Aboard a ‘flume
buggy’, Alice Hansen arrives at a wilderness retreat, one of a
raft of new experiences for travellers to the
ARRIVE by “flume buggy”, a glorified golf cart that conveys us along a long, slender jetty over a lake. Not just any lake, but Lake St Clair, the nation’s deepest lake, in the heart of 1.5 million hectares of Tasmanian World Heritage wilderness. Beyond the unblemished surface of the lake are sharp peaks rising from thick myrtle forests in the Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park. It’s eerily silent.
At the end of this 240m jetty is our hotel, but not just any hotel. Opened last month, Pumphouse Point was part of the state’s hydro-electricity scheme, now an 18-bedroom wilderness retreat, and one man’s 20-year dream.
Constructed in 1940, the pumphouse and substation were built on Lake St Clair and fitted with turbines to supply water to nearby Tarraleah power station – the “flume” refers to the water channel beneath the jetty. The pumphouse was found to be largely surplus to requirements and sat unused for years. It was decommissioned in the early 1990s.
During a family picnic at Lake St Clair in 1995, Simon Currant noticed the weathered, derelict building and saw potential. The tourism entrepreneur approached the government with a plan to develop the site into a wilderness retreat. It stalled, so he put the idea on the backburner and moved on to develop Cradle Mountain Lodge, Strahan Village in western Tasmania and, later, the dining venue of Peppermint Bay in Woodbridge, about half an hour’s drive south of Hobart. In 2004, he successfully tendered to develop the retreat and for the next 10 years he weathered planning hitches, the GFC, building difficulties and fierce public debate about land use in wilderness areas.
Currant regards his development as a template for the future, an example of sensitive, sustainable tourism within a World Heritage area. He has a 45-year lease on the building and, unlike other proposals, Currant kept the scale of his project small, to minimise the impact on the environment.
Pumphouse Point has 12 bedrooms in the old three-storey concrete pumphouse linked by the jetty to another six in the two-storey Shorehouse, which also includes the dining room and a help-yourself bar. The buildings’ heritagelisted Art Deco-era features have been preserved; the exterior paint looks its age. Both buildings have lounges with fires and calm lake views. Bedrooms have lake or landscape views and are stocked with a Tasmanian larder: Ashgrove vintage cheddar, Huon salmon and Kate Hill cabernet merlot. These ingredients make a perfect picnic, while breakfast and dinner are served communally in a waterfront dining room, the likes of house-