What is the 99 Bends?
There are many unique and impressive drives in Tasmania, but this one stands out. 99 Bends is the curvy road that leads into Queenstown, Tasmania. It’s part of the Lyell Highway that runs from Hobart to Queenstown. It is named after Mount Lyell, the nearby mountain peak where copper was found in the late 19th century.
The 99 Bends might sound intimidating, but it is a relatively easy drive; both cars and motorhomes will manage fine. I took my old van up and down several times, probably to the dismay of locals keen to overtake me. While the speed limit is technically 100km/h, there is no way I would suggest reaching anywhere close to that; the drop off the side is steep. The 99 Bends features in TARGA Tasmania, an annual tarmac-based car race that takes competitors across the state.
At the beginning of the descent, there is a bronze ‘Welcome to Queenstown’ sign and a small information booth. This is a nice place to pull over; however, you won’t see anything more than from the view at Horsehead Falls. I did come up here one night to watch the sunset.
Why is the landscape so barren?
The landscape is barren due to the forty years of smelting that took place in the area.
Mt Lyell was touted as the greatest copper mine in the world – just at the top of the 99 Bends. In 1896 the first two smelters were lit, and it was later reported in the London press that ten furnaces would produce an annual profit of nearly £800,000. The Tasmanian press called it ‘Copperopolis’ – the copper city.
The surrounding forest was chopped down to fuel the burning smelters. The fumes billowed into the air and burrowed into the landscape. This has led to the landscape being referred to as a ‘moonscape.’
Things to do near the 99 Bends
At the top of the 99 Bends is the Iron Blow Lookout and Horsehead Falls. Both are short, but worthwhile lookouts.
This lonely cafe sits at the foot of a hill in Gormonston. Located next to the ruins of the Old Royal Hotel, Linda Cafe is an excellent pit-stop before tackling Horsetail Falls and the 99 Bends.
This thirty-minute walk will lead you to fantastic mountain views. Witnessing the falls is dependent on recent rainfall. While pretty, they aren’t as grandiose as Russell Falls or Nelson Falls. The main reason to tackle Horsetail Falls is for the view of the landscape.
Iron Blow Lookout
The Iron Blow was established in 1883 on Mount Lynell. Prospectors had hoped to find gold, instead, they found a large amount of copper.
The area is now desolate, and while void of life, has its own unique beauty. The lookout will give you a view of the Iron Blow. There is plenty of parking and the lookout is easily accessed by foot.
Like all towns on the West Coast, Queenstown has a long mining history. Visit the Galley Museum to get a better understanding of the trials of the Queenstown prospectors. Housed in an old pub, several rooms are filled with photographs and relics, all documenting the West Coast.
Queenstown also has a notable football field. Unlike traditional footy fields, this one isn’t covered in grass; it’s gravel.
It’s not easy to grow grass due to the contaminates left over from the mine and the West Coast’s large rainfalls – the town gets 2,408 mm of rain a year. Every year the council tips ten truckloads of gravel and compresses it with rolling machines.
Is the 99 Bends road sealed?
Yes. The 99 Bends road is completely sealed; you can drive it with your car or campervan. It’s really not that steep, it’s just has several sharp turns.
How many bends does the 99 Bends have?
Contrary to its naming convention, the 99 Bends has just 44 bends. Still, that’s quite a lot.