I awoke in the dark before sunrise without the faintest idea where I was. Then I remembered: nowhere. I decided this was okay, since I had nothing to do. I went back to sleep.
The thing to do in Strahan is take the award-winning life-changing Gordon River Cruise into the Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park, part of the UN recognised Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. For only $350 we could be in Captain’s Class: a reclining chair by the window, air conditioned comfort, three count ‘em three viewing decks, a hot and cold buffet, and an open bar (!!) for the six hour cruise. Wow!
Wait a minute, does that say a six hour cruise? The Skipper and Gilligan went out for only three hours which ended up being 98 episodes. The idea of being trapped on a stinkpot for that duration made me shudder. I’ve never met an open bar I didn’t like, and this voyage started with a “Welcome Wine” at 8:30 in the morning. There was a fair chance my fellow passengers would throw me overboard by noon.
Even if they didn’t, by the time we got back to Strahan at 3pm I’d have eaten ten kilos of bacon, and been a mess. I usually don’t even start drinking to excess until 4 pm. In a rare display of restraint and maturity, I decided we’d see what else Strahan had to offer.
Let’s see, there was The Ship That Never Was, which billed itself as “Australia’s Longest Running Play!” I’m confident the publicist never considered the double-entendre implicit in that slogan. The reviews on TripAdvisor were excellent, but I got the sense they were written by the actors. In any case, it was night-time entertainment for Strahan, as it didn’t start until 5:30 pm. It wasn’t even 8 am yet — I hadn’t even finished my first bucket of coffee or backside of bacon.
The previous evening we had stopped at the Visitors Information Centre to test a variety of activity ideas. West Coast Wilderness Railway? Not until Monday. Bicycle rental? Nope, too early in the season, not yet. Kayak rental? Not any more, used to be. Canoe? Sailboat? Burlesque? Interesting religious ceremony? A cruise less than six hours? Anything? Work with me, here! No, not here, not today, nor tomorrow, not for you.
Good advice can come from unexpected places. I shouldn’t have been surprised when our semi-retired breakfast buffet slave, Catherine, began to rattle off ideas for things to do in Strahan. “Well, first you need to walk up to the water tower, the highest point in town, and get a look at the view, all the way down the harbour to the tallest lighthouse in Tasmania. Then you can take the foreshore walking track to People’s Park, up through the rainforest to Hogarth Falls, you don’t want to miss that. While you are out that way, if you like old trains, go have a look at trains in the yard at the Regatta Point station. If you have time, drive the eight k’s out to Ocean Beach, which is about as wild a surf beach as you’ll ever see. You can swim there if you are crazy. If not, stop for a swim at West Strahan Beach on your way back into town, there’s a beautiful picnic area there.”
We did exactly as she suggested, and each of her suggestions was excellent – and free! Apparently, the information available at the Visitors Information Centre did not include anything that didn’t cost money. We also discovered that despite their advice to the contrary we could have rented bicycles from a shop a hundred metres from the centre. I got the feeling that the town had a lot to learn about the tourism biz – or perhaps they preferred to keep their town their little secret.
The Ocean Beach was indeed wild, albeit our picnic a bit spoilt by the parade of all-terrain vehicles, four-wheel drive trucks, and even motor scooters that roared past. I pondered why folks got such a thrill out of such an undertaking, concluding that they would probably wonder the same thing about the time I spend at the piano. Different strokes, I guess, although I’ve never heard of anybody breaking his neck at the piano.
We dined again at the Union Take-away, enjoying another fine seafood meal on the cheap. The shopkeeper gave us bits of local history in ten second bites. We learned that the restaurant was so-named because it was housed in the building of the Union Steam Ship Company of New Zealand. The company had long ago given up on Strahan’s magnificent, huge and protected Macquarie Harbour because the shifting sands of its sole entrance, “Hell’s Gate”, made it a marine graveyard.
In the morning our breakfast was interrupted by a fire alarm necessitating the evacuation of the entire hotel complex of several buildings, at least two of which were unconnected to the rest. This struck me as odd, but I have to credit Australians for taking such things quite seriously. Catherine escorted everyone out of the restaurant to the “Emergency Assembly Point”, a patch of grass just outside the car park.
Catherine went back to the building to investigate. She returned minutes later, remarking “I’ll give you one guess – that’s right, every time it’s the ‘New Australians’ cooking in their room.” I realised the dozen of us at the assembly point all appeared to be of Aussies of European descent. It dawned on me that although I had seen plenty of Asians staying at the hotel, not a one of them was at breakfast, a buffet entirely of western offerings.
“Tight” one of the group remarked in reference to the frugality of in-room cooking.
“Tight but rich!” another added.
It was time to leave Strahan. Which was ironic, as Strahan had stopped in time about a hundred years ago. Nevertheless, I got the sense Strahan would be a very different place in another decade. Despite its remoteness, I cannot see how a place this beautiful and relaxing can remain so ignored for much longer. The world simply doesn’t have enough places like this left to spoil.
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