driving in australia tasmania west wilderness way

The west of Tasmania is the location of 3 significant World Heritage listed areas. These are:

  • Cradle Mountain
  • The Franklin River and the lower Gordon River
  • Lake St Clair and its surrounding lakes

The West Coast Wilderness Way links these 3. Collectively they are one of the best temperate rainforest and wilderness areas in the world. When you’ve done this trip, you’ll know why! You can do this trip without leaving your car as it only takes around 4 hours to cover the total 277 kms. That would be doing yourself a huge disservice though. There is so much history here and many of the best parts can only been seen on foot. The area abounds with superb walking trails that take you right to these wonders of nature.

If you start your trip from the top you’ll likely come in from Devonport via the C132. This road changes names several times but is generally known as the Cradle Link Road. At Cradle Mountain it becomes Belvoir Road and terminates at an intersection with the Lyell Highway (A10). The Lyell Highway takes you into Zeehan and around the rest of your West Coast Wilderness Way trip.

The first leg from Cradle Mountain to Zeehan is 106 kms. The trip takes a bit over 1½ hours. That’s if you don’t stop to take in the history of this area and its natural beauty. This is “Cradle Country” and it’s spectacular. Massive rock formations, crystal clear glacial lakes and immense waterfalls. Once on the Lyell Highway you pass through several historic mining towns before reaching Zeehan. Tullah is an old mining town with an interesting history. Rosebery still has an operating mine – its surface operations are open to tourists. If you’re up for a hike Montezuma Falls, the state’s highest waterfall, is not far away.

Zeehan is the major town in this part of Tasmania. It’s steeped in mining heritage – the West Coast Heritage Centre is worth a visit. If you want to break up your trip into several days, it’s the logical choice for an overnight stay.

From Zeehan you head to Strahan, a 41 minute, 44 km trip away. This is where the infamous penal settlement of Sarah Island is. Next up is Queenstown, a mining town denuded of surrounding vegetation during its early history. It’s only now starting to recover. This is also where you can take a train trip of a lifetime on the unique vintage Abt West Coast Wilderness Railway. There is no better way to see the 35 km of mountain ranges, bridges and river gorges!

Things to do/visit in Queenstown:

  • Mt Lyell copper mine
  • A Huon Pine sawmill
  • Galley Museum
  • National Trust listed staircase
  • The Mt Jukes Road to Bird River tour

The final leg of your West Coast Wilderness wonderland trip takes you to Lake St Clair, 86 kms (1 hour) away. But what a drive it is! The highway runs through the lush temperate rain forest of the Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park. Along the way check out:

  • Donaghy’s Lookout (a short walk from the Lyell Highway to a natural lookout with amazing views of the South West)
  • The Franklin River Nature Trail

Lake St Clair is also a World Heritage area. It was carved from the landscape by glacial ice. There are many walks through the surrounding forests to enjoy. What a fitting end to your West Coast Wilderness trip.