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This is my personal review and story of taking a Gordon River Cruise, including photos I took on the trip. I have summarised everything I learned researching the trip into easy-to-digest information and documented my experience whilst on the cruise, so you can see what to expect.
So, is a Gordon River Cruise worth it?
In my opinion, there is absolutely no doubt. Of the adventures I’ve had in my four years in Australia, this would easily rank in the top few. My first view of the inky Gordon River, flanked by huge, mist-shrouded trees, is unlike anything I’ve experienced anywhere and felt like it had been lifted from the pages of an Amazon exploration.
If you are on Tasmania, you have to get over to the village of Strahan and book yourself on a cruise.
In this post, I will help you with all the detail you need to do exactly that.
Overview of Gordon River Cruises
Types of Cruise Available
There are cruises available on the Gordon River, from two different companies.
Both companies have very similar itineraries and routes, but do them, in a different order to avoid clashes.
They also both offer evening cruises, but these only run from late December until mid-February, so I have not included them as a separate option here. Please check availability on their websites.
Here are the key features of each one
Gordon River Cruises (The Green Boat)
Gordon River Cruises, on the boat ‘The Spirit of the Wild’ offer daytime and sunset cruises in summer only) departing from Strahan.
Gordon River Daytime Cruise Details:
- Leaves Strahan at 8am and returns at around 2pm
- Visits Hell’s Gates, Heritage Landing and Sarah Island
- Has three price tiers:
- Main deck on a central seat (from $160 adult, $69 child)
- Main deck window seat (from $195 adult, $89 child)
- Premier upper deck (from $330 adult or child)
- Children under 3 travel free
- Includes a buffet lunch
- Cash bar on main deck, open bar on premier deck
- Check their website at gordonrivercruises.com.au
World Heritage Cruises (The Red Boat)
World Heritage Cruises run the red boats you see in Macquarie Harbour and run both daytime and evening cruises (in summer) from Strahan.
World Heritage Cruises Daytime Details:
- Leaves Strahan at 9am and returns at around 3pm
- Visits Hell’s Gates, Sarah Island, Heritage Landing and Huon Pine Sawmill
- Has four price tiers:
- Main deck on a central seat (from $150 adult, $70 child)
- Main deck window seat (from $180 adult, $90 child)
- Premier upper deck central seat (from $189 adult or child)
- Premier upper deck window seat (from $199 adult or child)
- Children under 5 travel free
- Includes a lunch, served to you at you seat in a wooden box
- Cash bar on main deck, open bar on premier deck
- Check their website at worldheritagecruises.com.au
The Differences Between the Two Cruises
As you can see from the factual details above, there is very little difference between the two cruises.
Here are the key differences as I can see them:
- TIMES: The times are slightly staggered (I assume to avoid clashes), with Gordon River Cruises leaving at 8am and World Heritage Cruises leaving at 9am
- DESTINATIONS: World Heritage Cruises also includes a visit to Huon Pine Sawmill
- COST: For all options, other than a minor difference for children, World Heritage Cruises is cheaper
- SENIORS: World Heritage Cruises offer a senior discount, I couldn’t see this mentioned anywhere on the Gordon River Cruises booking page.
- CHILDREN: Children are defined as under 3 with Gordon River Cruises but under 5 with World Heritage Cruises
Where there is no difference:
- RATING: Both companies get a full 5 star rating on Tripadvisor from over 600 reviews at the time of writing
- ROUTE: Outside of the Huon Pine Mill, both companies do essentially the same trip
How Much Does the Gordon River Cruise Cost? (Price Comparison Table)
To make the price comparison between the companies easier, I have produced a table of their costs:
|Type of Ticket
|GRC Main Deck (Centre)
|WHC Main Deck (Centre)
|GRC Main Deck (Window)
|WHC Main Deck (Centre)
|GRC Premier Deck
|WHC Premier (Centre)
|WHC Premier (Window)
Gordon River Cruises = GRC
World Heritage Cruises = WHC
Which Gordon River Cruise Is Best?
I can’t answer this one 100% authentically, because I have only taken a cruise with Gordon River Cruises (who were very, very good), however, based on factual data World Heritage Cruises look like the best option.
I wish I’d done this research before travelling, rather than just booking the first cruise I saw online, as I would probably have taken the cruise with World Heritage Cruises instead.
They are cheaper for essentially the same destinations, with just as good a rating on TripAdvisor.
I travelled by myself, but the benefits become even more stark if you are travelling with children (due to the family discounts and that World Heritage Cruises classify a toddler as under 5 not under 3) and if you’re a senior citizen, as there are discounts available.
The only factual benefit of travelling with Gordon River Cruises seems to be if you wanted to travel earlier, as they depart and return one hour before World Heritage Cruises.
Gordon River Cruise Route Map
I admit I was a little confused as to the route of the Gordon River Cruises when I was researching, so I’ve built this simple map to sure you a mock up of the route.
Here is a brief summary of the route:
- Start (and finish) at Strahan, the most northerly point
- Go west to Hell’s Gates
- Go east to the Gordon River, viewing the salmon farms on the way
- Stop at Heritage Landing for a rainforest walk in the Gordon River
- Stop at Sarah Island for a tour of an old penal colony on the way back (on the World Heritage Cruise, I believe this happens before entering the Gordon River)
- Head back to Strahan
The lines I have drawn on this map are approximately 110km, so it gives you an idea of the route length.
My Personal Experience of a Gordon River Cruise
In this section of ‘Is a Gordon River Cruise Worth It?’ I will take you through my personal experience of my cruise with Gordon River Cruises to help you understand what to expect from the trip.
Whilst I have only this cruise with one of the two companies, the routes are very similar, including both the Heritage Landing walk and Sarah Island tour, so I would expect these photographs and experiences to be very similar.
My Gordon River Cruise Tips
What To Take?
I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect from the cruise, so I ended up packing more than I needed, so I thought I’d share what I’d take if I did it again.
All seating on the boat is inside, however there are walks at Heritage Landing and Sarah Island, so you need to prepare for the changeable Tasmania weather. The walks were easy and on good paths, so no need to worry about sturdy walking boots, trainers will be fine.
Here is my suggested list:
- Pre-filled water bottle (all water on the boat had to be paid for) – I’ve had my stainless steel one for six years now, perfect for keeping water cool on hot Aussie days
- Power bank (there were no charging points on the boat)
- Lightweight rain jacket, you might need this for the two tours. I always have my pack-away one just in case
- A book (if you are by yourself like I was, there will be a bit of downtime where travelling across Macquarie Harbour, and there is no phone signal to pass the time scrolling!)
If you are a photographer, I would also suggest the following:
- Spare batteries
- A rain cover
- Lens cleaning wipes and cloths (there was a lot of spray)
- I would suggest a lens that has a good range of zoom (I took my 16-80mm which I think is the best do-it-all travel lens) which will help frame the more distant shots up the river and at Hell’s Gates
- Also, if you are interested, the photos on the page were taken with my Fuji X-T3 (this is how I learned to use it) using a film simulation called Nomadic Mood
Where To Sit
On the boats, you have two choices of where to sit – either in the centre or by the window (this is the same for both the regular and premium decks).
The window seats will cost you about an extra 20% on the base price of a centre seat, so are they worth it?
My personal view is that they are.
Whilst you can get up and walk around the boat at any time, including accessing outside decks, this is a long cruise, so being able to sit by the window I think is a real plus point. Personally, I think the extra cost is in proportion to the benefit you gain, so I would absolutely spend this money again.
I didn’t do a great job of capturing the inside of the cabin, but here are a couple photos.
I was on the main (not premium) deck. You can see from the top photo what the centre seating looks like, with the window seating to the very right of the frame (and also to the far left).
The bottom photo shows my window seat, the window seats are in pairs.
A couple of other points I thought were worth noting…
- The entry to the Gordon River is the most beautiful part of the trip, so try and get outside and to the front of the boat in advance to get photos without 25 heads in front of you.
- There is no phone signal for pretty much the whole trip, so get your life admin done in advance!
Checking In & Setting Off
We were asked to arrive around 8am to check in ready for the cruise. There is a decent coffee shop (The Coffee Shack) across the road, which opens at 6am if you need a caffeine fix in advance.
I told them my name and showed some I.D. and was issue with the ticket in seconds, no worries here at all!
There is also a gift shop with lots of Tasmanian information to look through while waiting.
I walked round to look at the unique ‘whisper-quiet’ catamaran which we were going to be setting sail on, a boat that is rather stealth like in appearance.
If you get a chance, I would suggest a walk to the end of the pier for beautiful views back over the pretty little town of Strahan.
The first part of the journey was across Macquarie Bay to the Gates of Hell, which was given to the entrance to the harbour due to its shallow and dangerous reputation.
It took around half an hour to get out to Bonnet Island at the mouth of the harbour, on which you can see this beautiful white lighthouse. Little Penguins also live on the island, but they are generally out fishing during the day, so we didn’t see any.
On route, we heard information either from the cabin crew or from a set of videos played on TVs above the seats which told stories of the people who were shaping Macquarie Bay back in the 1800s. The most interesting part (in my opinion) was how they built an angled wall across the bay to create natural erosion, making a narrow and deep channel rather than a shallow, wide one – incredible engineering considering it was put there in 1897. You can see the top of the wall coming out of the water as you near Hell’s Gates.
We left Hell’s Gates about 0910 and headed down the southwestern side of Macquarie harbour on the way to Gordon River.
There were some beautiful views of the exposed, rocky shoreline on the way, and we also saw a number of the huge salmon farms that are in the harbour, you can see the farms at the front of the two photos above.
Entering the Gordon River
When the call came out that we were nearing the entrance to the Gordon River, I got straight up onto the outside deck. This was the moment I’d been waiting for, and it didn’t disappoint.
It was a gloomy, misty day, but in my opinion this made the experience even more special, adding to the mystery of the great Gordon River.
The entrance to the river seemed narrow, and it was compared to the might Macquarie Bay we’d been in, which is second in size in Australia only to Port Philip Bay in Victoria.
My main reason for taking this cruise was to see yet another UNESCO Heritage Site, a real obsession of mine. Whilst we’d technically travelled through the UNESCO rainforest on our trip over from Hobart, I felt the Gordon River Cruise was the true way of marking site 66 on my personal list, and the sign above was the first evidence I saw of us entering the Tasmanian Wilderness Area.
Browsing through the photos I took from the deck, most of my images could be classified as misty forest porn.
I love moody scenes like this, and there was no shortage of them on the banks of the Gordon River. It sounds like a statement filled with hyperbole, but there must have been 1,000 shades of green weaved into the canopy and I just couldn’t help myself with the photos.
I mean, look at this place! It’s a viridiphile’s dream (I think I just made this word up, but I’m claiming it – virid means green and phile love, so I”m on to something right?).
By now the decks were packed, and I wasn’t the only one taking photos of the trees. Over the PA we heard stories of these forests and how the Huon Pines were heavily logged by convicts to make ships for the British Empire. It’s very noticeable that most of the trees here are bowed and twisted, the reason is that the vast majority of the straight ones were taking for shipbuilding.
Ok, one more for good luck, that’s just about enough tree photos for one day!
I know it seems like a lot, but I wanted to try and capture the moment because it truly felt like an adventure unlike any other I’ve been on. The boat had been put into whisper-mode, so from on deck the only thing we could here were the sounds of the birds in the trees and the occasional metallic click of a camera shutter. The views were staggering, ones I imagine that are only replicated on rivers like the Amazon or the Limpopo.
You can see on the map above that the trip up the Gordon River isn’t actually too long in distance, but it took us over an hour from the mouth to our first stop off at Heritage Landing.
If I have one bit of advice to you, it would be not to miss this section.
Get outside, open your eyes up wide and record it firmly in the part of your brain that captures memories. This is the kind you simply don’t get too often in a lifetime.
We arrived at Heritage Landing around 1100 for our first chance to stretch our legs off deck.
Heritage Landing is a 500-metre boardwalk loop through the deepest Tasmanian rainforest. The wooden pathway weaves through the tangled mass of trees, occasionally popping out into clearings.
There are sculptures along the way and, if you keep up with the guide, you’ll also get lots of interesting information about the flora and fauna of the forest.
I chose to stay right at the back and let the stream of people shoot off in front of me and, despite there being a few hundred of us, I managed to carve out my only little piece of calm.
There are lots of chances on Tasmania to get out into the forests like this (Hogarth Falls and Nelson Falls are other good examples), but this is the only chance you’ll have as part of your cruise on the Gordon River, so make the most of it.
Lunch and Facilities
When we got back on board from Heritage Landing, lunch was served.
For the cruise I took, this was a buffet lunch, which was service in the centre of the cabin and was taken back to seats afterwards.
I was lucky enough with my seat location that I was in the first group to be chosen to head up (I was very hungry by this point, having opted to skip breakfast) and was delighted by what I saw on offer!
There was a selection of hot and cold foods, with the real highlight to me being the local Tasmanian smoked salmon, which I headed onto my plate with some warm bread rolls.
It filled me up fast, but was good enough that when I heard those most special of words ‘anyone who wants seconds feel free to come up again’ over the PA, that I was there in a flash.
I thought now would be a good time to mention the rest of the facilities and drinks on offer on the ship:
- There is a paid bar for tea, coffee, soft drinks and alcohol that could be accessed throughout the trip. Water was bottled, so had to be paid for, so worth bringing your own if you drink a lot like me
- The bar also had snacks available, from cakes to chips, to keep you full before and after lunch, but I also saw people had brought their own snacks too
- There are toilets on the boat
After leaving Heritage Landing we sailed for another 90 minutes or so back out of the Gordon River with our next stop at Sarah Island.
Sarah Island was a penal colony that, despite being only in use for 11 years, became one of the most notorious in Australia. This was a place where convicts who reoffended when they got to Australia were sent, a fact that was used as an excuse to dish out some harsh punishments.
It also has a remarkable story as a shipbuilding yard, with Huon Pine being brought down river and, under the supervision of Scotsman David Hoy, turned into 131 boats for the British Navy.
Once docked at Sarah Island we were separated into two groups to join tours. There was no pressure to join one and many people explored by themselves, however the tour I went on managed to strike that rarest of combinations, being both interesting AND fun!
We heard stories of convicts, were given riddles to solve, and got lots of grisly information about the island. The story that stuck in my memory is of Alexander Pearce who, thanks to some unique detainee eating abilities, became known as the convict cannibal.
The tour is run by the same clever folks who do the Ship That Never Was play back at Strahan and, whilst it is free, there is an option for a gold coin donation at the end to keep their organisation running.
And that was that.
Once we hopped back on the boat, the big motors were fired up again and we zipped across the bay, getting back to Strahan at 1430.
So, to finish up, a Gordon River Cruise is an absolute must-do in my opinion.
The hour from entering the Gordon River to stopping at Heritage Landing was utterly unlike anything I’ve ever done before, and I’m so glad we drove over from Hobart to experience it.
If you are a nature or history lover then believe the hype, this cruise into the UNESCO wilderness is absolutely every single dollar.
AUTHOR – BEN REEVE
Reeves Roam, is a first-hand travel blog. The Reeves have lived in the UK, South Africa and Australia and have travelled extensively in Europe and Southeast Asia.
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Thanks – Ben, Becca and Gracie