Size isn’t everything: the best small towns to visit in Australia: Strahan

For our final article on Australia for this series, we follow our features on Port Douglas and Broome with this one on Tasmania.

Have you ever wanted to travel to Australia and tell people “you should have gone to this place, it’s amazing”?

Forget Sydney, Melbourne, and even Adelaide – everyone has been there, after all – the next time you’re planning a trip to Australia, skip straight down to Tasmania. Here, you’ll discover the beautiful village of Strahan: a place where history and nature fuse into one.

The village

Image obtained from under Creative Commons (c) Sally Cummings

Originally a railway port for a rich copper mine further inland, Strahan is situated in Macquarie Harbour near the Gordon River and Tasmanian rainforests. As Tasmania’s major harbour town, Strahan is renowned for its rich history, including its pioneering heritage and the convicts it once held.

Strahan is also right in the heart of the Franklin Gordon Wild Rivers National Park and the Southwest National Park – so you’ll be within the heart of the World Heritage Area. In case you were wondering, it really is a village – with a population of just 701.

It is also the only coastal outpost on the unprotected western coast of Tasmania. Idyllic as it is now, it was established by the British as the setting for the ultimate penal colony at Sarah Island, just south of town. It gets its name from its former Governor Lachlan Macquarie. When the convicts lived and worked here their days often consisted of rowing from Sarah Island to the Gordon River, spending the day cutting down pine trees and then rowing back.

The beautiful harbour which is like a mirror on a clear, still day has seen its fair share of hardship and suffering.

Gordon River cruise

Image obtained from under Creative Commons (c) mrpbps

There is an abundance of things to do in Strahan, but there are some must-sees while on your visit. First, take a cruise down the Gordon River and see the beautiful, pristine rainforest in one of the last untouched places in the world.

There are a number of cruise trips on offer which leave Strahan and travel across Macquarie Harbour and up the lower reaches of the Gordon River. As well as the landscape you’ll see Hell’s Gate where the harbour meets the Southern Ocean, Tasmania’s world-famous salmon farms and you can visit Sarah Island, the feared penal colony itself.

A guided walk among the ruins will bring the past alive with astonishing stories of convicts building ships from the precious Huon pine.

The West Coast Wilderness Railway

Image obtained from under Creative Commons (c) Nelson Minar

Take a train back in time on the West Coast Wilderness Railway where men battled mud, rain and treacherous landscapes to forge a railway link between the mining town of Queenstown and Strahan Harbour. The West Coast pioneers who built the original railway in 1896 accomplished a major feat of engineering. Many miles of the railway line were hewn with pick and shovel from the steep side of the gorge of the King River.

Forty-two bridges were constructed along a stretch of wilderness more than 22 miles in length; men struggled waist-deep in cold water to drive the pylons required to support the ‘quarter mile’ bridge below the gorge 60 feet into the silt. The West Coast Wilderness Railway allows visitors to explore Tasmania’s unique rail heritage with its authentically restored timber bridges and unique rack and pinion system for climbing steep sections. 

Along the journey, you will stop at the stations of Lower Landing, Dubbil Barril and Rinadeena where your guides will bring to life the stories of these historic points on the railway.

The Bonnet Island Experience

Image obtained from under Creative Commons (c) Rachel Wray

As the sun sets it’s time to take advantage of a rare opportunity to go ashore on a tiny island at the mouth of Macquarie Harbour which is home to a thriving colony of Little Penguins and Short-tailed Shearwaters.

Whatever the weather you’ll be able to see these amazing birds returning each evening at dusk from spending the day fishing to their burrows on the island. The Bonnet Island Experience is a memorable and intimate encounter watching sea birds in their natural environment. You’ll gain new insights into Tasmania’s wildlife and hear some astonishing tales about the people who lived on the island all year despite the harsh conditions.

Your local guide will tell stories of storms and survival, wrecks and rescues; with the tales brought to life by seeing the historic lighthouse and remains of the keepers’ cottage – the very spot where they maintained the light, prepared their meals and raised their families. You can cruise the area in far more comfort and return to shore to sample local specialities.

Ocean Beach

Image obtained from under Creative Commons (c) Christopher Neugebauer

A short drive from Strahan is the famous Ocean Beach – a vast expanse of sandy beach with huge windswept dunes. This is the place to come to experience how it feels to stand on the edge of the world. For the sizeable waves breaking onto the shore, this is the first contact with since Patagonia.

Standing here you are further south than the Cape of Good Hope and that breeze you feel on your face is either from Antarctica or South America. This wind-swept beach is a truly wild area and on a fine day, the sunsets over the beach are particularly beautiful. If sliding down the dunes is not enough adrenaline for you, Strahan has you covered – try out a jet boat on the King River.

Staying in Strahan

Strahan has a few different options when it comes to setting up camp for the night, and each has its own unique qualities. If you want the quaint village experience, Strahan Village Waterfront Cottages are the ideal location to bask in the history of the town – with the otherworldly feeling of this place, you’ll forget about your worries.

For something more majestic, choose a Hilltop Executive Harbour View for sweeping views of Macquarie Harbour; for more of a town vibe, select the Village Waterfront Terrace for convenience to local amenities.

Don’t forget to pack your camera on a trip to Strahan – there will be so many beautiful sights that you’ll want to remember them all for a very long time. With such picturesque surroundings, Strahan is the ideal choice for the perfect getaway Down Under.

Andy Higgs
Andy Higgs

I know what it's like to go from being a crazy backpacker without a care in the world, via being a vaguely sensible parent to being an adventurer once more. In other words, evolving into a Grown-up Traveller.

Like everyone else, I love to travel, have visited a lot of countries and all that but my big thing is Africa.

I also own and run The Grown-up Travel Company as a travel designer creating personalised African itineraries for experienced adventurers

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