Tasmania’s West Coast offers a diversified wilderness experience with endless opportunities to explore and photograph.
It pays to keep an eye on the surging tides or risk getting soaked.
The coastal drive that follows the Great Southern Ocean brings roaring seas which can be seen crashing into the many coves, headlands and endless stretches of beach. Huge piles of driftwood get pummelled into the shoreline, becoming lodged in the richly coloured and textured rock formations. Rolling sand dunes stretching for miles will challenge a sense of scale and take days to explore.
Small boat charters are available to investigate the remote river systems revealing some of Tasmania’s most prized wilderness, with trees more than 2000 years old. Sunsets are very rewarding, as the sun disappears behind an uninterrupted and seemingly endless horizon.
Heading inland brings a dramatic contrast, entering into pristine wilderness dominated by towering waterfalls, quartzite peaks and mysterious rivers cutting their way through deep ravines.
Wading through rivers can reveal networks of caves to photograph.
When to go
Tasmania’s west coast has four true seasons, which present many challenges but also offer great rewards. The type of images travellers are chasing will determine the time of year in which to visit.
Summer brings long warm days, helping photographers cover more ground with the extra daylight. Days can be as long as 16 hours with daylight savings on your side. The bright sun at this time of year brings tougher light conditions for daytime photography, but can offer very rewarding sunsets late in the day. Sun showers in summer can help clear the atmosphere, bringing rainbows and richly coloured sandy beaches.
Rocks rich in colour make for strong foreground interest.
Come autumn, the days become crisp, and sunsets are at their finest. This is an excellent time of year for trekking with less heat and fewer people and bugs to annoy you.
Autumn is also the Nothofagus gunnii season across alpine settings. Also known as Fagus, this alpine bush is found nowhere else in the world but Tasmania. It is also Australia’s only cold climate deciduous tree. Its leaves turn to beautiful gold and red hues at this time of year, adding another dimension and burst of colour to the landscape. Fagus only stays in colour for a few weeks, typically around Easter time, making this a popular time for many alpine photographers.
Heading into winter, expect to see snow on the radar. Winter wonderlands, with frozen lakes, tarns and snow laden trees make excellent subjects on their own or with snow-capped mountains in the distance. Many places in Tasmania slow down or close their doors at this time of year, so plan ahead and make sure places of interest, including accommodation, are still open for visitors.
This leaves spring, which commands huge rainfall, adding drama and volume to its many waterfalls and thundering rivers. Button grass plains will come to life with wildflowers and trees showcase their new growth as the sun starts to stretch its way out through the day.
Small coves are found along the Sandy Cape coastline.
Access to the west coast of Tasmania is possible with little difficulty from all parts of the state. Flights run frequently from major airports around the country into Devonport, Launceston or Hobart. Some flights may not be direct from mainland airports so expect a short stopover on your way to the Island State.
Another option is to embark on the Spirit of Tasmania. This passenger ferry links Victoria to Tasmania’s gateway city; Devonport, giving travellers the option to bring their own vehicle. The ferry service has two ships offering departures from either state any day of the week. During peak season the ferry includes day sailings alongside its usual night crossings. During the colder months it’s a night time voyage only, so passengers will get to rest the night away as they cross Bass Strait.
Access to the west coast can begin from all points of entry. From Hobart, travellers will drive alongside the Derwent River before embarking on the Lyall Highway. This scenic route can take up to 10 hours with photo stops, before reaching the harbourside town of Strahan. Access to the Tarkine Coast and other parts of the west coast wilderness begins here.
Nelson Falls is a 10-minute walk alongside the Lyell Highway.
There are many quartzite dominated peaks accessible as day trips from Strahan, as well as epic waterfalls and stretches of coast. Some worthwhile points of interest include Nelson Falls, Montezuma, Ocean Beach and the Wild Rivers National Park. For the more adventurous, a day climb up Mt Murchinson will provide epic views across mountain ranges and dotted lakes.
Heading north past Sandy Cape reveals a small farming community called Marrawah which ends the west coast drive. Being this far north you have the chance to drive through Cradle Mountain or Stanley on your route back to Hobart. This same journey can be followed via Devonport or Launceston in reverse with the option of passing through the Cradle Mountain area, placing travellers back onto the Bass Highway, which runs through the state.
Quartzite rock feature across west coast peaks and ridges.
To get a true, in-depth experience of the west coast, a vehicle will be a huge advantage. Whether hiring a car or bringing your own, it gives you the luxury to explore at will without having the constraints of bus schedules. It will give you time to drive back and forth to places of interest to photograph them in the right light, depending on the time of day.
Don’t underestimate driving times in this part of the state; long winding roads increase drive times over distance. If hiring a car, make sure to check the rental agreement, as the levels of insurance vary and may be non-existent for driving in parts of Tasmania.
Many of the major tourist areas can be driven to in a regular passenger car, but some areas are 4×4 only. This is particularly applicable to unsealed roads classed as tracks along certain parts of the west coast. During winter, check for road closures due to heavy snowfall.
Some of the more remote locations, including beach access to Sandy Cape, have a requirement that 4×4 vehicles must travel in convoy (2 minimum) to cater for emergencies and recovery. This area has claimed many vehicles over the years and requires a good knowledge of driving off-road and understanding the risks of soft beaches and surging tides.
It’s a huge advantage to research what areas to explore before committing to a vehicle. It also pays to enquire with National Parks Tasmania as particular parts of the west coast require a special permit to access both on foot and by car.
The other main way to access locations where the roads stop is to simply walk. Many amazing places can be seen from the roadside, but some trekking is required to see chosen locations from different perspectives. Some more inaccessible places can take days of self-supported trekking for the more serious hiker/photographer. Information can be easily sourced showing many of Tasmania’s short walks.
Mysterious rivers carve their way through towering ravines.
What gear to take
Getting wet plays a big role in many aspects of landscape photography and the west coast of Tasmania is no exception. It can receive heavy rainfall all year round.
Wet weather gear is essential for both you and your camera gear. Dedicated dry bags for equipment will keep it safe in transit and they are equally useful for laying out gear while setting up on location.
Driving between locations sets no real limitations as to what camera gear to bring along. Wide angle lenses in the range of 15mm to 24mm are useful for getting a big perspective while photographing in ancient forests and along streams. Mid length 35mm to 85mm lenses are great for general landscape shots, while long zooms have the ability to close in on mountain peaks looming through the mist.
Medium zoom lenses get close to the action without risk of being swept away.
Circular polarisers are essential for cutting glare through water and boosting colours, while neutral density filters are great for even exposures across the horizon. The ground itself can be soft and mossy right through to steep and rocky. A strong and sturdy tripod is a must for recording both time exposures and focus stacking sequences.
A day pack makes carrying gear, snacks and wet weather gear easy on short day walks. It’s also worth bringing sturdy high-top gumboots. Although not essential, these will help keep feet dry when exploring in and around rivers, waterfalls and the shoreline.
Snowfall in Tasmania is not unusual even during summer months, so ensure adequate clothing is packed to stay comfortable while shooting on location, regardless of the time of year. Layering clothing will give you the opportunity to increase or decrease layers depending on temperature.
Article and images by Gerard Horsman
Excerpt from Photo Review Issue 78