To get to our next adventure, the town called Corinna in Tasmania we needed to transverse the Western Explorer ”Highway”. Whoever named this piece of road a highway either has never traveled on a highway or is romanticising. There is no better way to describe this road as bone jarring and van build testing. Thankfully our van building skills are better than our bones and the civil engineering on the ”Highway”.
If you are looking for a road trip adventure take the Western Explorer Highway it is a unique beast that is isn’t the fastest way to get around the coast but it is the most interesting. Known variously as the C249, the Western Explorer Highway or the road to nowhere, this deliciously remote route through dense forest and buttongrass plains that crosses the Tarkine Wilderness and has the feel of a true adventure, albeit a pretty safe one that connects the Arthur River with Corinna.
A 4WD is recommended, although 2WD vehicles regularly make the three- to four-hour passage. We recommend that you check the weather before setting out. 2WD in anything other than bright blue skies would be a concern. Take your time and enjoy the spectacular scenery. We wish we had known about a few stops along the way that campers have used. Sleeping out here under the stars would truly be amazing, however we had a booking at Corinna so had to push on.
Corinna is reputedly derived from the Peerapper word for a young Tasmanian tiger. Peerapper, is an aboriginal language of Northwestern region of Tasmania. Corinna is a historic gold mining town, set in pristine rainforest on the banks of the majestic Pieman River in western Tasmania. Corinna is, as the sea eagle flies, 60km north of Strahan, 70km west of Cradle Mountain and 18km from the Southern Ocean. It sits at the southern end of the Tarkine the largest temperate rainforest in Australia – and is the northern most point where the famous Huon pine grows. This ancient unbroken tract of rainforest shows a world beyond human memory and is a living link with the ancient super continent Gondwanaland.
What was once a thriving gold mining town, Corinna is now an oasis for nature lovers wanting a genuine wilderness experience. The staff at Corinna provide a warm welcome, this hospitality was put to the test when we breezed into town. After a gruelling days drive over the Western Explorer “Highway” we fronted up to reception eager to find our campsite. As cheery as can be they said “we are fully booked up tonight, your booking isn’t until tomorrow”. But “not to worry we will find you a parking spot to sleep and maybe you would like to dine in the restaurant after taking long hot showers in camp”. Soon we had a glass of red wine in hand, laughing that Karen’s well planned schedule was up the creek without a paddle. The hospitality and quality of the food and beverages in the Tarkine Hotel and Tannin Restaurant add another dimension to our Corinna visit. Secretly we were not disappointed to gain an extra day in this exquisite place.
The camp provides an unforgettable wilderness experience that is difficult to find in Tasmania and elsewhere in the world. There is a range of unique wilderness experiences to do here, including the cruise on the Pieman River in the legendary Huon pine vessel, MV Arcadia II. Or a range of outdoor activities such as kayaking, walking, boating, fishing, bird watching and nature experiences are available. Opportunities also abound to explore and recall the exploits of the early miners and the aboriginal communities who made the west coast home as many as 30,000 years ago.
The campsite is only small 8 sites in total, however there are the ensuited, eco- friendly retreats for those wanting a little more luxury. We were delighted with our campsite with views of the Pieman River at our doorstep and an abundance of wildlife that just walked, hopped, flew and crawled through the site whenever it suited them. We were exactly where we wanted to be.
Corinna was inhabited by white settlers in 1881 and proclaimed a town in 1894, following a flood of people coming to the area in pursuit of gold. The township of Corinna (in the Pieman River State Reserve) is singularly placed in Tasmania’s history as a unique example of a remote mining town that has survived. Before that, the Tarkiner people made Corinna and the nearby Tarkine areas their home for 30,000 years.
There are three noted river cruises on the Tasmanian west coast – the one at Arthur River (which unfortunately we had missed), the Gordon River cruise which leaves from Strahan which we are booked on and the small, intimate and fascinating cruise which leaves Corinna and travels to the mouth of the Pieman River.
Named the Pieman River Cruise it journeys in the The Arcadia II a magnificent 17m craft built of huon pine in 1939 and listed on the Australian register of Historic Vessels in 2009. It is reputedly the only huon pine river cruiser in operation anywhere in the world.
She has a leisurely cruising speed of 9 knots. Originally a luxury pleasure craft based in Hobart, it was requisitioned to serve in the Second World War in New Guinea as a supply ship. After some seasons as a scallop fishing boat on the East coast working from the Coles Bay area, the Arcadia ll was commissioned as a cruise boat on Macquarie Harbour and the Gordon River in 1961. In 1970 she moved to Pieman River where she faithfully served her new owners, as the first regular cruises on the Pieman River.
The cruise is a unique opportunity to travel the length and see the heads of the Pieman River, admire the fauna and flora of the area and to experience a rare pristine part of Tasmania’s West Coast rainforest. With excellent commentary, stunning reflections it’s a truly personal experience with the river and rainforest.
The cruise passes close to the wreck of the SS Croydon at the mouth of the Savage River and to Lover’s Falls near the mouth of the Donaldson.
Morning Tea and a picnic lunch is included which you can take with you if you wish to walk to Hardwicke Bay and take in the magnificent view of the Southern Ocean something we were keen to do.
This is an uplifting and authentic experience, rich in history, nature and personal anecdotes. when you journey on the Arcadia II You must ask the story of how Lover’s Fall was named it’s a fascinating tale.
How Did The Pieman River Get Its Name?
There is an argument, with some small level of plausibility, that the Pieman River is named after a pastrycook, Thomas Kent of Southhampton, who was transported to Van Diemen’s Land in 1816 and nicknamed “The Pieman”.
The more plausible explanation is that it was named after Alexander Pearce, a convict who because of his repeated cannibalism, became known as “The Pieman”. Both men had escapes that led them to the Pieman area. The Pieman though has a long history, the river was originally called the Retreat and was renamed the Pieman in 1823 by Captain James Kelly.
So is this why the rivers name was changed? Alexander Pearce was born in County Monaghan in Ireland in about 1790. He was a small, pockmarked man who was transported to Hobart Town in 1820.
His crime: he had stolen six pairs of shoes. His punishment: seven years in Van Diemen’s Land. Two years after his arrival Pearce was found to have forged a money order. Right now you have done it mate! and In June, 1822 he was sent to Sarah Island in Macquarie Harbour to serve out the remainder of his sentence.
By September of that year he had managed to escape with seven other convicts. Their plan was to cross the island and escape to China. They got hopelessly lost, ran out of food and took the easy option: they started eating each other. The rest of the gruesome story you can find in the history books. But it is obvious that Pearce was the lone survivor. Pearce was eventually caught. He admitted to cannibalism but the authorities didn’t believe him.
He was sent back to Sarah Island where, a few months later, he escaped with another convict, Thomas Cox. Once again Pearce found himself without food and, to solve the problem. Yep you know the story but the fool was recaptured near the King River, Pearce admitted to eating Cox. There was no argument this time because when he was captured Pearce still had bits of Cox’s hands and fingers in his pockets.
He was subsequently executed in Hobart on 19 July, 1824. It is reported that just before he was hanged, Pearce said, “Man’s flesh is delicious. It tastes far better than fish or pork. As you cross, or cruise down, the Pieman, think of Alexander Pearce. A unique footnote to Australian history.
There was a time when schooners laden with huon pine left the river through the Heads, and when steamships, not much bigger than the Arcadia II, came up the river and discharged their cargoes at Corinna and the nearby Donaldson’s Landing.
To take the journey on the Arcadia II to Pieman Head, the return trip is an unforgettable experience. The skipper takes the Arcadia close enough to the banks for you to actually feel as if you can touch the ancient rainforest, including many specimens of huon pine. On the journey, it is not uncommon to see platypus and sea eagles, and always possible to see the rare and endangered slender tree fern.
Other than the cruise we came here to be one with the wilderness and the only way to truly do that is on foot. Using Corinna as our base, this is our chance to embrace and really explore the wilderness of the west coast on foot with some iconic walks that range from accessible to challenging.
Our first was the Whyte River Walk it is the most popular walk in the area. The track leads away from the township and which has boardwalks and stairs at strategic places. The walk is easy, and is an ideal introduction to the rainforest ecosystem.
The Huon Pine Walk is what this area is known for. One of the truly memorable moments Karen says she can remember in Australian environmental history is a young Bob Brown standing next to a modest huon pine and pointing out that it had been growing in that place on Tasmania’s west coast from before the time of the recorded birth of Christ. The huon pine is a remarkable, fine grained, slow growing tree and this short walk has interpretative signs along the way.
You see beautiful specimens not only of Huon Pines but others such as leatherwood, celery top pine, sassafras, king billy pine, myrtle beech, pencil pine, native laurel, soft tree fern, slender tree fern, blackwood, cutting grass, native plum, whitey wood and the commonly named, “horizontal” and if you search some eucalypt species like the mountain ash, that grow in these rainforest conditions. An understory of ferns, mosses, liverworts and fungi form an important part of the rainforest habitat and ecosystem. There are more than 400 species of diverse flora, including a range of native orchids and many rare and threatened species. There are more than 250 vertebrate species of fauna, 50 of which are rare, threatened and vulnerable. These include quolls, Tasmanian devils, eastern pygmy possums, wedge tailed eagles, the white breasted sea eagle, orange bellied parrots, white goshawks and giant freshwater lobsters.
It is so different to the rainforests that we are use to walking through. The cool temperate rainforests seem quiet, tidy, clean and in order. Where the tropical rainforests that we are use to seeing are disorderly, larger than life and busting with colour.
The township works with nature in mind and it is powered by an eco-friendly solar system with back-up generators. It has pure rainwater (probably the most pure water in the world) and all waste is removed from site. The general store, old guest house and original buildings bring alive the history of Corinna, which is a starting point to connect with the surrounding wilderness in all of its facets. Once visited this area it will always be part of you forever.
From Corinna, our next stops are Zeehan and Strahan and both we are looking forward to visiting especially the Montazoma Falls at Zeehan and the Gordon River Cruise. But to get to these we need to cross the Pieman using the ‘Fatman Barge’. The barge only operates limited hours so if you are coming this way make sure you plan your crossing! Given that the point of crossing is 130 metres wide and 20 metres deep, the “Fatman” barge is a “local crossing” method. It is small so towing rigs are also limited. Check out http://www.corinna.com.au/barge-access-and-times/ for costs limits and times.
Following are a collection of photos we hope you enjoy
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