The World Heritage area that covers some 20 per cent of Tasmania is at it's most wild and beautiful on the island's West Coast. Here the thundering waves of the Southern Ocean and the uninhabited rocky shores meet each other head on, as unpredictable as the rapidly changing weather of the region. As it is largely uninhabited, a journey down the West Coast is like a trip through an age-old landscape, through ancient rainforest and past steep sided gorges. Just one town exists on this coastline, a historical village called Strahan. Strahan is seen as holding the keys to the World Heritage Area, and a visit here will unlock for you sights, sounds and experiences you would never have thought existed!
Three hours drive from Devonport (where the 'Spirit of Tasmania' docks), and four and a half hours from Hobart, Strahan is in an isolated position on the northern edge of the Macquaire Harbour. This is a large shallow inlet that the Gordon River and the King River empty into, and all three are the basis for much recreational activity in Strahan. On a still day the waters of the harbour create a mirror image, and boat cruises down its 50 kilometre length are a pleasant way to pass an afternoon. These will take you past the salmon farms, where the still waters are churned into a froth by 60 000 kilograms of Tasmanian Salmon!
Strahan has a rich history- it was initially a base for businessmen seeking the Huon Pine that proliferates in the region. Just off shore on Sarah Island a penal colony was established, and it gained the reputation as the worst colony in the country. Convicts would have to row to shore through the notoriously dangerous entrance to the harbour known as Hells Gate, and then harvest the Huon Pine before rowing back. Its convict past and its port heritage gives the town a sense of character and atmosphere that most others just do not have, and a walk down the main street, the Esplanade, is likely to provide interesting insights into Strahan's history.
The Esplanade is also lined with numerous gift shops, and many of the products in these are crafted from Huon Pine harvested from the region. This wood is in high demand because it creates its own protective oil that makes it very durable, so you anything you buy here is likely to become a family heirloom! A tour of Morrisons Huon Pine Mill will teach you more about the product, and also about its importance to the area. The mill is located next to the visitors centre in Strahan, and is renowned for being one of the few of its kind to still cut with a reciprocating saw mill.
The Huon forests themselves are simply beauiful, and well worth a drive through in your rental car. A more thrilling way of seeing them however is to jump on the West Coast Wilderness Railway, a steam-operated train that runs between Strahan and Queenstown, which is inland. This 35 kilometre guided tour takes you along a railway that is over 100 years old, through rainforests that are over 2000 years old and over a mountain range that is, well, as old as the hills! Its a journey past some amazing sights and a journey into the history of the area too.
Another popular way of seeing the sights, this time from a water based vantage point, is to take a river cruise up the mighty Gordon River. Its dense banks are home to copious amounts of bird and wild life, and the evening times are a particularly good time to see these. The smooth flowing waters are also a prime surface for canoeists and kayakers to ply their sport, and if you fancy joining them then equipment is for hire in the town.
For an experience like no other you have to visit Ocean Beach, a 40 kilometre long stretch of hard sand which has the crashing Southern Ocean on one side and tall sand dunes behind it. A walk on the beach really does make you feel as if you are on the edge of the world, especially when you consider the waves here have not seen land for many thousands of kilometres. The beautiful sunsets seem out of this world, and are a fitting end to a busy day exploring the wild Strahan Coast.
A visit to Strahan is certainly not your usual type of holiday. Sun baskers and surfers are not your standard fare here, but the beautiful environment and the rich history provide a different sense of enjoyment, relaxation and satisfaction. Why not pick up a hirecar and give the region a go? Thousands of others do it each year, and none have left disappointed...
Gavin Wyatt is a journalist with a passion for travel. originally from Zambia he has traveled around the world to end up on the sunny shores of Australia. For more of his articles visit Tasmanian Car Hire