We began the Northwest Coast at the town of Penguin. First settled in 1861, it took its name from the nearby colony of Fairy Penguins that come ashore each evening after a day of fishing in the Bass Strait. On the beachfront in downtown there stands a 10- to 12-foot statue of a penguin and the main street is dotted with garbage cans featuring penguins. We couldn’t stay until evening to see the real thing, though.
Further along the coast is Table Cape. It is a promontory jutting out into Bass Strait on a remnant volcanic feeder plug eroded over 13.3 million years to leave meters of rich chocolate brown soils. Now it is covered with pastures and farms growing wheat, onions, poppies, and flowers – lilies, irises, and tulips. Each spring (Wouldn’t ya know, we are always too soon or too late to see flowers?) they have a festival celebrating the beautiful fields of flowers. Also, a prominent feature is the Table Cape Lighthouse. Located to guide ships entering the nearby port of Wynyard, it is a 25 meters (82 feet) tall brick tower. The brick construction is different than any we have seen before. Bricks are laid in alternating layers; first with the long edge parallel to the wall surface and at right angles in the next layer making the tower extremely strong. Our guide for the lighthouse tour commented that he was glad to see someone interested in the history and details of the light. During the spring flower festival, people want to climb the tower just to get a better view of the flower fields.
The first settlers at Stanley arrived in 1826. In 1936 a submarine telephone cable came ashore to provide the first telephone service to Tasmania from the mainland. The town is located at the end of a narrow isthmus and is a tourist destination for fishing and The Nut, which is another volcanic plug. There is a walking track around the top perimeter which provides 360° views of the North West coastline and the surrounding hinterland. Access to the top is by a steep and strenuous climb up the Zig Zag Track or by chairlift. We took the easy way up and down! After our return from The Nut, we strolled around downtown after hours for a bit. It is clean and quiet with some old buildings and newer homes and shops with typical Victorian gingerbread decoration.
Out at the end of the paved road is Arthur River, another tourist destination and The Edge of the World Viewing Platform. Located on the rocks overlooking the ocean, this platform provides views of the mouth of the river, the rugged coastline, and out into the Southern Ocean. The name is derived from a poem by Brian Inder, which is posted on a plaque there.
Monday, January 26, is Australia Day, celebrating the 1788 arrival of the first British ships at Port Jackson, New South Wales. We thought that it might be a big holiday with full campgrounds, noisy fireworks and parties. So we made reservations here at Zeehan for the entire weekend. I will come back to that in a moment.
Tasmania has the “ruggedest” mountains in Australia. One of the more spectacular places is Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park. Our intent had been to visit Cradle Mountain as we traveled to Zeehan. We were reminded that this is a temperate rainforest by intermittent rain and fog everywhere. We never did see the mountain, but we were able to take a couple of short walks and got an introduction to the park at the visitor center. Because we had reservations here in Zeehan, we could not stay the night and hope for better visibility in the morning. We plan to return to explore this place more thoroughly before we leave Tasmania.
Back to Australia Day – We expected it to be something like Independence Day in the US, but we have neither seen nor heard a single word about it since someone told us that campgrounds would be crowded that weekend. The campground where we are staying has not even been full; folks have come and gone, but nobody is being turned away due to no vacancy. Apparently, Australia Day is NOT a big deal, at least not in Tasmania.
Mount Zeehan, named after a local mountain (which is named after Dutch navigator Abel Tasman’s ship when he explored the island that is now Tasmania in the 1600s), was established in 1882 as a mining town and renamed Zeehan in 1890. It is still primarily dependent on the silver and lead mines of the area though now a much smaller town than at its peak just before the First World War. There are two sections of town nowadays, an old section and the one that is alive. Our first day there was fairly nice weather-wise, so we walked to the old section where a wonderful museum is located. The West Coast Heritage Centre is spread through four grand old buildings facing the main street plus numerous smaller buildings behind and a number of outdoor displays. It meets all expectations raised by their brochure where it says it illustrates the West Coast’s:
• Glory Days of Shipping & Rail
• Mining History & Memorabilia
• Aboriginal Habitation & White Settlement
• Natural History
• Mineral Collection
The second day here we traveled to nearby Strahan and took a day cruise on Macquarie Harbour and the Gordon River. Macquarie Harbour is huge; it is six times the size of Sydney Harbour, but is relatively shallow so large draft vessels cannot enter. Also, the entrance, known as Hells Gates, is very narrow severely limiting the width of any boat entering.
After going out Hells Gates and returning, we traveled the length of the harbor stopping briefly at a fish farm where they raise salmon and trout; then on into the Gordon River about 12 kilometers (7 miles). At the furthest point, we went ashore at the Heritage Landing, a part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. Here we took a short walk to learn about the temperate rainforest and the Huon pine.
From 1822 to 1833, the government ran the Macquarie Harbour Penal Station on Sarah Island in the harbour; our next stop on the cruise and included a guided tour of Sarah Island. It had the reputation of being one of the harshest penal settlements in the Australian colonies. It was populated with the worst of the worst convicts. That narrow entrance to the harbour was known as Hells Gates not so much because it was treacherous, but because the convicts entering through it were destined for Hell. The work of the prisoners was to collect and process the valuable Huon Pine, an extremely strong wood highly resistant to rot and bugs making it particularly valuable for ship construction. Before it closed, the Penal Station became the largest boat building settlement in the colonies turning out 131ships in the eleven years of operation. In spite of a cold and rainy day, our tour of Sarah Island was fun and educational, as was the whole day. We always enjoy boat cruises and this was no exception.
Speaking of rain – It has dumped on us the last couple of days! The average rainfall for January around here is 5 inches. I swear it must have rained that much overnight. As we prepare to move on to our next experience, the forecast is for continued showers. Oh well, bundle up and off we go.