A trip to Tasmania is the essential compact island journey. It’s the ‘island of everything’ with all the elements of a great holiday plus an escape from the summer heat. Founded by force, for many of its settlers Tasmania has been a place of new beginnings.
For us, inexpensive airfares proved to be an irresistible enticement to plan a satisfying holiday; a trip where we would travel from Hobart to Launceston; not the two-hour drive up the inland highway, but a ten-day meandering journey to discover the real gems – dramatic windswept landscapes, 170-year-old lighthouses, charming convict-built towns and niche artisan food and wine producers.
Hobart was to be our base for the first four days before we head up the East Coast, west to Cradle Mountain before travelling across the northern part of the island. It’s a journey we take by hire car (kindly upgraded to a Mercedes B200 by Europcar), stopping at boutique heritage-listed accommodation we’ve self-booked through Agoda. Here are some of our highlights:
If there’s one attraction that has single-handedly drawn tourists to Tasmania, it’s the Mona Gallery, just north-west of Hobart. Privately owned by millionaire philanthropist David Walsh, its foundation is the stuff of legends. Humbly born, Walsh invented algorithms to beat gambling systems, investing his winnings in arts and culture – the Museum of Old and New Art (Mona) and Moorilla Estate Winery.
After a short visit to the Salamanca Markets, we board the gallery’s ferry from the Brooke St Pier, investing in the Posh pit where complimentary drinks and canapés prove to be a suitable intro to the viewing to come.
The gallery houses a challenging mix of over 2,000 ancient and contemporary artefacts based loosely on the themes of religion, politics, sex and death. From Egyptian funerary objects or a waterfall featuring words from the day’s headline news to a wall-mounted exhibit of 141 vaginas (how different we are!), the gallery is by any standard an incredible collection – confronting, thought-provoking and opinion dividing, reflecting the tastes and eccentricities of its founder.
To us, dominating every exhibit is the gallery itself. Designed by Fender Katsilidis, it’s a labyrinth of towering sandstone walls, meandering metal walkways and vast vaulted spaces.
We stay on for lunch at The Source restaurant adjoining the gallery, where Executive Chef Vince Trim produces a menu of shared, produce-driven dishes, in warmer weather served outdoors on vegetation-topped tables.
Bruny Island Tour
The ‘island off the island’, Bruny Island has recently risen in tourism consciousness due to the growing popularity of provenance-driven dining.
We take a day tour with Bruny Island Safaris, guided by Nick, a local who’s a passionate expert on the island’s flora and fauna.
Leaving the ferry, we pass by salmon farms just off shore, stopping at Bruny Island Cheese Co’s outlet for a tasting of the magnificent cow’s and goat’s cheeses from their Huon Valley farm, Great Bay oysters at Get Shucked – the best we taste on our Tasmanian tour, honey and fudge, before we climb the 1838-built Cape Bruny Lighthouse on the island’s southern tip, the second-oldest lighthouse in Australia, manned for 158 years.
Our seafood platter lunch at the Hotel Bruny, included in the tour, is an absolute delight!
Convict Days – Port Arthur and Richmond
It’s possible to tour Tasmania purely for its history and heritage buildings. The area around Hobart offers several convict experiences. Two well worth visiting are Port Arthur and Richmond Gaol.
It’s easy to spend a day at Port Arthur, especially if you include a boat trip to either Isle of the Dead (the island cemetery) or Point Puer, the boys’ prison.
Richmond, a very pretty town of convict-constructed buildings that now house cafes and galleries, is home to both the oldest bridge and the oldest prison cell in Australia.
While Port Arthur is vast and atmospheric, Richmond Gaol gives an intimate experience of life as a convict. A sobering and claustrophobic experience, it’s at Richmond Gaol that we view a ‘man trap’, with its horribly efficient jaws.
With Hobart as a base, there are several day trips worth considering, such as the Huon Valley including the Tahuna Air Walk, as well as Fat Pig Farm and the Agrarian Kitchen (book both eateries several months in advance).
We explore the wineries north of Hobart, including the Coal Valley’s Stefano Lubiano, Pooley Wines, Puddleduck vineyard and Frogmore Creek (home of 42 Degrees South and Storm Bay), where we lunch on sophisticated share plates of flower-strewn ceviche and beautifully presented fish cakes in a delightful location overlooking the vineyards.
The rugged East Coast contains many highlights for tourists, including Freycinet National Park, Bicheno Blowhole and penguins, wineries and primary producers.
Kate’s Berry Farm is a popular spot, with over 50,000 people visiting the farm annually, Kate tells us. We enjoy a piece of Huckleberry Pie on the café’s veranda, perched high on the hill with magnificent views across the berry patch to Freycinet National Park.
Kate’s one of the most passionate primary producers we meet, setting up the farm fourteen years ago, much of it with her own labour. She says that the intense taste of the berries comes from slow-ripening fruit grown without the use of pesticides.
Not far away from Kate’s Berry Farm, Devil’s Corner is another ‘must visit’. A sister venue to Tamar Ridge Winery north of Launceston, it’s a fabulous stop boasting views of Freycinet.
Enjoy a feast of rustic sumptuous dishes, such as coconut and chilli mussels, oysters and seafood terrine with a glass of local wine. Disappointed with Bicheno’s food offerings, Devil’s Corner provides some of the best food we find on the East Coast.
Major highways now bypass many of the island’s cute villages, so we make a small detour to Ross, a very pretty town settled in 1812.
We walk down its picturesque tree-lined main street, stopping to eat at the Ross Village Bakery, our curried scallop pie baked in their 170-year-old woodfired oven. Their vanilla slice is so legendary that we try that as well!
Although we’re not hikers, Cradle Mountain National Park still holds joy for us – magnificent views of towering peaks across Dove Lake, tough alpine heath country, home to beautiful wildflowers and wildlife such as echidna, birdlife and wombats.
Only 90 minutes by car from the main North-South highway, it’s well worth a detour, let alone a major stop.
The area around Devonport in north-western Tasmania is home to a multitude of primary producers. From salmon, honey and berries to hazelnuts and chocolate, they’re well covered by the ‘Cradle to Coast Tasting Trail’.
One crop that the Cradle Coast producers’ itinerary doesn’t cover is opium. Fields of waving violet-coloured flowers spark our interest, as do the danger signs. Research tells us that Tasmania is Australia’s largest producer of legal opium, producing half of the world’s legal opiates, such as morphine and codeine.
Instead, we visit Hellyer’s Road Distillery, owned by Betta Milk Co. who also produce Mersey Valley Cheese, the largest distillery in Australia. It’s well worth a visit.
On the informative ‘Whiskey Walk’ tour, our guide Dianne tells us that their single malt whiskey is matured for 10 – 12 years in barrels formerly used to make other liquors, such as Kentucky bourbon. We taste whiskey direct from the barrel. Distilling 12 – 14 barrels per week, taxed at $26 per bottle, the bond store is worth $16 million in tax! Little wonder that it’s regularly inspected!
Sheffield is worthy of a bypass if only to view the town’s murals. Over sixty murals have been painted on walls throughout the town, depicting the area’s history.
We stop in at 41 Degrees South Salmon and Ginseng Farm for some of the best salmon we’ve tasted, on the way to the port of Stanley, an historic town perched along a cliff-face road leading up to The Nut. There’s a chairlift to the top, apparently, but when we visited it was blowing a gale. Also worth visiting are the weekly Ulverstone Sunday Markets, and The Chapel in Burnie, the café roasting their own coffee beans in a cute micro-roaster. Their food is delicious as well.
Our final area of interest is the Tamar Valley, unofficially labelled as one of the Top 10 wine routes in the world. Pipers River, in particular, is well known for its sparkling wines (such as Arras, Pipers Brook, Jansz and Clover Hill) and their pinot noir (Bay of Fires, Pipers Brook and Tamar Ridge), some of the best wines of their type in Australia.
With increased interest in global warming, Tasmania is Australia’s up-and-coming wine region, wine tourism in the state jumping 23% to 260,000 cellar door visitors in the past year.
History buffs can enjoy stops at pretty but windswept Low Head and at Beaconsfield Mine and Heritage Centre. The museum deals with both the history of the area’s gold mining and the Beaconsfield mine collapse in 2006, including commentary about the disaster and a replica of the small metal cage that shielded the two trapped miners from tonnes of fallen rock, serving as their sanctuary and prison for fourteen nights.
In this land of convict beginnings, for many, Tasmania has provided a fresh start. Josef Chromy was one of those. Escaping his war-torn homeland of Czechoslovakia, Josef emigrated to Australia in 1950 at the age of 19, working in butchers’ shops before founding his own company, Blue Ribbon Meat Products. Later, he ventured into the wine industry, founding Rochecombe (now Bay of Fires), Jansz, Heemskerk and Tamar Ridge vineyards. In 2007, Joe launched Josef Chromy Wines, one of Tasmania’s most successful labels.
Dining on the veranda of Josef Chromy Vineyards, close to Launceston Airport, we look out across the elegant vineyards of this graceful estate, raising a glass to its founder. What better tribute could there be to a land of new beginnings?
We fly home from Launceston in the knowledge that there’s another ten-day trip or two to be had of places we missed this time. Maybe next year?
NOTE: This was a self-planned and self-funded journey. Venues have been included without incentive to do so.