I am on a journey through Tasmania’s ‘Western Wilds’ – one of the most pristine and untouched regions in all of Tassie, if not Australia – and a drive that I am sure will be on many a traveller’s list in the near future.
I had flown into Launceston a few days earlier and made my way along an easy three-hour drive to the West Coast and the tiny former mining village of Corinna. These days it operates as a spectacular wilderness retreat, tucked deep in the Tarkine rainforest and more or less accessible only by barge across the Pieman River.
After a few days ‘off the grid’, immersed in a host of wilderness experiences, it was time to get back on the road and head to my next destination; the largest town in the Western Wilds region – Queenstown.
But first, I am a sucker for enjoying the actual ‘driving’ part of a road trip and there is always something on the way that lures me to make a stop.
On this journey, it was the tiny town of Tullah. Another former mining settlement, there are only around 160 residents here, but it attracts visitors who come for the fishing and to enjoy the beautiful and wild landscapes.
I met a fellow roadtripper named Kevin at the Tullah Lakeside Lodge and I asked him what he thought about his experience so far. He tells me honestly that he doesn’t think he can see enough. With the contrasts, colours and fresh air, there is always something that beckons him to get out of the car…
And as I drove the couple of hours south to Queenstown and watched the wild landscapes change around me, I totally agreed with him. And another quick stop at a scenic viewpoint over Lake Plimsoll presented a perfect postcard picture of iconic Tasmania.
Queenstown was born in the 1800’s on the back of the gold rush and arriving today can feel like you are stepping back in time.
The steam from the iconic West Coast Wilderness Railway train greets you, the main street is lined with heritage buildings full of character and stories, and like the rest of this incredible region, the town definitely enjoys a relaxed pace of life.
But I also know that Tassie likes to surprise you, and Queenstown boasts some beautiful modern wall murals around town. Painted by local artists, they create a spectacular blend of the old and the new.
I meet guide Anthony from Roam Wild Tasmania, a wilderness adventure company that takes visitors on in-depth local experiences. A truer and more passionate ambassador for the region you would be hard-pressed to find; Anthony’s love for Queenstown and its surrounds was immediately evident from the moment we started our day driving through town. Not to mention his ability to quickly reel off the names of the 14 pubs that existed here during the gold rush era!
The landscapes around Queenstown are often said to resemble more of a ‘moonscape’ thanks to the extensive mining and logging operations that have existed here over time. Anthony takes me underground to explore one of the mines and get my head around the intense labour of the miners during that era.
In fact, Queenstown was once the world’s richest mining town, if you can process that! But I’m not going to make my fortune today and leave empty handed.
It’s not a town that does things by halves and a little further up the road, the Lake Margaret Hydro Power Station is testament to that. It takes water from Lake Margaret which goes through wood stave pipes to the top of the mountain, comes back down in steel pipes, and powers the town.
The locals are proud of the way they have been working with nature since the early 1900’s and the original settlement that was built around the hydro scheme remains for visitors to explore; these days it is more or less a ghost town (or as Anthony liked to call the houses, a ‘renovators delight’!).
Our day with Anthony ends with a steep 4WD climb to the distinctive peak of Mount Owen, a spectacular viewpoint over Queenstown. As the sun started to dip in the sky, it illuminated the rocky and dramatic landscapes around us. Dotted with expansive lakes, craggy pink cliffs, misty mountain ranges, and a horizon over the Southern Ocean, it was the perfect end to a day in the Western Wilds.
“I never tire of coming up here Clint….” Anthony tells me. “I’m privileged to be able to do it… and you always get a wow up here… always…”.
My journey continues through the Western Wilds with my final stop full of adrenalin and adventure… Stay tuned for the final edition!