GREEN AND PLEAS­ANT ISLE

Tas­ma­nia is a jewel in our tourism crown, writes Pauline Web­ber

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - DESTINATION AUSTRALIA -

WHEN my son at­tended the scouts jam­boree in Vic­to­ria last year I wasn’t a bit sur­prised to see the Tas­ma­nian troops listed in the over­seas vis­i­tors’ sec­tion of the news­let­ter. It seems even its main­land neigh­bour has trou­ble re­mem­ber­ing the Ap­ple Isle: so near, yet so far.

But this lit­tle af­ter­thought of a state is a jewel. My one-week visit in early De­cem­ber is a suc­ces­sion of bright sunny days (with the odd shower to keep things clean), pleas­ant (mos­quito-free) evenings, abun­dant fresh air, fine food, in­ter­est­ing ales, beau­ti­ful sur­round­ings, traf­fic-free roads, re­laxed lo­cals and an al­most to­tal ab­sence of the pos­tur­ing that has be­come part of life for big-city main­lan­ders.

THE HUON TRAIL

THERE’S a big woolly sheep sit­ting on the Huon Val­ley. Tas­ma­nia has made me quite a con­nois­seur of early morn­ing fogs but this is the most de­lec­ta­ble yet. Be­hind the wheel I feel like an air­line pilot be­gin­ning my de­scent. This fer­tile re­gion, only an hour’s drive south­west of Ho­bart, is well known as a food lover’s heaven and I have come to sam­ple the pro­duce of its or­chards and vine­yards, its provi­dores and restau­rants. By the time I turn south­east away from the river to­wards the lit­tle town of Cygnet and the sea, the sheep has up and shuf­fled off, ex­pos­ing a hot sun tem­pered by a stiff breeze from the D’En­tre­casteaux Chan­nel.

Hol­i­day houses hug the coast but they can’t mar the sen­sa­tional views across the wa­ter to Bruny Is­land and be­yond. Tiny Wood­bridge vil­lage has a post of­fice, a fine gen­eral store and beau­ti­ful old tim­ber town hall. A kilo­me­tre be­yond is Pep­per­mint Bay, a cafe, restau­rant and provi­dore com­plex sprawl­ing across a grassy head­land. From the ter­race, I can see the car ferry chug­ging from Ket­ter­ing to the is­land.

I make short work of good cof­fee and feath­erlight scones with homemade berry jam and clot­ted cream, then spend a while wan­der­ing in the Pep­per­mint Bay gar­dens. There are veg­eta­bles, herbs and tanks of fish to sup­ply the restau­rant, and sculp­tures squat among the trees on the lawn, lega­cies of an an­nual art event held at the com­plex.

It’s only as I’m driv­ing off the ferry that I re­alise Bruny Is­land de­serves a whole day, if not sev­eral days. This is­land, once home to Tru­ganini’s peo­ple, is re­ally two land masses joined by a long, nar­row isth­mus. It’s a mix of farm­land, na­tional park, golden beaches, pro­tected bays, small town­ships and, at its most southerly point, soar­ing cliffs and Cape Bruny light­house. Fairy pen­guins can be seen at dusk at the Neck re­serve, at the north­ern end of the isth­mus, which also af­fords spec­tac­u­lar views. I stop to buy a dozen oys­ters from a van near the beach. With bread picked up at Ad­ven­ture Bay, they make a fine pic­nic lunch. I go as far as the light­house but then have to dash back to catch the last ferry of the day.

The road from Ket­ter­ing to Ho­bart winds along the coast through the de­light­fully named Snug (surely a hob­bit town), Ta­roona and Sandy Bay, and in no time I’m at Bat­tery Point, on the city’s fringe, ready to sam­ple the steaks at the Ship­wrights Arms bistro.

SALA­MANCA PLACE, HO­BART

IT is 8pm on Fri­day. The lin­ger­ing twi­light has just set­tled over Ho­bart’s most fa­mous piece of real es­tate. The bars are full of suits and sec­re­taries kick­ing back. Oc­ca­sion­ally a busi­ness­man wear­ing a rum­pled shirt and anx­ious ex­pres­sion, mo­bile phone pressed to his ear, breaks away from the crowd to pace the pave­ment ner­vously. Mums and dads, whose fly­away chil­dren have aban­doned their chips and fizzy drinks to pur­sue seag­ulls and pi­geons on the pave­ment, pack up their prams and make way for the next wave of more se­ri­ous din­ers. Teenage girls in high heels and loud sum­mer frocks chat fu­ri­ously while tourists study menus with the zeal of hunters and 50-some­thing cou­ples sit com­fort­ably shoul­der-to-shoul­der sip­ping good wine and watch­ing the pass­ing pa­rade. A teenage boy is busk­ing at one end of the strip. A hun­dred me­tres away is an­other busker, aged closer to 60 than 16, en­ter­tain­ing a group of en­rap­tured tod­dlers with what sound like bawdy pub songs.

The se­ri­ous buskers — jazz trios and a classical quar­tet — are set­ting up as I stroll along to the laneway lead­ing to the steep stone stairs that climb to Bat­tery Point. The light has al­most gone but, on the vil­lage green at the cen­tre of the cir­cle of ex­quis­ite cot­tages known as Arthurs Cir­cus, dads are still push­ing chil­dren on swings. A cou­ple of teenagers hud­dle on a park bench dis­cussing their re­la­tion­ship woes in anx­ious flur­ries of bit­ter, whis­pered words. It is past 10pm now. Dark­ness falls and the high sound of chil­dren’s laugh­ter rings across the still-warm air.

HO­BART TOWN

A FRIEND, Tas­ma­nian born and reared but long a res­i­dent of the wider world, has in­formed me that Ho­bart’s Cat and Fid­dle Ar­cade is not to be missed so, af­ter break­fast, I set off down­town to find this ar­chi­tec­tural gem.

A half hour later I’m stand­ing in the mid­dle of it, street map in hand and to­tally flum­moxed. Can this func­tional walk­way with its smat­ter­ing of util­i­tar­ian shops be what he was re­fer­ring to? The car­toon-like metal cat mounted on a con­crete wall above the dough­nut shop sug­gests I’m in the right spot.

There’s a clock­face be­side the cat and a metal­lic moon next to that. This, I de­cide, is where the ac­tion hap­pens. The clock strikes the hour. The cat be­gins a stiff, me­chan­i­cal fid­dle, a lit­tle dog peeps from be­hind the moon, the dish and spoon make a half-hearted play for one an­other, the cow fails to make an ap­pear­ance.

I see that my friend, famed for his sar­donic wit, has clev­erly pro­vided me with a chance to glimpse the in­ner Tas­ma­nian. Here in this south­ern­most city of this south­ern­most state of this south­ern­most out­post of a once-upon-a-time em­pire, a me­chan­i­cal man­i­fes­ta­tion of an English nurs­ery rhyme has cap­tured the imag­i­na­tion of lo­cal chil­dren and en­tered their hearts, gen­er­a­tion af­ter gen­er­a­tion.

An­thony Trol­lope, who vis­ited Aus­tralia in the 1870s, wrote ‘‘ ev­ery­thing in Tas­ma­nia is more English than is Eng­land her­self’’, and there’s still some­thing about Tas­ma­nia that is English in a way that no longer ex­ists on the main­land. It is man­i­fest in the pla­ce­names and in the sturdy build­ings, and in the long shadow of con­vict his­tory.

MT WELLING­TON

SNOW­CAPPED in win­ter, shrouded in fog any day of the year, Mt Welling­ton squats above Ho­bart, an im­pos­ing pres­ence. The drive to the sum­mit takes less than 30 min­utes so, on my last morn­ing, I de­cide to farewell this beau­ti­ful city from its high­est van­tage point. Soon, the houses peter out and the road winds up through forested foothills. De­spite the early hour, the ubiq­ui­tous Tassie cy­clists are mak­ing their way, seem­ingly ef­fort­lessly, to­wards the moun­tain­top.

For­est gives way to alpine tus­sock, then to stark rocky out­crops, and sud­denly I’m there. The road widens into an ex­panse of paved car park, empty at this time of day. There are a hand­ful of func­tional-look­ing build­ings bunched to­gether un­der the im­pos­ing trans­mis­sion tower that dom­i­nates the sky­line and be­yond them, the lookout, an at­trac­tive ed­i­fice of glass and stone.

An icy wind blows in fierce gusts and, un­pre­pared for such a big tem­per­a­ture plunge, I fash­ion an old sarong from the bot­tom of my bag into a makeshift tur­ban to keep my ears from freez­ing. The lookout af­fords lit­tle shel­ter from the cold but the views are spec­tac­u­lar: across the city to the har­bour, down the chan­nel to Bruny Is­land, up coun­try to Ben Lomond.

I’ve been here less than 10 min­utes when the first of the cy­clists joins me. Grey hair peeps out from be­neath his aero­dy­namic head­gear and I see, with some­thing of a shock, that he’s well into his 50s. He’s barely puff­ing. His ex­am­ple spurs me into ac­tion and I set off on one of the many bush­walks that fan from the sum­mit. Now, with my back to the tower, I can see the rugged beauty of the re­gion. It is early sum­mer and the alpine plants are a pro­fu­sion of red, white, pink, yel­low and orange. The rocky land­scape, dom­i­nated by the cliff face of do­lerite col­umns known as the Or­gan Pipes, has a Gor­meng­hast qual­ity to it: at­mo­spheric and eerie.

The sun comes up and I have to re­fash­ion my sarong into a sun­hat. But I have sturdy walk­ing boots — a must for this high-coun­try trekking — and soon I’ve left all sense of the city be­hind. Three hours later, hot and hun­gry, I am­back at my car and be­fore mid­day I’m en­sconced in a comfy cafe, a choles­terol-laden brunch in front of me. I’ve earned it.

Check­list

The Huon Trail can be done as a daytrip from Ho­bart or ex­tended to a two or three-day tour. www.huon­trail.org.au. Pep­per­mint Bay pro­vides ev­ery­thing from a quick cof­fee to fully catered private func­tions. It also of­fers cruises through the re­gion’s wa­ter­ways in a lux­ury cata­ma­ran, lunch in­cluded. www.pep­per­mint­bay.com.au. The ve­hic­u­lar ferry to Bruny Is­land de­parts from Ket­ter­ing at about hourly in­ter­vals dur­ing the day. www.brun­y­is­land.net. Mt Welling­ton is a short drive from the city via Fern Tree. Or­gan­ised walk­ing tours are avail­able. www.mtwelling­ton­walks.com.au; www.welling­ton­park.tas.gov.au.

Pic­tures: Tourism Tas­ma­nia

Mid­dle-earth: Clock­wise from bot­tom left, Pep­per­mint Bay; cliffs at Bruny Is­land; the Neck at Bruny Is­land; Sala­manca Place, Ho­bart; look­ing to­wards Ho­bart from Mt Welling­ton

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