Queenstown was another place in Tassie that took me by surprise. Expecting a quick stop over for a coffee hit turned out to be an overnight stop to explore the town and surrounds. Way back in 1860 Charles Gould surveyed the area and deemed it to be too difficult and unsafe to do anything with, but some 20 years later gold was found ( as it always is ) nearby and the rush was on.
8km from town 3 miners found what is now known as the iron blow, they formed a mining company, set up a stamper with a smelter but within two years the gold was gone, exhausted from the area. Ironically where the miners had settled wasn’t where Queenstown is now it was over the hill just near the iron blow and was called Linda. There was a long battle between a couple of entrepreneurs on where the town should be and in 1896 an area was surveyed where the town is now and the battle was over. The place had drawn that many miners to the area that within two years there were over 200 buildings. Copper was found and the Mount Lyell mining company was formed and operated right up until 2014 when it was closed after several deaths. Part of the operation was the lake Margret power station which today is heritage listed and is the oldest operating system in Australia.
Now this mining boom has had both beneficial and disastrous effects to the area. Right up to today mining is still carried out which employs a lot of the town with tourism coming in a very close second, but because of the massive amounts of timber needed for the furnaces back at the turn of the century the landscape just has never recovered. Over 3 million tonnes of trees were cut down from the surrounding mountains to feed the fires and with over 850mm of rainfall each year the mountainous landscape has no soil and is scared for life as well as vast amounts of sulphur dioxide that was being sent into the air ( like acid rain ) its a sight to see. In fact from space the damage is very evident, but this has made the town to what it is today and draws people to the area. Queenstown is near the west coast where during 1/3 of the year it's wet, cold and miserable giving the area an eerie feeling as the mist hovers in the valleys over the town.
Just out of town there’s the Iron Blow mine lookout where you can look down into the now defunct mine that’s filled with water and turned an aqua blue due to the minerals in the earth, this lookout shows the scale of the operation, the unforgiving landscape and now the scarring that has been left behind. Just across the road a walkway bolted to the side of a hill leads you up to view the stunning Horsetail falls where the water cuts through a natural gully down into Moore Creek. It’s a 1km long man made walkway def well worth the stroll up to see the falls. My recommendation is to view it in the afternoon so you're not looking into the sun.
The town itself is something like you’d see out of the wild west with building facades right on the street line and a backdrop of steep mountainous terrain. Theres a little street art around in the side streets and you’ll see plenty of old mining gear in yards, beside the roads and as you enter the town as monuments to the miners.
The biggest tourist attraction these days in the town has to be the west coast wilderness railway and trust me it cant me missed ( literally ) right in the heart of town. The massive white ‘shed’ houses several shops and is where you board the steam loco, and with the line only running from here to Strahan ( 35km ) just outside the shed is the original turntable for the Queenstown Explorer steam engine to be turned around for the return journey. There’s a few different tours apart from the full length one ( 9 hours ), including a half day gorge trip, river and rainforest plus a white water rafting trip with steam ride pickup. Started back in 1894 the idea was to follow the ruggered King river then climb out of the gorge, down the other side and onto to the coast. But with gradients of 1 in 20, nearly 50 trestle bridges through thick rainforest the task was going to be near impossible. But when 400 men started to build the railway, mostly with pick and shovel the line began to take shape. The Mount Lyell Mining Co used a German rail system with a central cog on a middle line to overcome the steep terrain and it ran for nearly 70 years. It was then that the potential was seen as a major tourist attraction and the Tassie government dumped over $20 million dollars into the project to restore it.
Around the town the buildings are just as impressive, some being preserved back to their former glory dating back before 1900. Then there’s the towns historical museum and the very impressive Empire pub ( true fact - there once was 14 pubs in the area !! ).
Queenstown is on the edge of the amazing World Heritage Wilderness area where you can explore lost mines, do a little 4wding, free camp beside lakes, spend the day mountain bike riding, ride the 100 year old rail line, raft the King River system, enjoy some of the best coffee around or simply just go and relax ( yeah right ). This is one place I cant wait to go back to.