Corinna – Part One

Last week we spent a few days at a little ‘resort’ in the Tasmanian Tarkine Wilderness at a location called Corinna. This is a remote historic mining town set in pristine rainforest surrounded by stunning wilderness and impressive nature. It’s located at the southern end of the Tarkine wilderness and is set amongst rainforest on the banks of the Pieman River.

Last Wednesday, flew into Devonport, collected our bags and had picked up our rental car by 2.00 pm. From there, we made a quick stop in town to pick up some breakfast supplies at the supermarket before starting the 3 1/2 hour drive south into the Tarkine. There is a little town called Waratah, 50 kms north of Corinna, and we stopped at the only service station there to top up the fuel tank late in the afternoon. The woman from the store had to come and unlock the pump, filled up our tank and insisted that we stop and look at the waterfall in the centre of town before we drove on. This place was the location from which a noted local named ‘Philosopher Smith’ explored the west coast of Tasmania and found some of the richest deposits of tin in the world.

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Our aim was to reach Corinna before dark, especially because the final 60 kilometres were on unmade dirt roads with tight curves. We didn’t stop anywhere to look at the sights in order to we made it to our destination before it became dark. Until we reached the mining settlement of Savage River, the road was bitumen and for the rest of the way it became a dirt road, although well graded and smooth. We could see the sun getting low on the horizon as the environment changed from thick rain forest to tundra-like button grass plains and then back again to forest as we descended into the valleys.

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We reached Corinna just at dusk, checked in to our cabin and found the tavern which was serving dinner. I expected it to be a rather primitive pub, but I was surprised to find that it sold a good range of Tasmanian beers and wines. The menu wasn’t elaborate but the four meals that we ate there on successive nights were very enjoyable even though the servings were a little large for us.

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The Corinna story is quite interesting.  It was once called Royenrine, which was the aboriginal name for a young Tasmanian tiger. It’s the only surviving remote area historical mining settlement in Tasmania. In its heyday, in the 1880’s gold rush, it had a population of around 2500 people and sailing ships and steamers made the hazardous entrance through the Pieman River Heads to bring in eager prospectors and suppliers. 

Corinna then had two hotels – one on each side of the river. It was from here that prospectors pushed overland; south from Waratah to the Heemskirk, Zeehan and Lyell mining regions. They cut a track from the river at a point some 19km from its mouth and at this exact crossing point Corinna was established. Gold was eventually found in the Pieman’s tributaries. By 1893 the town had more than 30 buildings  including the two hotels, a post office, a number of stores and shops, slaughter yards and numerous houses. Eventually, the town declined in population when the Emu Bay railway to Zeehan was opened in 1900.

We had arranged to take a 4 1/2 hour cruise on the Pieman River on the first day of our stay. They have an historic boat, the Arcadia II, made of local Huon Pine which travels down to the mouth of the river. It was built in 1939 and is listed on the Australian register of Historic Vessels. Originally a luxury pleasure craft based in Hobart, this boat was requisitioned to serve in the Second World War in New Guinea as a supply ship. She also served as a scallop fishing boat and was commissioned as a cruise boat on Macquarie Harbour and the Gordon River in 1961. In 1970 she moved to the Pieman River.  The Arcadia II is the only huon pine river cruiser still operating anywhere in the world. The hotel provided a packed lunch and this was an easy day sitting back and watching the dense rain forest glide past at a leisurely speed of 8 or 9 knots.

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There is some debate as to whether the Pieman River was named after Alexander Pearce or a Thomas Kent. Some people think that Alexander Pearce, “the pieman”, was a convict transported to Macquarie Harbour, who escaped, and killed and is reputed to have eaten some of his companions in order to survive. He was found and re-captured near the mouth of the river. It is more likely, however, that it was named after Thomas Kent of Southampton, who was a pastry-cook nicknamed the ‘Pieman’, who was transported to Van Diemen’s Land in 1816.

The river empties into the Southern Ocean on the west coast of Tasmania. At its mouth, there is an enormous collection of logs that have fallen into the river and washed downstream. There are also a number of small shacks (holiday houses) at the site of what was once a small permanent settlement. I’m not sure how people transported their materials into this place, although I believe that there is some form of road or track that begins from the main road, south of Corinna.

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After returning to Corinna, I spent an hour, or so, walking on one of the forest tracks to see what I could photograph. At the moment, the forest is un-seasonally dry. It is normally very damp and wet – as a temperate rain forest should be. In winter, many photographers come here to photograph the extensive varieties of fungi that appear in the cold wet months. They are part of the natural cycle of life in the forest and contribute to the decay and decomposition of dead timber. We were a bit too early for any of the spectacular fungi, although some early varieties were just beginning to appear.

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There are a number of options for staying at Corinna. Some of the original buildings include the original Roadman’s cottage which is more of a back packer accommodation. The old Butcher’s shop, General Store, Great Western Hotel and Mews are the permanent homes of the staff. Sixteen new wilderness retreats have been built to the original style further up the hill and behind the pub. We found that these modern amenities were very comfortable with their own bathroom and fully equipped kitchen. The gas heater made our cottage very cosy. An old produce store is now a communal barbecue area. Corinna really does have a feeling of living in a remote mining town. The town is powered by solar energy and has no phone or TV. To Jill’s disgust, there was no hairdryer either.

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