Macquarie Harbour’s Sarah Island housed Australia’s first penal settlement, established in 1822. (Port Arthur was established in 1834, after Sarah Island was declared unsatisfactory.)
Mining and forestry operations (based around the magnificent Huon pine, famous for its oily shipbuilding qualities) commenced in the 1880s, making Strahan, the small fishing village now the centre of activities on Macquarie, the second-busiest port in Tasmania.
“The surrounding primeval forest and the sheer blackness of the water of the Gordon are memorable.”
– Suzi Petkovski
The real glory of Macquarie Harbour is, however, its setting; the Gordon River and surrounding wilderness are otherworldly. The dense, temperate rainforest is dark, gloomy and teeming with life. The West Coast Wilderness Railway winds its way through this rainforest from Strahan to Queenstown, and the 40km-long Ocean Beach receives waves unimpeded since they left Patagonia on the southern tip of South America. The Henty Dunes just to the north are sand, but at certain times look like snow, providing a lunar-like landscape.
Did you know?
In 1982-83, 1272 people were arrested at Warner’s Landing, 6km from the junction of the Franklin and Gordon, during protests against the Tasmanian government’s plan to dam the Gordon. In 1983, action by the Hawke Government and the High Court saved the river.
How to get there
From the south, the drive from Hobart to Strahan takes about five hours, while from the north, it’s a 1.5-hour drive from Cradle Mountain.
Best time to go
Anytime, but always be prepared for cold, wet weather.
Official website of Tourism Tasmania
Parks & Wildlife Service website with info on Sarah Island
** This is our original 100 Things to Do Before You Die. First published in 1996. There is an updated 100 Things To Do In Australia Before you die, published in 2011.