This morning I could enjoy a beautiful sunrise on lake Burbury while eating my oatmeal.
I had then a second breakfast in the caravan of my neighbours, a family from Perth (Western Australia). Andrew and Kirsty are music teachers and they took a year off to travel around Australia with their two lovely children Lochie and Mathilda. Those were quite impressed and curious about my bike travel and they asked me a lot of questions. I even signed an autograph in Lochie’s diary. Who knows, maybe I will inspire him and he will follow my path in one or two decades…
Approaching Queenstown, a dramatic change in the landscape happens: after nearly 80 km of lush green wilderness, a desert mineral mountain stands in front of me. It is Mount Lyell, the main place around Queenstown where the gold, and mainly copper rush happened in the late 19th century. The mountain and its surroundings was literally ravaged in search for precious ore. All the trees were cut either to allow mining activities, either to provide fuel to Queenstown’s smelters. Those that weren’t cut died because of the sulfur-rich content of the ore that was brought to the surface. At that time, these mining activities were seen as an heroic prosperous adventure (and in a way, it was), while nowadays we would probably call it an ecological disaster. Today, the consequences of this massive mining are still visible: the sharp cuts in the mountains, like big wounds in the earth’s skin, the lack of high vegetation and this surprising the yellow / red / ocre ground. The trees are slowly coming back, but the King River has still an abnormally high acidity.
After a big climb between Lake Burbury and Queenstown, I went to the Iron Blow lookout to better appreciate this landscape. This old open cut mine is where all the mining story began in the area. It was first worked as a gold mine for ten years before the discovery of vast deposit of copper-rich ore. Mining concessions then multiplied themselves and Queenstown was nicknamed “Copperopolis”.
Exporting the processed metal from Queenstown was a difficult task, taking into account the very hilly and bushy terrain. First, horses were used to pull tramways, but it quickly proved insufficient. The mining company decided then to build a railway track from Queenstown to Strahan, the closest haven on the West Coast. Building this track was a huge engineering and human challenge at this time, because it has to cross mountainous terrain, thick rainforest and savage rivers. In the steep sections, a revolutionary system with rack and pinion invented by Swiss engineer Roman Abt was used. Nowadays, this railway track has been restored and the original steam locomotives transport quite a lot of tourists instead of the copper from the past (which is probably more lucrative in the end…).
After a funny encounter with a group of motor bikers, I left the Iron blow to enjoy the fantastic road diving to Queenstown. The scenery was amazing and so were the sensations on the bike, doing down these sharp turns at a crazy speed!
I enjoyed a lot my lunch in the city. Looking at the buildings, I felt like the time had stopped a century ago here.
After lunch I left Queenstown in direction to Strahan, on a hilly and curvy road. I expected this part to be rather easy because of the globally descending profile, but again the wind and the short steep hills made it more difficult than foreseen. In the afternoon the weather became bad and I finished my ride under steady showers. Fortunately, I could again find a sheltered spot to cook me a rice yellow curry with tuna and mango (new recipe!).
It is quite surprising how different these two cities and their surrounding are from each other. Where Queenstown is still a rough but authentic city, Strahan looks more touristic, trendy and sophisticated. Strahan is spread in a natural harbour / bay (Marquarie Harbour) and surrounded by forests, while Queenstown seems “stuck” in the middle of a mineral world. This again highlights how quickly the landscapes and atmospheres can change in Tasmania!