QUEENSTOWN is worth a visit, but not for reasons you might expect. One reason is its infamous "lunar landscape", evidence of the devastation that single-minded commercial exploitation can wreak in such a sensitive environment. If you approach the town from Strahan you're confronted by the ugly copper mine; from Hobart, the road winds down to the town around bare, reddish-brown rock. Almost as celebrated is its defiantly unpolished feel – Tasmanians know it as the redneck capital of the state, and things can get rowdy at weekends.
Queenstown has been a mining centre since 1883, when gold was discovered at Mount Lyell, and it looks like a typical mining town, with its identical, poky tin-roofed weatherboard houses. In 1893 the Mount Lyell Mining and Railway Company was formed and began to mine copper at Mount Lyell. The weird-looking mountains here, chalky-white and, in places, almost totally devoid of vegetation, are the result of a toxic combination of tree-felling, sulphur, fire and rainfall. Since the smelters closed in 1969 there has been some regrowth on the lower slopes, but it's estimated that the damage already done will last some four hundred years. In late 1994 the Mount Lyell mine closed down, but the lease was taken over in 1995 by Copper Mines of Tasmania, now part of Indian mining corporation Vedanta. Tailings from the mine are now dumped into a multimillion-dollar dam instead of the town's Queen River, where aquatic life is beginning to return. The Queen eventually flows into the King River, and its moonscaped banks all the way to the delta near Strahan attest to the lasting and wide-ranging environmental damage of the past century. A good view of the cut slopes is available from the Spion Kopf lookout, reached off Hunter Street, behind the library on the town's through-road. For more mining heritage there's the Galley Museum in the old Imperial Hotel on Driffield Street, two blocks from the railway station (Tel:03/6471 1483; Oct– April Mon– Fri 9.30am–6pm, Sat & Sun 12.30–6pm; May– Sept till 5pm; $4), which has extensive photographic displays on west-coast life.
It's no surprise that accommodation in Queenstown is noticeably cheaper than Strahan. Options include the Empire Hotel at 2 Orr St (Tel:03/6471 1699, Eempirehotel@tassienet.au; Price: $61-75), an old-fashioned building noted for its National Trust-listed blackwood staircase; it has a range of typical pub rooms – shabby but reasonably priced – and budget singles ($50), plus good-value meals in the heritage dining room. Mountain View Holiday Lodge, at 1 Penghana Rd (Tel:03/6471 1163; dorms $15, motel units Price: $61-75), across the river from the town centre, has been converted from the mine's single-men's lodgings. An upmarket option is Penghana, on The Esplanade at no. 32, which provides B&B-style accommodation in the former mine manager's imposing mansion overlooking Queenstown (Tel:03/6471 2560, Web: www.penghana.com.au ; Price: $131-160).
The Galley Museum (see above) doubles as the visitor centre, with information on underground tours of the Mount Lyell mine with Douggies Mine Tours, based at the mine office below (daily 1pm; 2hr 30min; $80; Tel:0407 049 612 or 03/6471 1472). Mt Lyell Environmental Tours (Tel:0419 104 138; $55) organizes two-hour, overground trips that focus on the damage. Next door to the mine is the Parks & Wildlife Service office (Tel:03/6471 2511), the base for the Franklin Lower Gordon Wild Rivers National Park and the place to pick up the department's rafting and bushwalking guidelines. Queenstown's Online Access Centre is in the library beside the Galley Museum.
Banking facilities in town include a Commonwealth and ANZ bank, and an ATM at the Railway Express General Store on the same street. From Queenstown you can drive to Strahan on the B24 (42km), which starts as a steep, winding road through bare hills, or you continue along the A10 (called the Lyell Highway from Queenstown to Hobart) 88km east to the first fuel at Derwent Bridge, surrounded by the World Heritage Area.