Review: Gordon River Cruise from Strahan is an exquisite Tassie treat
Tasmania’s west coast Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park is all but impenetrable by land, but the Gordon River itself provides a meandering means of seeing this exquisite wilderness up close. Climb aboard with Gordon River Cruises and soak up the serenity.
Take in the stunning beauty of Tasmania’s wild west on this popular day cruise from Strahan across Macquarie Harbour and along the incomparable Gordon River. You’ll enjoy a short walk through the rainforest that lines the river and visit the site of the former penal colony on Sarah Island. Lunch is included. Duration: 6 hours (approx.)
Tasmania’s wild west is a magnet for thrill-seekers and nature lovers, who trek the region’s rugged coastline and temperate rainforest.
Perhaps you’d rather experience both aspects of this wondrous wilderness with ease, and even a little luxury? Then raise a glass of local bubbly on board a day cruise with Gordon River Cruises. You’ll cross massive Macquarie Harbour to its notorious Southern Ocean entrance, glide along the Gordon River into the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Tasmanian Wilderness area, and explore the ruins of a convict settlement. It’s quite a day out!
Quietly excited passengers gather as mist rises off the water, and early morning sunshine lights up the heritage buildings of the little west coast town of Strahan. We’re eager to board the Spirit of the Wild — Gordon River Cruises’ sleek, purpose-built catamaran — its idling engines purring by the wharf in a sheltered Macquarie Harbour bay.
Welcome to The Big Bus tour and travel guide’s YouTube channel. In this video, we take you to Strahan on Tasmania’s west coast to cruise Macquarie Harbour an…
The idling rises to a powerful but subdued roar as we head towards Macquarie Heads, aka Hell’s Gates. On the vessel’s video screens, actors playing figures from the past depict how this narrow ocean outlet proved to be tragically dangerous in the age of sail. Figures including Lady Jane Franklin, Captain James Kelly, Huon-pine loggers and Gordon River dam protesters enlighten passengers about this and other aspects of the area’s history.
These video snippets help make a Gordon River Cruise an engaging adventure, rich with extraordinary sights, sounds and information. There are great aromas and flavours too, as our boat is laden with gourmet Tasmanian food and drinks. I’m fortunate to be on the Premier Upper Deck; my golden ticket includes welcome pastries, mid-morning canapes, buffet lunch, afternoon treats, and an open bar throughout the tour.
It’s an indulgence worth considering, as the upper deck also has spaciously arranged leather recliners (angled to give everyone excellent views through the large windows), as well as a private outdoor area. The main deck is hardly second-class though, with good views (especially from the open rooftop), comfy seats, an included buffet lunch, and reasonably priced snacks and drinks.
Heading back across Macquarie Harbour, we pass a salmon farm — the source of a lunch highlight on both decks — before beginning our journey along the Gordon River. With trees massing left and right, and mountain peaks (including distinctive Frenchmans Cap) beyond, the Spirit’s ingenious hybrid engine is switched to quiet electric mode as we enter the Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park. Here the river’s placid lower reach forms a giant, sinuous mirror. Trees and sky are so perfectly reflected in the water that reality and replica are indistinguishable. It’s breathtakingly surreal.
The Spirit docks at Heritage Landing — a small access point into the vast rainforest. The boardwalk, dotted with interpretive signs revealing key tree species, leads to the king of them all — the Huon pine — both a large fallen one, and another relatively young tree reaching for the sky. A friendly, knowledgeable crew member reveals some key facts about this long-lived species, before we re-board for the return journey along the magical river.
There’s one more highlight before the boat heads home: Sarah Island, a natural prison for convicts from 1821 to 1833. Passengers are shown around the convict settlement’s ruins in groups. Our guide Kiah is an actor from The Ship That Never Was — the play about a Sarah Island convict escape that’s been continuously performed in Strahan since 1994. Kiah brings her acting skills, humour, historical knowledge and gentle audience-participation persuasion to the tour, making this step back in time fun and informative.
Disembarking in Strahan, passengers happily chatter about a journey that lasted nearly seven hours, but took us back through hundreds, even thousands of years of human and natural history. For me, memories of those glorious Gordon River double visions will last a lifetime.
Cover image courtesy of Gordon River Cruises. Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Patricia Maunder has been a media professional for more than 20 years, and has worked in print, online and radio. Currently based in Melbourne, she considers the Canadian city of Montreal to be her ‘other’ hometown — having lived there from 2012 to 2016. Patricia has travelled in every continent except the one that’s beckoned since she was a child — Antarctica. A travel writer as well as an arts journalist, she enjoys culturally themed journeys and nature-based adventures.