Back in NZ, we'd heard about 2 attractions in the Strahan area which had received rave reviews. The first was the West Coast Wilderness steam railway which originally shifted ore from the Queenstown area to Strahan port in the late 1800's. It used a rare Abt-design rack and pinion system on the steepest part of the mountain climb to give it mechanical grip. After it fell into disrepair, it was resurrected to take tourists over the same route. There is currently some debate about whether it will be closed in the near future due to funding issues so we were determined to go just in case we never had a future opportunity.
Wilderness Railway station, Strahan
We arrived early to have a look round and a small diesel shunter brought some carriages to the platform. Although the carriages were relatively new, they were reproductions of the originals and exquisitely finished in native timbers.
Anxious to get going!
The small diesel shunter pulled us along the coastline and then into a spectacular steep gorge through the mountains, crossing many viaducts and bridges until we reached the gradient where the steam train with the rack and pinion would take over for the steep climb.
I love modern technology but there's something about steam trains that stirs the soul. All that noise and effort says you're getting value for your money and takes you back to the "golden age of steam" a century or more ago. The puffing and clanking was a wonderful contrast to the silence of its surroundings in the deep gorge.
She'll be coming round the mountain when she comes, la la.....
Newly-restored Mt Lyell No 3 loco
First requirement was to turn the loco round as she'd come from the Queenstown end of the line. There was a manually-operated turntable for this which required surprisingly little effort to turn a heavy loco round.
Lovely setting for a turntable
All steam and noise as the female engineer turns the loco round
View of the central rack for mountain climbing
Taking on water
What a thrill to not only be travelling through such magnificent scenery but with the additional benefit of the loco chuffing and clanking up front, not to mention the smells and the mournful sound of the whistle! The station at the small settlement of Queenstown is right in the main street in town so passers-by can see the train coming in and the loco being turned round on yet another turntable - what an asset to the region! We really hope that the enterprise attracts some federal funding so that others can enjoy it in the future.
On the Queenstown turntable right in town
Arty-farty shot of the loco brightwork
Queenstown with Mt Lyell (I think) in background. Taken from turntable
Next day, it was all aboard for the Gordon River cruise on the Lady Jane Franklin, also in World Heritage-listed scenery. First up, we headed out into Macquarie Harbour which is some 110 sq miles in area. It was almost flat calm when we went through Hell's Gates, the narrow entrance but in the early morning overcast conditions was easy to appreciate the hellish conditions which the early sailing ships faced on occasions. Swells of more than 25 metres have been recorded in bad weather!!!
Hells Gates - frighteningly narrow entrance to Macquarie Harbour
After exiting the harbour for a short distance, we returned and cruised past the trout and salmon aquaculture farms and headed for the Gordon River. This is famed for its calm waters and incredible mirror reflections - we weren't disappointed!
Moody entrance to the Gordon River with perfect reflections
More mirror-glass reflections
Instant ripple art!
At a point well up the river, we berthed for a while and went walking through pristine bush. We thought that NZ bush was dense, but getting lost in this would be a real nightmare!
Dense Tasmanian bush
The lair of the freshwater burrowing crayfish!
After our stop and with the clouds burning off, we visited the 15 acre Sarah Island in the harbour. Although it's a really pretty place today, it was a hell-hole for the very worst convicts in the early 1800's.
Remains of the penal colony bakery
Remains of prison building
Area where boats were built by convicts
Looks beautiful now, but a whole lot different nearly 200 years ago!
We both loved what was on offer in the Strahan area. It would be remiss not to mention the professionalism of all the guides. Many of them were in their 20's but whatever their age, their enthusiasm and love for the area and wanting to make sure that visitors shared all this really shone through. It wasn't simply a job to them and full marks for going the extra mile - that's what makes Tasmania a very special place.
Part 3 coming up soon.......