The 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 forest-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 Pieman 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.
From 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 Pieman 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!).
The 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 very interesting trip, the skipper (whom we originally encountered when he was working on El 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.
After 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 Corinna 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!).
Full 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 and 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 the 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!
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