Tasmania west coast: West Coast Wilderness Railway, Henty sand dunes, Queenstown, back to Hobart

This post is the third and last instalment about our Tasmania trip last month. Not just that good things come in threes, but generally, our brain actually does tend to remember things in groups of three. I recently listened to a Time and Attention podcast episode that explored using this knowledge to help increase productivity, and it did remind me that I should really try and finish up this short series of posts. 😊 In the last post I wrote about this trip, I recounted how we visited The Big Tree and were on our way to the west coast.

image 1: An arid-looking area with a red gravel path in the foreground, leading to the left, and various coloured shrubs and grey rocks. in the distance the vegetation is greener.
A view in the old mining town of Waratah, Tasmania
image 2:
We took the “Don Hill walking track” marked to the left, but it was mostly just a gravel track with not much to see except areas marked as likely having active mines

West Coast Wilderness Railway

Our trip mainly revolved around one event, which was the West Coast Wilderness Railway. This was something Nick was really keen on, and it sort of determined the direction we were doing our road trip in, and the days we would be away. The railway usually has a full day tour which involves going the full distance between Strahan and Queenstown, and back again, but after Nick contacted them, they said they were only running the half day tours from each town to the centre point (Dubbil Barril) and back. Later, we realised that there was quite a bit of maintenance happening, which is probably why they couldn’t run the tours. We chose to do the tour from Strahan, as the views promised were of lush green rainforest, and it seemed visually more appealing than the tour from Queenstown.

image 3: Train tracks leading ahead and curving slightly to the right. The train tracks are in a lush green rainforest.
We got a view on the train balcony of the rainforest we were going through
image 4: Me, Georgie, an Asian woman with short dark hair, and Nick, a white man with dark hair. I am wearing a grey t-shirt and a bright blue jacket with some enamel pins. Nick is wearing a navy zip-up hoodie. We are both wearing dark sunglasses on top of our heads and smiling. We are standing on the back carriage of a train in an enclosed open section. In the background is the rainforest.
Me and Nick on the balcony of the train
image 5: A very muddy, brown river, seen from a high view. The banks of the river are mostly covered by trees close to the water
It is said that this river was the muddest in Tasmania at some point
image 6: A low view of a railway bridge made entirely from wooden parts. It is among some tall forest trees
We could see some of the old tracks on the short rainforest walk

We still stopped by Queenstown on the way back to Hobart and before ending our trip. It looks like the Queenstown half day trip would be more interesting in terms of the history of the railway and knowing more from a technical perspective. Transport aficionados like Nick would probably love it. Because of that, we will likely be back! 🚂 Perhaps what was just a little disappointing about our train ride was that we had a diesel locomotive, not a steam one. So it did inherently seem less impressive. 😆

image 7: A train track leading forward and to the right. A man dressed in navy stands to the left side of the tracks, taking a photo on his smartphone.
Nick taking a photo of the train tracks
image 8: A man dressed in navy pants and a navy zip-up hoodie with his hands in his pockets, standing on a train platform next to a red and green diesel engine.
Nick standing next to the train at one of the stops

The views were beautiful, though, and we were served a course of small meals, with tea and coffee being complimentary. On the stops along the way, we had time to walk around and take photos, including doing a short rainforest walk. On the return trip, the engine of the train was switched to the opposite side, and passengers swapped sides, so we got a different view on the journey back. It was a great experience and worth the cost if you think it’s something you may like!

image 9: A section of railway in the rainforest, mostly obscured by a layer of debris and tree leaves.
A blocked-off and currently unused section of track. The leaves over it made for an interesting picture

The small town of Strahan

We allowed ourselves two nights in Strahan – the first night was because we were travelling several hours from the north west and sightseeing on the way, so we needed a place to rest, with the next morning having booked the railway, and having time afterwards to explore Strahan. The town is really small and there aren’t that many eateries on the main strip. If you’re looking to stay in the area, you might have to book accomodation quite ahead of time. Some of the restaurants can be popular as well. There is a weekly show in the local theatre that has been running for many years, so depending on the day, the pub might be busy with people going for a bite after the show.

image 10: A view of the town of Strahan, Tasmania, of its harbour. Green trees and shrubs and ferns are in the immediate foreground, and the harbour’s water is very still. Some small boats are at the jetty and the main road of the small town can be seen on the right.
Strahan is a quiet little town

Strahan has a lovely rainforest walk that is about 40 minutes return. It’s worth doing if you’re there. You can also walk around the esplanade if you fancy a walk by the water – there’s a path that goes all around the small harbour. I’m not sure how accessible it is if you have a wheelchair or a pram, but there is definitely a path designated for pedestrian traffic.

image 11: Me, wearing the same top and jacket in a previous photo, with black pants and brown hiking shoes. I am standing on a big rock in a river connecting to the bottom of a small waterfall.
It’s a pleasant 40-minute return to do this rainforest walk in Strahan

Things to do near/outside Strahan

We explored a couple of things outside of Strahan – the Zeehan spray tunnel, Henty sand dunes, and Ocean Beach. The spray tunnel honestly creeped me out a bit, and people’s posts on Instagram made me think it was cooler than it actually was. It might just be me, though. The reviews online made it sound like it was worth checking out, too. Ocean Beach was alluring for a reason I’ll mention shortly. The sand dunes were incredible, especially because it was my first time seeing sand dunes.

Zeehan Spray Tunnel

First of all, the spray tunnel. It was an old mining tunnel and is a bit over a hundred metres in length. You can sometimes see glow worms in the tunnel. The suggestion was to use a torch. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I haven’t seen glow worms before, and I think a part of me is still scared of the dark (I used a nightlight until I was 24). Nick suggested turning the torches off on our phones, when we were halfway through the tunnel, and I panicked and I didn’t want to. I was too scared to walk all the way to the end. 😂 The tunnel is also not very easy to navigate to – it’s up a one-way, winding road, or you can walk to it, but that walk seems to be mainly for mountain bikers. I probably wouldn’t recommend the tunnel, you’re not really missing anything if you skip it.

image 12: A dark tunnel where the light can be seen at the other end. The tunnel sits among trees and ferns, with a brick path leading up to it.
The spray tunnel in Zeehan. Only worth visiting if you have time and nothing better to do

Ocean Beach

The next interesting thing out of the three I mentioned – Ocean Beach. It was just a detour for us. We didn’t plan this on our trip so we were just killing time. The road to the beach is a gravel one. We visited when it was nearly sunset. The beach doesn’t provide vastly amazing views, and there is a sign alerting you to wildlife in the area. But standing on the beach was really strange, especially when we paid attention to the waves and the tide. It looked so… low? The tide seemed so low and flat, almost like you could walk out into the ocean and walk on the water, or at least go a ways out before being fully immersed in it.

image 13: A beach in the late afternoon. The tide is very low and some of the ocean is creating a stream of water perpendicular to the shore.
Words can’t really describe how mesmerising this tide was

The waves were equally as mesmerising. They sort of didn’t stop, and before one wave really finished stretching out on the shore, another one would brush over it. After searching online for information about the beach, I found that it was used in the 1940s by local gliding and sailing club members, but the most interesting fact is that the beach gets its extreme weather due to there being no other landmass at its longitude until South America. 🤯 If you think about where Australia is on the world map, and imagine one of the lowest points where Tasmania is, and draw a horizontal line, the line wouldn’t even touch the bottom of Africa. Mind-blowing.

Henty Sand Dunes

The Henty sand dunes are about 15 minutes north of Strahan, and can be accessed from the highway. You just have to keep an eye out for the sign that indicates the Henty dunes picnic area. As I mentioned, it was my first time seeing sand dunes so it was all quite exciting, especially with the heavy winds. You could almost see Ocean Beach from the top of the sand dunes. We did have to climb up the sand dunes, though, which you could tell some people had walked up, because of the dents in the sand presumably from people walking. You can hike to the beach from the top of the sand dune, but we were not prepared, and since it was going to take a few hours return, we decided not to do it. It was a huge effort going up the dunes, and it helped that I stepped in the spots Nick stepped, so that I wouldn’t slip down.

image 14: Me, walking up a very steep sand dune, as seen from the top of the sand dune. I am far from the camera. Trees are scattered in the area at the bottom of the sand dune landing.
Sooooo… steep!

I remember reading a review on TripAdvisor where the person said, “I thought I was being smart by taking my shoes off so they wouldn’t get sand in them; it was a lot more difficult walking up the dunes barefoot”. They suggested actually leaving your shoes on and then dealing with emptying the sand out later. I thoroughly agree! Having our hiking shoes on made it so much easier.

image 15: A sandy flat area in the foreground meeting a potential sandy hill over the edge, as indicated by a steep sandy hill on the right. Beyond the sand dunes are green trees. The sky is blue with some clouds.
From the flat top, you could see several other steep access points
image 16: A wide and flat area of sand. In the distance are the tops of some trees, and even further in the distance, a sliver of the ocean can be seen.
A beach all the way out there, which you can hike to if you want

At the top we were met with flat sand that seemed to go on for ages. The wind did feel a bit chilly, so after walking around, we didn’t go too far before going back down the steep dunes and back to the car.

image 17: The same setting as the previous image, but with the ocean less visible. Georgie is wearing the same clothes as in image 11. She has a leg outstretched with her foot off the ground, and hands in her jacket pockets. The wind is blowing her hair into her face so that it is obscured.
It was windy!

Driving between Strahan and Hobart

Queenstown and Spion Kopf Lookout

On the day we left Strahan for Hobart, we had a long drive ahead of us, and wanted to check out some sights along the way, so we left very early. Queenstown was about a 45 minute drive away, and that was where we had breakfast at the Tracks Cafe, which is in the station for the West Coast Wilderness Railway. (Strahan has its own Tracks Cafe but it seems a lot smaller.) We saw the steam locomotive ready to leave for the tour at 9:00am! I found out about a lookout in Queenstown just before we arrived, called Spion Kopf. It gives you a clear view of the whole town. The walk is really steep but quite short.

image 18: A black, green and red steam locomotive coming out of a train station. Steam is coming out of the top and at the wheels.
There’s the steam train we were expecting! 🚂 At least we got to see it even though we didn’t go for a ride on it this time.
image 19: A very steep concrete path going upwards and slightly to the right. Yellow painted railings and a yellow sign reading “Appleby’s Avenue” are to the left.
A steep but short walk to the Spion Kopf Lookout
image 20: A view of the town Queenstown in Tasmania, Australia. Lots of residential houses are among the green trees, with mountains in the distance. Part of the town is a giant sports oval with a sand colour. The sky is blue and has some clouds.
View of Queenstown – that’s a sports oval, of flat ungrassed ground

Iron Blow Lookout

Just outside of Queenstown are a couple of attractions worth checking out – the Iron Blow Lookout and the Horsetail Falls track. Both are opposite each other. The Iron Blow Lookout is on a cantilevered platform that gives you a view almost directly over an old open mine, which is now filling with water of the most gorgeous blue colour. It might not feel right if you’re afraid of heights, but it is safe. There is enough parking and you see some amazing views in general here.

image 21: A large, old, open mine of a roughly round shape, where the bottom has collected water of a deep blue-green colour. The rock walls of the mine look like steps in some areas. It is really bright from the sun. Mountains of green are in the background.
A captivating view over the old mine
image 22: A view of mountains getting bigger into the distance, with the foreground containing some small shrubs of different natural colours. A skinny path on the mountain leads into the distance.
An incredible view from the Iron Blow Lookout/Horsetail Falls Track area. Take a moment to take it all in 💚

Horsetail Falls track

The Horsetail Falls track is just 1 kilometre return and will take around 30 minutes, probably less if you walk quickly. The falls themselves are not that impressive, they look like just a sliver in the mountain. But the fact that you are walking on a boardwalk that wraps around a mountain and you can see incredible views is the highlight. From here you might be able to see “Welcome to Queenstown” on a mountain in the distance, likely created with a vehicle rendering the green vegetation to dirt track, in the shape of the letters of the message.

image 23: A gravel footpath leading to a man-made steel footbridge and onto a boardwalk as part of a walking trail. It is early morning and the sky is filled with some light clouds. The edge of the path shows some orange/red stones and some dark weeds.
The track is easy to walk
image 24: A distant view of a small trickle of a waterfall from a mountain. The mountains are covered in a variety of vegetation icluding green trees, shrubs, or dirt.
The falls are pretty small. Turn around and look at the views though.
image 25: A vew of mountains in the early morning. The sky is cloudy but not dark. To the right of the view is a man-made boardwalk with railings, wrapping around the edge of the mountain. A road can be see in the distance.
An incredible view of the mountains around Gormanston (just outside of Queenstown) seen from the Horsetail Falls track

Nelson Falls track

We planned to stop at Mount Field National Park for lunch and a short walk before heading to Hobart for our flight. On the way, we stopped at Nelson Falls, which offers a 20-minute rainforest track. By this point I was just a teeny bit tired of seeing rainforests and waterfalls. There are actually a lot of options for hikes and trails to see if you are doing the long drive between Strahan and Hobart – but we didn’t do every single one, obviously.

image 26: A small waterfall in dense and dark rainforest, with forest ferns in the foreground. Sunlight appears through some of the trees. The base of the waterfall consists of large pebbles, and comes to a river that is in the immediate foreground.
Nelson Falls. Lots of waterfalls, maybe getting just a wee bit tired of them at this point 🥱

The Geographical Centre of Tasmania

We also came across the literal geographical centre of Tasmania. Nothing special – it’s just a small monument on some swampland near a bridge. Another guy, travelling alone, pulled up in his car at the same time we did. He seemed to be a little more invested in it, as he took quite a few photos and was enjoying what was around. (Which was not much.) It’s the kind of monument you’d look at just for fun.

image 27: A stone monument with a square prism base and a smaller square prism top, made from different coloured roughly cut stones. In the middle of the monument is a grey plaque. There is some swampland in the background.
The Geographical Centre of Tasmania

Russell Falls, Mount Field National Park

At Mount Field National Park we did the short Russell Falls track (you have the option of a Grade 1 accessible path, or a slightly rougher one through the bush), and because the falls were not too far from the Horseshoe Falls, we continued on to that point and then turned around and went back. If we had more time I would love to visit again. There are several other tracks here that look like they are worth checking out.

image 28: A tall waterfall with lots of small streams of water, split by large shelves of grey rock. The bottom of the waterfall is close, with stone pebbles around the bottom.
Russell Falls makes for a good short walk/hike.

That concludes our adventures in Tasmania. 😌 We saw some incredible sights and had a great time. It was probably one of our most tiring trips – it felt really go-go-go, and we didn’t have a great deal of time for relaxation. But it was a trip I thoroughly enjoyed. I really like Tasmania and would love to go back again. 🤩

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