While the whole of Tasmania is full of wonderful scenery if you enjoy rugged wilderness as well as history, a trip to Tassie’s west coast is definitely in order. Because of its remote location, you might think that you can only explore the west coast if you’re a hiker; but that’s not the case. Both Strahan and Queenstown (the main towns of the west coast) are accessible by road and they also form both ends of the West Coast Wilderness Railway.
The West Coast Wilderness Railway was named Tasmania’s best tourist attraction in 2019 because it’s not just a ride, it’s also an experience. A ride on board the West Coast Wilderness Railway gives you a chance to experience the stunning west coast wilderness, while at the same time learning more about this rugged part of Tasmania and the history of the railway itself. You’ll do all that in the comfort of beautiful carriage, pulled along by a 120 plus-year-old steam or diesel locomotive!
We recently visited the wild west coast of Tasmania, an area we’d been eyeing up for years. We spent a morning riding the West Coast Wilderness Railway and we really enjoyed our time on board, as well as the spectacular scenery we passed along the way.
A little history of the railway
The West Coast Wilderness Railway is a historic thirty-five-kilometre track between Queenstown and Regatta Point in Strahan. When the Mount Lyell Mining Company began in November 1892, they quickly realised that they needed some way to transport copper from the mines to the markets. So, they decided to build a railway.
Because of the mountainous terrain and rainforest, the use of an Abt rack and pinion system was incorporated into the line. This helped the train climb and descend steep sections of the track. The mountainous terrain made building this track very difficult. It took a lot of skill, hard work and resilience from the workers.
As you travel along the railway, you can easily imagine the hardship the workers faced. It’s not just the isolation and the rugged territory. The region has around 300 wet days each year and the rainforest receives up to three and a half metres of rain a year. Even during periods without torrential rain, the men would have to work and sleep within forests that were wet, muddy and full of leeches; not my idea of a fun job!
To top that off, most men didn’t realise until it was too late that they would have to buy their own tools and supplies because they weren’t supplied by the Mount Lyell Mining Company. A lot of them headed home without managing to save much money at all for their families.
The railway officially opened in 1897 and was extended from Teepookana to Regatta Point in Strahan in November 1899. It operated until 10th August 1963, when it was closed due to high maintenance costs and the opening of the Murchison Highway, which provided better road access to the north.
Fortunately, in 1998, the federal government announced funding to rebuild the old Abt railway, turning it into a tourist attraction. But rebuilding the track took almost as much skill and hard work as the original construction. It eventually reopened in 2002 as the West Coast Wilderness Railway and today, it focuses on sharing the history of Tasmania’s rugged West Coast.
Which tour to choose on the West Coast Wilderness Railway?
The West Coast Wilderness Railway offers several ride options, with tours departing from both Strahan and Queenstown.
Rack and Gorge – A half-day tour from Queenstown, up to the spectacular King River Gorge and back.
If you are staying in Strahan you have two options.
River and Rainforest – A half-day outing from Strahan to the Dubbil Barril train station and back.
Queenstown Explorer – A full-day tour from Strahan to Queenstown and back. This is the best tour to do if you have a whole day available. You’ll get the chance to experience the rack section of the railway, with its unique Abt rack & pinion system. This ride also includes both the River and Rainforest and Rack and Gorge tour, together with a quick tour around Queenstown.
For more details, such as operating times and pricing, visit the West Coast Wilderness Railway’s website.
During our weekend in Strahan, we took the morning half-day “River and Rainforest” ride, starting from Regatta Point in Strahan.
You can watch a video of the highlights of our ride below and then read on to learn more about the trip.
The River and Rainforest tour
Our ride began with beautiful views of the Macquarie harbour, as we left Regatta station and followed the railway track deep into the Tasmanian wilderness and rainforest.
We travelled alongside the King River, crossing many historic bridges along the way, such as the mighty Iron bridge and the Quarter Mile bridge. The views along the way were nothing short of spectacular. It was so nice to be able to experience them without having to hike for hours.
During the ride, our guide Dylan explained the history of the railway and told us many stories about the lives of the men and women who worked so hard to make it happen. It certainly wasn’t all fun and games back then; those people and their families were very resilient.
There are two stops along the way during the River and Rainforest tour. The first one is at Lower Landing, where you can taste some wild Tasmanian leatherwood honey as well as take a short walk into the rainforest. There are no toilets on board the train, but there are some at every stop along the way. It’s never more than 30 minutes between stops.
At Dubbil Barril, you can watch as the locomotive is turned around on a man-powered turntable for its return to Strahan. You can also take a short walk through the rainforest to learn about different plants and trees in the area. Be sure to check out the incredible views from the station.
Returning to Strahan
On the way back, the train again stops at Lower Landing for a toilet break and to let you stretch your legs before returning to Regatta point.
Once back at Regatta Point station, take a look in the shop there. It sells gifts, souvenirs and lots of local produce, such as honey, wine and gin.
If you need a coffee or some food, the Tracks on Point Cafe is open every day and serves great coffees, snacks and burgers.
On the West Coast Wilderness Railway, passengers can choose from two classes of carriage, the Heritage or the Wilderness.
The Heritage carriage is comfortable and allows guests to purchase food and drinks during their journey.
The Wilderness Carriage offers a complimentary glass of Josef Chromy Tasmanian sparkling wine upon boarding (or orange juice if drinking alcohol at 9 am isn’t your thing). I never say no to wine, whatever the time of day!
For morning departures, you’ll also be served delicious canapes, scones, a light lunch and another treat. For afternoon departures, you’ll get a Tasmanian Tasting Tower. This carriage also offers complimentary hot beverages and access to the open balcony, for the best pictures of the rainforest and the passing scenery.
We rode in the wilderness carriage. If you want the best photos of your trip, it’s worth paying the extra cost for access to the balcony. It’s also very nice to travel in style!
How to get to the West Coast Wilderness Railway?
You will need a car. Strahan and Queenstown are lovely drives from pretty much anywhere in Tassie. It might be a long drive but it’s a stunning one and you definitely won’t be bored along the way.
Launceston: 3 hours and forty-five minutes
Hobart: 4 and a half hours
Devonport: 3 hours
Launceston: 3 and a half hours
Hobart: 4 hours
Devonport: 3 hours
Don’t miss out on the West Coast
Yes, the east coast of Tasmania is absolutely gorgeous and you should absolutely visit it but don’t forget about the west coast! While there, make sure you ride the West Coast Wilderness Railway. It’s a fantastic day out, packed with history and mind-blowing scenery.
The best part is that this experience is suitable for the entire family. Bring the kids along; they’ll have a blast. We usually love to hike while in Tasmania, but this ride was a great alternative while I recover from my ankle and leg injury.
Disclosure: We were guests of the West Coast Wilderness Railway. However, all views and opinions expressed in this article are our own.
Where to Stay
If you’re looking for somewhere to stay in Strahan or Queenstown, you can use HotelsCombined to search across all the major accommodation websites. Find the best deal using the search boxes below.