiful  late afternoon when we finally arrive in Strahan – pronounced STRAWN, by the way, so we walk the 40 minute  track to Hogarth’s Falls – not high, but pretty and easily accessible from the People’s Park. We that is I, also enjoy a BBQ  here much to the chagrin of my friend.

Strahan has the second biggest harbour in Australia - It's substantial buildings, especially the customs house which you can see in the distance, gained importance  as the mines grew -originally shipping silver from the mines at Zeehan and then becoming the export hub for Queenstown's massive output. 
In 1983, just as the big mines were winding down, Strahan became the focal point of the bitter dams dispute which divided the state. Although it had long been a local favourite being the venue for most mine picnics, it now came to the attention of a far wider audience and was easily able to reinvent istelf as a tourist destination. It being peak tourist season we are very lucky to find the second last space in the caravan park – unpowered alas, even though we are sandwiched between tents and other vans and there is not a tree in sight.There is still no phone connection, the internet doesn't work, nor does Eftpos, and that slight haze in the above picture would prove to be ominous.

Pretty Hogarth's Falls in the People's Park, Strahan
Sunset at Ocean Beach

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