West Coast Explorer

Australia, Tasmania Add comments

Tasmania Lighthouse at Bluff Hill PointThe wind didn’t quite want to leave us alone as we left Stony Point and headed south to the kite-surfing and surfing hotspot of Marrawah.  Marrawah isn’t much, a collection of shacks and a general store that doubles as a petrol station, where Greg and Carol refueled and we started our route along the great Western Explorer.  The Western Explorer traverses Tasmania’s rugged western coast, a region of the state that is for all purposes still unpopulated and mostly wilderness.  From the unspoiled Tarkine rainforests of the north, the beautiful rolling plains of Arthur Pieman Conservation Area and further south to the striking Hiking down to the Frankland River from Balfourforest-covered mountains of the great rivers near Strahan.  The Western Explorer, the only route south between Marrawah and the harbour town of Strahan, is a lone dirt road skirting the edge of the Arthur Pieman Conservation Area, a vast expanse of wilderness wedged between the Arthur River to the north and the wild waters of the The Frankland RiverPieman to the south.  We spent some time exploring the beaches between Marrawah and Arthur River, all surprised at the ferocity of the seas in the gale-force easterly winds during our time along the coast.  Other than a few fishing settlements, the coast south of Marrawah is pretty much devoid of people, there are a few tracks leading to the coast along the way but other than those it was a expanse of button grass-covered rolling plains on our trip through Arthur Pieman.  We stopped off at the local Arthur River ranger station to apply for an off road driving permit, planning to brave the sand and water crossings to Sandy Cape, but after the wind didn’t abate we instead decided to head inland. 

As a bit of a side trip we detoured into the bush settlement of Balfour, a ramshackle collection of huts spread through the forest a few kilometers east of the Western Explorer.  Amazing the lengths some people will go to get away from it all!  We found a walking track leading down to the Frankland River, a beautiful hike through fern-filled forests down to the water, I had a bit of a swim and Greg and Lisa a rock-skimming competition before we got moving again and found a brilliant bush campsite next to the Lindsay River (S41°18.546’ E144°59.420’).  Carol and Greg had their first experience using The Tank’s shower and we enjoyed a bit of a respite from the wind, a great spot to spend the night with the sound of the trickling river all to ourselves.

The powerful seas near Arthur RiverCouta Rocks in the Arthur Pieman Conservation AreaCouta Rocks in the Arthur Pieman Conservation Area The Tank and her new friend in the Arthur Pieman Conservation AreaHiking down to the Frankland River from BalfourThe Frankland River near Balfour Greg and Carol using low range on the way out of BalfourLisa cooking up a storm at our campsite next to the Lindsay RiverCarol taking a nap at our campsite on the Lindsay RiverLisa and Greg by the Frankland River Lisa skimming rocks on the Frankland RiverCarol, Greg and Lisa on the banks of the Frankland River near BalfourThe hiking trail to the Frankland River from Balfour The Lindsay RiverThe Tank and her friend at our campsite on the Lindsay RiverSam tending to the fire by the Lindsay River 

The road through the Arthur Pieman Conservation AreaA 60 year old Huon PineFrom our spot on the Lindsay River we continued south along the Explorer, the rolling hills eventually giving way to the striking mountain country and roaring rivers of Tasmania’s southwest.  We crossed the beautiful Donaldson River with thick rainforests covering its banks and headed to Corinna, a small tourist-driven town on the northern bank of the great Pieman River.  The Pieman is a massive body of water, one of the old-world logging rivers down which the timber fellers of old would float their bounty of Huon Pine.  These days, instead of logging, Corinna is a tourist magnet, deriving its income from tours down the great Cruising the Pieman River on Arcadia IIPieman River and 4WD tag-along trips to the Pieman Heads.  One of Mike Frost’s ‘must do’ adventures along Tasmania’s west coast was to take a boat down the Pieman River to the Pieman Heads, the remote meeting of the Pieman River with the Southern Ocean.  We arrived at Corinna eight minutes after the day’s boat had left but the skipper was nice enough to turn around and come to pick us up (at $79 a head I have an idea why he turned around!).

Lisa on Arcadia II on the Pieman RiverThe Pieman River trip uses the world’s last remaining Huon Pine-built pleasure cruiser, the Arcadia II.  The Arcadia was built in 1937 and, after a retrofit along the way here and there, is still servicing the river from whose banks her hull was constructed.  It was a Wood graveyard at the mouth of the Pieman RiverWood graveyard at the mouth of the Pieman Riververy interesting trip, the skipper (whom we originally encountered when he was working on Shacks in the settlement at the mouth of the Pieman RiverEl Questro up in the Kimberley!) was a bundle of knowledge about the forest on the banks of the Pieman.  He pointed out some young Huon Pines along the way, the old growth trees were all decimated by logging earlier last century but it was great to see some of the young trees pointed out.  The photo above the one of Lisa to the right is of the droopy leaves of a young Huon Pine, the skipper estimated it to be roughly 60 years old.  They’re amazingly slow growing trees which is why their hard timber is so valued, some of the old growth trees felled by loggers last century were many thousands of years old.

The coastal winds were still in full force when we made it to the Pieman Heads.  The isolated beaches around the heads were like a graveyard of trees, the dead trunks floating downriver during the winter floods and becoming stranded at the river’s mouth.  There was also an interesting collection of beach huts at the river mouth, the only road access along a 4WD track from Granville Harbour, some of the eclectic decorations on the holiday houses were a real hoot.

The road through the Arthur Pieman Conservation AreaArcadia II and the Pieman River Dense forest on the banks of the Pieman RiverBlack swans on the Pieman RiverDense forest on the banks of the Pieman River The mouth of the Pieman RiverShacks in the settlement at the mouth of the Pieman RiverPowerful seas and wisps of flying sand at the mouth of the Pieman River Shacks in the settlement at the mouth of the Pieman RiverShacks in the settlement at the mouth of the Pieman RiverArcadia II on the Pieman River

Carol, Sam and Greg on Arcadia IICrossing the Pieman River on Fatman BargeAfter we were done with our cruise up and down the Pieman we found that the campsite we had in mind alongside the Savage River was already occupied so we had no choice but to continue south.  The only way south from Corinna from the end of the Western Explorer is across the Pieman River on the Fatman Barge.  The barge is run by the owners of the Tarkine Hotel in Corinna, a small ferry that pulls itself to and fro across the Pieman with the help of submerged steel cables.  After a quick look around the The Tank driving across the massive Reece DamCorinna settlement we squeezed onto the Fatman Barge for the Tank’s second journey over water (the first being the Spirit of Tasmania).  After hopping off the Fatman it was a short drive along the dirt to meet the bitumen again, we spent the night next to the massive Reece Dam (the beginning of the Pieman River) at a picturesque spot near the lake.  It was a bit of a wet night at Reece Dam (S41°43.891’ E145°08.054’), some of the heaviest rain we’ve encountered so far on our trip, we had quite an interesting tarpaulin setup between the vehicles to shelter us over dinner and into the evening (the awning at the back of The Tank doesn’t quite fit four!).

The Fatman Barge from Corinna to the southern bank of the Pieman RiverThe Tarkine Hotel in CorinnaThe Tarkine Hotel in Corinna Crossing the Pieman River on Fatman BargeCrossing the Pieman River on Fatman BargeCrossing the Pieman River on Fatman Barge Crossing the Pieman River on Fatman BargeCrossing the Pieman River on Fatman BargeReece Dam and the Pieman River below

StrahanStrahanFull of history from its days as the hub of the west coast’s logging industry, these days Strahan (S42°09.186’ E145°19.082’) subsists mostly on tourism.  It’s a beautiful harbour town tucked alongside Macquarie Harbour, we escaped to the local caravan park for a much-needed shower and spot of laundry before exploring the town centre.  With a good bakery, no shortage of restaurants, tours up the Gordon River, the famous West Coast Wilderness Railway Fishing boats in the morning light in Strahanand such a picturesque location it’s no wonder Strahan is such a tourist magnet.  One of the original wood mills is still in operation on the town’s wharf, the current operator is a fourth generation saw miller and a lot of the machinery in the establishment is still original.  Like a journey back through time…  When logging was in full swing on Tasmania’s west coast the towering old growth trees of the western rainforests were felled and dragged into the closest river in the hope that the winter’s rains would float them to the ocean where they could be easily retrieved.  The Huon Pine trunk pictured below to the right was felled in the 1960s and only recently made its way down A beautiful Huon Pine boat in one of the galleries in StrahanA piece of Huon Pine felled in the 1960s ready to be milledthe rivers into Macquarie Harbour where it was plucked out of the water by the last remaining saw mill in town.  The trunk actually had the Strahan saw mill’s brand on it, still visible after half a century and clearly identifying its owner!  The saw mill and adjacent woodworking gallery displayed a beautiful collection of knick knacks and artwork made from Tasmania’s most prized timbers: Black Sassafras, Beech Myrtle and the king of them all, Huon Pine.  There was a small row boat in the gallery made exclusively from Huon Pine, an amazing piece of craftsmanship, it’d want to be for the $15,000 price tag!

Strahan StrahanStrahanStrahan Greg, Lisa and Sam at the Henty Dunes near StrahanLisa taking care of business in StrahanOne of the galleries in Strahan One of the original saw mills in StrahanOne of the original saw mills in StrahanWood ready to be milled in Strahan The trail to Hogarth FallsHogarth Falls in central StrahanFishing boats in Strahan Fishing boats in the morning light in StrahanFishing boats in the morning light in StrahanFishing boats in the morning light in Strahan


This entry was posted on Saturday, February 6th, 2010 at 9:00 AM and is filed under Australia, Tasmania. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

2 Responses to “West Coast Explorer”

  1. Idaho Youngs says:

    Appears to be very rustic-remote area and yet does provide some of the modern day conveniences……like a motorized boat.

  2. tracy bogue says:

    hope you had a great bday lisa! miss you tons.

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