Savage River, Mt Donaldson and Strahan,Tasmania 

5 Jan

Time to fill in some gaps between our Arthur River expedition and the excitement of Hobart. 

Before leaving Arthur River Stuart led our walk along the wild Tarkine coast from the river mouth north to Church Rock. We now take turns planning the day’s excursions, much better!

No others were about early apart from a fisherman. Pied oyster catchers in pairs ran around the wet sand and seven shags occupied a prime location on a rock just centimetres above crashing waves. Button grass was dense in places and huge trees washed downstream had been cast high on the beach like pick up sticks. On a track running parallel with the beach we walked up over what could have been shell middens. Back at the river Stuart swam in the dark brown water. He’s becoming quite the water baby. 

The drive south, the Western Explorer Road, took us off sealed roads into the Arthur Pieman conservation area. Road signs warning motorists to watch out for endangered Tasmania Devils are posted every kilometre for a while. Of a recent release of Tasmanian Devils raised in captivity 25 per cent became road kill. 

We detoured to see the lighthouse at Bluff Point and the relatively sheltered harbour of Nelson Bay. 

Now the road was white chalky gravel apart from a few asphalted steep hills. We passed four cars and one lone cyclist all day. 

With no regular campsites between Arthur River and Corinna we set up beside Savage River with the intention to hike Mt Donaldson next day. The river was shallow so Stuart swam and we cycled before cooking dinner and turning in with the sun. We were alone until just before sunset when a young couple set up on the other side of the river. Not a snake in site. 

 Who needs a swimsuit when you have a body like this?

Another fine day with high temps forecast so we started up the Mt Donaldson track early. This two and a half hour out and back walk starts in eucalyptus forest then opens out into button grass and flowering heather. The area around is also part of The Tarkine. As far as the eye can see green rolling hills and ridges covered in button grass stretch to the blue horizon. It’s easy to understand how early Europeans were seduced by those green hills into thinking this would be good pasture land. Button grass is sharp, cuts unprotected legs and I am not sure if even a goat would eat it.

No marks of mankind apart from the white ribbon of road. At the summit of Mt Donaldson, some 450 metres, the trig point had been blown over by strong winds, its impotent concrete footings upturned. 

The crossing of the Pieman River at Corinna is by barge, currently operated by a charming young Frenchman from Cannes. Too soon we were back on bitumen in hydroelectric and then mining country. It was a hot dry day, perfect for bush fires. We passed Waratah, Tullah, Roseberry and finally Zeehan where the Motor Inn’s shower and laundry were most welcome. 

This sign is priceless.

The next highlight was Strahan. For our 35th wedding anniversary I splurged and booked us into Ormiston House, a beautifully restored Federation style mansion on the waterfront. Frederick Ormiston Henry from the Shetland Isles, a founding father of Strahan, built the property on earnings from mineral speculation and trading. It was completed in 1899. 

 Our room with four poster bed, claw footed tub and stained glass ceiling in the bathroom was in stark contrast to all our preceding accommodation. A glass of champagne in the bar before dinner at Risdon Cove watching the sun set over Macquarie Harbour made for memorable night. 
An item long on my wish list has been to fly by seaplane out of Strahan, something Stuart has done and raved about. With the unluckiest of timing the service stopped two months ago when the business was sold and the new owner concentrated on their Cradle Mountain helicopter flights. Instead we took the river cruise that stops at Sarah Island, the convict settlement on the harbour and at Heritage Landing, well up the Gordon River.


Sarah Island was for 12 years from 1822 the first banishment settlement in Australia for secondary convict offenders. A total of 1200 convicts were interned here, some for as little as stealing a woman’s handkerchief, others for murder. Sarah Island only closed when infamous Port Arthur Penal Settlement was opened. 

Convicts built a shipyard, the largest in Australia, overseen by Master Shipwright David Hoy. Convicts rowed up river to chop down that most prized of boatbuilding hard woods, the Huon Pine. Of the 180 escapees only one in five was successful but by 1829 the escapes slowed under the enlightened charge of Captain James Butler. In January 1834 the last 10 convicts left to complete the final ship, the Frederick, then stole it while it was sailing to Port Jackson and sailed successfully on to Chile.


The boardwalk from Heritage Landing took us past 2300 year-old huon pines standing 40 metres high. Some trees in the locale have been dated as 3500 years old, seedlings at the time of the Jewish exodus led by Moses, and when man first accidentally made iron ore, when the Santorini volcanic eruption changed the weather overnight and Mastadons still walked Mexico. 

Look closely and you’ll see a happy man with lobster in each hand.

Those trees closest to the river were logged by the ‘Piners’, tough, self-sufficent men who rowed up the Gordon and its tributaries in tiny wooden punts and brought the trees out by hand, rafted them and floated them down river. A documentary I watched on the cruise featured some old timers, living legends who talked about those early days. One fellow called Jimmy recounted how when standing on a log chopping in heavy rain his axe slipped and he chopped his lower leg, severing blood vessels. His mate bound his leg and rowed him 14 hours back to Strahan without stopping, Jimmy only half consciousin the stern. When they arrived he found the doctor was out of town so the the publican put Jimmy on the bar, plied him with whiskey and stitched up the gash with horse hair. It was a very tough way to make a living but much better than the other main option at the times, the mines.

Next stop Nelson Falls en route to Lake St Clair. 



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