Review: Gordon River Cruise from Strahan is a Tassie treat
Soak up the extraordinary beauty of Tasmania’s Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park on this popular day cruise from Strahan. It's an experience that will stay with you long after the trip itself comes to an end.
Tasmania’s sparsely populated west is a magnet for hardy hikers, who trek the rugged coastline and temperate rainforest over multiple days.
Perhaps you’d rather experience both aspects of this wondrous wilderness in comfort? If so, raise a glass of local bubbly on board Gordon River Cruises’ Spirit of the Wild catamaran, which departs from the west coast port town of Strahan on a daily leisure cruise. You’ll cross majestic Macquarie Harbour to its treacherous entrance from the Southern Ocean, glide along the glistening lower reaches of the Gordon River, walk amongst some of the oldest trees on the planet, and explore the ruins of a convict settlement. It’s quite a day out!
Quietly excited passengers gather as mist rises off the water and morning sunshine lights up the heritage shopfronts in Strahan. We’re eager to board the sleek, purpose-built Spirit, which sits with its engines idling quietly in a sheltered cove off Macquarie Harbour.
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The idling rises to a powerful hum as we set off across the harbour towards Macquarie Heads — aka ‘Hell’s Gates’ — so named by convicts in the early 1800s. On the vessel’s video screens, actors playing figures from the past tell how this narrow passage to the open ocean proved tragically dangerous in the age of sail. Lady Jane Franklin, Captain James Kelly, a 19th century Huon pine logger, and even a 20th century Gordon River dam protester enlighten passengers about many aspects of the area’s topography and history.
I’m fortunate to be travelling on the Premier Upper Deck, and my golden ticket delivers pastries at boarding, mid-morning canapes, a buffet lunch, afternoon treats, and an open bar throughout the day. The upper deck is furnished with spaciously arranged leather recliners (angled to give everyone excellent views through the large picture windows), and there’s a private outdoor area. The main deck is hardly second-class though, with good views (especially from the open rooftop), comfortable seating, a buffet lunch included in the ticket price, and reasonably priced snacks and drinks.
Having navigated our way out and back in through the heads, we travel south down the full length of the harbour (passing a salmon farm — the source of a lunch highlight on both decks) towards the almost imperceptible mouth of the Gordon River. Entering the winding waterway, dense forest closes in on us from both sides and a sense of hush falls over the Spirit. Her ingenious hybrid engine is switched to ultra quiet electric mode as we drift deep into the Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park — part of the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Tasmanian Wilderness area. Here the river’s placid reach becomes a giant, sinuous mirror. Trees and sky are so perfectly reflected in the water that reality and replica are indistinguishable. It’s completely surreal and utterly breathtaking.
Some way upriver we dock at what’s known as Heritage Landing — a jetty and boardwalk that afford cruise guests the opportunity to take a stroll through the rainforest. The boardwalk is dotted with interpretive signs and leads us past the region’s oldest and most revered tree species — the Huon pine. We see both a large fallen tree and a relatively young specimen reaching for the sky. A knowledgeable crew member reveals some key facts about this native of south-western Tassie, which can live for more than 3,000 years.
We have another stop to make before heading for home. Situated in the southern half of Macquarie Harbour, Sarah Island hosted a notoriously harsh convict prison from 1821 to 1833. Passengers can go ashore and are shown around the settlement’s ruins in groups. Our guide Kiah is an actor from The Ship That Never Was — the play about a convict escape from Sarah Island that’s been continuously performed in Strahan since 1994. Kiah’s acting skills, humour, and historical knowledge come to the fore throughout the tour, making this step back in time both fun and informative.
Disembarking in Strahan, everyone chatters happily about their favourite moments from this epic seven-hour journey. For me, memories of those reflections on the glass-like surface of the Gordon River will last a lifetime.
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Cover image: Gordon River Cruises. Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Patricia Maunder is a freelance travel writer and arts journalist, and has worked in print, radio, and digital media. Currently based in Melbourne, she considers the Canadian city of Montreal to be her ‘other’ hometown — having lived there from 2012 to 2016. Patricia has visited all but one of the continents, and Antarctica continues to beckon — as it has done since she was a child. She enjoys culturally themed journeys and nature-based adventures.