Tasmania Road Trip Part 2: Wilderness Railway and Cradle Mountain
We stayed in an Airbnb in Queenstown: an improvement on the rather basic motel in Strahan. Doc’s place was a 3 bedroom house with shared kitchen, dining room, lounge and bathroom, all beautifully furnished and decorated with his own photography from the local area. We wished we had booked for longer! Doc advised us that places to eat in Queenstown closed early so we went in search of supper, only to find that we were too early and service hadn’t started. To fill in time we walked the short, steep path to Spion Kop for views over the town. Lots of men from Tasmania volunteered to fight for the British in the Boer War and this hill was named to commemorate the fallen.
The view from Spion Kop. The western part of Tasmania was a major mining area with copper mines operating around Queenstown. Use of timber for the works and pollution have led to the bare and degraded surrounding hills.
We ate in the old Empire Hotel, where the beautiful carved staircase is made from Tasmanian Blackwood. The timber was shipped to the UK to be carved and then sent back to Tasmania for installation. Sadly dinner didn’t live up to the surroundings.
The Empire Hotel. Tasmania is full of impressive buildings, built with mining money or convict labour
Back in our Airbnb we met our fellow guests, a young couple who work for the Canadian Coastguard. We spent a couple of hours swapping sea stories before bed.
Queenstown is at one end of the West Coast Wilderness Railway. The original railway was built by the Mount Lyell Mining Company in the 1890s to connect their operations and take copper to the west coast at Strahan. It was cut through the rainforest, alongside the King River Gorge and over a hill with a 1:16 gradient. The tourist train uses one of the original steam engines, converted to run on recycled oil, for the section from Queenstown over the hill to the station at Dubbil Barril. A diesel engine works the section from Strahan to Dubbil Barril.
Map of the line. We did the section from Queenstown to Dubbil Barril
Would you take a steam train over this bridge?
An example of the rack and pinion system that pulls the train up the 1:16 section – and brakes it on the way back down
The first class carriage – we were in steerage!
Looking down on the King River Gorge. The whole track was an amazing piece of engineering and construction
As we went back the same way we came the engine had to be turned round – the old fashioned way.
From Queenstown we were beginning to make our way inland, with Cradle Mountain as our next destination. To be there in time for a good walk we stopped overnight at a lakeside motel. Then were away early the next morning
The motel was nothing to write home about, but we had a pleasant short walk beside Lake Rosebery in the evening
Visiting the Cradle Mountain National Park took us back into the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, which we visited on the Gordon River from Strahan. The area is described as a ‘beautiful alpine landscape of rugged peaks, windswept moors, glacial lakes and tarns...with a variety of wildlife’. To help manage the impact of tourists you leave your car at the visitor centre and take the shuttle bus up to the mountains – all included in your Tasmania National Park pass. We chose to start at Dove Lake (cheating a bit as this is the highest stop on the bus route) then to follow a path taking in a number of Lakes and Pools. We followed along the side of Dove Lake before descending to Lake Lilla, then a series of steps took us up to Wombat Pool (where some humourist had removed the final ‘l’ from the sign). Then more climbing to the Crater Lake. From here we had a choice – to turn right and follow the Overland Track back down to the road at Ronny Creek or continue up to Marions Lookout. Even though we could see the steep path up to the lookout that was the way we chose, returning to the views over the crater lake for lunch before carrying on down to Ronny Creek and the bus stop.
Cradle Mountain with Dove Lake in the foreground
We made it to Marions Lookout
Looking back down at Crater Lake the footpath below on the way down from Marion Lookout. Steep rocky steps with a chain handrail join the two places.
The walk back down was easy on well formed footpaths and board walks. During the course of the day we saw a wallaby on the roadside approaching the park, an Echidna (spiny anteater) and a tiger snake – both from the bus, and a wombat in the distance on the descent so we can confirm the variety of wildlife claim.
We finished our walk relatively early and Sarah had read that the most reliable place in Tasmania to see Platypus was in the lake at the Tasmanian Arboretum to our north so we made a detour on our way to our next overnight stop and it paid off. While a professional photographer took wedding photos at one end of the lake we made amateur attempts to snap the several platypuses we saw swimming in the lake in broad daylight.
The lake at the Arboretum
A platypus - really