White-water raft untamed rivers, sail beautiful harbours and hike through age-old rainforest on Tasmania’s wild west coast.
By Jennifer Ennion
Home to untamed rivers, ancient pine trees and giant sand dunes, the west coast is at the heart of Tasmania's wilderness. Challenge the infamous Franklin River on a white-water rafting expedition, cruise down the majestic Gordon River and hike past 1000-year-old Huon pines in one of the world's last temperate rainforests for a true taste of this rugged corner of Australia. Considered one of the country's last wilderness frontiers, the region's convict, logging and mining past has helped shaped the social fabric of the state.
How to get there
Queenstown is the largest town on Tasmania's west coast and a 3½ hour drive northwest from Hobart.
- Go rafting over the Franklin River rapids
- Hike the challenging Frenchmans Cap track
- Fly over Macquarie Harbour in a helicopter
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Top things to do on Tasmania's wild west coast
Go white-water rafting
White-water raft alongside forested valleys, deep gorges and mountains carved by glaciers on the furious Franklin River, in the World Heritage-listed Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park. Expect to surf over rapids and rocks before the Franklin eases into the lower Picton and Huon rivers. It's a memorable way to experience this remote corner of Tasmania, and multiple companies offer tours. The best way to get to know the Franklin is on a multi-day trip, and Franklin River Rafting specialises in all-inclusive eight and 10 day expeditions. No previous rafting experience is required, although you will need a sense of adventure. Tours depart from Hobart and run between October and April. World Expeditions also runs a nine day rafting excursion out of Launceston. Meals and rafting and camping equipment are provided.
Cruise the Gordon River
Coast past dense temperate rainforest as you travel the calm waters of Gordon River in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. Depart from the small town of Strahan and journey across Macquarie Harbour into Gordon River aboard a large catamaran with Gordon River Cruises. An expert nature guide provides commentary as you explore the waterways while international passengers can plug into complimentary audio tours. Be sure to pack your camera so you can capture the river's beauty and wear comfortable shoes for walking on Heritage Landing (known for its ancient Huon pines) and Sarah Island (Tasmania's oldest convict settlement). World Heritage Cruises also runs morning and afternoon cruises incorporating the Gordon River, as does The Western Wilderness.
Stretch your legs
Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park has some of Tasmania's most idyllic walks, with a mix of short trips and challenging multi-day hikes. Stretch your legs on the one kilometre (0.62 miles) Franklin River Nature Trail which passes through cool rainforest. The trail is suitable for wheelchairs and there are also picnic tables and toilets. Another gentle option (20 minutes return) is the Nelson Falls Nature Trail, which leads to the spectacular 30 metre (98 foot) Nelson Falls. For experienced walkers there is the arduous hike to the summit of Frenchmans Cap (1443 metres-4734 feet), some of Australia’s oldest exposed rock. It takes four to five days return and passes buttongrass plains, glacial valleys and rainforest as you make your way to Lake Tahune. Hikers need to carry a tent although there are two huts along the track to stay in. Most of the walks in the national park are self-guided, however Tasmanian Expeditions offers a six day Frenchmans Cap trek out of Launceston.
See it all from a chopper or a buggy
If you're after even more ways to experience Tasmania's west coast, take a scenic helicopter flight with Par-Avion Wilderness Tours. The Wild West Coast Tour departs from Cambridge, taking passengers over the Central Highlands towards Macquarie Harbour, before descending to Strahan to join a Gordon River cruise. After the cruise, you'll have a chance to stroll around Strahan before returning by air to Cambridge. You'll spend about 50 minutes in the air each way, while the day trip is nine hours in total. For an adventure of another kind, drive a buggy around Henty sand dunes, 11 kilometres (6.8 miles) north of Strahan. Considered a locals' secret, Strahan ATV Adventures offers one hour dune tours for the entire family.
Call into Strahan
If all of that exploring has you exhausted, slow the pace in the fishing village of Strahan, on Macquarie Harbour. Dine on fresh, local seafood and sample Tasmanian cheese and wine at View 42º Restaurant and Bar, or call into Hamer's Hotel for a relaxed bistro meal. Strahan is also a great place to base yourself with a range of accommodation options. The luxurious Wheelhouse Apartments are cleverly designed to make the most of the stunning harbour views, while families will feel at home in the two-bedroom, self-contained units at nautical themed Strahan Bungalows. During your stay, check out West Coast Wilderness Railway, where you can ride in a restored steam-powered locomotive. Hop aboard its River and Rainforest journey departing from Strahan's original Regatta Point Station and travelling along the foreshore and into rainforest to Dubbil Barril station and back. Trains also run to Queenstown, the hub of the west coast, about 45 minutes drive northeast of Strahan. Queenstown is a former copper mining and logging city, and you can learn about its past with Queenstown Heritage Tours.