Continuing the second half of our recent visit to the Apple Isle:
We meandered ever upwards through splendid wooded high country, linked up with Cradle Mountain Road then headed south into the National Park.
Our home for the next two nights was Highlander Cottages, a handful of cosy log cabins set in bush at the north end of the Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park.
It is always cooler up yonder (snow is not uncommon in spring), so the fire already crackling in the stove was most welcome.
We settled in with a cup of tea and fixed a few snacks in the kitchen.
Soon there came a curious shuffling, scratching and sniffling out on the verandah. Hurling open the cabin door we were accosted by a Doolittle-like host of wildlife, all clearly seeking a morsel or two from the scullery.
We didn’t oblige. Tim Tams and Pademelons don’t mix. Neither do wombats and Jatz, or cornflakes and currawongs. Hence the peckish delegation slowly dispersed off the porch in a dejected, disdainful file of fur and feathers.
With just enough light left for a walk we drove the 10 km to Dove Lake and bravely set off toward majestic Cradle Mountain. We got about half way around the lake when the wet weather came in, as it does on the Apple Isle, so we scurried back to the vehicle, through wind and showers.
Yet even in stormy conditions the mountain has a dramatic, romantic appeal. It’s easy to see why artists have come here for decades to paint this wild, pristine place.
Over two days we explored the lovely lofty terrain. There are a number of marvellous trails mapped out by Parks and Wildlife. The area teems with furry friends, particularly marsupials, and it was encouraging to see visitors from all over the world enjoying the park.
We also visited the reconstructed Waldheim (Forest Home), the mountain abode of the founder of the national park, Gustav Weindorfer.
In 1902 he and his wife built their home in the heart of the wilderness, the untouched alpine area reminding him of his Austrian homeland.
“This must be a national park for the people for all time,” he said in 1910. “It is magnificent, and people must know about it and enjoy it.”
The fervent Austrian would entertain celebrities, politicians and captains of industry on his property, running tours and events to promote the region and boost the tourist trade. We are lucky he did: today it’s in the top five iconic Australian natural attractions.
On our second night we decided to pop out for a bite at the nearby Cradle Mountain Lodge cafe. Good, but a tad overpriced. Isolation always adds a few digits to the bottom line – or so local proprietors will sincerely claim.
There are only a handful of places to eat in this remote locale, so it’s worth taking an esky full of nosh if you are heading up to the park.
We can highly recommend the Highlander Cottages as a base, being self-contained, central and very comfy year-round. You’ll also meet every wallaby and wombat in Van Diemen’s Land.
The road was calling, so we left the park and descended on the A10 through forest and pretty rolling farmland to the north coast, Bass Strait glittering inky blue before us under the breeze.
We had wanted to check out the renowned tulips at Wynyard (the Bloomin’ Tulips Festival is held here each spring) but had arrived in the area a little late in October, so decided to cruise east through Burnie, bound for Penguin.
The Burnie part was, in hindsight, a blunder. We should have carved a wide arc around the area.
We happened to hit town during the Australian Masters Games. Rickety taxpayers of a certain age were staggering valiantly about the streets in some form of marathon. The authorities seem to have closed every street.
Gendarmes and officious event volunteers quickly pounced on our vagrant vehicle and ordering us to detour via what seemed like Goose Bay, Labrador, in our quest to simply get through town – a distance of about 500 metres. A navigational bowl of spaghetti.
Finally, we burst free onto the Bass Highway once more. We’re informed that Burnie has its draws, but that afternoon the city of Masters Spartans looked particularly enchanting as it shrank rapidly in the rear-vision mirror.
Penguin’s a pretty little historic coastal hamlet. We stopped for a spot of lunch and coffee, strolled along the foreshore, and checked out the Saturday markets and shops.
There’s no mistaking your whereabouts in Peng. The fairy penguins responsible for the moniker are replicated in everything from tea towels to towering totems, lunch stools to snow domes. The only place we didn’t see any of the diminutive tuxedoed waddlers was coming out of the sea; they probably know the town is well and truly overcrowded with their avatars.
It was a glorious sunny day on the coast, very different to the weather in the mountains, but that’s Tassie for you: a mini continent unto itself, featuring a myriad or terrain and climatic conditions in a remarkably small area.
Then it was onwards east along the Bass Highway to Ulverston, where we were scheduled to check into the Westella Colonial B&B.
Westella is a fine, sprawling Victorian farm house and is run by the tireless trooper Mike, who seems to do everything around the property, an exhausting proposition even on a quiet day.
The house has a funky Satis House feel. One almost expects Miss Havisham to emerge from the powder room; but this just adds to the adventure of being transported back to another time in a lovely old pad.
Each room is faultlessly fitted out and decorated in period style and our upstairs boudoir had views out over the beautifully maintained gardens. Indeed, we’d stumbled upon a bit of a period gem in Westella. Quite different to our log cabin the previous night!
Later we headed out, grabbed fish ‘n’ chips down on the waterfront (excellent quality) and strolled around town taking in the sites, which are a tad limited in Ulvie, but the town seemed to be full of vim and the locals amiable.
We wanted to see the penguins come ashore that night at nearby Lillico Beach (something they do year-round, swapping places with their mates in the burrow), but they weren’t due until about 8.30pm, so we drove into nearby Devonport and watched the sunset from the lighthouse park.
We got back to Lillico at dusk and joined several others on the purpose-built penguin viewing platform. It is important to observe the little birds with torches fixed with red transparent crape paper so as not to damage their sensitive eyes.
Sure enough, like clockwork, the fairies shuffled ashore and darted into their burrows and hutches, fulfilling their domestic duties in noisy ritual. The whole process was very cute and it is nice to see the ancient cycles of nature alive and well on the Tassie north shore.
The next morning Mike prepared a sumptious breakfast (a Westella highlight) and we were back on the road, heading for the east coast.
We drove along Highway One, lured on the way into the Christmas Hills Raspberry Farm at Dunorlan, where they do frightfully fine things with their berries.
There is a great café amid beautiful picnic gardens and lakes adjacent to the raspberry plantations. A must for morning, or afternoon, tea if you are passing by.
We then skirted Launceston (to be explored on our next trip) and swung south, frolicked in the blazing canola fields at Cleveland and picked up the Esk Highway at Conara for the eastern shore.
This is a picturesque route featuring the Castle Cary and St Pauls regional reserves outside of Avoca and the pretty valley run, through historic Fingal, then along the valley into old St Marys, itself a charming stopover.
We were bound for Bicheno to the south but decided to swing north for a few hours to check out St Helens, the pretty fishing town on the protected waters of Georges Bay.
St Helens has several quaint cafes and restaurants, but our favourite was the St Helens Books and Coffee. Here bibliophiles can read to their heart’s content while sipping great Java and nibbling on what some claim are the best scones in the north-east.
We also drove out to the conservation area on the eastern shore of Georges Bay then out to St Helens Point.
The renowned Bay of Fires is just up the coast from here, but then the east coast of Tasmania features many beautiful beaches and bays.
We spotted a large bush fire burning just to the east of St Helens so decided to head south quickly in case the road was close. Turned out to be fine.
On the run south to Bicheno, travellers pass through beach holiday towns like Beaumaris, Scamander, Four Mile Creek and Douglas River. One fascinating little settlement on this run is Falmouth, in striking coastal surrounds at the mouth of an estuary and was one of the first places settled on this part of the Tasmanian coast.
Bicheno is an old fishing port and a beach resort rolled into one. Today it attracts visitors from all over the world. We were particularly impressed with the number of Chinese tourists in the area. No doubt the southern sea air is somewhat more wholesome than in Beijing or Shanghai.
The town is named after James Ebenezer Bicheno, the British Colonial Secretary for Van Diemen’s Land from 1843 to 1851. It is said Eb was the most spheroid man in the Southern Hemisphere at the time.
The first historical reference to the place that was to become Bicheno was made by Brian May during his circumnavigation of the island. He landed here (when it was called Waubs Harbour) to dry his provisions.
From 1803 Waubs Harbour was used as a whaling port. Bicheno was proclaimed a township in 1866 and also served as a port for farm produce and for briefly shipping coal from the Denison River mines.
The town’s fortunes have come and gone since that time, but today the spectacular seascapes, surf, fishing, walks and outdoor activities have driven a visitor renaissance.
We checked into the snug Tidelines motel and then headed off in our almost fanatical quest for Tasmanian fish ‘n’ chips. We were advised to head over The Gulch at the tip of the headland, a boat ramp area sheltered by Governor Island.
Here we found the Tasmanian Coastal Seafoods HQ, and they are renowned for preparing some of the best seafood in the land. We tucked into the seafood basket – superb, in fact the best we’d ever tasted – which is saying something!
Complementing the chef on our way out, he said, “Yup, it’s pretty good, isn’t it? I consider myself quite a fishologist.”
Afterward we ambled along the enchanting Foreshore Path (very maritime Middle Earthish) that runs for about 5km from Redbill Beach to The Blowhole, this latter being one of the most famous natural attractions on the coast.
Chinese tourists were swarming around the briny belcher, their fingers poised on the triggers of 100 Nikons, ready to capture the periodic plume of white spume blasting skyward.
Next morning, we huffed and puffed to the top of Whaler’s Lookout, the highpoint on the Bicheno promontory. It was well worth it. The views up and down the coast and out sea are breathtaking.
The town has a growing reputation for its November Wine and Food Festival, there now being a number of excellent wineries in the area. There are also many penguins here, too, and the local tour guides do a roaring trade showing them off to sightseers.
An hour later we were back on the road, heading for Hobart. We pulled into the Devil’s Corner winery, which is making a very respectable Pinot and Chardonnay and has sweeping views of the Moulting Lagoon Game Reserve and the Freycinet National Park, where visitors can see the famous Wineglass Bay.
We also popped in to the little Gala Winery at Cranbrook. The farm on the property has a long history stretching back to colonial times and was home to legendary east coast bushman Theodore (Ted) Castle, who passed away in 2008 and was one of the last real old-timers in the region.
We also pulled into Swansea to stretch our legs. As with so many Tassie towns, the colonial architecture here has been beautifully preserved, and it is a delight to toddle about amongst it.
Ending up in the local thrift shop we listened-in as three severe local matrons spun increasingly whimsical ghost stories about people and families in the area, an assemblage deeply suggestive of the cauldron scene in Macbeth.
Spines tingling and apparitions swirling about us, we continued our journey south, enjoying the lovely coastal scenery on the run down to Little Swanport. Out over the water to the east are the mountains of the Freycinet Peninsula and Schouten Island.
We headed inland at Orford and finished up in old Richmond around lunchtime.
What a delightful town! A hamlet of cobbles, handmade brick and mellow stone on the banks of the Coal River is probably Tassie’s most famous colonial settlement.
With more than 50 19th century buildings, many of them now providing high-quality accommodation, Richmond, with a population of around 800, is historic Tassie at its most impressive.
The beautiful stone bridge (Australia’s oldest), churches, shops and English country village layout make this an absolute gem for history buffs.
Some great places to eat include the Richmond Bakery (our choice), The Richmond Arms, Hatchers Manor, Ashmore and the Richmond Wine Centre.
We simply didn’t have enough time to enjoy all the delights in town, but no one should tour the Apple Isle without paying a visit. We’ll go back and stay a few nights next time – beats flying to Old Blighty and a spell in the Cotswolds!
Then it was directly to the Hobart Airport, a mere 20 minutes away to the south.
While we had only been away for a week (seemed like a month), our trip to Tasmania was a revelation. The scenery, beautifully preserved heritage buildings and places, great food and wine and friendly people wherever we roamed, all combined to leave a powerful impression.
It is little wonder that Australia’s small island state is at last enjoying a renaissance of rediscovery and appreciation. Well deserved.
What’s more, with the mainland summers becoming increasingly stifling and uncomfortable, Tassie remains a fresh oasis.
Now all they have to do at the WA end is work on those direct flights to Hobart and Launceston!
Starfish Photographs Peter Rigby and Jacqueline Lang