Historic Queenstown, the largest settlement on Tasmania’s west coast, is best known for its copper mines and smelters.
The town, with a population of more than 2,300, occupies the Queen River Valley, but it takes imagination to picture how it must have looked before the surrounding hills were deforested by 19th century mining practices.
While you are in town, you can visit Miners Siding and the Galley Museum, or venture underground on a tour that reveals Queenstown’s rich mining history. These tours claim to be the only that take you to the working face of a mine.
In a dramatic contrast to the scarred hills, wilderness walks in nearby areas take you through dense, wildlife-inhabited forest to disused tramlines and mineshafts, lookouts and waterfalls & including Tasmania’s highest, Montezuma Falls.
You can explore the region’s natural beauty on the West Coast Wilderness Railway to the port of Strahan and one of Australia’s great historic train journeys. If you’re a sports enthusiast, you’ll be impressed by the town’s gravel football ground (they breed their footballers tough on the west coast).
Queenstown was first explored in the 1860s by Charles Gould but wasn’t settled until 1881, when Cornelius Lynch discovered gold in a nearby creek. Throughout the town’s 110-year mining history, diminishing gold resources resulted in a shift to copper mining.
Large copper smelters, fuelled by surrounding timber, polluted the area and left the landscape sparse.Queenstown’s spectacular natural waterfalls and its equally impressive man-made quarries and mines are a two-hour drive from Burnie, or three hours along the Lyell Highway (A 10) from Hobart.
Be prepared for wet weather and strong winds anywhere on the west coast. In Queenstown, the average maximum temperature for June is 12 degrees Celsius (53.5 degrees Fahrenheit), for January 21 degrees Celsius (70 degrees Fahrenheit).
Still operating as a mining town since around 1905, the area has yielded copper, gold, lead, zinc and silver with an estimated value of AUD8 billion. The Rosebery mine has produced more wealth than any other mine on Tasmania’s west coast.
Pasminco Mine conducts tours above and below ground. For a view from higher up, drive the scenic loop and take your camera.
Just 10 minutes from town is the start of the track to Tasmania’s highest waterfall, Montezuma Falls. You can walk in following the old tram route (an easy three hours return) or go in comfort on a four-wheel drive tour.
Strahan – for many this name evokes a place with the true spirit of independence of 19th century piners and miners, and 20th century protesters who stopped the damming of the wild Franklin River.
Strahan is the major harbour town on Tasmania’s west coast, and the place to go if you want to explore the wild and beautiful World Heritage Area.
It has a permanent population of about 900 and sits on the harbour’s northern edge.
From Strahan you can take a cruise across the 50 kilometre (31 mile) length of Macquarie Harbour and along the wide Gordon River. The West Coast Wilderness Railway takes you across a mountain range to Queenstown. Or board a seaplane to search out some of the remaining 1,000 year-old Huon pine and myrtle trees. Another way to explore the area is by four-wheel drive or jet boat the King River.
You can kayak the rivers and waterways, walk the long expanse of Ocean Beach, slide down a sand dune, or explore the forests by all-terrain vehicle.
Huon pine is probably the prime reason the area was opened up, and in the local craft shops you can see elegant artefacts made from this resilient aromatic buttery yellow timber.
In 1815, Captain James Kelly was the first European to navigate the 200 metre opening to Macquarie Harbour, named Hell’s Gates by Sarah Island convicts. By 1822, Sarah Island was operating as a convict station. While it operated, until 1833, it had the dubious reputation as being the worst convict prison in Australia. Strahan was founded in 1877.
Be prepared with all-weather gear because Strahan is all about wild weather.
Strahan is about a 4.5 hour drive from Hobart along the Lyell Highway (A 10), or three hours from Devonport.
Tullah is a former mining and “Hydro” town, overlooked by magnificent Mount Farrell and Mount Murchison. Beautiful Lake Rosebery is on the edge of town.
Hire a mountain bike or take a guided wilderness walk for unsurpassed views of distant peaks or grab a paddle and explore the lake or Henty River with an experienced guide by sea kayak or canoe. Ask about boat and horseback tours of the area.
For something quaint, hop aboard Wee Georgie Wood for a 1.6 kilometre (one mile) small gauge steam locomotive ride right from the middle of the town. And for something uniquely Tasmanian, drop by the local woodcraft workshop which is open most days.
Zeehan, once Tasmania’s third largest town, is north of Queenstown on the west coast. Rich in mining history, its economy is focused around tourism and the nearby Renison Bell tin mine.
Its population of 900 is 10 times smaller than it was at its peak in the early 20th century.
Put yourself in the shoes of early settlers by taking the historic walk around the town. In times gone by, it was a social hub for the entire west coast. The restored Gaiety Theatre, where celebrities such as Dame Nellie Melba once performed, has a capacity of 1,000 and was state of the art when it was built in 1899. The town’s mining heritage is just as rich and fascinating, as you will discover at the West Coast Pioneer Memorial Museum.
From Zeehan you can fish for trout in Lake Pieman or crayfish at Granville Harbour. Visit Zeehan’s original port, Trial Harbour, or take in the views from the top of Mount Zeehan.
Zeehan was first sighted by Abel Tasman, in 1642, when he saw the mountain peak later named Mount Zeehan by Bass and Flinders, after Tasman’s brig. In 1871 the discovery of tin at Mount Bischoff led to further exploration of the area. Little more than 10 years later, Frank Long discovered silver and lead, sparking the largest mining boom on Tasmania’s west coast. Ultimately, however, the reserves were depleted and the town once known as Silver City ceased mining the precious metal in 1914.
Zeehan’s average maximum temperature in summer is 19.5 degrees Celsius (67 degrees Fahrenheit) and 11 degrees Celsius (52 degrees Fahrenheit) in winter. As in many west coast centres, wet weather gear is likely to come in handy here; Zeehan averages 2.5 metres (eight feet) of rain a year.
Zeehan is 150 kilometres (93 miles) south-west of Burnie, and 50 kilometres (30 miles) from Strahan.