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Journey back in time on the west coast this winter – and don’t forget your camera.

As the hum of a heritage locomotive builds and steam fills the station, groups of animated passengers gather on the platform, readying for departure. On crisp mornings such as this, surrounded by misty mountains beneath a low, slate-grey sky, the West Coast Wilderness Railway’s Queenstown station is a hive of activity.

The heritage railway is popular year-round, but it’s during winter that West Coast Wilderness Railway carpenter Sam Bosch reckons it’s at its finest.

“You've got steam going past the windows and the rain running down,” Bosch says. “It's nice to just get cosy with the blankets on the carriages and enjoy the ride.”

The timber-lined heritage carriages hark back to another era, with warm hues and historic detailing that Bosch says is one of his favourite parts of the job: “A lot of that uses old-fashioned joinery techniques.”

A large steam locomotive with passenger carriages exits the station with a puff of steam.

The railway’s historical role in connecting Queenstown with the rest of the world is a story of tenacity. Built in the late 19th century, the track required impressive feats of engineering to transport riches from Queenstown’s mines across incredibly rugged terrain to the harbour at Strahan.

For a long time, this was the only way to get around on the west coast.

Today, the railway is all about sitting back and enjoying the journey. And while not every section of the 35km track is currently in operation, visitors can jump aboard a steam locomotive in Queenstown or a heritage diesel locomotive in Strahan and venture into otherwise inaccessible tracts of lush cool-temperate rainforest, dotted with endemic species such as King Billy pine, leatherwood and Huon pine.

The wooden interior of a restored passenger carriage with large, arched windows looking out at dense rainforest.
West Coast Wilderness Railway
Tourism Australia
A line of passenger carriages turns gently around a bend through thick forest.
West Coast Wilderness Railway
Tourism Australia

Capturing history

This Off Season, burgeoning photographers and heritage train enthusiasts can combine their passions at the railway’s inaugural Steam Under the Stars workshops.

Led by Tasmanian photographer Cameron Blake and inspired by the 1950’s night train photography of renowned US photographer O. Winston Link, the workshops will provide a rare opportunity to capture striking black and white images of locomotives in full steam at the railway’s Carswell Park maintenance facility.

“It's very unique,” Bosch says. “You get to be up close to where a lot of the magic happens behind the scenes, and the steam filling up the building.

“You'll be able to take some photos that others don’t get the chance to. Something you can take home and hang on the mantelpiece.”

Two photographers take photos while they stand in the steam from a locomotive under the covered roof of an old station.
Steam Under the Stars
Jess Bonde

Winter in the west

“I've grown to really love winter,” Bosch says. “You've got to look for the magic and the atmosphere. There's a bit of rain, a bit of mist.”

This rainfall feeds Tasmania’s tallest waterfall, Montezuma Falls, which Bosch recommends for a winter walk: “The water just comes pumping down,” he says.

“I also enjoy mountain biking in the wet weather. It makes the dirt a little bit stickier," he adds.

Venture up Mount Owen for steep and rugged trails or stick to the lower slopes around Queenstown for something friendlier; head to Zeehan’s Silver City MTB Trails for remote meanderings across hills of buttongrass.

For a wild winter stroll, you can’t beat Ocean Beach near Strahan, where the Southern Ocean roars onto the sand. Warm up afterwards with a steaming coffee in one of Strahan’s cosy cafes.

Two mountain bike riders wearing helmets and protective equipment stop to look at the gravel track zig-zagging down a mountain in the distance.
Mount Owen
Flow Mountain Bike
A tall waterfall cuts through dense forest from the top of a cliff.
Montezuma Falls
Jess Bonde

Further afield, Bosch’s favourite places to visit during the cooler Off Season months are on the coast where he grew up, and bucolic Sheffield.

“I’m a big one for rural landscapes – the farms, the people and the old architecture,” he says.

Regardless of their destination, Bosch encourages people to consider their impact when travelling.

“I think a way visitors can have a positive impact in the communities they visit is by supporting small businesses… and letting people know how much they enjoy the area.”

For anyone wanting to fully immerse in the Tasmanian winter, he suggests taking time to look around and embrace it for what it is. Oh, and always come prepared…

There's a saying, ‘There's no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing’.

"So get yourself a raincoat, something warm… some sturdy shoes. And get out on the streets".

A wide street cuts through a quiet town with misty mountain in the background.
Ollie Khedun and West Coast Council

Want more?

Delve into Tasmania’s past with these Off Season offers across the island:

West Coast FAQs

How to get to west coast, Tasmania

Queenstown is one of the main gateways to Tasmania’s west coast region, a 3hr 40min drive west of Hobart. From Devonport, where the Spirit of Tasmania ferry docks, it’s a 2hr 20min drive south, while from Launceston, it’s a 3hr 10min drive south-west. Strahan is a further 45min drive west of Queenstown, on the edge of mighty Macquarie Harbour. From Strahan, venture into World Heritage wilderness along the Gordon River or head north to Zeehan for fascinating architecture heralding the town’s mining heyday.

Where to go on a west-coast road trip      

Journey into Tasmania’s remote Western Wilds. Plot a course of detours and stories through misty rainforest and buttongrass plains; discover waterfalls crashing over mossy cliffs and mountain bike trails tearing down sparse hillsides; discover the west coast’s mining heritage and imagine a time when sleepy west-coast towns boomed. Start planning your Western Wilds road trip.

Where to stay on the west coast of Tasmania

Accommodation on Tasmania’s west coast is diverse and plentiful. Choose from heritage bed and breakfasts perched above historic towns, cottages and rooms overlooking Macquarie Harbour, and eco-resorts tucked among rainforest. Stay at grand hotels, pull into a van park or cosy up in a private home. Search for more accommodation.

Stay in the know

A flurry of unmissable Off Season offers and events has blown in for the winter. Subscribe for curated Off Season updates and handy tips.

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