A Breathtaking Cruise on the Gordon River

On the day after our lovely train ride aboard the West Coast Wilderness Railway, we took another exciting trip (there’s never time to be bored in Tasmania!). This time, we took a cruise along the Gordon River. 

The Gordon River is one of Tasmania’s most striking natural wonders, and a cruise along it is an absolute must-do while visiting Strahan. I was really looking forward to this cruise. When I first saw photos of the Gordon River, I decided that I had to see it for myself one day. Those mirror-perfect reflections looked simply amazing.

The Gordon River

The Gordon River flows from the King Williams Ranges, down through Tasmania’s World Heritage-listed South West Wilderness National Park, before entering Macquarie Harbour. The small town of Strahan is the gateway to the Gordon River. It’s also where you can take an unforgettable wilderness cruise. 

Early morning in Strahan before the cruise

Our trip began at 8 am when we checked in at the Gordon River Cruises departure lounge. It’s located on the docks, right across from the Strahan Village hotel where we stayed. We were ready for our 6-hour cruise aboard the state of the art Spirit of the Wild catamaran. At 8.30 am, it was time to depart.

The Gordon River Cruises departure lounge
The mighty Spirit of the Wild docked in Strahan harbour

The Spirit of the Wild

The Spirit of the Wild is purpose-built for cruising in the sensitive environment of the UNESCO Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. This 33.8-metre long catamaran can carry up to 190 passengers. It has two different decks, the Main Deck and the Premier Upper Deck. 

But what makes the Spirit of the Wild extra special is the unique hybrid propulsion system that allows it to cruise quietly up the Gordon River on its electric motors, switching to its diesel motors when back in the harbour.

For a fabulous onboard experience, there are floor-to-ceiling windows, making it easy to enjoy the scenery from anywhere onboard.

We had Premier Upper Deck tickets and, when we came on board, morning tea was already being served with yummy pastries, fresh fruits, yoghurt and our choice of tea or coffee. This was the best way to start the day! 

Comfy leather seats on the Premier Upper Deck

Hell’s Gate

Once everyone was on board, the Spirit of the Wild slowly inched away from the dock and left Strahan behind. We headed out towards Hells Gates. Hells Gate is where Macquarie Harbour meets the open sea. This narrow mouth of the harbour was given its name by convicts who knew that they were headed towards hell on earth. This hell was “Sarah Island”, a dreaded penal colony that we visited later in the day.

Leaving Strahan behind

This infamous passage is very shallow and can be quite turbulent when the sea is rough. But fortunately, we had a nice calm day and the Spirit of the Wild easily navigated the narrow passage out to sea.

The infamous passage of “Hell’s Gate”

From there, we could look back at that famous view that scared so many men back then. It looked stunning but then again, we weren’t on our way to the penitentiary! Instead, we were cruising onboard a gorgeous boat on a beautiful sunny day.

On our way to Hell’s Gate, we passed Bonnet Island, a small rocky island that is home to a colony of small penguins. We also passed close to Entrance island with its lighthouse.

After we visited Hell’s Gate, we returned to Macquarie Harbour, cruising past some aquaculture pens used to farm salmon and ocean trout. A lot of birds were happily hanging around, hoping it would be their lucky day. We were told we’d be getting some trout for lunch; something to look forward to!

Salmon and trout farms

The Gordon River

After Hells Gate and a glass of sparkling wine, we made it to the Gordon River. As soon as we entered the mouth of the Gordon River, our jaws dropped. It’s no surprise that this river is World Heritage-listed. The scenery is nothing short of spectacular.

Enjoying the views with a Tasmanian wine!

As we started to cruise along the river, the Spirit of the Wild switched over to its electric motor. We could no longer hear the sound of the boat and could enjoy those amazing views in the most peaceful way possible.

Arriving at the mouth of the Gordon River
So peaceful!
Incredible reflections!

As we headed further and further upriver, the reflections grew ever more stunning. The mirror-smooth surface of the water reflected both the blue cloud-speckled sky and the lush green rainforest that came right down to the river’s edge. It was a photographer’s dream and I couldn’t help but snap off dozens of photos.

So green!

There was no better place to enjoy this spectacle of nature than outside on the viewing deck. Not many people stayed inside; they all wanted to enjoy those views and the fresh Tasmanian air. It was truly breathtaking.

Everyone enjoying the sights on the deck

Heritage Landing Nature Walk 

Everyone onboard was raving about the views but it was time to hop off the boat for a while. We arrived at Heritage Landing. From there, we took a self-guided tour of Tasmania’s pristine temperate rainforest along a boardwalk leading away from the dock.

During the walk, we enjoyed seeing very old and tall Huon pines, Sassafras, Myrtle and other types of rainforest trees and plants. We learnt more about them thanks to the information boards that were located along the path.

Incredibly tall trees!
Enjoying the rainforest

After thirty minutes, the captain blew the horn and it was time to head back on board to enjoy a delicious buffet lunch, made with fresh local produce, including salmon and trout; yum! Lunch was washed down with lovely, local Tasmanian wines. The day could not get any better!

Approaching Sarah Island

Sarah Island

While we were lunching, the boat turned around and headed back down the river. The last stop on our Gordon River Cruise was a guided tour of Sarah Island.

Sarah Island

Sarah Island is a small island in the middle of Macquarie harbour. Back in 1821, it was created as a penal colony, where repeat offenders were sent to be punished. Convicts that were sent to Sarah Island looked at it as entering hell, because of the tough conditions that they knew they would face there.

Our guided tour of Sarah Island

It was exceptionally difficult to escape from Sarah Island. It’s in the middle of the harbour and the harbour itself is surrounded by almost impenetrable wilderness. However, some convicts did manage to escape. One even navigated the wilderness so well that, when eventually recaptured, instead of being sent back to jail, he was hired as a surveyor by the government!

Ruins of the old penitentiary

Sarah Island later ventured into shipbuilding and as many as 100 ships were built there with convict labour. It was easier to build the boats there using the excellent local timber (and cheap labour) than it was to try and ship the wood elsewhere.

It’s hard to imagine the hell with views like this!

Today, you can still see the remnants of the boatyard, where the ships were built and launched, along with other ruins from the settlement. If you choose to take the free guided tour, you’ll hear many stories about the island and its former inhabitants. The tour is well worth doing because the stories give more insight into the ruins that remain on the island.

Return to Strahan

Back to Strahan 

Back on board after an hour on Sarah Island, it was a forty-five-minute ride back to Strahan. Of course, local yummy cheeses were waiting for us. We grabbed another coffee, relaxed and enjoyed the harbour views.

Check out our video of our cruise

We made a short video with some of the highlights of our tour, which you can watch below. In particular, look out for the amazing reflections we came across as we toured the Gordon River.

How much is a trip to the Gordon River on the Spirit of the Wild? 

There are three seating options available on two different decks. The Main Deck offers central seats or window seats, while the Premier Upper Deck only offers window seating.

Main Deck Central: $140 adult, $69 child

Main Deck Window: $175 adult, $89 child

Premier Upper Deck: $285 adult, $285 child

They also offer discounts for families. Click here for more details on pricing

Enjoying those views on the private deck of the Premier Upper Deck

The main deck includes a buffet lunch and guests can purchase drinks from the bar. The Premier Upper Deck includes morning and afternoon tea, buffet lunch and has an open bar with all drinks included. It also has very comfortable leather recliners, with full-length windows and a private viewing deck and lounge area.

We travelled on the Premier Upper Deck and enjoyed every minute of it. If you can, pay extra to enjoy the river in style!

The lounge area of the Premier Upper Deck

However, you can still enjoy the views no matter which deck you travel on. You are free to move around the boat and have access to all levels (except the Premier Upper Deck’s private viewing area), even with tickets for the main deck. So, if you’re travelling on a budget, you’ll have a fabulous time no matter which ticket you choose.

An absolute must-do Experience

A Gordon River Cruise is an absolute must while visiting the West Coast of Tasmania! This World Heritage-listed wilderness area is stunning and those reflections are incredible! We also enjoyed learning about the history of the area and our guided tour on Sarah Island made for a perfect day. You really shouldn’t visit Strahan without taking this cruise and while there, be sure to also ride the West Coast Wilderness Railway for a different perspective of this incredible wilderness.

Where to stay near the Gordon River?

If you’re looking for somewhere to stay in Strahan, you can use HotelsCombined to search across all the major accommodation websites. Find the best deal using the search boxes below.

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