Coles Bay to Strahan
Topped up fuel at Bicheno before heading onto the Lake Leake Highway, climbing steadily until we reached the high point at 640metres before dropping down to Lake Leake. Managed forests here, felling and replanting. Looked in at the Lake, man-made, or at least to its current extent judging by the dead tree trunks poking out of the water, a beautiful setting in the forest. There was a campsite here which we could easily have stayed in, were we camping. On along the Highway, we saw an echidna by the roadside but as soon as we got close it buried its face in the hole it was digging. Saw another further on and it disappeared into the bush before we could get to see it properly. Well, two echidnas in one day was pretty good, from one monotreme to the other!
We drove out of the forest into open farmland, mostly grass though there had been cereals, now harvested and that with the now browned grass made for a monochrome countryside, strangely wonderful. We arrived in Campbell Town, an old settlement on the Hobart-Launceston route and the admin centre for the Central Highlands. Some interesting old buildings, including the old courthouse, now a bookstore. It still had the judge’s bench, dock and jury box. Ruth bought a few books and we drove on along Route 1, the Midland Highway towards Hobart. Next stop Ross, an historic village, now bypassed by the Highway. A very pretty village with many buildings from the early 1800s and the ruins/site of another Women’s Factory. It was a crossing point on the Elizabeth River with a lovely bridge built in 1836. We stopped at a little bakery/cafe for lunch, apparently one of the last bakeries using wood-fired oven. The scallop pie was good, Ruth had the ‘devil’s’ pie, also good.
Back to the highway continuing south through more open fields with small woodlands, lots of sheep, reminded us a bit of New Zealand, but that it was all brown. We passed through more historic villages, Tunbridge, Oatlands and Jericho before leaving the Highway at Melton Mowbray, heading up the A5 to Bothwell. More historic cottages and buildings. The town hall is the coordinating point for the current firefighting efforts and there was a public meeting in progress as we arrived - lots of cars in this tiny village. We could see the smoke in the distance. It was cloudy and only 12 degrees with a very strong south westerly blowing - it was cold!
Another 20-odd kilometres and we arrived at Rathmore, once a huge sheep station, our stop for the night. Delightful hosts, they showed us the shearers quarters and the little cottage they had restored and the woolshed they had not. The woolshed is used by a neighbour to shearing his sheep. Very strong smells in here, the sheep pens have been used for nearly 200 years and they looked as if they hadn’t been cleared out for the last 50! We were to have stayed in the shearer’s quarters but the fire service had quartered some men there. We stayed in a guest room in the main house.
We had dinner with our hosts (plus brother and his wife). Saw a pademelon chomping at the fresh green grass on the lawn.
Ruth woke at 6.30 (almost unheard of!) so we could go and see the platypus in the lake. It was not too cold, the wind had dropped right away and the sun was shining. Fortunately, with no wind the lake was like the proverbial millpond. We did see platypus, lots of times, all over the lake, but none close enough to get a good view. They only spend a short time at the surface so spotting them is difficult.
Breakfast and we were on our way. It was 10 degrees but sunny. South to Hamilton then west towards Queenstown. The Hollowtree Road wound slowly down, off the central plateau, rolling hills, mostly grasslands, now all brown. We joined the Lyell Highway near Hamilton and began to climb again into forests and mountains. Hamilton too had its share of pretty historic cottages and some monumental public buildings; we didn’t stop here. We did turn off to look at Tarraleah, signposted as a perfect 1930s town. Well, it is true it was built in the 1930s to service the huge dam and hydro-electric scheme on the Derwent River, and the buildings are in perfect condition, but we were not sure it was worth the detour. The little town is built high (642 metres) above the HEP works and there is a spectacular view of the power station and the River, 287 metres below.
We rejoined the Lyall Highway down a series of hairpin bends to river level. Out along the Highway through changing forests, some managed - pine forest with clear-cut felling and replanting, and some that appeared natural, that is to say they were eucalyptus. We turned off, intrigued by a sign pointing to Butlers Gorge, a gravel road that took us deep into the forest and alongside a flume carrying water to the HEP stations further downriver (apparently there are eight stations in the Upper Derwent HEP Project). Eventually we reached the end of the road at the Clark Dam across the Derwent, forming a huge reservoir, the King William Lake. No access to Butlers Gorge which we later discovered is yet another HEP generating station. So, retraced our steps, saw and watched a tiger snake crossing the road. A nice drive through the forest but we were disappointed not to see the Gorge.
The Highway carried on north then west alternating between open grasslands and forests, winding and turning, dropping and falling as the terrain changed, passing in and out of various forest reserves and national parks. We had to stop suddenly as Ruth had spotted a small tiger snake making its way across the road. It was warming up a lot and by now it was 25 degrees, 15 degrees warmer than this morning. We called in at Lake St Clair National Park to get some lunch. It has a surprisingly large visitor centre plus a Lodge. The food was ok. The lake is the deepest lake in Australia, some 160metres deep, formed by glacial action which also left a number of erratics on the shore and surrounding area. We walked the 5km loop into the forest. Some huge trees in here, lots of tree and other ferns and a sort of interpretive signage made by the local aborigines, telling their story. Walking on one of the boardwalks I saw a tiger snake basking in the sunlight, didn’t seem to notice us until a board creaked, it looked up and slithered off into the bush. We walked back to the visitor centre along the lake shore, beautiful views across the Lake to Mount Olympus and the Traveller Ranges. Saw several groups of people arriving and celebrating at the Visitor centre which is the endpoint of the Overland Track, a six to seven day wilderness walk, these people had just completed.
Back to the Lyall Highway, only 90km to Queenstown and another 40 to Strahan (pronounced strawn), shouldn’t take too long. The road was like a switchback with sharp bends and steep hills and not always in good condition. Through pretty dense forest, it offered hardly any views. We swung by Lake Bunbury, another manmade lake, created by the Crotty Dam, beautiful views across the water. The Dam was built as recently as 1991 for HEP, it flooded the upper King River and Gorge plus a few small ‘ghost’ settlements and a railway line. Another brief stop by the roadside to view the Horsetail Falls, not much water flowing but still pretty.
It took us over two hours to reach Queenstown and another 40minutes to reach Strahan. Queenstown has some impressive late 1800s buildings (The Empire Hotel, the Imperial Hotel, now a gallery and the Post Office.) but the rest of the town is pretty shabby and surrounded by abandoned and working mines and spoil heaps, gold then copper. Looks like a moonscape. Not pretty, though it must have been, pre-mining. It is at one end of an historic railway linking the port of Strahan to Queenstown, now called the West Coast Wilderness Railway, and run for the tourist trade. It has steam locomotives and uses rack and pinion on the steep inclines.
We arrived in Strahan, found our accommodation and had a cold beer! It was now 27 degrees with a gentle warm breeze, lovely! Had a brief tour of the town, it is not very big, it is beautifully set by the water, below the mountains. A few things for dinner from the local IGA, an impressive little store, before heading back for dinner.