Tasmania’s rugged West Coast is an ideal self-drive destination for visitors who are keen to check out the wilder side of the island state.
Roads can be narrow and unsealed, so drivers are encouraged to take their time and make the most of every opportunity to pull over and admire the view – and gosh are there some spectacular views in this region of Tasmania!
New Norfolk, Mount Field National Park and Beyond
If you’re making your way to the West Coast from Hobart, the journey can take anywhere from four to ten hours. It’s not much fun to barrel straight through – especially if you’re travelling with family – and there are plenty of beautiful spots to take a break and stretch your legs, so our recommendation would always be to pace yourself and make the road trip part of the experience.
New Norfolk makes a great first pit stop. Enjoy a walk along the river and a browse of the antique shops, and if your visit falls over a weekend then pick up some tasty driving snacks from the kiosk at The Agrarian Kitchen.
From here, you’re faced with a choice. Take a significant detour to spend some time at Mount Field National Park – where you’ll find waterfalls, walking trails, and diverse native wildlife – or get on the Lyell Highway and start the long drive to the coast. Fortunately, there are no wrong answers: all roads lead to fun and adventure.
If you do head to Mount Field and extend your trip by a day, there are camping and self-catering options available nearby.
If you choose to hit the Lyell Highway and get serious about heading west, you’ll reach Derwent Bridge in a couple of hours. Stop for a meal at the Derwent Bridge Wilderness Hotel, where you can enjoy a wonderful, authentic Sri Lankan curry. About an hour further on you’ll find the Linda Café at Gormanston – it’s tucked in beside the Linda Hotel which is a historic building currently undergoing renovations.
There’s no mistaking it when you finally arrive in Queenstown. It might only be a few kilometres further west than Gormanston, but the short stretch of road is known as 99 Bends – and for good reason! Hold on tight as you wind your way through the mountains and down the valley into Queenstown itself.
Famous for a striking, barren landscape that tells numerous stories of its industrial past; an artistic, creative community that coalesces every two years around The Unconformity Festival; and a gravel football oval that only the bravest players would dare to play on – Queenstown is like nowhere else in the world, let alone Tasmania.
That said, there’s something for everyone in this unique town. If you’re here for the culture, head to Soggy Brolly Gallery and check out Lea Walpole’s work; browse the carefully curated books at Missing Tiger; or catch a show at the Paragon Theatre. History buffs will enjoy the Eric Thomas Galley Museum, housed in the heritage listed Imperial Hotel.
If you’re an outdoor enthusiast, there are adrenaline-filled adventures aplenty. Queenstown is Tasmania’s hottest new mountain biking destination, with 35km of trails recently opened on Mount Owen. Five descending trails and four loop trails have been created, all with a dramatic moonscape backdrop.
Alternatively, King River Rafting offer a range of raft and kayak tours out of Queenstown, suitable for a range of experience levels… but if that feels like just a bit too much effort, why not book a 4×4 tour with Roam Wild Tasmania and let them do the driving.
The pretty coastal village of Strahan is a popular destination for visitors and a perfect base to explore the West Coast.
From here, you can visit Tasmania’s oldest convict settlement, Sarah Island, which sits in the southern part of Macquarie Harbour. You should also make time for a performance of The Ship That Never Was. It’s Australia’s longest running play, based on the last escape from Sarah Island in 1834, and it runs daily at the Richard Davey amphiteatre.
Visitors to Strahan have the opportunity to enjoy a Gordon River Cruise, which takes you into the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Areas. Make sure you take your camera to capture the remarkable river reflections, and the lush rainforest that lines the banks.
Other attractions that are worth adding to your itinerary include Henty Dunes – giant sand dunes that reach up to 30 metres high (hire a toboggan from the Strahan Visitor Centre if you want to whizz down them, just remember you’ll need to make your own way back up!); and the West Coast Wilderness Railway, which runs for 35km between Strahan and Queenstown, following the route of an old mining track. A range of full and half day experiences are available.
Zeehan, Tullah and Rosebery
These three inland towns are rich with mining heritage – and understanding this history is key to understanding the character of the West Coast.
Zeehan is home to the West Coast Mining Heritage Centre, where you can check out an astonishing collection of rocks and minerals. Also of interest might be the four-hour Kelly Basin Walk, which leads to an abandoned Tasmanian mining settlement or ‘ghost town, and Spray Tunnel, where you’ll spot glow-worms on the roof of an old railway tunnel.
Rosebery is a great spot if you want to visit some of Tasmania’s waterfalls. Stitt Falls is the easiest to reach – just a five-minute walk from the centre of Rosebery, with a purpose built lookout. More challenging is the three-hour return walk to Montezuma Falls – it’s Tassie’s highest waterfall, and you reach it along a thickly forested former tramway track. Keep an eye and an ear out for plenty of native birdlife.
– Ruth Dawkins ( commissioned by Freycinet Resort)