Drive yourself WILD
Staying longer is the key to experiencing the wilderness of Tasmania’s west coast on an action-packed and indulgent adventure. Alison Plummer reports.
“Who will you come back as?” ponders Lady Jane Franklin in Lady Franklin’s Man, a poem by Sheenagh Pugh about Lady J’s husband John, one-time Governor of Tasmania.
Even if you’re not heading off across the globe in a sailing ship as Sir John was wont to do, it’s interesting to contemplate the idea that travel changes you, especially when your destination is somewhere as revered as the World Heritage listed Tasmanian wild west coast.
For those who like their creature comforts laced with a little adventure, Pure Tasmania, the marketing umbrella of Tassie’s Federal Group, has the answer to experiencing the highlights the easy way. Allowing more time than you first think is the answer so you can take the tours of your choice and the plan is that you fly/drive to Launceston and drive to Strahan (298km) and back or return via Hobart (300km) if you prefer.
Launceston is such an inviting town that an overnight is obligatory. Here Federal’s Country Club Tasmania is a one-stop destination for golf, a casino, dining, bars and comfortable accommodation. Launceston has a celebrated food, wine and culture scene, so you might want make that two nights.
Head out towards Cradle Mountain through the lush countryside dotted with towns including lovely Deloraine, famous for its bakeries, coffee and scallop pies. Other stops include Railton to taste beer and cider at the Seven Sheds Brewery Meadery, and Sheffield, famous for its murals.
You’ll notice the change in the countryside as majestic mountains appear on the skyline, a sign you are nearing the National Parks of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage area. Soon the farms are left behind and you drive up through the forest and a strange landscape where trees have been felled for land-clearance but left where they were.
Arriving at Cradle Mountain Chateau you might see a wombat and little wallabies hopping around before you are enveloped into this welcoming property. Be sure to visit the Tasmanian Tiger Exhibition and the Wilderness Gallery, an impressive collection of environmental photography.
Grey Gums Restaurant at the Chateau features Tasmanian produce and wine and you can walk it off next day around Dove Lake. It sounds like a challenge but it’s a lovely walk along boardwalks, hugging the waterside for some of the way, a world of its own beneath the jagged teeth of Cradle Mountain itself.
On the way to Strahan on the west coast, the scenery is beautiful with forest and mountains and, weather permitting, you might take the pre-booked Bonnet Experience twilight cruise (max 10 people) to Bonnet Island to see Little Penguins.
Strahan Village is a Federal stronghold with several properties including the Hilltop Executive Harbour View with views across Macquarie Harbour. Tapas in 42˚ Restaurant & Bar could be an option before your evening cruise.
Board a fast cruiser to head out across the harbour towards Bonnet Island, past the line of rocks which are part of the Training Wall, a man-made wall to form a deep enough channel for boats to navigate. Bonnet Island has a lighthouse with a fascinating history and it’s a nesting place for Little Penguins; land to see them at dusk, gorgeous little indigo and white characters darting through the bushes.
Another great experience is the Gordon River Cruise aboard the sizeable Lady Jane Franklin. You’ll sail out to Hell’s Gate where the harbour meets the Southern Ocean, then past the salmon fishing farms before the journey up the Gordon River to view the magnificent, silent wilderness and stop to walk a boardwalk through the trees.
Next, land at Sarah Island to discover the history of its penal colony, convicts, and boat building.
The stories are most entertaining and you wonder how captors and captives survived. Some prisoners escaped and their full story can be explored at the highly entertaining The Ship That Never Was, performed daily at the Strahan Visitor Amphitheatre, with the help of members of the audience.
No wonder a longer stay is warranted – there’s still more to do including riding the Wilderness Railway aboard a fine old steam train. The railway is a remarkable feat of engineering in anyone’s terms and a tribute to the people who designed and built it with part operating on the Abt cog system designed by Swiss Dr Roman Abt.
Tassie food, wine and adventures; apart from having a great holiday, in answer to Lady Franklin’s question you just might change a little, coming home perhaps a Little Penguin* heavier? •
*Female Little Penguins average 1.2kg.
Fly Virgin Australia
Accommodation and experiences
What to take
• Casual wear
• Thermal wear, non-cotton clothing/lycra
• Comfortable/suitable walking shoes – 2 pairs
• Sun hat/woollen hat
• Swimmers (kayaking gear!)