The last town we’ll visit on our tour of Western Tasmania is Strahan.
This town is also the smallest and the most remote, surrounded by thick forest, and being 270km and 301km by road to Launceston and Hobart respectively.
But despite its current size, this town is also historically one of the most important in the region due to its location on the shore of Macquarie Harbour, a deep water harbour, and the closest access point to the surrounding towns. The railway originally terminated here.
This harbour was a highway that carried ships that transported copper, gold and other resources, like timber from the surrounding forests, and in the 19th Century, convicts. Sarah Island is a small island in the harbour that was the home of the most secure penal colony in the land. I remember learning about this area in high school when we read the classic Australian novel, For the Term of His Natural Life by Marcus Clarke. The description of life on the island and a convict’s determination to escape it was especially vivid.
We’ll continue our trip around Tasmania with a visit to the West Coast. The West Coast of Tasmania is similar to the West Coast of New Zealand in a lot of ways. It’s wild, rugged, and still relatively remote. It’s covered with mountains and ancient temperate rainforests that date to the time of Gondwanaland. And it’s also got interesting geology and also economically valuable minerals.
We made a brief stop in the village of Waratah.
It doesn’t have much now in the way of infrastructure, but it is the site of the first tin mine in Tasmania, Mount Bischoff, back in 1873. Ever the historian, Hubby wanted to revisit the site, so off we went in search of the old mine.
After driving down a few tracks and a bit of walking, we soon found some old remnants.
And the open cut wasn’t far off – it hasn’t been worked for awhile.
We’ll continue driving from the west coast to the east coast of the South Island.
Our route took us through the small town of Reefton. It is another former gold-rush town (where they found an extensive gold-bearing quartz reef, hence the name).
If it looks and feels like the ‘wild west’ then you’re not far wrong.
Probably because the first gold was found in 1866, just after the Australian gold rushes started and not long after the Californian gold rush that opened up the American ‘wild west’. They all probably employed the same architects.
Because of the riches of the gold mines, and also the power of the nearby Inangahua River, the town was the first in the Southern Hemisphere to be connected to the electricity grid, courtesy of the Reefton Hydro Power Station.
Some more moody coastal scenery from Pancake Rocks and the West Coast of NZ before we head back east.
For those who want to find out more of what it was like on the West Coast in the ‘bad old days’ then having a read of Booker Prize novel, The Luminaries or watching Jane Campion’s classic film, The Piano, would probably give you an idea.
One day trip we did on the West Coast is to drive an hour south of Westport to the village of Punakaiki. The drive down required a lot of concentration as the west coast road was very windy (aren’t they all?) but despite the bleak weather, I think it was worth the drive to see Pancake Rocks.
The rocks were quite unique in that the do look like pancakes. There’s of course a scientific explanation to all of this, and like most things geological it’s not the work of an instant.
Let’s continue exploring Denniston. Being on a plateau, a good 600 meters above the township of Waimangaroa and where the railway line stood, it took a bit of work to get the coal down to the trains for transport.
They had a few ways of getting down. There was the road, but that was not very efficient, being winding, narrow, unpaved and so very dangerous. So they built a cable railway straight down the hill that was eventually called the Denniston Incline.
Gravity would move the filled wagons down the hill and also pull any empty wagons back up.
You can probably tell that it wasn’t the safest of ways to transport a fully-laden coal wagon, especially when the wagon derails, which was rather quite often apparently. Since no adult wanted to lose their life down the hill, the ‘drivers’ of these wagons were often young boys of 12 or 13 years old.
Well, that’s all from Denniston. Mining is still going on in the area, but on a hill some 20km further north. I hope today they’ve got a less dangerous method of transportation.
The West Coast of the South Island was once the site of a gold rush. People came between 1864 and 1867, just after the gold in the Victorian gold fields started to run out. This place was pretty different to Central Victoria though (ie. It’s cold, wet, and a jungle).
When the gold ran out, people looked to mine other things, and coal was one of those things. On top of the plateau behind the village of Waimangaroa is the former mining town of Denniston.
The mine was worked from 1880 all the way to the 1960s. Nowadays, Denniston has been listed as a heritage site. A lot of the site is in ruins, but you can still tell a lot from the ruins.
There’s also plenty of signage to show how things were once.
We explored a big West Coast town in the last post, but what about the tiny ones? There are plenty of them to choose from. Many towns were founded because of mining, timber or sealing/whaling. Not a lot of agriculture was established because the terrain was very mountainous with dense forests. Even the Maori found it hard going here and generally only came to find their precious greenstone (a form of jade).
17km north of Westport is the hamlet of Waimangaroa (long black river), which refers to the peaty river that flows through the town.
It might be small, but their war memorial is central to the town.
The bush and the hills that back the town is not very hospitable, but we’ll head up the top there in future posts when we’ll check out a historical mining site.
13km further up the road is the hamlet of Granity, another mining town. There’s also some steep, forested hills backing this town.
The town is not without its facilities though, as this former-church-turned-library testifies. Rather cute, I think.
We left Golden Bay and headed for the wild West Coast. Although it is generally less than 50km as the crow flies from Golden Bay to the West Coast, this area is so rugged that there aren’t any roads through the area, though it’s great for real outdoor types. A famous walking/hiking/tramping track, the Heaphy, passes through here and though beautiful, I heard it’s not a Sunday stroll by any means.
So who dares to live on the wild west coast? Only the hardiest of Kiwis – it’s wild and woolly most of the time in the west. There are towns scattered throughout, though it doesn’t get much larger than Westport, population a touch under 5,000.
Like a lot of Kiwi towns, it has its share of art deco public buildings, as the older buildings were all destroyed in an earthquake in 1929. Earthquakes are a common theme in New Zealand.
Close to Westport is Cape Foulwind, named by Captain Cook, who didn’t have very a good time on the West Coast.
At least now there’s a lighthouse to warn people away from the dangerous coast.
The majority of the year was taken up in doing much more substantial knitting. This cardigan had been on my knitting queue for awhile, so it was great to be able to see it to the finish. It’s made with a combination of two thin-ish yarns held together (one variegated and one solid). The buttons were bought at the op shop in the tiny NZ town of Granity by a local maker (not sure who).
This vest was actually completed in early 2020, but the bulk of the work was done in 2019. The wool was actually bought by Mum while she was in Reykjavik, Iceland (thanks Mum). The buttons were bought in Hobart, Tasmania, but was machine-made, I think. It’ll be a cosy garment mid-winter, worn underneath my coat.