The Gordon River is deep, its waters dark from the tannin leached from buttongrass plains – even tap water in Strahan is brown (though drinkable). Cruise boats used to travel as far as the landing at Sir John Falls, 30km upriver, but their wakes caused the river banks to erode and they now travel only the 14km to Heritage Landing, where there’s a chance to amble along a boardwalk above the rainforest floor.
Trunks and branches of ancient myrtles and Huon pines provide homes for mosses, lichens and liverworts on their bark, and ferns and fungi grow from the trunks. The wet and swampy conditions are ideal for Huon pines, a threatened tree species found only in Tasmania: they’re the second-oldest living things on Earth after the bristlecone pines of western North America, with some trees found to be more than ten thousand years old. The massive pines, which may reach a height of 40m, can grow from seed but more often regenerate vegetatively, putting down roots where fallen branches touch the soil. The trees are also renowned for their resistance to rot. A tree near Heritage Landing, reckoned to be around 2000 years old, split in two during 1997 – one half fell to the ground – but the trunk won’t rot for up to one hundred years as the tree’s methyl eugenol oil slows fungal growth. The oil content of the wood also explains why Huon pine was so highly sought-after – pine logs could be floated down to a camp and fashioned into huge rafts to be rowed across Macquarie Harbour.
River cruise operators usually provide refreshments of varying standards (depending on your ticket), visit Sarah Island and make a thirty-minute stop at Heritage Landing. Wrap up warm to brave the boat’s prow – much the most exhilarating spot to be when you whizz through Macquarie Heads (Hells Gates). Overnight trips are also available aboard the ketch of West Coast Yacht Charters.