We continued our progress down the west coast of Tasmania yesterday, leaving Cradle Mountain and heading for Strahan. It's definitely a fair bit slower travelling on the hilly, winding and sometimes uneven roads here as we try and pull Old Bess and all our gear with the four cylinder Tarago. A number of people had warned us about allowing much more time than expected to get places so we've been doing that, and only planning fairly short distances each day.
On our way we stopped for a play in the park and lunch in Zeehan. An old silver mining town it was Tasmania's third largest town at one point and boasted a main street two miles long (perhaps the town was only a main street). Now there is not much there apart from tourist services and some services to support the mining that goes on in other nearby centres.
At Strahan we found ourselves a nice treed area at the golf course ($10/night!) to park Old Bess and then availed ourselves of the fish and chips cooked at the clubhouse on Friday nights. A drive around town revealed a place obviously thriving on the tourist dollar with almost every second house appearing to be holiday accommodation. Strahan is situated on the northern side of Macquarie Harbour, which is at the mouth of the Gordon River on Tassie's west coast.
This morning we arrived down at the dock for our 9 o'clock departure on the World Heritage Cruise of the harbour and river. Fortunately the day was very calm and the water so settled that we could even head out through Hells Gates (the harbour mouth) into the Roaring Forties. Today they were anything but roaring. Hells Gates is a tiny entrance to a huge harbour - Macquarie is twice the size of Sydney Harbour and, in Australia, second in size only to Port Phillip Bay - and due to prevailing conditions was often difficult to navigate.
After a brief foray into open waters, we headed back into the harbour where we observed some of the fisheries set up there and then cruised all the way up to Sarah Island, the site of Tasmania's first penal settlement. We were able to get off and walk around the tiny island where 1200 convicts in all were sent between 1822 and 1833, by which time Port Arthur was up and running. Even now it feels remote and isolated and terribly exposed to the elements but back then it must have felt like the very ends of the earth. The men were subjected to harsh labour in the surrounding forests and on the island, felling trees and building boats. The story of the place is quite fascinating and we were given a very engaging taste of it by our guide Dave.
Back on board we continued up the harbour and into the Gordon River. As we slowly cruised the river, lunch was served including smoked (locally-raised) Atlantic salmon. Unfortunately our family don't really go in for fishy, seafood-y things so it was a little wasted on us, but there was plenty of other food from the buffet to enjoy. After lunch we got to hop off again, this time onto a boardwalk through the incredibly dense and rare temperate rainforest that this part of Tassie features. We saw a Huon pine tree which is at least a couple of thousand years old - amazing to think what's occurred during its lifetime!
By this time the day was bathed in sunshine and we cruised all the way back to our starting point. It wasn't cheap, but for what they packed into 6 hours it was probably one of the most informative, enjoyable, friendly, value-for-money experiences of our trip so far! If you're ever down this way, I'd say it's a must-do.
This evening we headed back down to the visitor centre for a theatre performance based on the story of the last convicts on Sarah Island who nicked the last ship they were building there and sailed it all the way to Chile! The play has been being performed for 21 years and it's a great yarn. Only two actors (one of whom was Dave, our guide from earlier in the day) perform the show but they employ plenty of audience help and make it all heaps of fun.
When we got home this evening Sal and I capped off a great day by managing to complete our 1000 piece puzzle which has been on the go for a while. The picture being...a map of Australia, of course!