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Queenstown/Australia

Introducing Queenstown

The Lyell Hwy winds down into Queenstown through a surreal, denuded moonscape – deep, eroded gullies and hillsides scalded by acid rain – the legacy of environmentally destructive mining. Mining activities and sulphur emissions are now controlled, and greenery is springing up on the slopes. Ironically, some locals want to keep the green away, believing the bald hills and gravel football field attract the tourists.

Unlike affluent Strahan (and despite the locals’ best efforts), Queenstown retains an impoverished mining-town atmosphere. When the weather sets in the mood is menacing and desperate: timber miners’ hovels rot in the rain, curtains shift in windows as you pass by.

Doubling as the Queenstown Visitor Information Centre, the Eric Thomas Galley Museum (/fax 6471 1483; 1-7 Driffield St; adult/child/concession/family $4/2.50/3/10; 9.30am-6pm Mon-Fri, 12.30-6pm Sat & Sun Oct-Mar, 10am-5pm Mon-Fri, 1-5pm Sat & Sun Apr-Sep) started life as the Imperial Hotel in 1898. Inside are diverting displays of old photographs with idiosyncratic captions, one-finger-typed by photographer Eric Thomas.

The town’s biggest (and priciest) attraction is the West Coast Wilderness Railway , a restored line traversing the pristine wilderness between Queenstown and Strahan. The station is on Driffield St, opposite the Empire Hotel.

For top-of-the-town views, follow Hunter St uphill, turn left onto Bowes St, then sharp left onto Latrobe St to a small car park. From here a short, steep track ascends Spion Kop Lookout.

The abandoned open-cut mine Iron Blow can be seen from a lookout off the Lyell Hwy, while mining continues deep beneath the massive West Lyell crater. Take a 2½-hour tour with Douggies Mine Tours (0407 049 612; tours $70; tours 10am & 1pm). Minimum age 14; bookings essential.