A Travellerspoint blog

Caves, Coast and Cemeteries

Water pipes and waterfalls and a prison island

Heading south from near Hobart we visited the stunning Hastings Cave on our way to Cockle Creek - which is just about as far south as you can drive in Tasmania! We stopped briefly in Geeveston after passing through the Huon estuary. Geeveston has a couple of great camping spots, a fab bakery/cafe and some creative street art. We would return to Geeveston for a longer stay later in our Tassie trip.

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The cave at Hastings was spectacular! There were also some 'thermal springs' included in the ticket price but disappointingly that wasn’t the forest setting we were expecting but a large swimming pool that was pretty chilly and not at all inviting on an overcast day - so we headed straight for the cave.

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Onto our camping spot at the World Heritage Listed Wilderness site of Cockle Creek - what a beautiful place!

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The whale sculpture is amazing. It's a Southern Right Whale - in acknowledgment of the thousands killed here as they passed through Recherche Bay. Unbelievably there were FOUR whaling stations just in the Cockle Creek area from the 1830s! It’s a shameful part of history in this beautiful place. As we set up camp we encountered our first pademelon - not something you can chuck in a fruit salad despite the name! Nor quite as cute as the quokkas we have on Rottnest Island in WA (made famous by Roger Federer in his quokka selfie).

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The next morning was still on the chilly side yet John had a quick ‘refreshing' swim right opposite our camp site.

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We packed up and headed out but not before I thought Billy Connolly had arrived and set up camp next to us - but sadly it wasn’t him! I'd recently finished reading his memoir 'Rambling Man' in which he stated he'd swap his wife, Pamela Stephenson for a Winnebago so for a minute I thought he'd gone ahead and done that - even though it wasn’t a Winnebago it did look like him.

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On the way out we visited Cockle Creek cemetery which is the southernmost in Australia. It has graves from the late 1880s to 1936, 12 of which are marked and at least 10 unmarked.

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At its peak Cockle Creek had about 300 residents who mostly worked in the timber industry, coal mining, fishing and boat building. Many of the descendants of people buried here still live locally. The grave of Thomas Doherty has a more recent plaque on it and the most information on the cemetery signage. He was an Irish convict who arrived in Tasmania in 1843, gained his freedom in 1849, and became the first licenced Huon Piner. He fathered 12 children with wife Agnes and the family came to Cockle Creek in 1880. Thomas's time there was short as on St Patrick's Day in 1882 he called into the nearby Southport Hotel on his way back from Hobart after selling a consignment of Huon pine for £7,000. On returning to his boat Thomas 'drowned while intoxicated'. He had severe facial injuries and the large amount of cash was gone. Considered a suspicious death the subsequent investigation never solved it.

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Before heading out on the main road we passed through the settlement of Catamaran - with its holiday homes ranging from old caravans to more modern beach houses - then took a track to find Mystery Creek Cave.

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But - no guided tour this time!

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It was a forest path but long stretches were extremely muddy and we had no choice but to squelch through it to reach the cave as the sides of the path were impenetrable forest.

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There were some old boots along the way that looked like they should be in a museum exhibit.
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The cave entrance was a steep, narrow, rocky incline.

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Our daughter Katie even found a cave dwelling critter!

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After trudging back to our vehicles we cleaned up and set off over the hills and far away to Mount Field National Park which meant going back through Hobart and north then west through more winding, forested hills.

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We reached 'Left of Field' camp late afternoon and enjoyed the fresh mountain air, herb garden, fire pit and what would have to be the most comprehensive drinks bar in any camp spot in Australia!

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Next morning the we went to the main attraction near Mount Field - Russell Falls - which is another gorgeous walk. A relatively tame pademelon just watched us go by.

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You can see the falls from the top too and the tree ferns give the place a Jurassic Park feel.

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The forest seems to have its own microclimate almost like the caves we had visited the previous couple of days.

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We made our way to Strahan on Tasmania's ruggedly beautiful west coast - via the aptly named '99 Bends Road' (a.k.a the Lyell Highway). This cemetery at Ellendale was in a pretty location but being on a mission we didn’t stop to look more closely. The road crosses Meadowbank lake before the bends and hills really kick in.

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The hydroelectric power of this mountainous area was evident as we passed the Tungatinah power station with its massive pipes.

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Following the camper van we wound our way through to Strahan to camp for the night before the next day's booked excursion.

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How's this for an epic MTB (mountain bike) track on the outskirts of Queenstown!
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We were booked on the Gordon River cruise the next morning - a beautiful, calm day as we sailed out through Hells Gate into Macquarie Heads. There’s also fish farms (salmon) out in Macquarie Harbour.

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First stop was Sarah Island - a former prison. The fabulous tour guides are also members of the Round Earth Theatre Company who perform nightly in a play called 'The Ship that Never Was' - this gets great reviews (based on a true story and featured in an episode of ABC TV's ‘Backroads' program) but the play was fully booked during our visit so we didn’t get to see it - there's always next time!

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Sarah Island is a grim reminder of Tasmania's convict past. It operated as a penal settlement from 1822 to 1833 and housed 1,200 prisoners with a reputation of being the most dreaded place of punishment in Tassie. It also became Australia’s most productive ship building yard during that short time with over 100 ships built! The death rate was high and there are wooden engraved panels that display the grisly details, such as '27th April 1822 John Ollery - 50 lashes - 30th lash unconscious - 35th lash found to be dead'. Another one, 'CANNIBALISED October 1830 Patrick Feagan, William Coventry - Murdered and eaten by Broughton and McAlboy.'

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After departing Sarah Island the cruise continued up the iconic Gordon River where we disembarked at the Heritage Landing Rainforest Walk. It's easily accessible and has great signage explaining the local flora such as Swamp gum, Tasmanian Laurel and the native plum which has medicinal properties.This tiger snake was curled up just off the boardwalk out of harm’s way.

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Returning to Strahan we went through the sawmill where Huon pine is processed. It's a very expensive, sought after timber and logging and processing is very tightly controlled with huge fines for any transgressions!

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After the cruise we temporarily parted company with Katie and Rob as they hightailed it to Cradle Mountain - we had been there before so left it out of this trip. We left Strahan back through the hills (Mount Lyell and Mount Owen in the backdrop) to camp in the old gold mining town of Queenstown for two nights and enjoy more of Tasmania’s wild west .

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Next time Queenstown's wild side, Hamilton (not Alexander) and back to the east coast.

Posted by GraveNomads 00:37 Archived in Australia

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