Tasmania: Beyond the Ramparts of the Unknown

Commissioned for Luxury Travel Magazine

Words and pics Roderick Eime. Additional photography by Tourism Tasmania.

Once known euphemistically as “The Apple Isle”, Tasmania has shrugged off its persistent “fruit and vegetable” tag and moved up market into premium wine, particularly pinot noir, Riesling and sparkling varieties. The potential was discovered early with a medal at the 1848 Paris Exhibition but it wasn’t until the 1970s that Tasmania’s wine production was in full swing. Now the annual Hobart Wine Show is one of the most important in the country with vintages from over 140 producers.

Luxury Travel Magazine

Issue 44 – Spring 2010

Travelling from cellar door to cellar door can occupy an entire week-long journey and once you’ve tasted a few wines, you’ll want to stop by them all. Some wineries are architectural attractions in themselves like Moorilla, Meadowbank and Jansz, while other more humble establishments display their produce in converted stables like Springvale, or just a shed.

“Before I came down here I used to run a panel shop in Melbourne,” confesses Michael Vishacki of Panorama Vineyard near Hobart, “and I learned everything on the job.” Michael, unpretentious and plain speaking, certainly was paying attention. His prize pinots now sell for hundreds of dollars in Asia’s top hotels.

Despite the rapidly rising profile of the bottled product, most visitors will yield to the allure of the UNESCO World Heritage Cradle Mountain Lake St Clair National Park where the signature accommodation is the swank Voyages Cradle Mountain Lodge.

Cradle Mountain Lodge

The raw appeal of the Tasmanian mountainscape has captured the imagination of visitors for decades and none more so than pioneering outdoorsman, Austrian-born Gustav Weindorfer, who built a rough chalet next to the iconic Dove Lake in 1912.

Weindorfer is revered as the “founder” of Cradle Mountain wilderness recreation and is fondly remembered as an eccentric, idealistic yet jovial man who would host guests with generous lashings of his garlic and badger (wombat) stew.

“A mixture that would kill me in five minutes,” recalled local Bill Perkins in a eulogy to the colourful Austrian in 1982.

The more serious walkers can take specially organised and guided packages utilising a series of private eco-friendly huts over a six-day itinerary that incorporates the very best of the park. Each day’s walking is about four hours and includes food, accommodation and a loan jacket, but if you do nothing else, be sure to complete the Dove Lake circuit, a relaxed two hour dawdle around this imposing feature that is one of Australia’s most instantly recognisable vistas next to Uluru (Ayer’s Rock) and the Sydney’s Harbour Bridge.

If walking is your passion, and Tasmania is one of the world’s great walking destinations, scoot over to the east coast for the other signature Tasmanian track, the Bay of Fires Walk. The four day coastal trek passes through the Mount William National Park and culminates in a sublime kayak along Ansons River frequented by sea eagles and platypuses. With one night en route at the Forester Beach Camp and two at the Bay of Fires Lodge, groups are limited to just ten walkers.

The lodge itself is situated 40 metres above a secluded white sand beach ideal for a quick, invigorating dip or snorkel. A model of ecologically sensitive construction, the award-winning pavilion is solar powered and features composting latrines and its own massive rainwater tanks.

“This is where we get a few ‘ohs and ahs’, says Daisy, a Californian science graduate now a full-time guide at Bay of Fires, as we consume the sweeping vista across a perfectly white beach on the Abbotsbury Peninsula directly beneath us. Behind us is the historic Eddystone Point Lighthouse which marks the island’s easternmost point. The view goes on forever. “On a day like today, you can just make out Cape Barren Island” (nearly 50kms to the north).

In the centre of Tasmania are the alpine lakes and craggy mountains that make such great postcards. Plum in the middle of the island and on the eastern border of the vast UNESCO World Heritage-listed Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park, Tarraleah, a former hydro-electric working town is now a delightful hamlet pared down from its original sprawl to just the core buildings. The schoolhouse, church, hotel, supermarket, hall and chalet have all been reborn to serve the new single-minded community dedicated to natural pursuits such as bushwalking, trout fishing, canoeing, mountain-biking and bird-watching.

“Ten to two … pause …. flick,” implores fishing master Robbie as I struggle with the expensive rod and reel. Robbie’s meticulously tied fly obediently skits back and forth over the training pond as mine circles erratically then dives pathetically a few feet from shore. Trout fishing is a relaxing, almost transcendental pursuit, I’m told. Catching the fish is surely secondary to training emu feather dry flies to lure finicky trout. Still, I persist.

The old art-deco chalet has undergone the greatest transformation and is now a multi-award-winning lodge offering superior dining with a nightly degustation menu and spa treatments in the newly-constructed bathhouse adjacent.

Tasmania is a member of that elite geographic group of the world’s most southern inhabited lands, the executive of which includes just New Zealand’s South Island and Patagonia. In a world apparently shrinking through globalization and mass transit, venturing to the ends of the Earth may just be the escape clause we need.

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Doing It: Tarraleah Estate is situated on 300 acres surrounded by national park and World Heritage temperate rainforest. The self-contained adventure town offers a range of activities including world-class trout fishing, bushwalking and canoeing and is supported by a range of accommodation options from restored cottages to luxury lodge and motel-style. Lodge rates from AUD$395pp inc meals and use of amenities.. www.tarraleah.com +61 3 6289 3222

Anthology – The Travellers Collection operates both the Cradle Mountain Huts and the Bay of Fires walk. Both are best experienced during the southern summer (Nov-Feb) and walkers need only be of moderate fitness. Bring boots and day clothes, the rest is supplied including meals, GORE-TEX® coats, bedding and guides. 3-night BoF walk starts at AUD$1900 while the 5-night CMHs start at AUD$2500. www.anthology.travel +61 3 6392 2211

Henry Jones Art Hotel is located in central Hobart and is one of the most talked-about establishments in the country. Designed to form a continuously evolving exhibition, the 250 pieces are hung and displayed around the carefully restored buildings. No two rooms are alike. The signature H Jones Suite is AUD$850 per night while standard rooms are from AUD$290. www.thehenryjones.com +61 3 6225 7016

Getting there: You can fly from mainland capitals to Hobart, Launceston and Devonport. Tasmania is a little over an hour’s flight from Melbourne, the nearest mainland capital city. Virgin Blue, Jetstar, Qantas, Rex and Tiger all operate daily services to Tasmania.

Tasmania, with excellent roads and light traffic, is a perfect choice for self-drive. All major car rental companies are represented as well as motorcycle and campervan options

When to go: Tasmania’s mild climate makes the island state a perfect year-round destination. While winters can be quite chilly, spring and autumn are always popular. The west coast is one of the rainiest parts of Australia, while ironically, Hobart is one of the driest cities.

For comprehensive travel information: www.discovertasmania.com

* King George IV’s 1825 Royal Charter referred to Van Diemen’s Land as “a huge tract of unsettled land, beyond the ramparts of the unknown.”

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