Australia Travel

The Best Things to do in Strahan and Tasmania’s West Coast

People walking down a dune into the forest at Henty Dunes near Strahan on Tasmania's West Coast

Strahan, Tasmania and the West Coast feel like the edge of the world. The tiny towns of Strahan and Queenstown have lots of history, and the surrounding rainforest and beaches are beautiful. Many people head to Strahan to take the famous Gordon River cruise to the convict site on Sarah Island or ride the West Coast Wilderness railway, but there is so much more to see in the area. 

 

I spent three days in Strahan in February and I’ve also done a few other road trips along Tasmania’s West Coast. It’s a beautiful area and sooo much quieter than the bustling tourist sites on the East Coast. If you want to get it away from it all and experience Tasmania’s wilderness, Strahan and the West Coast are the places to do it. I’ve put together a complete list of everything you need to know to visit Strahan and Tasmania’s West Coast. This guide includes:

  • How to get to Strahan
  • All the best things to do in Strahan
  • Things to do on Tasmania’s West Coast including Queenstown
  • Info on Strahan accommodation
  • Where to eat and buy groceries in Strahan

 

Heads up: Tasmania’s West Coast contains many ecologically sensitive areas. Learn how to Leave No Trace before you go to keep the wilderness wild. Make sure you are prepared for an emergency by bringing the 10 Essentials on every hike.

 

Hey there: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, which means I earn a small commission at no extra cost to you if you make a purchase. Thanks for supporting my website! -Taryn

 

Strahan, Tasmania Basics

Pronunciation: Until a local corrected me, I was saying it wrong. Oops. It’s pronounced “strawn”. 

Highlights: Visit the convict heritage sites on Sarah Island in Macquarie Harbour, cruise the Gordon River, experience the rainforest on a bushwalk or scenic train ride, and explore wilderness beaches. 

Indigenous Context: Traditionally, the Lowreenne and Mimegin bands of the Toogee tribe lived in the Macquarie Harbour area along with seasonal visitors from other West Coast tribes. Like indigenous people in the rest of Tasmania, they were systemically massacred. Sadly, I couldn’t find acknowledgment of indigenous history at most tourist attractions in the area. 

History: The first colonial settlement in the Strahan area was the penal station on Sarah Island in Macquarie Harbour. The Sarah Island prison held the worst offenders in Tasmania and was notorious for its harsh conditions. The convicts harvested huon pine from the nearby forest and built ships. The penal colony closed in 1833 and in the following years the timber industry expanded, mines opened, and commercial fishing began. Strahan was founded as a harbour town to service the mines. Today, most of the industry has scaled back and Strahan is primarily a tourist town.

Location: Strahan is located in the middle of Tasmania’s West Coast. The town sits on Macquarie Harbour, a huge natural inlet that is larger than Sydney Harbour. The towns of Queenstown, Rosebery, Tullah, and Zeehan are 45 minutes to an hour away inland. 

How Long to Spend in Strahan and the West Coast: You’ll want to spend at least two days in the area to see the highlights. 

Best Time to Go to Strahan: The summer months of November through February are the driest and warmest, and therefore the best time to visit Strahan. 

Strahan Weather: Tasmania’s West Coast is directly in the path of the Roaring 40s winds so it has some of the roughest weather in the state. In the summer temperatures average range from lows of 8-11C to highs of 18-21C. While the summer months are drier than the rest of the year, the West Coast is still the wettest part of Tasmania. Be prepared to experience rain on any day of the year. 

Mobile Phone Coverage in Strahan: There is mobile phone coverage in Strahan, Queenstown, Zeehan, and Rosebery, but internet access can be slow. Once you get outside of the towns by just a kilometre or two, expect service to drop-off. 

 

How to Get to Strahan and Tasmania’s West Coast

Driving to Strahan, Tasmania

The most common way to get to Strahan is to drive yourself. Since you will want a car to get around on the West Coast, I recommend driving. It’s a 4.5-hour drive from Hobart via the A10 Lyell Highway. If you’re coming from the north, it’s a 2.75-hour drive from Devonport or 3.5 hours from Launceston via Cradle Mountain on the A10 Murchison Highway. Click here for driving directions

Public Transport to Strahan, Tasmania

It is possible to see the sights in the town of Strahan without a car, so you could opt to take a public bus or to Strahan. Tassielink operates one bus a day between Strahan and Burnie with stops in Queenstown, Rosebery, Zeehan, and Tullah.

Strahan and West Coast Tasmania Tours

Since Strahan is so far from many of Tasmania’s other attractions, a tour can be a great way to squeeze in a visit to the West Coast. A popular option is to take a three-day West Coast Tour from Hobart to Launceston that includes Mount Field National Park, Strahan, Montezuma Falls in Rosebery, and Cradle Mountain National Park. This highly rated five-day tour of Tasmania spends 1.5 days on the West Coast and allows enough time for a Gordon River cruise. If you don’t have a lot of time, you can even take a day tour to Strahan by air. You’ll fly in and out of Hobart, take a Gordon River cruise, explore the town, then return to Hobart that evening. 

 

Strahan and West Coast Tasmania Map

I made a custom Google Map for you that shows all the attractions in Strahan and Tasmania’s West Coast.

Things to do in Strahan, Tasmania

Gordon River Boat Cruise

Taking a Gordon River Cruise is one of the main reasons people visit Strahan. The cruise gets you out onto the water, which is the only way to see two of the area’s main attractions: the convict heritage sites on Sarah Island and the picturesque Gordon River. There are two cruise companies in town and they run nearly identical cruises.  Both tours start early in the morning and finish in the early afternoon, which lunch served on board.  Since the cruises take up most of a day, most visitors to Strahan plan their trip around taking a cruise.

Both cruises include a guided tour of the convict sites at Sarah Island and a guided walk through the rainforest at Heritage Landing. The guides for Sarah Island are the actors from the play The Ship That Never Was. They stay on the island all day to give tours to guests from both boats.

A stop att salmon farms contained in large floating net pens in Macquarie Harbour is also included on both cruises. The audio commentary during these stops may lead you to believe that salmon farming is a purely positive thing. However, there are numerous environmental problems with these farms including disease, escaping fish, and low oxygen levels in the harbour caused by the overpopulation of farm fish. 

Gordon River cruise boat in Strahan, Tasmania

Passing another tour boat during the Gordon River boat cruise

Gordon River Boat Cruise Schedule

The two companies operate on similar schedules but swap out the order of the two key attractions: Sarah Island and Heritage Landing. Here are the schedules for both cruise companies:

Gordon River Cruises (navy blue boat): 8:30am departure. Order of attractions: Hell’s Gates, salmon farm, Gordon River, Heritage Landing, lunch, Sarah Island, dock in Strahan

World Heritage Cruises (red boat): 9am departure. Order of attractions: Hell’s Gates, salmon farm, Sarah Island, lunch, Gordon River, Heritage Landing, dock in Strahan

Talking a walking tour on Sarah Island, Tasmania

The walking tour on Sarah Island as part of the Gordon River boat cruise

 

Which Gordon River Boat Cruise Should You Choose?

There are two Gordon River boat cruise companies. They are quite similar, so it can be hard to choose. On my trip, I went with World Heritage Cruises (red boat) since the companies seemed really similar and it was a bit cheaper. Since my trip was on a nice day and we spent all of our time on the outside deck, I was happy with my choice since we didn’t actually use the indoor seat we paid for in the cheap section. However, if it had been cold or wet, I think I would have happily paid for an upgraded seat or gone for the cheap seats on the blue boat since they would offer a much better view out the windows. Here’s the rundown on the two Gordon River boat cruise options with the pros and cons for each.

Gordon River Cruises (navy blue boat): Pros: visits Gordon River in the morning when the water is calmer to see reflections, larger outside deck, cheapest seats all face forward and have individual tray tables, airplane-style Cons: Slightly more expensive, not locally owned. Book with Gordon River Cruises.

World Heritage Cruises (red boat): Pros: Slightly cheaper, locally owned company Cons: All of the cheapest seats are grouped around tables of 8 which means you share with strangers and half the seats face backward, visits Gordon River in the afternoon so no opportunity to see reflections in the water, smaller outside deck. Book with World Heritage Cruises.

The Gates of Hell in Macquarie Harbour

The Gates of Hell in Macquarie Harbour

 

Heritage Landing on the Gordon River on Tasmania's West Coast

Heritage Landing rainforest walk

 

West Coast Wilderness Railway

Besides the boat cruises, the other really popular attraction in Strahan is the West Coast Wilderness Railway. Originally built to service the area’s mines, this historic steam train travels between Strahan and Queenstown. The section in the middle is so rugged that the railway uses a toothed rack and pinion cog system to overcome the steep grades. You can take half- or full-day outings from either station. (Check the schedule as it leaves Queenstown on some days of the week and Strahan on the other days.) The tours include stops at heritage stations and a rainforest walk. I didn’t have time to take a railway tour on my trip, but I’ve heard great things about it. Book a West Coast Wilderness Railway Tour.

West Coast Wilderness Railway station in Strahan

The West Coast Wilderness Railway station in Strahan

 

Hogarth Falls

The short walk to Hogarth Falls is a great way to experience nature in Strahan. It’s a flat and easy 2.4km return walk that will take most people about 45minutes. Along the way, you’ll pass through a beautiful section of rainforest with lots of leatherwood, sassafrass, and myrtle trees. The walking track starts in People’s Park just off the Esplanade, about halfway between Strahan Village and Regatta Point.

Hogarth Falls in Strahan

Hogarth Falls

 

Rainforest near Hogarth Falls

Rainforest near Hogarth Falls

 

Morrison’s Huon Pine Saw Mill

Strahan’s history is built upon harvesting Huon Pine. Today, Morrison’s Huon Pine Saw Mill on the village waterfront carries on the tradition of milling huge pieces of Huon Pine into boards and slabs. On your visit you can learn about the history of the pines, watch the mill in operation or buy a souvenir from the gift shop. (Cutting boards are popular.) They also have free demonstrations at 3pm every day that coincide with the Gordon River cruise boats returning to town.

Morrison's Huon Pine Sawmill in Strahan

Morrison’s Huon Pine Sawmill

 

See a Performance of “The Ship That Never Was”

Everything I read about Strahan before my trip mentioned that you shouldn’t miss “The Ship That Never Was”. I’m not a huge theatre-goer, but I caved to the pressure and went to the play. Wow! I’m so glad I did. Probably one of the most fun productions I’ve ever seen. The two-person cast tells the true story of the last convict-built ship on Sarah Island. They use clever props and LOTS of audience participation. I guarantee it will make you laugh… and teach you about Australian convict history. The 75-minute long play runs every evening at 5:30 p.m. between September and May at the amphitheatre next to the visitor centre by the harbour. Tickets are at the door only.

The Ship That Never Was in Strahan

If you go to The Ship That Never Was, be prepared for some audience participation, including getting called on stage! The two guys in shorts are audience members pressed into service.

 

Foreshore Walk

One of the best ways to see Strahan is to go for a walk. There’s a 2.5km walking path along the waterfront parallel to the Esplanade between the Primary School in the west and the railway station at Regatta Point in the south. We walked portions of it on our trip. There are beautiful views of the main harbour from Regatta Point. You’ll also pass lots of interesting historic buildings like the customs house, which is the post office today.

Buildings along the Esplanade in Strahan

View of the buildings along the Esplanade from the Foreshore Walk.

 

Water Tower Hill

If you want to see Strahan from above, head up to Water Tower Hill for great views. To get there, go uphill on Esk Street from the Esplanade. Go past the upper entrance to the Strahan Village Hotel to the lookout at the end of the road.

The view form Water Tower Hill above Strahan, Tasmania

The view from Water Tower Hill. The red-roofed buildings are the railway station. All of the water you can see is Macquarie Harbour.

 

Ocean Beach

Ocean Beach is Tasmania’s longest beach measuring 30km from Trial Harbour in the north to Macquarie Heads in the south. The sandy beach is gorgeous and the wilderness location means you won’t have to share it with many others. But this is Tassie’s wild West Coast. The wind and waves here have blown across thousands of kilometres of open ocean before slamming into the coast. Swimming isn’t advised and it can be wickedly windy. To get there, head west out of Strahan. Just before the airport, veer right onto Ocean Beach Road. The car park is at the end of the road, 5km from Strahan.

Ocean Beach, Tasmania

Wind sculpted sand at Ocean Beach

 

Macquarie Heads

The entrance to Macquarie Harbour is called Macquarie Heads. You can drive the gravel road 15km from Strahan out to the south side of Macquarie Heads inside Macquarie Harbour. There’s a popular campground here as well as a boat launch. The water here is much calmer and it’s less windy than at Ocean Beach, so it’s a better option for playing in the sand or splashing in the waves. The area is really popular with the offroad crowd though, so be prepared to see lots of utes and motorbikes on the beach. The sunsets are unreal. We camped here for two nights and it was gorgeous.

Sunset at Macquarie Heads near Strahan

Sunset at Macquarie Heads.

 

Henty Dunes

The Henty Dunes are just north of Strahan, behind Ocean Beach. The dunes are up to 30m tall and seem to rise directly out of the surrounding forest. The prevailing winds of the Roaring Forties have pushed the sand up and away from the ocean over millennia, creating the huge dunes. You can climb up the dunes from a roadside picnic area 14km north of Strahan on the road to Zeehan. There’s also a path through the dunes to Ocean Beach. Apparently, you can rent sand boards in Strahan to play on the dunes, but we missed that memo and just wandered around gawking at the view and getting sunburnt instead. 

People standing on a dune at Henty Dunes

The Henty Dunes are huge!

 

Woman standing on a dune at Henty Dunes in Tasmania

Looking inland to where the forest meets the dunes

 

Things do on Tasmania’s West Coast

Plan some extra time on your drive to and from Strahan to make some stops at sights on Tasmania’s West Coast. Queenstown is definitely worth your time but there are lots more things to see two. So far I’ve made two trips to the West Coast and have been to most of the places on this list… but there are still a few left to explore next time. 

Queenstown, Tasmania

Queenstown is the largest town on Tasmania’s West Coast. It’s a 45-minute drive on the Lyell Highway from Queenstown to Strahan. Today Queenstown has about 1,800 residents but had 10,000 inhabitants during its mining gold and copper mining heyday about 100 years ago. The long-gone mining boom means that the currently sleepy town has a grand hotel and an art-deco theatre. Take a stroll through town to admire the old buildings. 

The main street in Queenstown, Tasmania

The Empire Hotel in Queenstown

 

Spion Kopf Lookout, Queenstown

To see Queenstown from above, head to Spion Kopf Lookout at the northeastern end of town off Latrobe Street. Locals from the Lion’s Club have constructed a concrete path to the top of the hill, with old mining relics displayed along the way. 

The view of Queenstown from Spion Kopf Lookout

The view from Spion Kopf Lookout in Queenstown. Photo credit: Tourism Tasmania/Rob Burnett

 

99 Bends

The Lyell Highway east of Queenstown is famously twisty, earning it the nickname “99 Bends”. The hills around Queenstown have suffered from years of mining and copper smelting, stripping them of vegetation and staining the earth a yellowish orange. Be sure to stop at the viewpoint about 4km east of Queenstown to admire the bends and get a good view of Queenstown’s strange moonscape. I thought it was both incredibly sad and strangely beautiful. 

The curvy road into Queenstown, Tasmania

Just one of the 99 Bends outside Queenstown

 

Horsetail Falls

A newly built boardwalk gives you easy access to a viewing platform clinging to the side of a hillside at Horsetail Falls. It’s a 1km return walk with lots of steps. The falls had dried up to a trickle when I visited in mid-summer, but I’ve seen photos of them really gushing down the rocky slope after heavy rains. The car park for the falls is on the Lyell Highway 5km east of Queenstown.

The walkway to Horsetail Falls in Queenstown, Tasmania

The new stepped pathway to Horsetail Falls

 

Iron Blow Lookout

Queenstown’s landscape was shaped by mining. And nowhere is that more evident than at Iron Blow Lookout. Walk out on the viewing platform for an overhead view of the remains of an open cut mine. Streaks of mineral deposits stain the sides of the pit. There’s also a great view east towards Gormanstown and Lake Burbury. Iron Blow Lookout is 5km east of Queenstown on the Lyell Highway. Look for the signed side road to the car park across the highway from Horsetail Falls. 

Iron Blow lookout in Queenstown, Tasmania

Marvelling at the view at the Iron Blow Lookout

 

Nelson Falls

The easy walk to Nelson Falls is just a few minutes from Queenstown. It’s a 1.4km return walk that will take about 20 minutes. The boardwalk path to the falls includes interpretation signs to help you learn about the rainforest. The walk starts just off the Lyell Highway 27km east of Queenstown. So far I haven’t driven this portion of the Lyell Highway so I haven’t visited these falls yet, but they’re on my list.

Nelson Falls near Queenstown, Tasmania

Nelson Falls. Photo credit: Tourism Tasmania/We Are Explorers

 

Donaghy’s Hill Nature Trail

If you’re driving the Lyell Highway (A10) between Lake St. Clair and Queenstown, I hear the Donaghy’s Hill Nature Trail is a great place to stop and stretch your legs. The track climbs gradually through the forest to reach a great lookout. The views of the Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park and Frenchman’s Cap Peak look spectacular. Plan to spend about 40 minutes on the 2.2km return walk. To get there, turn into a signed car park 34km after Derwent Bridge.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Franklin River Nature Trail

Another great spot to stop for a walk along the Lyell Highway is the Franklin River Nature Trail. It’s a flat and easy 25-minute loop walk through the rainforest to the banks of the Franklin River. Watch for the signs along the Lyell Highway 25km west of Derwent Bridge.

 

Zeehan Spray Tunnel

Explore some of Zeehan’s mining history with a visit to the Spray Tunnel. It’s a 100m-long abandoned railway tunnel that you can walk (or bike) right through! Glowworms live in it too! It’s an easy 1-hour return walk to the tunnel, which was built to service the Silver Spray Mine. To get to the trailhead, take Fowler Street past the end of the golf course on the west side of Zeehan. I only found out about this tunnel when researching this post. I wish I had gone as it sounds really cool, and so far it’s pretty under-the-radar too!

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Montezuma Falls

At 104m-tall, Montezuma Falls is the highest waterfall in Tasmania. To get there, you’ll hike 4km each way on an abandoned mining tramway, which means its fairly flat. There’s a small viewing platform at the base of the falls, but you can also see them from an impressive suspension bridge. The day I went it was pouring rain, but since the whole walk is in the forest, I didn’t mind. Plus it meant there was lots of water in the falls. The walk takes approximately 3 hours. To find the trailhead, head south from Rosebery on the Murchison Highway (A10), then turn left onto Williamsford Road. Follow the road to its end 6 kilometres from the highway.

The suspension bridge at Montezuma Falls in Roseberry, Tasmania

The suspension bridge at Montezuma Falls

Montezuma Falls in Roseberry, Tasmania

Montezuma Falls from the base

 

Wee Georgie Wood Railway, Tullah

If you’re into trains, don’t miss the Wee Georgie Wood Railway. It’s a historic 2ft gauge railway, which was the only way to reach the mining town of Tullah before the highway was built in the 1960s. The original railway used wood rails instead of steel! You can take a self-guided tour of the railway site, which is now maintained by local volunteers. On summer weekends, board a passenger carriage pulled by the 1924 steam locomotive for a 20 minute trip around the area. We didn’t have time for the train, but it looks like a cute community project.

Wee Georgie Wood steam locomotive in Tullah, Tasmania

The Wee Georgie Wood steam locomotive. Credit: Wee Georgie Wood Steam Railway

 

Corinna, Tasmania

Corinna is pretty remote, but that’s part of the attraction. It’s an old gold mining town that is now an eco-tourism resort. It’s located in the rainforest on the banks of the Pieman River. Just getting to Corinna is a bit of an adventure since it involves driving your car onto a barge ferry across the Pieman River. Book a stay in a historic miners cottage or just go for a short walk on the Huon Pine Trail. We also took an interesting walk behind the cottages to see burrowing crayfish.

Huon Pine Walk in Corinna, Tasmania

The Huon Pine Walk in Corinna

 

Tarkine Drive

Extend your trip to the West Coast by touring the Tarkine Drive. It’s a 205km loop through the gorgeous rainforest in Tasmania’s wild Northwest. You can go on short rainforest walks, visit lonely beaches, and maybe even spot some wildlife. (We spotted an endangered Tasmanian Devil while camping along the Tarkine Drive!) You can drive the loop in a single day, but it’s better to break up the trip over 2 or 3 days. If you want to visit, check out my Tarkine Drive Guide for all the details.

Julius River walking track on the Tarkine Drive in Tasmania

Julius River walking track on the Tarkine Drive

 

Where to Stay in Strahan, Tasmania

Most visitors to Strahan end up staying at least one night since the boat cruises leave in the morning. In summer, bookings are essential as there aren’t that many Strahan accommodations. Here are my recommendations for where to stay in Strahan.

 

Hotels and Self-Contained Units

Historic House B&B: Stay in a fully restored heritage house at the Ormiston House Bed and Breakfast. The owners are passionate about local history and even have a gallery in the attic full of historical memorabilia.  

Hotel with a View: The rooms at Strahan Village Hotel have some of the nicest views in town. Spread over several buildings, you can stay right in the village or slightly up the hill. Be sure to book a view room since they look out over the harbour.

Budget: If you’re looking to save money, stay at Motel Strahan. It’s steps to the Foreshore Walk on the west side of town. Reviewers say it’s clean and cosy.

Self-Contained Cottage: The Kerrellie Cottages offer cute self-contained accommodation in restored historic cottages. 

 

Camping

If you want to stay close to town, book a spot at the Big4 Strahan Retreat Holiday Park or the Strahan Beach Tourist Park. They are both caravan parks with self-contained cabins. If you want real bush camping, drive 30 minutes out of town to the rustic Macquarie Heads Campground. It’s $10 a night. There are pit toilets but you need to bring your own drinking water. We stayed at Macquarie Heads for two nights on our trip and really enjoyed it.

 

Where to Eat in Strahan, Tasmania

Strahan is a small place so there aren’t very many restaurants and cafes. Check hours before you go, especially on weekdays and during the offseason as many places are only open for lunch or dinner but not both. If you are self-catering, there’s an IGA grocery store right as you come into town on the Lyell Highway. If you’re looking to eat out, here are your options:

Muffins and baked goods at The Coffee Shack in Strahan

Baked goods on offer at The Coffee Shack. Photo via The Coffee Shack on Facebook

The Coffee Shack: Tiny coffee spot that also has baked goods, sandwiches, and salads. We had a great lunch here and also stopped for coffee one morning before our Gordon River boat cruise. Definitely the best food we had in Strahan. The only downside is that it has very little seating. Open from 6am until mid-afternoon.

Banjo’s Bakery Cafe: This Tasmanian chain has bakery-cafes all around the state, so of course there’s one here too. They do have a really nice patio right on the Esplanade though. We ate breakfast here one morning before discovering The Coffee Shack. Open 7am-4pm.

Molly’s Take-Away Cafe: Located on Innes Street near the caravan parks. Classic greasy take-away burgers, pizza, chips, pies, etc. Open for lunch and dinner. 

The Bay Fish Co: Fish and chips take-away located in an old warehouse on the waterfront. Open for dinner only.

Tracks on Point: A newer coffee shop and cafe at the West Coast Wilderness Railway station serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 

Hamer’s Bar and Bistro: Pretty typical hotel pub on the Esplanade serving parmas, fish and chips, burgers, etc. We ate dinner there one night. The patio seating has a beautiful view of the harbour and the food is fine but not great. Open for dinner only.

Regatta Point Tavern: Pub style food near the train station with dated decor. Reviews are mixed, but it’s a bit cheaper than other sit-down dinner options. Open for dinner.

View 42º Restaurant & Bar: The hotel restaurant at Strahan Village. They have a buffet that’s a bit pricey, but their dining room has great views. Open for breakfast and dinner.

Risby Cove Cafe: Up-scale restaurant at the waterfront Risby Cove Hotel. Dinner only.

 

Strahan, Queenstown and the West Coast are such a unique part of Tasmania. While most people visit for the Gordon River boat cruise or the West Coast Wilderness Railway, there is so much else to see. The Henty Dunes were a definite highlight for me. I hope this post inspires you to visit Strahan and Tasmania’s West Coast. Do you have questions about the area? Leave them in the comments and I’ll help you out.

 

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