Sunday, October 19, 2014

Idyll Western Tassie

The west coast of Tasmania is largely untouched by development. There are only a few small towns scattered in this part of the island. And Strahan (pronounced "Streu-on") is perhaps the most popular and the only one by the coast. The town is beside the a big bay known as Macquarie Harbour.

Our drive from Hobart to Strahan took nearly 6 hours covering over 300 kilometres of good country roads. En route the scenery was serene and beautiful. There was hardly any traffic. We had the whole highway to ourselves. We passed by a couple of small settlements. They were hydro electric power stations. They have this ingenious system of channelling water in huge pipelines from the lakes in the mountains to generate electricity.

We could not find any cafe or restaurant along the 300 km of highway. But we were fully prepared. We had packed coffee and sandwiches. And stopped by a rest area for lunch.

About 40 km from Strahan, we arrived at Queenstown. It was a charming hillside place with a beautiful railway station and an imposing hotel. We lingered for a while, took some photo shots and proceeded on.

It was almost dusk when we arrived at Strahan. As we entered the town, there was hardly a soul. There was one main road along the coast. On this road were some shops, cafes and small restaurants.

Opposite was the water front to Macquarie Harbour. The population of the town is just over 600. The main activities are tourism, fishing and timber.

We checked into our booked apartment.

Dinner that night was a chicken we bought at the local store.

Followed by cheese we bought in Bruny Island.

Next morning, we woke up early to take a cruise in Macquarie Harbour. This huge body of water is a bay, accessible to the open sea through a small inlet known as Hells Gate. On our cruise we would visit Sarah Island and sail into Gordon River.

The boat we boarded was named the Eagle. It was a big boat, with nice comfortable interiors. We settled down to a 6 hours cruise.

The first point of interest was Hells Gate. This was a small opening from Macquarie Harbour to the open ocean. As the name implies, this can be a treacherous stretch of waterway for seamen, and a light house is in place to guide them.

Then the boat headed to Sarah Island. Along the way we passed many fish farms. They keep salmons.

Like Port Arthur, Sarah Island was a prison settlement. It is a tiny island. It was hard to imagine spending years if not a lifetime, in this cold frigid and hostile place.

This perky young man told us the story of Sarah Island, in the midst of the ruins that were once the home of the wretched prisoners.

The prisoners of Sarah Island were master ship builders. The ships they built were apparently used  throughout the Australian settlements in their days. In 1834, the last ship built in Sarah Island named The Frederick was hijacked by 10 prisoners who escaped and sailed all the way to Chile in South America. They were later recaptured and brought back to Australia. Remnants of log from these ship building activities can still be seen on the coast of Sarah Island.

We sailed up the Gordon River. It was a most scenic cruise. The river was so pristine and undisturbed.

It is apparently a haven for fresh water anglers. In our drive around Tasmania, we talked to many of the locals. We were told to bring our rods and reels on our next visit. We were assured we would not be disappointed.

We then stopped by at Heritage Landing for a walk into the rain forest. The sights were amazing.

Buffet lunch was served onboard the boat. It was cold meats, salmon, salads and fruits. Everything was super fresh. We enjoyed the meal thoroughly.

After the cruise, the boat docked near a saw mill. Here we had the opportunity to see some of the activities in the mill. The wood they process is from the Huon pine trees. The Huon pine is native to this part of Tasmania. They are much treasured and special licenses to fell these trees are very limited and strictly controlled. Illegal logging of these trees are punishable with long prison terms.

I was fascinated by this log on display, estimated to be some 900 years old. Huon pines are very slow growing and can live up to 2000 years.

From Strahan,  we headed to Launceston. It was nearly 3.00pm when we departed Strahan. The drive to Launceston was about 280 km.

En route, we saw Cradle Mountain from afar. Cradle Mountain was originally one of our destinations. It is a beautiful hill resort in the Lake St Claire National Park. Unfortunately because of the lack of time, we had to skip this experience.

The drive from Strahan to Launceston was made very interesting by the wildlife that we encountered. We saw lots of wallabies, possums and wombats. These animals are, I believe, nocturnal. As night fell during our drive, they came out in droves. This wombat leisurely strutted across the road in front of our car.

It was not only here that we encountered wildlife. In our week's adventure across Tasmania, we saw kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, possums, a seal, dolphins, kookaburras, deers and wild rabbits. Judging from what we saw, the island must be teeming with wildlife. I was on constant lookout for whales. No luck.

The most significant wildlife sight to me was an echidna we encountered during our drive in the eastern coast of Tasmania a couple of day later. It sadly was dead - a road kill. The echidna is a rare animal. It is one of only two mammals (the other is the platypus) in the world that lay eggs instead to giving birth to their youngs.

Under the spiny back was a soft furry cute creature. What a sorry way to meet such a fascinating animal.

We reached Launceston at about 8.00pm that night. Our GPS guided us to our hotel apartment. There we rested.

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