The remoteness and natural beauty of Tasmania’s wild west coast give it a mystery and a power that provides strength and depth of all of Tasmania’s natural scenic wonder. Despite its relative inaccessability, visitors can experience the majesty of the west coast’s wilderness without pulling on hiking boots or doing battle with leeches, by experiencing a range of short walks and environmentally sustainable attractions in the region.
Numerous cruise boats ply the waters of Macquarie Harbour and the Gordon River, and have done for many years, harking back to a time when the harbour town of Strahan was the gateway to the region. Before roads were built across the island, people and goods came in via this port, and the minerals mined inland at Queenstown was carried out.
Another experience builds on the heritage of the difficulty of getting those minerals across many miles of mountainous terrain and wild rivers from the mines to the sea. The story of the West Coast Wilderness Railway is one of triumph over adversity which in many ways reflects the story of the West Coast itself, as its fortunes have risen and fallen based on the prices of minerals that are determined so far from this wild place.
The railway, built in the latter years of the ninteenth century, uses uses the Swiss ‘Abt’ rack and pinion drive system to climb through the mountainous terrain, one of the few surviving railways in the world to do so. The story of its construction is an epic tale of determination, commerce and competition that is told expertly onboard the train to the thousands of tourists who ride it each year, so I won’t attempt to recount that story here.
Road transport ended the commercial viability of the railway to the mining industry in the early 1960s and it languished unused for several decades. As tourism started to compete with mining as a key economic driver for the region, the railway was reborn as a visitor experience that encompasses the region’s heritage and makes some of its most wild and remote areas accessible for tourists.
The railway offers a range of experiences, departing from either Strahan or Queenstown. A full day trip from Strahan to Queenstown and back takes in the full length of the railway and provides an hour to explore Queenstown.
A half-day River and Rainforest experience departs from Strahan and takes in the shores of Macquarie Harbour and the King River as it journeys to the station at Dubbil Barril, where the locomotive is turned around on a manual turntable for the return journey. A short rainforest walk offers views of a trestle bridge and some of the area’s flora, while a stop at Lower Landing provides the opportunity to taste various types of honey produced locally from hives located in the area.
The half-day Rack and Gorge journey departs from Queenstown and climbs a 1 in 20 gradient to the station at Rinadeena, where the steam locomotive is refilled with fresh water while visitors take in the surrounding scenery and get photos of the train from a bridge over the track. The trip continues downhill to Dubbil Barril, where the locomotive is turned again for the return journey. At Lynchford Station passengers are shown how to pan for gold at the site of a former goldmine on the outskirts of Queenstown.
Passengers are offered a choice of carriage classes; the Heritage Carriage offers comfortable, warm transport with the opportunity to purchase food and drinks at the stations, while passengers in the Wilderness Carriage are offered a complimentary class of Tasmanian sparkling wine on boarding, followed by a succession of delicious canapes, lunch and morning or afternoon tea treats, depending on the journey taken.
A steward in each carriage takes care of passengers and provides a fascinating commentary that tells the story of the railway and those who lived along it, as well as the original steam locomotives which are still employed in pulling the trains today. Museum displays and informative panels at each of the stations provide further context and information, and the views of the wild rivers, ravines and rainforest along the way add up to an unforgettable experience.
I have just started working for the West Coast Wilderness Railway and took these trips as part of my familiarisation with the business and its products. Those who know me know that I don’t work with businesses and experiences that I don’t honestly feel that I could happily promote even to those nearest and dearest to me. However, I’ve included a link to the West Coast Wilderness Railway’s Trip Advisor reviews below, so you can see what others have to say about the experience too.
Another Tasmanian blogger, one who is certainly not averse to pulling on the hiking boots and coping with leeches, recently wrote about the West Coast Wilderness Railway.