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Travel guide West Coast


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The Wild West - On Wheels
  • Strahan - Lady Woodward water
  • Railway
  • Hogarth Falls

If you want to see Tasmanian wilderness, but see it in comfort, then the West Coast is the place. 

Strahan, tucked inside Macquarie Harbour, is in many ways the tourist capital of Tasmania, and with good reason.  Your first stop there should be the Tourist Information Centre on the harbour-front which has plenty of useful information and there is a theatrical play ‘The Ship That Never Was’, on there every day.  The Ship that Never Was tells the amazing story of the last convicts on Sarah Island who escaped on the ship they built, sailing it out “Hell’s Gates” and all the way to Chile.  If you’re disabled however, you might find the rustic planks surrounding the centre rather hard to negotiate.  The entrance isn’t that easy either.  

As well as accommodation and booking facilities there’s also a ‘West Coast Reflections’ exhibition inside the centre, featuring the natural and historical wonders of the region.  Unfortunately this is not wheelchair accessible.

There’s a classy shopping centre in Strahan, dominated by Hamer’s Hotel, which includes a number of restaurants and cafes.  Eating in Strahan is a delight, with fresh crayfish and other seafood, including locally farmed trout and salmon in abundance.  Add to this Tasmania’s superb cheeses and wines and you’re in gourmet heaven. 

The walk around the harbour isn’t accessible for wheelchairs, due to the rough and, in places, soft  surface.  It will take you around to Regatta Point where the station for the Wilderness Railway is situated and where you get a good view back to Strahan Harbour.

On the way, there is an easy and pleasant walk (track not accessible) you can take from People’s Park to Hogarth Falls.  But if you’re more adventurous, there are many more arduous and lengthy bushwalks to choose from, along with activities like jetboats, kayaking, yachting, fishing and more.

One thing you must do when on the West Coast is enjoy a cruise on the Harbour and up the Gordon River.  There are two choices, both with well-appointed luxurious vessels and both offering similar itineraries.  One is Gordon River Cruises.  We did a tour with World Heritage Cruises.  The boat was very spacious and allowed great viewing both inside and out.  My wheelchair was able to access the cabin by mini ramps.  Unfortunately there is no accessible toilet, but a new, fully accessible cruiser is due to arrive late this year.  The Gordon River Cruise is fully accessible. One of the highlights of the cruise was a stop at the fully accessible Heritage Landing where a boardwalk winds through the rainforest and features huon pines, which were missed by the early loggers.

The scenery along the Gordon is breathtaking and it is hard to believe that not so long ago it was almost destroyed by damming.  A stop is also made at the fully accessible Heritage Landing.

Another feature of the West Coast you shouldn’t miss is the Wilderness (or Abt) Railway, which runs between Strahan and Queenstown.  Originally built to get the minerals from Queenstown to the port at Strahan, it used an ingenious rack and pinion track to help the steam engines up the steep and narrow line.

Climbing through the dense rainforest above the King River, this has to be one of the world’s top railway journeys. And if you’re in a wheelchair for once you’ll see it as an advantage; as you’ll “have” to travel in a premier class carriage and will be ferried in a private taxi back to Strahan - as the bus is not wheelchair accessible.  There are no toilets on board, but at each of the stations where stops are made (less than 30 minutes apart) there are accessible toilets and walks from the platform.

If you’re in Strahan during the summer, it’s only a short drive to Ocean Beach - Tasmania’s longest - to see the remarkable nesting of the shearwaters, or muttonbirds.  At sunset National Parks rangers give a free, informative talk. If in a wheelchair, you won’t actually be able to get down the dunes to see the muttonbirds’ nests, but from the carpark you can hear the ranger’s talk and see the shearwaters flocking overhead.

There are a number of spots worth visiting not far from Strahan.  Queenstown is a bit over half an hour’s drive inland and features mine tours, a mining museum and a desolate landscape.  A bit further on is the almost derelict mining town of Zeehan, which has a pioneering museum, which is partially accessible, but my wheelchair had a lot of trouble in the loose gravel of the blacksmith’s shed out the back.

Where to stay

We stayed at Castaway Holiday Apartments and found them inexpensive and well appointed.  The managers, Linda and Ron, were friendly and very helpful.   The disabled two-bedroom apartment we stayed in was spacious and had a great accessible bathroom.  Unfortunately however, like much accommodation we stayed at, the office wasn’t accessible.  Strahan has a range of accommodation to suit both able-bodied and disabled visitors.

‘Castaway’ is also only a short walk from the centre of town, although a bit too far and a bit steep to wheel there, with a supermarket and petrol station nearby.
 
Getting there
There’s two main ways to get to the West Coast.  One is a five hour drive from Hobart via the Lyell Highway, passing Lake St Clair and going through Queenstown.  The other way is travelling from the north on the Murchison Highway.  You can choose to go through Queenstown, turning onto the Zeehan Highway at Zeehan, or continue down along the coast.  This way it’s about four and a half hours from Launceston or two from Cradle Mountain.

Tourism Tasmania has further information on Tasmania’s West Coast. 

Many thanks to Sally-Anne Wise who helped me organise disabled access through Tourism Tasmania.

All photos by Louise Mumford unless otherwise attributed.

Author
Bruce Mumford lives at Burrawang in the NSW Southern Highlands with his wife Louise and sons, Ashley and Rohan.  He was formerly an English, History and Drama teacher at high schools in Forbes, Nowra and Moss Vale.  In 1990 Bruce was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and he is currently a Disabled Travel Consultant.  Since Bruce's retirement from full-time teaching, the family has travelled widely in NSW, Victoria, Tasmania and overseas.

About the author
Bruce Mumford is a Disabled Travel Consultant...



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