We saw and did so many great things when we went to Tasmania at Easter that I’ve split the post into parts. I don’t want to be that awful uncle that bores you to death with his holiday slide show, so it’s highlights only you’ll be relieved to hear. You’ve already had MONA, so here’s part two.
History – Port Arthur is one of Australia’s most significant heritage areas, and a place, I think, all Victorians should visit at least once in their lives. A small town on the Tasman Peninsula, Port Arthur operated as a penal settlement from 1830 – 1877. This place is steeped in history. Walking around the open air museum, you get an eerie feeling of all that has gone before. The remains of the historic buildings are fascinating, and tell of a brutal existence. Without doubt, Port Arthur has seen more than it’s fair share of awful things, including the more recent tragic massacre in 1996, which has just commemorated its twentieth anniversary, when local man Martin Bryant shot dead 35 people, resulting in Australia’s now envied gun laws. Yet, when we visited, there was an air of peace and dignity in the autumn sunshine. It’s a solemn place. From a visitor’s experience the place is sympathetically preserved, well run and informative. We had our spines tingled on the night time, lantern lit, spooky Ghost Tour, and our hearts saddened on the touching Isle of the Dead cemetery tour.
We happened on the village of Ross quite by chance on our last day. Chosen as a likely looking place to stop on the Midland Highway for morning tea, we discovered a well preserved example of a fine 19th century colonial village, complete with sandstone buildings, cobbled streets, avenues of stately trees and Australia’s third oldest working bridge. Located on the banks of the Macquarie river, 117kms north of Hobart, and built in the early 1800’s by convict labour, it seemed almost as if we had been transported to an English country village from Pride and Prejudice . I half expected Miss Elizabeth Bennet and her sisters to be promenading about the streets with dashing military gentlemen. We had a yummy morning tea and scones and very good gluten-free pancakes at Wisteria Café and Gifts, and spent a happy couple of hours wandering around the beautiful buildings and mooching in the antique shops. Although the soldiers are long gone, the village seems to be a genteel and thriving centre for tourism and a very pleasant place to visit.
Nature –Wineglass Bay on the Freycinet peninsula, is well known as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, and draws visitors from around the globe. Having seen the internet images of the flawless crescent of dazzling white sand meeting the pristine ocean I was prepared for the disappointment of reality. I was ecstatic to be proven wrong however, as the view from the look-out was seriously breathtaking. The whole family did the three hour round trip trek down to the beach and back, including my 77 year old Dad visiting from the UK. I can report that it was very hard work, on a rugged bush path with some treacherously steep stone steps and slippery, gravelly path going up to the look-out and then down to the beach itself – well done Dad. The hard work was so worth it though, to frolic in the waves on this perfect beach. It was so utterly beautiful I could hardly believe it. I even got a bit emotional. We were incredibly lucky to have one of those glorious, clear autumn days filled with sunshine. I imagine it might have been a different experience in the rain.
The Winifred Curtis Reserve was a bit of a surprise bonus on our way through Scamander. A gentle, flat and meandering path beside Henderson Lagoon and home to around 3oo species of native flora and 80 species of wetland and woodland birds, it’s calm and peaceful and we had the place pretty much to ourselves. Gentle rather than spectacular, with time and space to think and look around, and a welcome relief after the throngs at Freycinet. If you like this kind of thing, and I do, then have a wander about here if you happen to be in this neck of the woods.
Food – This holiday wasn’t intended as a foodie pilgrimage – that will be an adventure for another time. We mostly self catered or lunched at the local bakeries of towns we passed through, and experienced some pretty mundane meals along the way. However, there were some very pleasant surprises in unlikely places.
Top pick was The Pelican’s Bill Bistro, located in the rather bland looking Pelican Sands Resort, Scamander. Great reviews on tripadvisor lead us to this nondescript looking bistro, with rather intrusive lighting that threatened Mr.B and Miss S with migraines. Our efforts were rewarded by genuinely friendly and efficient service teamed with surprisingly excellent food. Miss E’s gluten free needs were splendidly catered for with one of the most delicious risottos I’ve ever tasted. I chose crispy skin chicken with chilli sauce and rice – sounds boring, I was feeling jaded. It was soooo good – a succulent chicken drumstick and thigh with crispy, Asian spiced skin, on a bed of perfectly steamed and fragrant jasmine rice, with a sublimely subtle chilli broth and finished with fresh coriander leaves. I would describe it as masterfully restrained and delicate. I’m still thinking about it now! All our meals were expertly cooked and so delicious we went back again the next night, and it was just as good.
Also worth a mention, and even more surprising, Felon’s Bistro at Port Arthur Historic Site. In the evenings part of the café is closed off to become a swankier eating establishment. Essentially it’s still the café, but with a partition to shield the more refined diners from the hoi-polloi. We weren’t expecting much, but the place we were staying was cold and uncomfortable and I couldn’t face re-heating take-away pies two nights running. Definitely worth the leap of faith, my steak was superb, expertly medium rare with a delicious jus and perfectly steamed al dente veggies. Everyone’s food was great, the atmosphere friendly and comfortable, and the highlight of the evening, a group of hilarious bearded bikers having the time of their lives. They were laughing so hard it was infectious – I have no idea what about. They suggested to us it must have been something in the dessert, so we ordered that. I asked if they were laughing at Dad’s beard, somewhat scrawny compared to theirs. That set them off again and they offered him honorary membership to their group. Perhaps the more refined diners were the other side of the partition after all. I can’t guarantee such an entertaining night, but if you are in Port Arthur, the Felon’s Bistro is a good option for dinner.
The pretty, historic town of Richmond was our last day’s lunch-stop on our leisurely way back to the airport. It’s well preserved, in the spirit of Ross, but bigger and not as quaint. We had a most excellent lunch at the charming Czeg’s Café. Housed in a historic building, with antique crockery and silverware lining the walls and long, communal tables, the ambience alone is worth a visit. The food was more sophisticated than expected, and the speciality chai tea fragrantly wonderful. I had the Pesto Chicken Salad and it was delish and generous! The staff were relaxed and friendly, allowing us to dine at an extremely leisurely pace whilst killing time before our trip back.
Stay – We stayed at AirBnB places in every destination. Most were very good with one inexperienced exception (although graciously part refunded by the host). These are my two top picks, highly recommended if you’re looking for a special place to stay.
Architect Designed Eco Home – Falmouth. A spacious and well designed house with four bedrooms, great kitchen, huge garden and magnificent sunset views. Great pellet heater for chilly evenings. Spotlessly clean.
The Hideaway – Swansea. Amazing location overlooking Nine Mile Beach. Spectacular 180 degree views from the lounge and master bedroom. Beautifully restored with an original beach shack vibe and a huge open fireplace for cosy times. Spotlessly clean.
Well there you have it. Well done for staying to the end. Hopefully you have some tips for your next visit to Tassie. I can’t wait to go back!