Cruising the Gordon River Tasmania

Tree huggers win

The Gordon and Franklin Rivers have close to mythical status in Australia. They symbolise the start of the political party “the Greens” and intervention by our Federal Parliament into what had previously been considered State business. 

Back in the 1980’s the Tasmanian Government planned to dam the Franklin River for the purposes of hydroelectricity. A massive and effective protest movement arose with a strange alliance between old loggers and “tree-huggers” to protect the wild rivers. 

Eventually in 1983,  the newly elected Federal Labor Government led by Bob Hawke stopped the development and the area is now a UNESCO World Heritage protected area. 

The pristine, undeveloped and wild area cannot be easily accessed by vehicle and most areas remain undisturbed except by intrepid bush walkers. Several tour companies also run river cruises for the first 12 km of the river. They are required to travel at very low speeds in the river  to prevent bank-damaging wash. No commercial crusies are allowed beyond the 12 km mark. 

The area near Strahan had been selectively logged for the fabled Huon Pine since colonial settlement but now, no commercial activity other than boat cruises are allowed on the river.

World Heritage Cruises

As part of my Great Southern Road Trip, I booked a Premium seat (aka window seat) with World Heritage Cruises. The cruise leaves the jetty at Strahan at 9 AM and returns at approximately 3PM. Prices vary but I paid $165. In the height of summer (December and January) there is a second afternoon cruise. 

The cruise includes lunch. Normally a buffet, but in these times of COVID it was a prepackaged bento box with a bread roll, cold meats including smoked salmon, salad and cheese. Drinks and snacks can be purchased separately throughout the cruise. If you book a Gold ticket, morning tea is included.

The cruise takes you out of Macquarie Heads through “Hell’s Gates” a very narrow opening to the ocean, Sarah Island, an aquaculture area and the Gordon River. At the end you can also watch a traditional saw mill in action cutting up salvaged logs.  

You get off the catamaran at Sarah Island for a half hour walk around with a very entertaining guide from the Round Earth Company and you can also leave the boat at the 12 km turnaround point for a short board walk through the forest. 

There is extensive commentary from the boat’s captain and owner as well as some video clips displayed on monitors. This commentary was detailed and interesting. The Grining family who runs this particular cruise company have lived in the area for generations. Firstly as loggers, then loggers with a tourist side business and now the tourism business is their main activity. The family were also actively involved in the 1980 protests. The Grining family lobbied their passengers to sign a petition, ran supplies to the protesters as well as ‘smuggling’ in new protestors to the protest line.

Sarah Island

Sarah Island is a small island in Macquarie Harbour. It was a penal settlement for secondary offenders, that is convicts who reoffended. It was a “hell on earth” with harsh weather adding to the man-made deprivations and frequent floggings. Many of the convicts tried to escape. It’s history is bloody and it was closed after 12 years and the convicts moved to the equally infamous Port  Arthur. The history of Sarah Island is certainly worth checking out. 

As you can see it was raining heavily!

Poor weather

The Western coast of Tasmania is wild and the weather can be just as wild. At a latitude of 40o South the area is buffeted by the “roaring forties”. The next closest landmass in South America. It rains here frequently with the average annual rainfall being a little over 2 metres.

On the day of my booking it was raining heavily and cold. Visibility was poor but the sea was relatively calm. When we got out at Sarah Island, even though I had wet weather gear on, I still got soaked through. Cold I know is a relative thing. Cold here in Australia counts as anything less than about 15C! The previous day had been clear and 25C but on this day it maxed out at 15C.

One of the lighthouses at Hell’s Gate.

The boat

The Harbour Master 2 was only launched in 2020. It is an impressive double hulled aluminium catamaran. It has comfortable fittings and seats. It has large windows and open decks at the front and rear. There is a bar/cafe. As stated they usually serve a buffet but because of COVID restrictions still in play they served prepackaged Bento boxes.

Gold Tickets holders sit on the top deck and have access to the roof deck. When you are boarding and awaiting departure watch the time lapse video of the boat’s construction.

Despite the poor weather, it was still a good day out and I would recommend it. There are other tour companies which run similar trips. Gordon River Cruises also have a catamaran and Stormbreakers run an over night cruise in a sailing boat. I wish I had of seen this before I booked the other cruise!

Note: because of the poor weather and reduced visibility I don’t have many photos! I did make this tongue-in-cheek video of highlights.

Don’t come to Flinders Island!

Flinders Island is the largest in the Furneaux group of islands in Bass Strait. It is on the north-east side of Tasmania and is governed by Tasmania. It’s less than 70km from end to end and 37 km at its widest point. The population is less than 1000. You can get there by a car ferry that leaves once a week from Bridport or fly. 

Like a beach to yourself?

Before you come to Flinders Island you need to have a good hard think.

Don’t come to Flinders Island if

  • Your ideal holiday involves shopping. There is only one gift/craft store and a few other shops (supermarket, butchers, baker, couple of cafes and a swanky new development on the dock at Whitemark which has a distillery.)

  • Your ideal holiday must be fueled by designer coffee in a different new cafe every day.

  • Ditto for Michelin rated restaurant experiences. Having said that the crumbed lamb cutlets at the pub were pretty good!

  • Your holiday must include cultural pursuits like the theatre, galleries and the like. There is a pub and a tavern and a public library.

  • You plan to mix it with the glamourous jet set. The people here are mostly in hiking or farming clothes with big dusty boots and very broad brimmed hats. 

  • If you think bird watching, geotrails, beachcombing along long sandy beaches, kayaking and hiking are boring. (Definitely don’t come under these circumstances)

  • In fact don’t come to Flinders if you don’t enjoy the “great outdoors” because that’s what the island excels at.

ONLY come to Flinders Island if you:

  • Like being outdoors

  • Like walking generally and particularly hiking up hills and mountains

  • Like having the beach to yourself for a quick skinny dip

  • Love scrambling over huge granite boulders covered in bright orange lichen

  • Love counting how many different types of seaweed are in the one rockpool

  • Are a bit partial to driving on corrugated dirt roads at the “right” speed

  • Like following a geotrail and and can tell your pegmatites from ordinary crystals. 

  • Love chatting to friendly strangers you encounter on the trail or in the pub

  • Have plenty of sunscreen and the aforementioned broad brimmed hat to manage the ferocious southern Sun

  • Like wallabies, wombats and pademelons

  • Are not worried about tiny little aeroplanes!

I love Geotrails!!

Pegmatites at Killiekrankie

Flinders Island Interstate Hotel

You must come to Flinders if you are a keen landscape photographer!

Castle Rock

I stayed on Flinders Island for 4 days which for me was plenty to get around and see the sights and relax as well. I flew over with Sharp Airlines from Launceston. It’s only a 25 minute flight. I stayed at the Flinders Bay Cabin Park and also hired an all-wheel drive car (RAV 4) from them.  The studio cabin was very comfy and had all I needed to cook some basic meals.

Sharp Airlines 19 seater Metroliner

Before you go check out the website and make sure you pick up a map and an “Essential Information for Visitors” brochure at the airport. Check out what times things are open because not much is open after dark or on Sundays. This is not the BIG SMOKE and the remote community will not have everything you need 24/7. If that’s the sort of holiday you’d like, have a stay-cation! Basic provisions and petrol are more expensive than elsewhere because everything must be shipped in so expect to pay a bit  extra at the supermarket. A real treat for those into Park Runs! There is a Park Run every Saturday starting at 9AM at the Whitemark Wharf. It’s on a wide flat track so a good opportunity to improve your time!

Walkers Supermarket through the Pub window

There is a developing “foodie-trail” happening with the distillery, and some interesting cafes opening. There is an olive oil plantation and three wineries. The gift shop has some lovely locally made items if you’re looking for a souvenir of your trip. 

Also make sure you go to Wybalenna, a settlement developed to isolate the indigenous Tasmanians in the 1830s. Another dark and sad time in our nation’s history. Go and pay your respects.

The Chapel at Wybalenna

And make sure you take a camera and your cossies, the water is surprisingly warm!

Mt Strzelecki Peaks Walk

Man! Those map makers have done it again! They put the summit at the top of a mighty big hill! 😜 Yesterday I did the Mt Strzelecki Peaks Walk, one of Tasmania’s Top 60 Short Walks. It IS short but like I said it’s uphill! Nonetheless it is a pleasant walk through varying terrain and I took plenty of breaks to photograph the incredible views over the Furneaux Group of Islands and the stunning geology.

Half way up

The track to the top

Mt Strzelecki is the highest peak on Flinders Island (756 m). There is a walker’s registration booth at the track head. The climb up to the summit is not (officially) a technically difficult walk. The path is well marked with bright orange waymarkers and the track itself well worn. Watch out though, as there are also a few well worn offshoots which have probably developed for those seeking a spot for a bush-pee. 

Look out for the orange plastic waymarkers

The suggested time to do the 5.8 km return is 4 – 5 hours. It took me two and half hours to get up and an hour and forty minutes to get down. While I agree it was not technically difficult it still presents a challenge as the last third (??) of the track is devoted to scrambling over very large, smooth granite boulders. My pole seemed more of a nuisance than an aide in these sections and I ended up folding it up and putting it in my pack.

Don’t forget to sign out when you’re done!!

You can join the track from Trousers Point Road. There is an easy to spot sign and although there is no official car park there is enough room to park your car. The way out from the town of Whitemark  is well signposted. 

The little creek is stained with teetree oil

Choose your weather

It would be foolhardy to attempt this walk in the rain. It would be a waste of time on days with low cloud.  Foolhardy because a very large proportion of the track is up, over and between large granite boulders. A little slippery in dry weather the rocks would be outright dangerous in wet weather. In my opinion there is very little point climbing a summit if you don’t get to see the view. 

I would also suggest going early in the day. In the morning most of the track is in shade. Once Tasmania’s rather ferocious sun crests the summit you’ll be in the hot, UV laden rays.

Terrain and Vegetation

She-oaks and Tee-Tree dominate in the first flat sections. They form bowers and a soft bed of needles over the gravelly track. There are plenty of little (invisible)  birds.

These plant species give way to large gums with stringy bark and tree ferns are abundant near the small creek which you’ll cross via large stable stepping stones. There is a system of pipes dipping into the creek which I presume run down to one of the houses across the road from the track head.

As you go higher the trees are replaced by tough spiky grasses and small shrubs. There were some little yellow flowers and white paper daisies. 

The track is well maintained although there were two trees down across the path on the day I did it. Not impassable obviously, but one necessitated an off track diversion. 

There are some wooden steps and some cuttings into the large granite platforms which makes the going a little easier.

I’ve already mentioned it a couple of times above but the walk is ‘interrupted’ by the boulders that have fallen off the side of the sheer rock walls above. You will need to be comfortable with rock hopping. 

View from the top

The view from the top is, as you’d expect, spectacular! I couldn’t find a summit marker or trig spot. I sat and ate my peanut butter sandwich in the shelter of some little bushes and marvelled at how lucky I was to be able to do this walk, both in terms of being fit and healthy enough to do it but also having the means and the time to get to Flinders Island in the first place. 

Flinders Island is the sort of place to go to if you like the ‘great outdoors’ and this climb is a must do while there. 

This post is prepared using my iPad so sorry for the lack of bells and whistles with the formatting!