Wheel alignment

Thursday 21 February 2013

Two Tour Tassie, part 2


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!

Superbly finished in native timbers

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.

Scenery plus!

Yet more beautiful views

A brief stop in the Wilderness Area

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.......


  1. Beautiful! Love the train photos, wish there was audio!

  2. Thanks Richard.

    Know exactly what you mean! Not only the steam loco noises but the clank of the couplings between carriages when the train pulls away and the lovely tick every time a wheel goes over the non-welded track joints - absolute magic! Suppose it reminds me of my childhood when the world was a simpler place. (Old Fart speaking)

  3. Geoff, what a lovely journey. Love the female engineer at work!
    The landscape reminds me a bit of our Okanagan Valley. I wish you and Jennie a wonderful sojourn in Tassie. Aren't Tasmanians getting upset with you guys nicknaming their country Tassie? I don't know how I would feel about travelers calling Germany Germs... ;-)

    1. Hi Sonja and thanks!!!

      The turntable job for the female engineer must have been a perfect example of equality in action. Either that or the driver was pulling rank :-).

      Not at all! The whole of Australia uses the word "Tassie" in an affectionate way, the same as a BBQ is called a Barbie and Brisbane is called Brissie. It would be rude not to follow suit!

  4. Pleased to see they were allowed to use the steam engine. Steam engines aren't allowed to operate over here from end of October until beginning of April, due to fire restrictions. We were fortunate to ride on the first (and last)steam engine to run outside that period, in Dec 2006, when they managed to get approval to take a steaming S class up to Dowerin for their centenary (the missus worked for the Railways at the time and her mates were steam ticketed engine drivers....)
    We'd love to get to Tassie - if we could just pick up our 10 acres, with contents and bikes.......seems like a good time was had. Congrats.
    John L

    1. G'day Jon! Hope the WA bush fires aren't uncomfortably close to your place.

      I'm guessing that the Tassie train is still allowed to run as the west coast is still pretty green and has had a bit of rain. Different story to the east of the high country though and we've had several fires today in NZ.

      Yeah, Tasmania would be a nice place to live. Coromandel is pretty good for us though :-).

      Take care....

  5. Isn't the wilderness railway just brilliant. I took the family on it when we went to tassie 3 years ago and it was fabulous. The scenery was magic. Oh you really have been indulging haven't you.

    Yes that is Mt lyell that overlooks queenstown, spectacular view every around there.

    It been about 27 years since I've been the gordon river cruise so I can barely remember it. Thanks for sharing your pics.

    1. Steve,

      Sure is! Really professional operation in wonderful scenery. I hope it survives financially as it sure brings in people to that little community. Thanks for the confirmation about Mt Lyell. It really is a 360 degree spectacular!

      Yeah, we did indulge - more on that later!

  6. Oh that water is just amazing!! And the train is just amazing, I read this post at work during lunch and have to admit I shoved my phone under eveyone's noses saying ... wow did you know this even existed?!? Someone said yes they'd been there and I got all envious .. anyway ta for sharing Tassie with us Geoff :)

    1. Brenda,
      We didn't know either until we did some solid research back in NZ when we were route planning. A little gem on your own doorstep!

  7. So much goodness contained in one post Geoff. I love your enthusiasm, it helps us be right there with you. I've never ridden on a train but now you are making me want to.

    So many cool pictures. I don't know which are my favorites, the train pictures or the reflections so I will have to say the last picture. The colors are stunning.

    1. Thanks for the kind remarks Brandy,

      It's a long way to anywhere from NZ so we try and get the most from any trips we do. I think you must have an awful lot of heritage steam trains to choose from in the US to make a trip on!

      I took about 600 photos on the trip so these are only a small taster.

  8. Great write up Geoff. We really must get down there and go for a ride on the train before they close it down.
    Now that you have been to Sarah Island(and maybe Port Arthur) you should read "For The Term Of His Natural Life" by Marcus Clarke(if you haven't already). Written in 1870, it really makes the hair on the back of your neck stand on end. It is set in these two places.
    Looking forward to more photos.

    1. Hi Dave and thanks,
      I think mid-April was mentioned as the closing date so you'd better get your skates on! However, there seems to be a bit of brinkmanship going on too, so who knows?

      Thanks very much for the reference which we'll definitely follow up, especially as Port Arthur was our last major stop. One of my ancestors was also ahem... transported from the UK to Tassie and he gets a mention in a book as having done well for himself later in life. We met one of his descendants whilst we were in Hobart so we're keen to do a lot more reading.

  9. Excellent opportunity to take that train before it disappears. I really hope it doesn't. It's path through the mountains looks stunning. I love trains. We took the historic steam one in Utah, and the coal one in New Hamsphire. And something awesome thing that schlept up a phenomenal grade in Tennessee.

    And water...any day is better on water. :)

  10. Lori,
    Indeed it is and share your hope. Isn't the age of steam something special??

    Amen to that - from our house, the sea is just across the road from our drive entrance and about a 2 minute walk off the back of the property as we live on a really narrow peninsula.


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