In a rugged valley beside a whispering creek sits a ghost town, forgotten and devoid of life…until now.
Zoom in far enough on a map and you’ll see a tiny cluster of buildings beside Tasmania’s Lyell Hwy. This is all that’s left of Linda, a once flourishing town on the road winding west into Queenstown. Amongst the huddle lies the ruins of the Royal Hotel – a curious sight on a map, even more so in person.
Drive past the dramatic Lake Burbury to reach the Royal Hotel, weather-worn by the west-coast elements and flanked by mountains. Its regal façade stands between ferns – discoloured, grey and hollow – beckoning you to pull-over and explore.
There’s a quiet renaissance rising around the ruins, led by Zara Trihey, a Queenstown local who’s taken a chance on this neglected structure, opening Linda Cafe next door. Wander in off the road to find Trihey grinding fresh coffee beans amongst a medley of second-hand furniture, funky art and fresh flowers. Inside is a cosy sanctuary; outside is an undercover lounging space.
The wild drive continues into industrial Queenstown. But first, grab a coffee, sink into an armchair and chat with Trihey, or the locals, about Linda’s remarkable history – it’s quite something.
Dig into the history
In the late 1800s, metal deposits brought a wave of mining activity to Tasmania’s west coast. Gold was detected at what’s now the epic Iron Blow Lookout in the Linda Valley. The area flourished with immense wealth for some 30 years amid the construction of mines, railways, roads, homes…and in Linda, a grand stone hotel.
“Over a thousand people lived in this town and it was vibrant,” Trihey says. “Last drinks were called in 1952, the gold ran out and the town was abandoned.”
Townships such as Gormanston, Crotty and Linda faded into abandoned remnants of what was once Australia’s most lucrative mining centre.
“Now there [are] very few people who live here,” Trihey says. “So when you come to Linda, it really is quite an extraordinary experience. It does have an energy about it.”
The wild weather enhances the atmosphere: thick clouds often engulf the Royal Hotel, and the occasional spot of snow leaves its ephemeral mark. But Trihey embraces the unpredictability, breathing new life and intrigue into this storied place.
Trihey’s travels have seen her work as a model, a secretary at Mushroom Records and a publicist for music’s big names. She’s catered for walkers along the Lurujarri Dreaming Trail in the Kimberley, and worked in television with the likes of chef Gordon Ramsay.
So how did she wind up in Tasmania? It all began with a wooden boat.
“I came over for the Wooden Boat Festival and basically as soon as I arrived in Tasmania, everybody started offering me the most magnificent produce,” Trihey says. “For me, it's always been about quality of food and quality of life, and this island had it all.”
So she moored her aquatic home in quirky south-east arts town Cygnet about 15 years ago, before eventually moving to Queenstown at the opposite end of the state, not far from the Royal Hotel.
It was awe-inspiring when I drove past, but it wasn’t on my radar by any stretch of the imagination.
That was, until a Facebook ad caught her eye, promising “all this for the price of a car park in Sydney”. She immediately rang her concrete specialist brother Matthew, and her renewable energy specialist Albert who both jumped onboard her project of buying and restoring the Royal Hotel. In the meantime, Trihey wasted no time setting up Linda Cafe next door.
“It’s beautiful to have brought the life back to it,” she says.
The reinvention of this site from a desolate husk to an eclectic hub has been a hit with the Queenstown locals, who often drive up through a barren moonscape known as the 99 bends to visit.
There’s a lot of oral history in this town and a lot of proud, parochial locals – and I love it because they are generous with their stories.
Trihey has become accustomed to travellers turning up in awe of the place, often amusingly asking her: “Are you Linda?”
“It’s somewhere I’m extremely comfortable,” she says.
And it wouldn’t be Trihey’s happy place without good, honest food. She’s regularly pickling vegetables and corning cuts of beef – both key steps in creating her Reuben sandwich, complete with tangy sauerkraut. Her 18-hour brisket is another winner, showcasing Tasmania’s succulent Cape Grim Beef.
“It’s on a nice fluffy white bun with crisp lettuce and my pickles, and a mustard mayonnaise that we make,” she says, noting she prepares as many ingredients as possible from scratch, right down to the lemon butter that melts into the guests’ toast.
Warm words spring from Trihey’s mouth when describing the people of Queenstown: “proud”, “loyal”, “welcoming”, “fierce” and “curious”, among them.
Trihey’s pastimes embed her into the community: bumping into familiar faces along the main street, popping into markets and exhibition openings, pulling up a pew at the local bar, and catching live comedy and music at the charming, old-fashioned Paragon Theatre.
Lately, she’s become a fan of the locally sourced bar nibbles and drinks at Moonscape Wine Bar, named after the sparse lunar hills tumbling down into Queenstown, sapped of life by historical mining exploits.
The future looks bright
Visitors recently had the chance to see the Royal Hotel in a different light during the Unconformity, a “mind-blowing” Queenstown festival melding contemporary art with industrial heritage. The building was awash with projections of vivid landscape works by local artist Annette van Betlehem.
Trihey’s love for art and good gatherings is expanding with her ‘Linda Light’ series: “It’s going to be about painting and platters and pinot noir”.
Between running her cafe, renovating the old Royal Hotel and pursuing her passions for film and television (watch this space), Trihey has plenty to keep her inspired in this remote pocket of the world.
“As long as I’m entertained, it’s all going to be OK,” she says with a chuckle.
What to do in Queenstown, Tasmania
From train rides to wild river rafting or delving into a unique mining heritage, there’s plenty to do and see in this curious town. Enjoy eating at a cool wine bar, get cultured at the charming Paragon Theatre, or check out easy-to-access nature trails, including the Confluence Walk. Queenstown is a striking place with wide, old-fashioned streetscapes, backdropped by an arresting mountain. There’s even a gravel football oval. Here’s what to do in Queenstown, Tasmania.
What was mined in Queenstown?
This town was once rich with industrial mining activity. Copper, silver and gold were mined in Queenstown during the early 20th century. The surrounding landscape is stained with echoes of the past: the cleared hills surrounding the town are often referred to as a moonscape, and the Queen River runs bright orange with heavy metals. Hear fascinating historical tales of triumph and tragedy on the West Coast Wilderness Railway – another relic of the town’s remarkable heritage.
How far from Hobart to Queenstown?
Queenstown is a 3 ½ hour drive (260km) from Hobart along the Lyell Hwy and a 2 ½ hour drive (197km) from Devonport via the Ridgley Hwy and Murchison Hwy. Expect a dramatic collage of scenes from your car window on this Western Wilds road trip: epic lakes punctured by skeletal trees, precipitous mountains, misty rainforests and sweeping orange-tinted buttongrass plains. On the way to Queenstown from Hobart, stop in at idyllic New Norfolk, historical Hamilton, or leafy Derwent Bridge.