Wednesday, July 05, 2017
The Road to Queenstown
One of the longest drives we did in Tasmania was from Hobart across to Strahan on the west coast. The road passes through some spectacular wild scenery, but none more spectacular than the drop down into Queenstown. The town is in a valley on the western slope of Mt Owen and since the early 1880s it has been a mining town. The area around Mt Owen and Mt Lyell was one of the most mineral-rich areas of Australia. The first mining was for gold, then copper became the main export. A railway was built between Queenstown and Strahan to carry the metals to ships at Macquarie Harbour. The railway still operates as a tourist railway, but we didn't have time to do that trip. The last 15 Km of the road into Queenstown takes you from open forest and rocky hills into a narrow, winding pass between the bare, eroded remains of old mines, mullock heaps and hills that have been stripped back to bare rock and discoloured by fumes from the old smelters. All of the original forest was felled and used to fire the smelters, so any soil has long since been washed away. Today the smelters are no longer operational and mineral concentrates from the mines are shipped to India for final processing. Vegetation is starting to grow again on the hillsides, but the spectacle of these stark multi-coloured hills is something that this small bear will remember for a long time. It is a bit like I imagine the Moon's surface might look. I will also remember just how carefully Mum drove down this bit of road. Queenstown is much smaller than it was in the heyday of the mining boom but, given the unexplored area of Tassie wilderness, there is always a chance of new workable mineral deposits being discovered nearby and maybe the town will boom again.