Macquarie Harbour

An early start for the day had us down at Strahan Wharf for a boat cruise around Macquarie Harbour and the Gordon River.

Macquarie Harbour is a shallow glacier created fjord. It is much larger than Sydney Harbour and approximately 315 square kilometres in area with an average depth of 15 metres. In some places it is over 50 metres deep.  Its waters are stained brown permanently from the tannin in the button grass that grows along the banks of the rivers that empty into the harbour. The shoreline is edged with dense temperate rainforest with undergrowth that is impossible to travel through. 

The entrance to the harbour is through a narrow opening called Hells Gates. The main channel is kept clear by the presence of a man-made rock wall on the outside of the channel’s curve. This wall directs the current in a way that flushes sand away and keeps the channel deep and narrow, rather than allowing it  to become wide and shallow. 

Not surprisingly, Hells Gate got its name from the convicts who came to Macquarie Harbour. It seems to be entirely appropriate. Convicts were taken through here to the penal colony on nearby Sarah Island. The Macquarie Island Penal Settlement gained a reputation as a hell on earth with colourful stories of desperate escapees and cannibalism fuelling the idea that the entrance to Macquarie Harbour was indeed the “gates of hell”. Many ships, which had sailed from England, were wrecked at the mouth of the harbour literally metres from their destination.

The channel is marked by a lighthouse which you pass by very closely as the entrance to the harbour is only about 120 metres wide.

Tasmanian’s have been farming salmon and ocean trout in Macquarie Harbour for 37-years. Because of salmon waste, the EPA regulates fish farming of the 10 marine farming leases in the harbour. Around 9,500 tonnes of salmon are produced in Macquarie Harbour each year. Salmon are fed by remote computer control. Daily inspections take place to ensure that the nets have not been broken and the fish escaped. The most common predators are seals and Cormorants. These birds apparently eat so much fish that they are too heavy to fly away again and have to be removed by hand.

The catamaran in which we were travelling then headed to the Gordon River. This was the river over which there was a large environmetal fight in the 1980s to stop the Tasmanian Hydro Authority from building a dam on the river for electricty production. Thousands of protesters blocked the work site and the river. Many were arrested and fined or gaoled for trespassing. Eventually Australia’s High Court ruled that the dam could not be built in this World Heritage Area . The protestors had won!

The lower reaches of the river are wide and open. As we travelled upstream, we entered a gorge and the banks became more steep and more rugged.

Eventually, the river was more protected from the wind and the number of reflections increased.

We visited a boardwalk at some part of the river and had a chance to walk for about 400 metres into the rainforest. It was very similar to the environment in which we stopped near Philosopher’s Falls on our way to Zeehan.  I really do like this type of natural environment, although I’m very happy not to be bushwalking through it.

The final stop on our cruise was to Sarah Island. This was the location of a prison for recalcitrant and unruly prisoners between 1822 and 1833. This was the time before Port Arthur had been built to serve the same purpose.

Sarah Island was the cruellest of all the penal settlements. Located in the middle of nowhere on a wet and windy coastline on an island with no regular water supply it verged on bureaucratic insanity. The first settlers arrived in January 1822 and comprised 14 convicts, 16 soldiers and their families. It is hard to understand why they chose Sarah Island. Water had to be shipped to the island from Phillips Island which was 6 km away; the males and females were separated with the women being placed on Grummet Island; and the work conditions (rain, long journeys by rowboat, cutting down timber) were horrendous. By 1826 the governor in Hobart realised that the situation was unsatisfactory and so Sarah Island only lasted for a decade. By 1834 it had been abandoned and the convicts moved to the new settlement at Port Arthur.

We could see a number of ruins from those horrible days. One was the shipyard (which is now nonexistent) but the huon pine slipways still survive. Many boats were bullt there with up to one being launched every three weeks.

The ruins of the solitary confinement prison were still evident. The walls were 500cm thick to ensure that sounds could not be transferred between cells and he prisoners were in true isolation. Whilst they were around six feet high, the area of the cells were not much larger than a coffin.

We returned to Strahan by mid-afternoon and had some time to drive around the end of the harbour to Regatta Point where the West Coast Wilderness Railway  terminates. The wharf where minerals were loaded onto ships was directly along side the station.

I also had some time to visit People’s Park and walk along an easy, well graded  track following the creek to Hogarth Falls. It took about 20 minutes for me to reach the falls but they were cluttered with debris that had washed down the creek and were nothing to write home about. However the creek was quite pretty and pleasant to walk along.

Blackwood Wattle tress are very common in this area and have an interesting lace-like canopy. I stopped at a number of places to see if I could get a photo that did them justice.

Tonight we are eating at a boutique motel and restaurant on the side of the harbour. Tomorrow, we drive back to a little town called Bothwell in the central lakes  area of Tasmania.

2 thoughts on “Macquarie Harbour

  1. Really enjoying your trip Bruce, thanks so much. Love the photos too. Brings back many happy memories of the area. Hope Jill has lots to do while you’re off exploring…. reading lots of books?

  2. What wonderful experiences of land and water demonstrating much diversity in each. Your cruise seemed too one where peace could be found.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


Our Final Day in Tassie

Yesterday, we only had a short trip of less than 100 kilometres from Launceston to Devonport where we would catch the ferry back to the mainland. We took advantage of the time that would have on this short driving day to see some last minute sights and visit some friends. My old mate Leon or […]

Read More

George Town and Beaconsfield

George Town sits on the east bank of the Tamar River near its mouth on the north coast of Tasmania. It was a short drive for us today to explore this area and its history. The town is now a modern administrative centre but historically it was an important place – the third oldest British […]

Read More

A Change of Plan

Our day started with some excitement. We were awoken by thunder and lightning at around 5.00 am. Rolling thunder continued until we were packed up and ready to leave St Helens at around 9.30 am. It wasn’t raining when we left but, wow, did that change! Our plan for the day was to drive west […]

Read More