Few grey nomads will ever forget the steep and curvy drive down into the Tasmanian mining town of Queenstown. Coming in from the hills, the settlement is nestled in a valley in a startling, otherworldly moonscape.

The forests, so dense elsewhere in the area, were stripped some time ago in order to fuel the local copper smelters and the corrosive sulphur fumes have also wreaked environmental havoc. To add to the surreal atmosphere, Mount Sedgewick and Mount Owen – which tower above the town – blaze with orange and pink at sunset.

Born from the booming demand for copper, Queenstown – on Tassie’s remote west coast – has then a fascinating history. That history entered a new phase a couple of years ago when the Mt Lyell copper mine, on which the community depended, was placed into a care and maintenance posture.

The closure of the site, which had mined for copper since 1883, left hundreds of workers without jobs and the tough town looking increasingly at tourism as a way of maintaining its economic viability. And, luckily for the curious grey nomad, there is plenty more besides the eye-catching surrounds to capture the imagination.

Located 250 kilometres or so west of Hobart, the town with a population of just under 2,000 boasts buildings with grand facades which hint at its bustling, prosperous past. There’s the imposing post office tower, and the Paragon art deco theatre which opened to great excitement in 1933 before falling into disrepair in the 1980s and then finally re-opening again recently following major renovations.

Mist over Queenstown. PIC: Luke Tscharke / Tourism Tasmania

At one stage there were 14 pubs in town catering to the needs of thirsty miners but most have now closed. The ‘Grand Old Lady of the West’, the iconic Empire Hotel survives though, along with its National Trust-listed Tasmanian Blackwood staircase. Another major attraction is the West Coast Wilderness Railway where restored steam locomotives take travellers through dense rainforest past gorges and rivers.

Taking a tour with Queenstown Heritage Tours is another great way to discover what this area is all about. Although its trips down into the Mt Lyell mine were stopped about a year ago, many grey nomads enjoy the ‘Lost Mines, Ancient Mines’ tour which visits relics in the rainforest, or the tour of the Lake Margaret Hydro Power facility, which was built in the early 1900s.

A walk up to Spion Kop hill will take you past passing mining heritage exhibits and up to a lookout with 360-degree views across remarkable landscape and Queenstown’s gravel football oval. About six kilometres to the east, the Iron Blow Lookout delivers spectacular views of its own over the open cut mine, and the near-deserted mining towns of Gormanston and Linda.

There’s a great caravan park in town, and also budget camping at Lake Burbury about 20 minutes to the east.

It’s different. It’s unique. It’s memorable. And, put simply, Queenstown is a place that just has to appear on any grey nomad Tassie to-do list.


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