Roadtrippin’ the West Coast

I recently had need to make a quick business trip to the west coast, the firstt time I had visited this part of Tasmania, or any of the places enroute, for many years. Of course I took my camera along on the adventure.

Fields near Hamilton, Tasmania
Fields near Hamilton, Tasmania

Had to stop for this scene of bucolic gorgeousness near Hamilton on the southern edge of Tasmania’s Central Highlands.

Tailrace feeding Tarraleah Power Station, Tasmania
Tailrace feeding Tarraleah Power Station, Tasmania

Quite a waterslide! The tail race that feeds the Tarraleah Power Station. It, and the numerous other hydro generating stations along the course of the River Derwent between its source at Lake Saint Clair and its meeting with the open sea around Hobart, were built between the 1930s and 1950s. They also needed dams, canals and other technological interventions to generate huge amounts of electricity from fresh water and gravity.

Fellow blogger Tasmanian Traveller has walked the entire course of the River Derwent, photographing and documenting the many challenges and rewards of doing so. Check out Walking the Derwent River.

Empire Hotel, Queenstown, Tasmania
Empire Hotel, Queenstown, Tasmania
Orr Street, Queenstown
Orr Street, Queenstown with Mount Owen in the background
Queenstown Station, early morning
Queenstown Station, early morning

A railway line was built between Queenstown and the port of Strahan about 40km away to transport the minerals. An amazing engineering feat, the line crosses deep valleys and mountains through thick forest and uses an Abt cog system to crawl its way up the steeper slopes.

After a period of disuse after its mining purpose was no longer needed, it has been reestablished as the West Coast Wilderness Railway and carries tourists on half and full day excursions. It is one of a number of new enterprises in Queenstown established to give new livelihoods and purpose to the town.

Paragon Theatre, Queenstown
Paragon Theatre, Queenstown

Queenstown is finding its place in Tasmania’s cultural life too. Artists are living and working in the area, and once abandoned venues such as the Paragon Theatre are being pressed back into service. Over the past few years, a biennial arts festival, originally called the Queenstown Arts and Heritage Festival, but now rechristened somewhat enigmatically as The Unconformity, it has drawn visitors and engendered awareness and pride among the locals.

Penghana, Queenstown from Scion Kopf
Penghana, Queenstown from Scion Kopf

Once the residence of the Mount Lyell Mine manager, Penghana is now given over to tourism as an upscale bed and breakfast provider in Queenstown.

Queenstown from Scion Kopf
Queenstown from Scion Kopf

Peace in the valley. Queenstown is hemmed in on all sides by steep hills and mountains. Those mountains hold minerals, the mining of which has been the livelihood of residents. For decades their fortunes, and those of Queenstown, have risen and fallen with the world mineral prices.

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With prices low, many in the town and surrounding region are looking to other cultural and economic mainstays, including tourism and the arts, to provide a more reliable and sustainable future. The town bears the signatures of both hardship and hopefulness in its very fabric; pride and a determined resourcefulness overlay a grim and grimy decay.

Queenstown's infamous gravel sports ground
Queenstown’s infamous gravel sports ground, viewed from Spion Kopf
Scion Kopf
Old mining equipment displayed at Spion Kopf
The defence of Queenstown - early morning on Scion Kopf
The defence of Queenstown – early morning on Spion Kopf

Sunrise over Queenstown viewed from the Spion Kopf lookout. Apparently named after a battle in the Boer War, this wee hill above the town offers fine views in all directions. It also has a number of relics of the towns industrial past, including mining machinery, a small locomotive, a mining derrick and this cannon, which was apparently forged in a local foundry by patriotic residents who were fearful of invasion in the late nineteenth century. A plaque assures the visitor that it was never fired in anger before going on to describe some curious war games played out by locals at that time, many dressed in kilts and playing the bagpipes!

The rocks of Mount Lyell, Tasmania
The rocks of Mount Lyell, Tasmania

The iron-ore rich rocks of Mount Lyell on Tasmania’s west coast.

Iron Blow, early morning
Iron Blow, early morning

These towns are now looking to tourism to secure their future; there is a lookout near this spot looking down into the former open cut mine at the Iron Blow (below), and groups of visitors are taken down mines on heritage tours. A railway built to take the products of the Queenstown mines across the forest and hills to the port at Strahan now carries tourists through the wilderness.

The Iron Blow lookout
The Iron Blow lookout

Morning at the Iron Blow lookout at Gormanston on Tasmania’s west coast. This was where iron ore was found and mined for many many years in the now bare hills behind Queenstown. The walkway now affords a view down into the former open cut mine as well as spectacular views across the almost ghost towns of Gormanston and Linda and on to the mountains of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area that surround Lake Burbury.

Gormanston from Iron Blow
Gormanston from Iron Blow
Frenchmans Cap, Tasmania
Frenchmans Cap, Tasmania

The 261km Lyell Highway from Hobart to Queenstown ascends the Derwent Valley and climbs into the Central Highlands, which it traverses to Derwent Bridge. There, the highway descends Mount Arrowsmith for a winding 70km or so in which it passes through the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area.

The route is shaded and often through deep valleys, but there are points where some of Tasmania’s wilderness treasures can be glimpsed, and for the adventurous, accessed via walking tracks. The highway crosses the Franklin River, whcih can be viewed after a short walk. This photo shows a glimpse of Frenchmans Cap, one of Tasmania’s wilder and more challenging mountain peaks. That’s not snow; quartzite rock shimmers on its peak.

Lake St Clair
Lake St Clair

At Derwent Bridge there is a cafe serving very good coffee and food, and as well as being the access point for Lake Saint Clair, it is also home to The Wall in the Wilderness, one of Tasmania’s more unusual tourist attractions. Artist Greg Duncan has carved a series of huge slabs of Huon Pine with scenes of the history, flora and fauna of central Tasmania, forming a panorama of epic proportions. I can’t offer any photos as photography is not permitted but it is well worth a stop on this epic road trip.

Mount Olympus from Lake St Clair
Mount Olympus from Lake St Clair

Mount Olympus from the southern shore of Lake Saint Clair in Tasmania’s central highlands.Perhaps most famous these days as the conclusion of the famed Overland Track and as home to Pumphouse Point, the high end digs for well heeled nature lovers, the lake is the source of the Derwent River and also the major source of Hobart’s drinking water.

Mount Olympus from Lake St Clair
Mount Olympus from Lake St Clair

After flowing south for about 100 km and being diverted through a series of dams, viaducts, canals and generating hydro electricity in multiple power stations, the water is fresh until just north of New Norfolk. There large quantities are pumped into the Bryn Estyn treatment plant and then piped down the shores of the Derwent to reservoirs around Hobart before flowing through the city’s taps.

Lake St Clair
Lake St Clair

It’s a hard-working drop, the water of Lake Saint Clair.