The Tarkine Drive – NW Tasmania

The “Tarkine” refers to the remote north-western corner of Tasmania. The drive from Strahan to Arthur River goes through the heart of the Tarkine and is part of the signposted route called the Tarkine Drive. You will only pass through a few very small settlements and Zeehan, an old mining town, well past its heyday. 

Zeehan – long forgotten prosperity

This area is the wild Wild West. Remote, largely unpopulated and full of nature. The road is winding, hilly and narrow. Some long sections of white gravel will slow you down but that’s good because then you can see the little critters that run out before you actually hit them. The tee trees come right down to the road and I am sure there are rolling hills but the dense forest blocks your view.

Corinna, a very small town 50 kilometres from Zeehan, is a little hub of activity. Corinna was also a mining town and was first inhabited by white settlers in 1881. The road to Corrina from Zeehan is mostly sealed except for a short section. To cross the Pieman River you will need to summon the Fatman Barge. Press the button once to call down the operator. It will take a few minutes and then you’ll see the him pull up in his ute on the other side. I guess he was probably having a cup of tea and getting his boots back on before you pressed that buzzer! The Operator, a friendly chap, says he does about 40 – 50 crossings a day. It’s strictly one car at a time with a load limit of 6.5 tons. The barge’s deck can accommodate a car with caravan/trailer if you’re pulling one. The price varies depending on how big your vehicle is. I paid $28 for my Subaru Forester.

The pub is also the General Store

ONCE! Press it once and wait!

The crossing itself is short and soothing. The chugging of the engine drowning out the chirps of the tiny birds. The drizzling rain adds to the ambiance. On the other bank the Tarkine Hotel is a welcome spot to stop for lunch or coffee. Well, it’s the ONLY spot to stop for lunch and coffee unless you’ve brought your own!  Lunch does not start till 12 so if you arrive before then, opt for coffee and muffins. I had to wait a while for the homemade Butter Chicken pie. Firstly 20 minutes for the kitchen to open and another 20 while the pie warmed up.  In the meantime I chatted with the young fellow behind the bar and had a coffee. The pub has some cabin accommodation which looks cozy and rustic.  A few of the original town buildings are still standing and being used as staff housing. There is no internet in Corinna. The computer and EFTPOS at the pub runs off a satellite connection. So if you’re looking for an off-grid holiday this could be it.

Apart from going to the pub, you can hire kayaks, take a river cruise or set off on a hike to explore the local area. There are lots of day walks of varying lengths including one with a suggested time of 8 hours!

Once you leave Corrina, it’s dirt all the way to Arthur River except for a few sections on steep hills. The terrain through here is much more open. The road can be used by two-wheel drive vehicles, but be prepared for a bumpy ride! There are plenty of corrugations and potholes.

A little misty!

I really enjoy this sort of technical driving with horseshoe bends, tight corners and twisty hills. I passed less than a dozen cars the whole 200 km. The misty weather added lots of appeal to the drive and I took some good photographs. 

This drive has lots to offer. Make sure you have a spare tyre and drop in at the pub.

You’re going to Fraserburgh?’

The opinion of others.

Culloden Moor Inn carpark was full, yet when I walked into the Keppoch Bar there were only two people other than the barmaid. They eyed me warily.  I asked the barmaid if I could get a drink and some food.

“You might be more comfortable in the restaurant?”

“No” I said “I’m happy to sit here in the bar”

The “crowd” relaxed

The older fellow struck up a conversation immediately picking up on my Australian accent. The usual questions. Are you on your own? Where have you been? Where are you going?

“Fraserburgh???” Willy asked “Why yea going there?”

“Don’t hang aboot there too long” the young bike rider quipped as the barmaid chortled.

I laughed nervously, this was the second group of people who suggested Fraserburgh was a less than desirable place to stop. Mutterings about a drug culture and a depressed economy since the end of the fishing.

“Ummmm, It seemed like a good place to stop and … and it’s got a Lighthouse Museum.”

“Och, Aye” with nods that could be interpreted as sympathetic. Had I made a bad choice based solely on geographic location and a museum? Only time would tell.

It was my intention to hug the Moray Coast east (across the flat bit of northern Scotland), turn right at Fraserburgh and drop down to Aberdeen. I discovered that this was called the Coast Trail (east) and it was well signposted. Since being here I have discovered lots of signposted routes. The NC 500 (I knew about that one) but others. The Rock Route, The Pictish Trail, The Castle Trail to name some which all take you to themed points of interest. I followed most of the Rock Route by chance and most of the NC 500.

The drive from Forres to Fraserburgh was grey and wet. The bright colours of the sweet little towns of Buckie, Portessie, Cullen and Findochty muted by the rain. The ocean steely blue and the beaches, dull despite the light coloured sand.

I spent a while at Lossiemouth in the Museum of Fishing and Community. Run by volunteers,  it was small but had some fabulous model boats and quite good archival material if you were looking up family who may have lived in the area. I found the 14th April 1912 issue of the Daily Mirror interesting. The front page news was about the Titanic. The the page 3 banner proclaimed that all passengers were safe!. Goodness! Was that a bit of false news or what? It would take another day to reveal the true story.

As I had arrived in Fraserburgh in the late afternoon, I went directly to the Lighthouse Museum and just managed to join in on the last tour of the day with one other fellow. The guide gave us his undivided attention and it was inspiring  to go right up to the lens room and see how the whole mechanism worked. (Ok, ok so I’m a bit of a nerd in that respect!) The Kinnaird Head Light is built over a castle and therefore has some unique features. It is no longer operational. The museum exhibits have a large collection of beautiful glass lenses which are fun to look through.

As to the rest of Fraserburgh? It was bleak with ALL the buildings made from the same dull grey stone. The dark skies adding to the gloom and things were quieter than the other places I had been too. It had obviously been a prosperous town with its public buildings and monuments reflecting more opulence than it now had.

The large harbour was filled with fishing boats that ranged from tiny dinghys up to huge trawlers.

The lovely host of the AirBnB had recommended the fish market as a place to take good photos, so in the morning I went in search of them. I asked for directions at a cafe and a very hospitable young fellow, Mathew, who works on his dad’s trawler, gave me a private tour of the selling floor, despite the fact he had a cup of tea going cold!

So yes Fraserburgh was bleak, it did seem gloomy but the people I meet added a little sunshine!