Next on the agenda, the wilderness of the west coast. Mountains, forests, world heritage, famous rivers, roaring forties smashing the coast line. We were looking forward to the real rough stuff. With time quickly passing, Strahan was the only realistic option as a week long hard trek into the south west wilderness was not going to gain much support from the troops.
Strahan is a little town, founded as the point of access into the west coast. Convicts, logging and mining were the main reasons for it being there. It is situated at the north end of the beautiful Macquarie Harbour, into which the famous Gordon River system also flows. Macquarie Harbour is 4 times the size of Sydney’s, meeting the Southern Ocean through the tiny Hell’s Gate.
Strahan also has the distinction of having the highest wave energy of any beach in Australia. Swells of up to 23m have been recorded. Having read in Tim Baker’s recently released book Surfari, that Strahan “is almost never without thumping Southern Ocean swells sent straight from the Roaring Forties”, our plans for seeing the rough stuff looked promising.
So with all this wildness forefront of mind we were excited to be boarding a cruise that would take us the length of Macquarie Harbour, out Hell’s gate into the raging southern Ocean and then up the Gordon River into the deep dark ancient forests. However….
It seems we struck it lucky on the weather (not!) and Tim is lucky he used the words “almost never”. Despite the lack of raging swell, it was pretty spectacular. The Hell’s Gate passage was given its name by the convicts as they passed through on the way to the Sarah Island penal settlement.
Towards the southern end of Macquarie Harbour, Sarah Island was a penal settlement for second offenders. Not a nice place and the setting for Marcus Clarke’s The Term of His Natural Life. We stopped for a tour, hosted by fantastic guides, actors who brought the settlement to life and recounted great stories of the convicts and history of Sarah Island.
A few convicts escaped over the years (see Kate’s blog on Port Arthur) but only one convict made it out by foot through the wilderness and mountains all the way to Hobart. The magnitude of the feat is hard to fathom but you get the picture when told that the convict, upon capture in Hobart, was immediately given a job with the Surveyor General and was responsible for charting the main inland route up from Hobart to Launceston.
Our brief foray into the Franklin Gordon Wild Rivers National Park, by road and by boat, certainly convinced us that it is worthy of its World Heritage status. To become World Heritage listed you need to satisfy only one of ten criteria. The South West Wilderness of Tasmania satisfies 7 out of ten criteria, the highest of any of the world heritage sites around the world.
The mountain ranges are truly rugged. May not be as high as Kosciuszko, but are definitely far more rugged. We felt we were heading into the Misty Mountains. The forest is the largest cool temperate forest in the world. It is so thick and dense, with trees thousands of years old, and using another Lord Of The Rings analogy, we felt we were walking through Mirkwood or Fangorn. We cruised up the Gordon River for a while and hopped out to walk through the forest.
On the way back to Strahan, the breeze had come up so it was time to get out on the deck and enjoy the wind on the water. A brief but stunning stay on the west coast.