Drive Hobart to the west coast town of Strahan - Lyell Highway (diary entry)
Leaving Hobart behind we head for the wild west coast. There are three of us in the car prepared to carry all our gear and walk for twelve days a stretch of coast seeking out and dealing with two cheeky invasive plants - Sea Spurge and Marram grass. A special stretch of coast adjacent to the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. Such a privilege to be part of a team of volunteers that have been actively caring for 400km of coastline for 17 years - SPRATS is the acronym for Sea Spurge Remote Area Teams - explained here at Wikipedia.en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sea_Spurge_Remote_Area_Teams
We travel through sheep country for the first hour then forest dominates the journey, two hydro power stations take our road into a steep valley, the Tarraleah and Tungatinah power stations at the bottom were early Hydro Tas projects, two giant sets of steel pipes arrived from either side of the valley. Climbing out and half an hour later we roll into Derwent Bridge for a brief leg stretch and loo stop, an important point on our journey - close to Lake St Clair and the end of the Overland Track, like a gateway to the magic of the South West World Heritage Wilderness and the iconic Franklin River a short drive now. Back in the car and soon Myrtle Beech trees are plentiful and we stop for a lookout walk - the mighty river starts up here and soon disappears into the mountains to make its way to the southern end of Macquarie Harbour, The Franklin one of the world’s great whitewater river trips. A journey I hope to undertake, a dream i’ve had for decades and having turned 50 recently i feel the urge. I take in the big view, mountains and a button grass plain and ponder my dream.
Back in the car we wind our way west and 40 mins later emerge amid the wounded hills surrounding the mining town Queenstown, a landscape in recovery mode following decades of acid rain from the smelting of copper, the hills are famously barren rubble and rock. Queenstown today has reinvented itself - nature tourism, now a mecca for mountain biking, and the start of The West Coast ‘Wilderness’ Railway to Strahan.
The river still runs toxic through Queenstown. From Wikipedia i read - ‘About 1.5 million tonnes of sulfidic tailings entered the river system each year up to 1995, along with huge volumes of acidic, metal-rich water flowing from the workings. When it was in operation, the fumes from the ore smelter produced acid rain which also leached minerals from the bare Queenstown hills.’
That massive tonnage of waste tailings continued to flow all the way to Macquarie harbour - there is a sedimentary delta down there pushing into Macquarie harbour, easily visible on google earth, in area the size of a city suburb. Mt Lyell produced a million tonnes of copper, a back of the envelope calculation equates to a single 5m cubed ingot of copper. Historian Geoffrey Blainey wrote the history of the Mt Lyell Mining and Railway company back in 1955. A big west coast Tasmanian story, the mine closed in 1994 following a slump in copper prices.
Arrival at the west coast town of Strahan… and surprisingly i’m pondering the effect mining had on those bare hills back at Queenstown, seemed like a wetter version of WA’s massive iron ore extraction in the Pilbara. Surely no where near the scale of those massive iron trains, but the mine and the railway a big story in Tasmania’s west.
Strahan has a great vibe about it, a town reinvented and built upon nature tourism. The confrontation over the proposed Franklin River dam a distant 40 years ago, but the tension between nature and humanities endless growth is still here. Large scale fish farming in Macquarie Harbour threatens water quality and a rare fish that lives on the sandy floor of the harbour.
There are two beautiful bronze sculptures of this threatened stingray the ‘Maugian Skate’ placed on stunning sandstone blocks beside the dock, i noticed the same unique fish features in a shop with kids artwork from a local school.
An old timber mill is doing a roaring business selling reclaimed Huon pine, and beautiful crafted furniture.
Huon Pine the ultimate boat building timber - love this sculpture - a rough log one end and carved into a boat at the other