The Western Explorer allows travellers to roam Tasmania's wild west coast from its wind-whipped coastline to some of the world's most pristine rainforest.
Story By Don Fuchs
The wind rips into tussock grass at the edge of the cliffs, fanning and whipping the clumps of long narrow blades furiously. Fluffy white clouds rush across the sky. A four- to five-metre swell rolls into Suicide Bay and batters the Dough Boys, two rocky islands off Cape Grim. Retired accountant and now tour guide Helen Schuuring from nearby Smithton is holding her thermo anemometer – an instrument that measures wind speed. The gusts peak at 20 knots. It is a relatively mild day for the area. She recalls a storm here with “grey sky, grey water and waves halfway up the Dough Boys. Balls of foam were flying through the air.” She measured 60 knots that day and loved it. “The rougher the weather, the better it is,” she says with a laugh. Rough weather is not a rare occurrence in this part of Tasmania. The island’s west coast lies in the path of the Roaring Forties, constant westerly winds that sweep around the Earth’s high southern latitudes, pushing one low-pressure system after the other against the mountainous island. Standing atop the wind-battered cliffs of Cape Grim feels like standing at the edge of the world. Looking west from here all the eye can see is a vast ocean. The next land, the east coast of Argentina in South America, is 16,000 kilometres away.
Cape Grim is part of the large “Woolnorth” property that occupies the north-west tip of Tasmania. Once owned by the Van Diemen’s Land Company, it encompassed 143,500 hectares. Today the property, owned by New Zealand’s Tasman Agriculture Ltd, covers an area of just 16,800ha but it is 10 times more productive.
Historic Woolnorth forms the northern extremity of Tasmania’s wild west coast. Only accessible on a guided tour, it is at the beginning of a journey from the rural town of Smithton more or less along this untamed coast to Strahan, half way down the western side of the island state. This journey has only been possible since the construction of a road in 1996 that now links the small and isolated river community of Arthur River with Corinna on the northern banks of the Pieman River. Vehemently opposed by environmentalists at the time of construction, this road – called the Western Explorer – cuts through one of the most pristine cool temperate wildernesses on earth, the Tarkine.
The wind that batters Cape Grim and drives the 79 large turbines of the wind farm on Woolnorth is a south-westerly. It is a wind that Colin Lyn and his business partner Tony Jackson like very much. The whipped-up surf pushes a tangled mass of rubbery bull kelp onto the rocky shores near Arthur River. It is Colin’s business to harvest the kelp and transport it to the premises of his company, just outside Arthur River. There he dries the marine plant that forms entire underwater forests in the cold waters of the Southern Ocean on high wooden racks. He then turns the dried kelp into granulate, the base for fertiliser and animal feed. “You need the right conditions with south, south-westerly winds,” he says. “The swell’s gotta come up. We need at least four metres.”
This story excerpt is from Issue #71
Outback Magazine: June/July 2010