Saturday, October 06, 2012

Rediscovering Tasmania - West Coast

What a week we have had!! The Tasmanian West Coast is awesome in every way with spectacular scenery, big history and, of course, the restored ABT Railway from Queenstown to Strahan - an amazing engineering feat!.

Jan and I enjoy rediscovering our beautiful island and realised that to do the West Coast properly, we needed more than a day, plus a 'guide' who loves and knows the area like the back of his hand. Hence, our friend Graham agreed to join us on a five day excursion.

The weather? We were well aware that the West Coast experiences more adverse weather than we have in Hobart. Official statistics tell me that Queenstown has something like 200 days a year of rain with an annual rainfall of 2.4 meters. Compared to Hobart, there are only 85 days with a rainfall of just half a meter  - about one fifth! (Bureau of Meteorology) With typical optimism, we considered that whatever the weather, we would have fun. And we did!!

The journey to Queenstown is in itself an experience with lots to see. The temptation was to linger at different places. While only a distance of 270 kilometers, it is wise to allow the whole day.

We chose to stop off at Tarraleah for morning tea. The township was originally built in the 1930s by the Tasmanian Hydro Electricity Commission to house workers who built the dams and power stations nearby. Today, it is an ideal stopover for those who want to enjoy trout fishing as well as visit nearby tourist attractions.

Tarraleah - a quiet town.
In the photo above, you can also observe the five pen-stocks that service the               Tungatina Power Station.
In the foreground of the above photo, are the Tarraleah pen-stocks that carry water to the turbines at the bottom of the Hill, generating our lovely clean electricity. After passing through the turbines, the water then passes through tunnels and rivers to the next power station where the process is repeated and again and again through another six generating power stations! When it finally comes through our taps in Hobart -
'It is still water'!! 

The view from below with the Tarraleah power station in the foreground
We stopped at Lake St Clair for lunch. Also a great spot for photography, and Jan was busy with her camera:

Lake St Clair is where the Derwent River has its origins, from where it winds its way through all those hydro power stations mentioned above to Hobart.
The start of the Derwent River at Lake St. Clair.
It is a great scheme that promotes the environment and at the same time provides us with clean water! We are blessed indeed! Just glad the 'greenies' weren't around when this was all planned and developed. We would have been without clean power and clean water today! Well, that's my take on it!

Snow and its associated beauty greeted us as we passed through the Arrowsmith mountain range. It caused no delays or problems, just sheer happiness!
Snow was not far away with clouds building up.
There is something special about being surrounded by snow. A sort of stillness that      quietens the soul. (Good for driver concentration!)

We asked Graham to stop the car so that we could get close and intimate! So just a few photographs that hopefully will give you a feel of what we experienced:

By now it was mid afternoon and we still had things to do. It just goes to show how important it is to allow plenty of time. With substantial recent rain and snow, we expected Nelson Falls to be pretty full and turbulent and were looking forward to stopping there. It was well worth the twenty minute board-walk.
Outstanding! To walk in peace through this beautiful rain forest is indeed a blessing!
'How Great is our God!'
The above pic is in front of Nelson Falls below.

Just one more stop before Queenstown and that was Gormanston. In the mining boom, it was quite a township, but is now a 'ghost town'. As we wandered and drove around it, I wondered what kind of stories the remaining derelict buildings and the empty spaces could tell. Laughter, tears, creativity, destruction, life and death! In a sense, we became part of their story by just visiting.


Near Queenstown.
Finally, Queenstown!
Despite Strahan being the popular destination of choice, we chose to stay in Queenstown. What an excellent decision that was! There are a number of hotels and motels in the town, but it is hard to think that anything could compare to Penghana, the original residence of the General Manager of Mt Lyell Mining Company.
Penghana! Our home for three comfortable nights!

'The township of Queenstown was originally developed to service the booming copper fields of Mt Lyell. There was some debate as to where the town should be sited in the early years. The original town was sited adjacent to the huge smelters of the old Mt Lyell Co. This town was named Penghana, but in 1896 much of it was destroyed by a bush fire.' (

We woke the following morning to blue skies and sunshine that lit up the township and countryside. We made the most of this day with our first stop Spion Kopf, a lookout that gave us good views of Queenstown:
On top of Spion Kopf, enjoying the views of Queenstown below:
 Below: A view of the Railway Station, home of ABT railway.
Queenstown's 'Gravel' Football Ground has been described by
some as 'The most infamous' football field in Australia.

We very much enjoyed our drive on Mt Jukes Road to Crotty Dam, Darwin Dam, and ultimately to Kelly Basin. During the mining boom, the road from Crotty Dam to Kelly Basin was part of a railway link between Linda (near Gormanston) and Kelly Basin from where the ore was shipped.

The road crossed over the mountains and with the day as sunny as it was, we could see for miles and were moved by the beauty, the rugged terrain, the snow-capped mountains and just thoroughly enjoyed the day.
Lake Burbury in the distance.
The views were truly marvelous, and we just soaked it up.
Above and below, the snow-capped Frenchmen's Cap.
Just realised what I said with a 'snow-capped Dutchman' sitting there!
The road to Darwin Dam skirts Lake Burbury and again provided us with delightful scenery:

Sadly, we were not able to continue to Kelly's Basin and returned to Queenstown, finding our way to The Mt Lyell "Iron Blow".This is where it all began for Mt Lyell. It was first mined by prospectors looking for gold, but instead, they found a huge outcrop of copper.' ( The following plaque commemorates this auspicious beginning that made Queenstown an incredible place:
The following are a number of photographs that show what mining did in the area. Queenstown became well known for its 'lunar' landscape, as a result of mining and smelting. It certainly shows unusual colour:
The Iron Blow
The depth of colour that changed the mountains around Queenstown.
Looking towards Gormanston and Linda

In Queenstown centre there is what is called the Miners Siding. It commemorates 'Ten Decades of Man and Mining'. It includes bronze sculptures by Stephen Walker and depicts 21 facets of the evolution of the Mt Lyell Mines and surrounding areas.

There are just too many sculptures to show in this blog, but here is a sample to stimulate your interest:
Mining in full swing.
Graham enjoying the many sculptures with the Railway Station in the background.
 And what is mining without a railway infrastructure?

Miners Sunday: The "Miners Sunday" depicts an early miner and his family on the day of rest.
Miners Sunday was commissioned by the Mount Lyell Mining and Railway Co. Ltd. and donated to the town to commemorate the centenary of the Lyell District.

Mining Disaster Anniversary:
On 12 October 1912, forty-two men perished in the North Mount Lyell Mine in Queenstown. One hundred years later, it remains Tasmania’s worst mining disaster. When we visited Queenstown, the town was getting ready to commemorate this sad event. Here are just a couple of photos depicting both the miners' way of life and the event:
How it was years ago! Below: Miners off to work!

The funeral train with Union Officials walking in front.
The carriage behind the engine carries to coffins of some 19 miners, 
followed by a carriage of mourners.  

The carriage hearse.

You may wish to listen to the following ABC News link:

We expected the next day also to be very special and had booked a trip on the ABT railway to Strahan. We knew that Graham too had eagerly looked forward to doing this journey again, a journey that he was so familiar with in his early teaching day when he was posted to Queenstown. He has  great stories about those days, it fueled his interest in both railway and trams. He is a fascinating man and we were thrilled to have him with us absorbing as much of his knowledge as possible.

Noting the history of the Linda to Kelly Basin and the extensive train network around the Mt Lyell mine, we knew that the wilderness journey from Queenstown to Strahan would likewise be something special.

The day began at the Queenstown Railway Station where our train was readying for departure. While waiting, we happily spent our time looking around and were especially fascinated by the large collection of photographs and memorabilia:
Jan looking the part
Graham checking out which carriage!
I think we found it!
The ABT Rack and Pinion system

Our sturdy ABT Engine preparing for coupling.

Graham and I just enjoyed the activity with Graham wondering aloud what engine was operating. With that question hanging in the air, Allie, the fireman, looked up to the speaker inquiring, 'You wouldn't be Mr Clements, would you?'
What a way to start a conversation! Of course, Graham gracefully responded in the affirmative. Allie in turn invited him to join the driver and herself on the foot-plate from Riadeena to Dubbil Barril that included the Rack and Pinion section. The reader of this blog will just have to imagine the response to such a 'come on board' invitation. Perhaps best to show the following photo that tells it all!!
But first, we had better get under way, first to Litchford where the the cargo carriages were shunted off. Then on to Riadeena and beyond.
A lot more comfortable than in the early days!
The journey to Litchford took only 15 minutes. Most of that time we enjoyed being on the viewing platform along with other passengers:
 Royalty at its best!

Arrival Litchford
Shunting off the cargo carriages. Note the two recalcitrant guys who chose not to follow instructions, but stayed on board!
The thirsty little engine needed a drink, and Allie was up to the task.
Soon, we were back on our way, being well looked after by our hostess with coffee, wine, food and whatever was on board that took ones fancy. Service was excellent. I didn't hear much of the official commentary, being too engrossed in the commentary from friend Graham!

Riadeena was our luncheon stop and, of course, the place for Graham to step up to the mark! Ever the teacher, he did not let an opportunity pass to give valuable information to other travelers:
'As you can see sir, the Rack and Pinion mechanism is there.'
Lunch over, the crew ready, passengers raring to go, and the track is clear. Let's go!:
Jan is all set, camera at the ready.
Ready Mr Clements?
'Welcome on board!'
 As though he needed any urging!
Allie is ready to go!
Great view Graham! The Rack and Pinion' clearly visible as we steam up the slope.
A critical eye on the track ahead?
The King River as seen from the train. Wonderful view!
The King River at Dubbil Barril.
Arrival Dubbil Barril and, below, the end of the Rack and Pinion.
The end of our journey was not that far away as we crossed the King River to Strahan. During Graham's teaching days in Queenstown , the King River Bridge was, I believe, about 750 meters long on a curve. When the ABT railway was restored, the bridge was built at a slightly different location as can be seen in the following photographs:
Entering the new bridge, the collapsed remains of the old bridge can be see.
Entering the bridge over the King.
How it was in Graham's day when he took this photo of a school excursion on the railway.
Regatta Point in Strahan. The end of the line!
What a great journey with thanks to the friendly crew, the enjoyable companionship of fellow passengers, but especially, to Graham for his enthusiastic outstanding commentary.

This blog is getting rather long and I should move along a little faster. But there is so much to see and talk about. On the Friday we left Queenstown and made our way up to  Roseberry and Tullah. One continues to be  a busy mining town and the other a Hydro Electricity village from where more dams and power stations were built. It was a wet day, which did not deter us from having a good time.

On a sunny day, Macintosh lake is beautiful. Alas, the photos below don't do it justice. We must go back there:
At Macintosh Dam

 There was not enough time to fully explore Roseberry and nearby Williamsford. The latter is now non existent. The following two pics show how zinc ore reached Roseberry:

Using gravity, these buckets transported the mined ore from Williamsford to Roseberry.
Very clever! 

Our final stop was Zeehan where we visited the heritage museum. Here is an outstanding collection that is worth spending hours on, but will have to keep until next time.

The night in Zeehan was cold with hail, snow, rain and wind. In our collective wisdom, we considered that instead of returning to Hobart via Queenstown, it would be wiser to return via the northwest coast. It seemed a safer route considering the adverse weather and the possibility of being snowed in around Mt Arrowsmith.

So it was that we drove the Murchinson Highway to Roseberry and intending to cross near Cradle Mountain to Sheffield and the Bass Highway. Well, speak about all that wisdom........! As we left Roseberry, we suddenly found ourselves going through snow that got thicker as we ascended to higher levels. It was soooo pretty, and sooooo cool!!
Once on the road to Cradle Mountain, there was even more snow and a snow plough was busy cleaning the way ahead.
What fun!! But we were thankful for a very careful and competent driver - Graham!
 Oh yes. This is good! It isn't every day that we wander through snow taking photos!
 How good is the next pic!

As we complete this blog chapter, we acknowledge again with gratitude a wonderful five days in splendid company, with a variety of experiences, in all weather conditions and absolute safety. God is indeed good!

To finish this chapter, let me tell you that SPRING is not only the air, it is in the ground for all to see. So let me close with the combination of winter and spring.

PS. We arrived home in time to watch the last ten important minutes of the AFL grand final with the Sydney Swans the winner. Go the Swans!