Strahan and Macquarie Harbour

A North-South line through Hobart and Launceston divides Tasmania fairly accurately into the settled East and the wild West. The West is wetter and far more mountainous, and much of it is wilderness (and long may it remain so!). Macquarie Harbour opens onto the middle of the West coast and was one of the most isolated outposts of the early colony. Its main township, Strahan, did well enough from fishing and timber-getting to survive but is still a tiny spot of humanity in a world of mountains, water and trees.


Strahan is now a pretty little town strung along the northern coast of Macquarie Harbour. Fishing and timber are still important but tourism, exemplified by day-long harbour tours on big catamarans, has become a major activity.

strahan beach
Looking along the Macquarie Harbout beach from Strahan caravan park towards the centre of town

strahan foreshore
Another foreshore view

Hells Gates and the Harbour

We took a trip on a (very new) big red boat on a day which was calm enough for comfort but heavily overcast and intermittently showery; an enjoyable trip, then, but not good for photography and I have to ask you to forgive some rather dull images.

Hells Gates
Hells Gates, the entrance to Macquarie Harbour
Hells Gates lighthouse
Hells Gates lighthouse

The entrance to the harbour is so frightening that it was christened “Hell’s Gates”. The problem is that most of the wide entrance is very shallow, leaving only the narrow gap between the island and the headland (on the left/south) for shipping, and the force of the tide through this same gap challenged boats even in fine weather. In rough (i.e. normal, for Tasmania’s West coast) weather, it was extremely dangerous.

The shallows on the right are a spit at the end of a long open beach backed by high dunes.

henty dunes
Dunes North of Hells Gates

This dune system, the Henty Dunes, is a little wilderness in itself, extending about 15 km up the coast and 6 km inland (formation and history) . They can be accessed from a picnic spot beside the Zeehan-Strahan road, and we took a quick look on our way into the town.

Henty Dunes
Inland edge of the Henty Dunes
Henty Dunes
View from the crest of the dune

Sarah Island

Sydney was set up as a penal colony at the end of the earth, followed by Van Diemen’s Land at the end of the end of the earth.

And then there was Sarah Island: a dot in the middle of a harbour in the middle of endless wilderness, unimaginably remote, unimaginably harsh. Wikipedia will give you the history and Tas Parks will skate over it rather quickly but our guided tour was excellent.

Sarah Island jail
The New Penitentiary on Sarah Island

Two points particularly struck me as a naturalist and greenie.

Firstly, the administration was silly enough to strip all the trees from the island when establishing the penal settlement in 1822. They were then blown off the island by the howling winds and had to build enormous fences as windbreaks, which served them right.

Secondly, this means that the trees we see today are all less than 200 years old. They have come back very well.

sarah island today
Sarah Island from the new jetty

The Gordon River

gordon river bank
The bank of the lower Gordon

The cruise takes tourists some distance up the mighty Gordon River, to a jetty and a short guided walk through the rainforest. Words like ‘majestic’ and ‘primeval’ are appropriate here, and they are all I can offer since my camera gave up entirely.

Introduction and index to Tasmanian blog posts 2020-21.

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