If you are looking for the ultimate Tasmanian road trip into the wilderness, then you need to head west. Home to untamed rivers, ancient pine trees and giant sand dunes, the west coast is at the heart of Tasmania’s wilderness. It is isolated rough country, associated with wilderness, timber harvesting and mining. It served as the earliest location of an convict settlement in the history of Van Diemen’s Land, and contrasts sharply with the more developed and populous northern and eastern parts of the island.
Now known as the gateway to Tasmania’s Wilderness World Heritage Area, its rugged mountains, ancient rain forests and heath make Tasmania’s west one of Australia’s last true wilderness frontiers. The island’s West Coast consists mostly of lush national parks. Fill your lungs with what is said to be the world’s cleanest air and be fascinated by the climate resulting in icy winters with freezing temperatures and pristine white beaches with unbelievable surf breaks. Western Tasmania is a place of contrasts.
TIP: If you want to visit these National Parks and you most surely will want to, you can save money and reduce the risk of hassle by investing in a Holiday Pass or as we did a two year Tasmanian National Parks Pass. All the island’s national parks take entrance fees, but some of them have no controllers, instead just trusting in that you are honest and pay when entering.
Yet, despite its remoteness, there is easy access for those brave enough to tackle the Western Explorer Highway. It is a unique beast that is the most direct way to get around the coast and is most interesting. Known variously as the C249, the Western Explorer Highway built in 1990 it is the road to nowhere, this seriously remote route through dense forest and buttongrass plains crosses the Tarkine Wilderness has the feel of a true adventure, albeit a pretty safe one that connects the Arthur River with Corinna.
The “Highway” rewards those who drive it carefully – wildlife is abundant views are spectacular and this was the last known habitat of the Tassie tiger; take care lest it emerges from the bush. But be warned the term “Highway” is a very romantic view of a piece of gravel road, at 77 kilometres long you will know that you have traveled every inch of it by the end. However it opens up to a truly memorable experience.
We leave our beach side camp at Montague ready and committed to do the Western Explorer Highway, this will be a real test on our van conversion building skills and how well “Le Frog Box” handles such roads. 2WD vehicles regularly make the two- to three-hour passage. At the north lies surf beaches like Marrawah, fishing settlements at Couta Rocks and Temma. And to the south lies the spectacular Tarkine wilderness rainforest, which will be our first overnight stop and then finally onto the settlement of Corinna.
Even though we are here in mid February don’t for one second believe that this is the Australia that is known for hot days and a baking sun. Instead, pack warming clothes, thick wool socks and rainwear. The wind is howling today from the southwest and there is nothing and we mean nothing between this coastline and Antarctica. At least the surf will be pumping at Marrawah, not that we intend on putting our toes in the water.
Marrawah is Tasmania’s westernmost settlement. It is a town known in the surfing world for its outstanding big wave surf which, in extreme weather, has produced waves reaching 19 metres. Apart from surfing Marrawah is a tiny outpost servicing the surrounding rich farming and dairy area. Beyond the town the farmlands tumble down to the sea at Green Point and West Point.
We had initially marked the free campsite here as where we wanted to stay tonight, but when we heard that wind arrive through the night and as dawn broke that wind was howling, we new Marrawah wouldn’t be suitable. We still wanted to see this famous surf beach, and are so very pleased we did. The waves were pumping not to the record highs but enough that the windsurfing guys were having a great time.
We turned “Le Frog Box” in the direction of Arthur River. This small town lies 16 km south of Marrawah and, although it is a tiny isolated settlement, it offers cruises up the Arthur River. The family owned Arthur River Cruises on the M.V. George Robinson leave Arthur River at 10.00 am, travel upstream for 70 minutes past banks densely forested with myrtles, sassafras, celery-top pine, laurels, blackwoods, and giant tree ferns. It includes lunch and a walk in the riverside rainforest, and return to Arthur River by 3.00. Unfortunately we had missed the timing for the cruise but definitely wanted to see what the locals call the “Edge of the World”.
Gardiner Point, which lies to the south of Arthur River, has called itself “The Edge of the World” because, apart from its isolation, it is further south than Cape Agulus (the southernmost point of Africa) and therefore the waves breaking on the shores have come uninterrupted all the way across the Great Southern Ocean from Argentina.
With today’s conditions we totally believed we were standing on the “Edge of the World”. Karen was so cold her teeth were chattering. Time to move on and find some shelter.
Leaving Arthur River means we are now officially on the Western Explorer Highway. It doesn’t take Karen long to question her plans to come this way. A number of times within the first 20 kilometres did she asked if “Froggy” was ok and asked “should we turn back?”
An hours drive from Arthur River is the 447,000 ha Tarkine Wilderness Area Loop Drive, (FYI: It’s pronouned “tar-kine”, rhymes with “fine”, not “tar-keen”, rhymes with “mean”.) a vast wilderness of myrtle, leatherwood and pine trees which was once part of the mighty continent of Gondwana. However, whilst there is no official recognition of the name “Tarkine” I think Tasmanian’s have accepted the name, and it is generally agreed that it stretches from the Arthur River in the north to the Pieman River in the south and is bound by the west coast and the Murchison Highway. The Tarkine flanks the old mining towns of Roseberry and Corinna and includes the Sumac, Norfolk, Waratah, Rebecca, Pieman, Temma, Blackwater and Corinna Roads.
The Tarkine is vast and diverse. Some is wild, windy coastline, some is beautiful button grass plains, some majestic rainforests, some shack communities and townships, some farms, forestry and some of it mined. It is a beautiful area and anyone who has spent time exploring it will know there is a lot to see and a lot to take in.
The region has almost no permanent residents, but it has lots of wildlife including populations of endangered Tasmanian Devils. You can also find some of the richest aboriginal historical sites in the Tarkine, including shell middens and rock carving sites. The Tarkine is definitely off the beaten path so it’s not overrun with tourists, but it is still easy enough to get around.
The “Loop Drive” takes you through natural and dramatic landscapes beginning with Kanunnah Bridge, taking its name from the aboriginal name for ‘Tasmanian Tiger’.
you then come to, Sumac Lookout surrounded by rainforest and tall eucalypts and gives a more impressive widespread view of the river and beyond. From there the Julius River Forest Reserve has cool temperate rainforest to explore. The next stop Lake Chisholm Forest Reserve has flooded limestone sinkholes and meandering walks through old myrtle forests and alongside still watered lakes. Completing the loop is the Trowutta Arch Rain Forest Walk; a stunning and natural geological structure. This area is richly woven in human history and natural beauty.
One of the best places to get an overall good look of the area is at the Sumac Lookout viewpoint. A breathtaking view over the majestic Arthur River and the surrounding cool temperate rainforest. It is an easy, 10 minute walk. This area is again receiving a lot of attention by conservationists over the destruction caused by logging. A protesting blockade has been re-established in the Sumac area to hinder further logging. The Bob Brown Foundation says ‘while we wait for political leadership, we will occupy these forests in a peaceful vigil aiming to prevent their loss to logging’.
The green on green on green of the temperate rainforest is enchanting at Julius River. And it made it one of our favourite parts of the Tarkine Drive.
There are two short loop walks at Julius River. The shorter one takes about 30 minutes. It leaves from the end of the carpark and runs next to the river, over a bridge and then up a hill back to the start. The scenery here is just primeval, with tree ferns and lots of ancient plants that date back to Gondwana, the ancient supercontinent that formed most of the modern continents.
The longer walk takes about 40 minutes and makes a loop through the forest, it is a worthwhile walk but if you are short on time take the 30 minute one. The picnic ground at Julius river has tables, barbecues and toilets, which makes it a nice place to stop for a break.
Imagine, if you will, a beautiful lush rainforest, still and peaceful with a sense of remoteness, and in the middle of it a calm lake with mirror-like reflections. That’s pretty much what you’ll find at Lake Chisholm.
A picturesque short walk through tall trees, ferns thigh high (well Karen’s thighs) and mixed eucalyptus forest leads you to one of the finest examples of a flooded limestone sinkhole in Australia.
The forest you walk through is simply stunning in its lushness. What sets Lake Chisholm apart is its origin. The lake was formed when a sink-hole in the limestone countryside became blocked. Water flowing into the hole had nowhere to go, and accumulated until a decent sized lake had formed.
Being in a low lying area, the lake is sheltered from the winds common in the area, and so the surface is still and mirror-like. Platypus have been sighted here however we were not here at dusk or dawn so our likely hood of seeing these beautiful mammals was non existent. The path is a gentle incline and is listed as Moderate, there are stairs and some uneven ground and it takes approximately 30 minutes.
A short walk through lovely rainforest takes you to an extraordinary and rare geological feature. The Trowutta Arch walk begins by entering the dense temperate rainforest beside an obvious sign. The walk is very easy and follows a wide, clear trail with little to no elevation gain. Along the way, you’ll get to experience the incredible beauty of The Tarkine, a true global treasure. Giant fern trees (man ferns) and fungi-covered logs dominate the understory, with towering eucalypts on all sides. Trust us when we say that if you’re visiting Tasmania’s Wild West Coast, you’ll want to add the Trowutta Arch walk to your list of things to do. The Trowutta Arch is also one of the most accessible around and one of Tasmania’s 60 Great Short Walks.
At the end, you’ll find a set of beautiful green cenotes (sink holes) framed perfectly by a tall arch, the remnants of an ancient cave. Trowutta Arch was formed by the collapse of the cave. The roof fell in leaving a section between two “sink holes”. When we visited the sink holes were full of water. However we have been told at times the water level is very low or non existent, it would still be worth a visit no matter what.
We pulled up stumps for the night in one of the National Parks Campgrounds 200 meters up the road from Julius Creek reserve. This is available to park pass holders and gives you the true feeling of being in the remote wilderness of the Tarkine. There are only 5 campsites you need to be totally self sufficient and leave no trace only your footprints. There is no booking system it is first in gets the spot.
It was truly a beautiful experience going to sleep with the forest noises of the nocturnal animals going about their business and then to be woken by the squawking, laughing and chitter chatter of the birds at dawn. Thank you Tasmania Parks for giving us the privilege to experience this.
We weren’t sure what to expect when planning our roadtrip on the Tarkine Loop Drive but we are soooooooo glad we went. It’s such a beautiful place and is still quite off the beaten path. There were only a few cars at most of the places we stopped. We even had some of them all to ourselves. If you find yourself in Tasmania, make time to drive the Tarkine, you’ll love it. However whilst the Tarkine Wilderness is magnificent, we felt a little disappointment with the loop road leading to it – the South Arthur Forest Drive (or the Tarkine Forest Drive, as Forestry Tasmania prefers to call it).
Maybe our expectations were too high. The tourist literature portrays it as an unspoiled wilderness experience, but it isn’t. Most of the countryside the road passes through has been – and still is – extensively logged. The predominance of regrowth forest and the frequency of logging roads are a constant reminder that the area is far from pristine.
In a way, the “managed” forest along much of the road serves to highlight the unspoiled nature of the forest reserves within it. And for sure the reforestation ”Managed” forests are far better than logging natural forest. For us, the signs of logging outside the Lake Chisholm reserve provided a stark contrast with the forest within, and emphasised the beauty. A mirror-perfect lake at the end of the walk was a welcome sight. We both spoke of the timber industry leaving a corridor of growth so you can’t see the destruction, but this would be a false illusion. Better we see it so we can acknowledge what man does to earth.
Join us next time when we explore Corinna Tasmania’s Wild Western Frontier and the majestic Pieman River. Full of histoy and scenery to take your breath away.
Please find following more photos of this beautiful area, we hope you enjoy them.
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Edge of the World