Explore and Rejuvenate on the West Coast of Tasmania
We discovered Strahan on the spectacularly beautiful Macquarie Harbour, and saw what a wonderfully precious and isolated world lay beyond. This beautiful town of Strahan became our home, and in 1991 Trevor created West Coast Yacht Charters, and the cruises to spend the night on the wonderful Gordon River began.
We started our sailing here with the famous old Bermudan Cutter called “Wraith of Hamble” and now have the 60’ steel ocean going ketch “Stormbreaker” on which we offer two overnight 23 hour cruises onto Macquarie Harbour and the Lower Gordon River. Sleeping and kayaking on the Gordon River are a specialty on this yacht.
This trip includes a guided tour of Sarah Island.
We have the exclusive licence to go 20km further than the large ferries, past Heritage Landing to Sir John Falls to collect rafters who have been on adventures down the Franklin and other wild rivers in the wilderness. You can come with us to this remote and fascinating place, and return with the rafters to Strahan.
Strahan is the gateway to Tasmania’s South West World Heritage Area, and is located 298 km west of Hobart and 41 km from Queenstown. It is the last outpost of civilisation on the West Coast of Tasmania and is surely one of the most isolated and precious places on earth.
Be immersed in the Wilderness on these cruises to what is surely one of the most precious places on earth. They include Trevor’s amazing story telling of the area and its people, and are an unforgettable adventure no matter what the weather.
Strahan’s Rich History
This picturesque Tasmanian waterfront holiday town has an abundance of character and a variety of stories to tell of the West Coast pioneering days.
From its beginnings as the location for bushmen seeking precious Huon pine, Strahan became the railway port for a rich copper mine inland. Deep in Macquarie Harbour south of Strahan, a notorious convict settlement was established on Sarah Island.
Further south, the Gordon River flows through ancient Tasmanian rainforests into the harbour. Unlike other holiday destinations Strahan’s landscapes are wild and elemental – waves, weather and World Heritage wilderness are the keynotes for this unique holiday destination.
On the wild west coast of Tasmania lies a water system that’s a natural treasure for the planet. The Gordon River and Macquarie Harbour are the jewels of Tasmania’s West Coast – ancient wonders that are little changed since the days of the super continent Gondwana.
Today, protected in UNESCO World Heritage Area and the Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park, these untamed waterways are a hub for eco-tourists, and cruising is the perfect way to get to the heart of them.
Starting from the pretty harbour side town of Strahan – once named by The Chicago Tribune as ‘The Best Little Town in the World’ – a variety of vessels ply the waters of Macquarie Harbour and the Gordon River.
For those looking for adventure, sailing on the yacht Stormbreaker is the way to go. Overnight cruises with visits to Sarah Island and sleeping and kayaking on the Gordon River are a specialty on this yacht.
Sailors awake in the morning to extraordinary reflections in the river’s glassy patina. The very brave might even venture in for a swim.
If you are on the One Night Gordon River Cruise you will travel to historic Sarah Island, once Van Dieman’s Land’s most feared penal colony. Your skipper Trevor will take you ashore, and treat you to a guided tour of Sarah Island.
The treacle-dark waters of the Gordon follow. There’s a chance to stroll the primeval riverside rainforest, and to view legendary Huon Pines.
Sarah Island lies in the remote reaches of Macquarie Harbour, on Tasmania’s West Coast.
In 1822 this six-hectare (15-acre) island became Tasmania’s first penal station. Its convicts laboured under the harshest conditions in nearby rainforest felling Huon pines for boat building.
Of all the sites that might have been chosen, Macquarie Harbour would have been the most windswept and barren, but it was also the most secure.
Any convict trying to escape Sarah Island had not only to get across the harbour but to try and hack his way through the impenetrable rainforests of the West Coast. In all, 112 convicts escaped, of whom 62 perished and nine were murdered by their fellow convicts.
The remaining 41 were all eventually recaptured, four of them after spending some time in South America. Each man received an average of 40 lashes per year from the cat o’ nine tails.
Altogether about 1200 men and women were sentenced or sent to Sarah Island. Most of them had committed further offences while serving their original sentences; others came as ‘remittance men’, skilled tradesmen who worked at the Settlement in exchange for remission of their sentence.
They were supervised by military detachments of several regiments (up to 90 soldiers at one time), and by a variety of Civilian Officers, Supervisors and Constables, many of whom were ex-convicts.
Ships’ crews were regular visitors, tradesmen were co-opted and often bribed to work at the Settlement. There were women and children, some convicts working as servants, some wives of soldiers and officials, some wives and children of convicts.
The Muster in 1828 was a total of 531, including about 380 convicts, 95 military, 14 women and 27 children. The early work of the Settlement was timber-cutting and hauling, work that could be done largely by unskilled gangs.
But shipping out the valued Huon Pine proved more of a problem than expected: one solution was to build ships at the Settlement to transport the timber.
Soon Sarah Island was more than just a prison. It was also an industrial village: gardeners, timber cutters, saw men, boatmen, tanners, boot makers, blacksmiths, tinsmiths, carpenters, boat builders and shipwrights, fencers, bakers, cooks, medical orderlies, quarrymen and stonemasons, brick makers, lime-burners, coal miners, clerks, accountants, artists and draughtsmen. This led to 131 vessels being built on the Island in 11 years.
West Coast Yacht Charters includes a guided tour of these sites on the One Night Gordon River Cruise with “Stormbreaker”.
Two wild rivers – the Collingwood and the Franklin – hurtle through mountainous rainforest wilderness and merge as the Gordon River, which flows into the vast Macquarie Harbour on the west coast.
Gordon River rises from Lake Richmond in the King William Range of the central highlands and flows south east around a great bend to the south west and finally northwest to enter the Indian Ocean at Macquarie Harbour after a course of 115 miles (185 km).
Its principal tributaries are the Franklin, Serpentine, Wedge, Denison, and Sprent rivers.
The largely inaccessible mountains in which the Gordon rises give way to rainforests in the lower valley, where valuable Huon pines with a high oil content were cut for milling.
Explored in 1816 by James Kelly, who named it after James Gordon, an associate, the river is navigable by Stormbreaker only in its lowest 20 miles (32 km).
Stormbreaker plies the stream during the summer, leaving from Strahan on the north shore of Macquarie Harbour.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, they were part of an environmental controversy, when the Gordon River was to have been dammed for hydro-electricity, but the scheme was stopped by an international environmental campaign.
Both rivers flow through deep valleys and spectacular ‘narrows’ and over rapids in deep rainforest country where few have walked.
If you’re looking for adventure you can join a group white-water rafting on the Franklin.
For a gentler river experience drive to Strahan on the west coast and try a trip with West Coast Yacht Charters on the Yacht “Stormbreaker”, up the Gordon River that takes you deep into the Gordon River. Trevor will sail you deep into the Gordon River to Heritage Landing or Sir John Falls where you can see 2,500 year old Huon pine trees as well as Myrtle, Sassafras and Laurels in the dense temperate rainforest . This will be an unforgettable experience.
By staying overnight on the river, you are in the best place to capture the magnificent rainforest reflections which photographers know this area is renowned for.
Our overnight experience highlights the isolation that the early convicts, explorers and woodcutters experienced, but you can be here in the warm comfort of Stormbreaker.
West Coast Yacht Charters
59 The Esplanade
Strahan Tasmania 7468, Australia