Cruising Tasmania's Gordon River – a ‘No Dam’ Wonder! - Words and pics by Roderick Eime

It’s 1982 and the idyllic little seaside village of Strahan in South Western Tasmania is the front line in a vigorous campaign to blockade the construction of the Franklin River dam. This ‘peaceful protest’ is turning decidedly hostile.

Led by an unknown, parochial, but intensely vocal rural GP, Dr Bob Brown, the campaign to preserve the pristine and ancient wilderness of the Gordon and Franklin Rivers is in full swing. The bitter taste of defeat is still in the mouths of the activists after the loss of beautiful Lake Pedder to the greedy ‘Hydro’. They are determined not to lose the Franklin.

The waves of this campaign spread out, more a tsunami than a ripple, to the mainland and beyond. Australia’s State and Federal Governments, Unions, conservationists, private contractors, loggers and the families of tiny Strahan are drawn into this unseemly melee. Tens of thousands of protesters across the nation march to the beat of “No Dams”. Thousands more, including professors, celebrities and socialites chain themselves to fences and trees, lie in the mud in front of bulldozers and are carted off by the hundred to Hobart’s notorious Risden Prison.

Fast forward to 2005 and Strahan is once again the quaint picturesque hamlet. Delicate little sailboats sit motionless on mirror-still Macquarie Harbour as if in a Streeton or Roberts landscape. Gone are the pickets, placards, noisy hecklers and riot police – replaced by landscaped foreshore parkland, tour buses, stores, cafés and a beautifully preserved hotel. Instead of manacled blockaders, the brand-new MV Discovery is moored blissfully alongside, purring almost imperceptibly below the waterline in anticipation of our arrival.

Our minivan ride down from Burnie was a pleasant enough trundle along verdant archways, through sleepy mining towns and across dizzying gorges – all part of the intrinsic character of the remote Tasmanian southwest. Home to the endemic, incredibly rare and agonisingly slow-growing Huon Pine as well as King Billy Pine, Blackwood, Myrtle and Sassafras, the world’s last expanses of temperate rainforest now make up the 1.3 million hectare Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. Platypus, rare birds, reptiles and animals – perhaps even the Tasmanian Tiger – still live somewhere in the unexplored depths of the forest.

As our immaculately attired crew are now lined up along the gangway, I can easily imagine the red carpet and bosun’s whistle as we walk regally up to the deck and waiting champagne. Don’t laugh – just a week after our cruise, Australia’s only reigning monarch, Princess Mary of Denmark (and husband!) chose this exact vessel for a few days of relaxation at the end of their exhausting Royal Tour. The unbridled luxury and six star cuisine of award-winning Swiss chef Xavier Mouche, made them feel right at home I’m quite certain.

For those who appreciate the detail, the MV Discovery is Tasmanian built, was launched on December 16, cost around $4M and completed her maiden voyage on New Year’s Eve 2004. She’s 33m long (and officially a ship), 9.5m wide, has three decks, twelve luxury standard (8 x Queen, 4 x twin, all ensuite) cabins and is aluminium hulled. Top speed: 20 knots.

As a company, World Heritage Cruises has its genesis at the end of the 19th Century when pioneering family, the Grinings, began tourist cruises up the Gordon River in 1896. Today the fifth generation Grinings continue the tradition, plying Macquarie Harbour and the Gordon River, not with wood, freight and miners, but with environmentally aware tourists and holidaymakers in search of the fabled wild Tasmanian west.

WHC’s established product is a range of leisurely $60pp day cruises with buffet lunches and a bit of walkabout sightseeing. But we’re here to sample their brave new venture, “The Tasmanian Wilderness Escape Cruise”, designed to lift WHC into the luxury international category.

“Tasmania is becoming much better known in places like Germany and the UK and we see the need to develop a world-class product to cater for this growing market,” said Company Director, Guy Grining in a press statement.

Although the Grinings are looking back to their early European roots for the lion’s share of their new clients, he believes plenty of well-heeled eco-trippers will still make their way from the mainland.

“We have created a prestige product which caters for this market and provides experiences not available anywhere else in Australasia and few other places, if any, elsewhere in the world,” he said.

Our three day, two night cruise delivers us around the scenic Macquarie Harbour into which feeds the great Gordon River (the Franklin in turn, feeds it). The itinerary is an unhurried mix of still water river cruising, soft adventure, sightseeing and lavish cuisine. Clients are encouraged to partake in as much or as little of it as they wish. For my part, I’m into everything;

• Late evening tour of haunted Sarah Island penal colony
• Dawn kayak in the morning mist
• Trek (okay, it’s a boardwalk) into the ancient forest to see the famous Huon Pine
• Hike to the Birch’s Creek sanctuary to see the ultra-rare Orange-bellied Parrot
• Self-guided tour of the overgrown ruins of the former mining town of East Pillinger

As the Discovery approaches Strahan for our last time, I feel a great satisfaction (apart from in my stomach) knowing I’ve seen some of our country’s true remaining, globally significant, wilderness. And in a manner I couldn’t possibly have dreamed of. Food and service: flawless; staff and guides: excellent; scenery: breathtaking; activities: enriching, not exhausting Even the weather was immaculate, which in truth, is a bit unusual for this part of the world.

We stand on the top deck for the last time, drink a toast to our hosts and to Dr Brown and his gallant blockaders who suffered rain, sleet and mud for months to preserve the integrity and beauty of this wondrous place so that softies like me could experience it in shameless luxury. Onya Bob!


Telephone: 1800 777 455 (free call within Australia) or +61 3 64 717 109 (international)



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