Just when you think you have driven most of the iconic Tasmanian self-drive routes… along comes the Western Wilds.
It is a region in the west of Tasmania that has always existed on the tourist map, but the depth of its stories, people, history and natural wonders are only just beginning to be truly recognised.
And you have ever wondered if there is actually ‘much there’ – think again.
A journey through the Western Wilds is an adventure on the road less travelled. And this is the absolute beauty of it. With some of the most pristine and ancient wilderness on the planet, this part of Tasmania is nature at its very best. And don’t expect to have to share it with the crowds… yet.
It is also a region brimming with stories. Multi-generational tales that stretch from ancient Aboriginal culture to the days of ‘mining and pining’ and resilient pioneers who built lives in the untamed environment.
To start my own journey into the Western Wilds, I got on the road straight out of Launceston airport and, leaving the city behind, drove a few easy hours to the west. Skirting Cradle Mountain, I headed for Corinna – the first stop on the journey. Within those few hours, I felt like we passed into another world.
The tiny mining town of Corinna, which has been transformed into a sustainable wilderness retreat using much of the historic town infrastructure, was to be my home for a couple of nights and is tucked into some of the most breathtaking rainforest I had ever seen. But don’t expect to arrive in Corinna and immediately upload pics to Instagram. You are almost off the grid here and that is the point.
On the banks of the stunning Pieman River which leads straight to the coast of the wild Southern Ocean, Corinna Wilderness Retreat takes the ‘retreat’ part seriously. With the addition of sixteen eco-cabins built in the original style, plus the refurbishment of the original Tarkine Hotel, the General Store, the old butchers shop and original Roadmans cottage, it is a charming place to stop and take a big deep breath of some of the cleanest air in the world. Time to switch off.
But people don’t laze around in Corinna. There are river cruises, kayaks, walking tracks, waterfalls and more to experience. The name of the game here is getting out and into the wilderness.
I jumped on board the Arcadia II river boat. Made of Huon Pine in 1939, she has so much history on her own and this is one of the most popular activities for guests at Corinna. A cruise down the Pieman River is like a journey back in time. Ancient rainforest and the famed Huon pine trees, some close to 4000 years old, surround you as you drift along water that reflects the beauty surrounding it. And it is a privilege to be one of the only few who get to witness the stunning waterfalls we see along the way.
Our skipper Tony delivers a passionate commentary throughout and it is clear that he is enamoured with the environment he is so lucky to call his ‘office’.
“…It’s very peaceful… there is not a more pristine place in the world as far as I know, as once you get around the corner and lose sight of Corinna – it is as it was 20,000 years ago when this forest first started to grow. I don’t know where else in the world where it grows like this…”.
I am sure everyone on the boat envied him and his life at some point.
It got me thinking about the incredible difference between the people who, in the late 1800’s, called this region home in its heyday of mining, and the people who today carve out a life for themselves amongst the wilderness. Each group there for very different reasons, yet, centuries apart, lived among the very same trees on the very same river.
Returning to the ‘township’, it was time to do a little exploration under my own steam and with kayaks available for guests to use, I grabbed one and headed out for a peaceful paddle. Joined by one of the staff, Patrick, I learned he discovered Corinna as a traveller and simply couldn’t bring himself to leave… “I reckon there are very few places like Corinna in Tasmania… I love how isolated it is… how it’s still not really on the tourism radar, and to be situated within a rainforest… there’s hardly any sign of civilisation”.
Finally, you can’t come to Corinna and not spend an evening in the Tarkine Hotel. This is the ‘old pub’ which played a role in the lives of hundreds of workers who lived in Corinna in the late 1800’s. Today it has been restored and continues to be a meeting place, this time for guests. History oozes from its walls – if only they could talk.
We enjoy a drink and meal with Peter, a site supervisor at Corinna who can share a story or two and we find out Corinna was once the roughest mining town in Australia, and this wasn’t exactly helped by its two pubs which sat on either side of the river.
These days however, it is a place of peace, solitude, and the epitome of ‘getting back to nature’. The stories of the past inhabitants, however, are never far from your mind.
As we continue our road trip through the Western Wilds, towards Queenstown and then onto Maydena, I can’t help but wonder about those early pioneering settlers who called this wild part of the world home. I’ll share more of my journey in our next edition!