Discover Strahan and West Coast Tasmania

Gordon River Cruise

The award-winning, Tasmanian owned and operated wilderness cruise gives you the rare opportunity to experience the UNESCO Tasmanian World Heritage Wilderness Area from the water. You will find the cruise is one of the most fascinating activities you can do when you visit Strahan.

The brand new state-of-the-art vessel (Spirit of the Wild) was launched in 2018 and since then, the team have been awarded 'Tasmania's Best Guided Tour' at the Tasmanian Hospitality Association Awards and a GOLD in the Tasmanian Tourism Awards.

We experienced quiet cruising with electric motors while taking in the tranquil surrounds of the Gordon River. The dedicated guides and character-based interpretation took us through the history of this remarkable place as we cruised across Macquarie Harbour to Hells Gates and then on to the Gordon River.

We were given an amazing opportunity to explore the wilderness of the West Coast as we cruised up the Gordon River and then we were taken on an easy 30 minute walking tour through the untamed temperate rainforest of the Franklin - Gordon Wild Rivers National Park.

After enjoying our Chef-prepared buffet lunch, we were taken to Sarah Island.


Macquarie Harbour Penal Station - Sarah Island

The penal station was established as a place of banishment within the Australian colonies. It took the worst convicts and those who had escaped from other settlements. The isolated land was ideally suited for its purpose. It was separated from the mainland by treacherous seas, surrounded by a mountainous wilderness and was hundreds of miles away from the colony's other settled areas. The only seaward access was through a treacherous narrow channel known as Hells Gates.

Lieutenant-Governor William Sorell wanted the new penal colony to be economically viable. It could then reimburse the British government for the expense of its establishment. As Sarah Island could not produce food, malnutrition, dysentery, and scurvy were often rampant among the convict population. The penal colony had to be supplied by sea. Living conditions were particularly bad in the early years of the settlement. The settlement was so crowded, convicts were unable to sleep on their backs in the communal barracks. Punishment involved solitary confinement and regular floggings - 9,100 lashes were given in 1823.

Although many men did manage to escape from Sarah Island, few were successful. The first attempted escape occurred on 4 March 1822, two months after the settlement was established. The two men were never heard of again. Six days later another escape party of six convicts met the same fate. Such was the price that many paid for escaping Sarah Island, but for some their bid for freedom resulted in remarkable adventures and often long periods of liberty.

The great majority of escapes occurred in the early years of the settlement, with 156 recorded between 1822 and 1828. Of these, over half died in the attempt. Despite much greater opportunities to do so, far fewer attempted escape in the last five years of the settlement.

One of the best known prisoners to escape from Sarah Island was the flamboyant Matthew Brady. In June 1824, Brady and fourteen companions seized a boat and sailed to the Derwent estuary before taking to the bush. For nearly two years Brady led one of the most notorious of Tasmania's bushranger gangs. For some settlers he was a folk hero, a chivalrous man who rarely used violence and took every opportunity to protect the reputation of women. The Government, determined to bring an end to the lawless bushrangers, moved to bring Brady and his gang to justice by offering a 25 guinea reward. Brady responded by posting a notice offering 20 gallons of rum for the capture of Lt. Governor Arthur. Brady eventually met his fate after being captured by a group of settlers led by John Batman, who later founded Melbourne. He was hanged before a crowd of well-wishers and weeping women on 4 May 1826.

The Macquarie Harbour cat-o-nine tails was reputed to be heavier and larger than that of the army or navy. It had seven knots in each tail and a double twisted whipcord rather than the usual single cord. Particularly during the early years of the penal settlement, the formidable 'Macquarie Cat' was used with relentless frequency. In the first seven years of the settlement an average of 6560 lashes per year were inflicted on 175 men. However, in the last five years of the settlement, this had dropped dramatically to an average of 850 lashes per year inflicted on 25 men.

The permissible maximum of 100 lashes was the common sentence for those who attempted escape, yet it is clear from the endless escape bids that the cat-o-nine tails did little to deter the convicts in their quest for liberty. The great majority of floggings, however, involved far fewer strokes of the cat-o-nine tails. Twenty-five strokes were common for such offences as 'neglect of duty', a number which also decreased during the latter years of the settlement.

While records are not complete, it is possible that the convict Scrummy Williams held the dubious record for the most number of lashings given to a prisoner, with a total of 500. After one of his numerous floggings, Williams was pronounced unfit to receive the remaining 25 of his 100 lash sentence and was taken to hospital. However, due to his deprecatory remarks while in hospital he was taken out to receive the remainder of his sentence.

It was finally closed in late 1833. Most of the remaining convicts were then relocated to Port Arthur.

The Sarah Island guided walking tour is included as part of your Gordon River Cruise.

Book your Gordon River Cruise today CLICK HERE 

My Discovering Strahan Video

Strahan Village Accommodation

Strahan Village offers an exceptional range of Strahan holiday accommodation options – on the edge of Tasmanian World Heritage wilderness

With rooms ranging from 3−4.5 star, Strahan Village provides a selection of welcoming Strahan accommodation exuding the charm of yesteryear matched with contemporary conveniences and services. If you are an RACT member, you can enjoy a 25% discount on your accommodation. International and interstate auto club members receive a 15% discount.

The beautifully renovated rustic waterfront cottages face the sea behind their postcard-perfect white picket fences just metres from the action of the working waterfront and the village hub, reflecting the 19th century architecture of the town. It’s also just a short walk to one of Strahan’s historic pubs, filled with character and stories from yesteryear – and a few of the friendly locals.

I stayed in the spacious, light-filled hilltop harbour view room which offered the perfect hideaway with sweeping views of Tasmania’s Macquarie Harbour from my own private balcony.

The tranquil accommodation in Strahan reflects the easy pace of this coastal Tasmania town, where time is marked by the rise and set of the sun and the untamed wilderness that surrounds this place.

Book your accommodation today CLICK HERE 

I enjoyed dinner at View 42° Restaurant & Bar.

I also met Craig Halkett who is the Executive Chef at Strahan Village and he told me that Tasmania’s finest and freshest seafood is served up nightly and they utilise local products from its pristine surrounding environment to create sumptuous meals for breakfast and dinner. I enjoyed my buffet dinner while enjoying the magnificent view overlooking Macquarie Harbour.

Make a reservation today CLICK HERE 

The West Coast Wilderness Railway

The West Coast Wilderness Railway is a reconstruction of the Mount Lyell Mining and Railway Company railway in Tasmania between Queenstown and Regatta Point, Strahan. The railway is significant because of its Abt rack system to conquer the mountainous terrain through rainforest, with original locomotives still operating on the railway today. Now operating as a tourist experience with a focus on sharing the history of Tasmania's West Coast, the original railway began operations in 1897 as the only link between Queenstown and the port of Strahan.

My Discovering Strahan photo gallery 

West Coast Facts

Macquarie Harbour is the second-largest natural harbour in Australia (after Port Phillip Bay) and is six times the size of Sydney Harbour.

At 36 kilometres in length, Ocean Beach is Tasmania's longest beach.

The walking track that threads from regatta point through the village of Strahan is a disused railway line that once linked Queenstown to Burnie.

The remote west coast has more ghost towns than populated towns.

At its peak, the mining town of Zeehan was Tasmania's third-largest town, and the second richest town in Australia, after Sydney.

The grand, National Trust-classified staircase in Queenstown's Empire Hotel is from Tasmanian blackwood, that was shipped to England to be carved before being sent to back to Queenstown.

At the end of World War II, the rooms at Hamer's Bar & Grill were provided to returned soldiers during their convalescence.

The Ship That Never Was

It's January 1834. The Frederick, the last ship built at the convict settlement of Sarah Island in Macquarie Harbour, is about to sail for the new prison at Port Arthur. Ten convict shipwrights have other ideas. So begins the story of an amazing escape, an extraordinary voyage and an intriguing twist in the tale of The Ship That Never Was.

The Ship That Never Was is a live professional theatre production, performing in Strahan since January 1994, written by Richard Davey and produced by The Round Earth Company.

The play tells the dramatic and hilarious true story of the Great Escape from Sarah Island! Delightful family entertainment not to be missed!