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Tasmania’s Southern Central Region: An Undiscovered Gem

Tasmania

Kirstie Bedford takes a trip into Tasmania’s southern central region to meet some of the locals who make these rolling hills their home.

I weave my way through the crowds on Hobart’s waterfront to an awaiting seaplane. As I board people pause on the wharf, watching and waving, cameras flashing and while I feel like a celebrity, the throngs of people are certainly not here for me.

The annual Australian Wooden Boat Festival is on and Franklin Wharf in the centre of town in Tasmania’s capital city is buzzing with locals who have flocked here for the festivities. It was a nice send-off though and I’m certainly feeling like a rock star as we cruise above the crystal blue sea of the harbour and up the River Derwent.

I am on board an eight-seater de Havilland Beaver with Above and Beyond, owned and operated by Tasmanian-born Henry Ellis and his dad Gerald, who do custom and scenic flights all over the island. Within what feels like seconds we go from the populated coast to a patchwork of golden and green pasture, where the snake-like river winds its way between mountains and disappears in the distance.

“You okay?” Henry asks me as we hit a few air pockets. Luckily for him I don’t get nauseous when flying, nor do I have a fear of it. In fact I love nothing more than seeing a region from above, and there are few places that provide a candy box of scenery like the Derwent Valley. Henry talks me through the various things we see along the way, but I am so mesmerised I take little in. He’s clearly keen to show off his home region, a love affair possibly fuelled even more by almost a decade away working as a commercial pilot for Virgin Australia.

We are met by Gerald, who is as personable and charming as his son, and they whisk me away to the family winery in Meadowbank (aptly named Meadowbank), where there are rolling hills of vines, and, of course, a line-up of wines to try. Gerald purchased the property in 1974 and tells me he was very fortunate his wife agreed to go along with what was, at the time a ridiculously large mortgage. Two years later they planted the first vines, and today their award-winning wine is sold all over the country. There are 50 hectares of vines on the 2,500-hectare property where they do wine tastings for the lucky few who land here. When I’m feeling the hazy relaxation only wine and great company can bring, it’s time to leave, and with a bottle of my favourite (the gamay) under my arm, we drive off the winery just as several wallabies bound by, as if on cue.

Back to nature

Thirty kilometres west of Meadowbank is Mt Field National Park where I meet equally passionate Derwent local Fiona Weaver, owner of Tassie Bound Adventure Tours, who takes guided tours through the park.

We’ve barely worked up a sweat when I hear the rush of a waterfall and the tiered Russell Falls tower overhead. Ten minutes later we reach the equally beautiful, although much smaller, Horseshoe Falls and stop to listen to the rippling water and watch as it bubbles over rocks and branches. Then it’s onwards to Tall Trees where you can see the world’s tallest flowering plant, the 30-metre swamp gum. We’re swallowed by the canopy of green and it’s not long before we see an eastern barred bandicoot, close enough to make out its long snout, before it turns its furry body and scurries away. Fiona stops at a stream and fills up her water bottle, and while I’m sure  it’s not for everyone, it speaks volumes to me about this little piece of paradise.

She tells me they take kayaking trips too, and their signature adventure is paddling with platypuses. It runs from nearby Truffle Lodge, the luxury glamping experience where I’ll be spending the next two nights.

Created by two ex-school teachers, Truffle Lodge was one of Australia’s first trufferies, but when they took it over, owner John Grimley says it was nothing short of derelict. To look at it now, you would never know. There are eight luxury tents (the last three have just opened this season) all with plastic water tanks that house the bathroom. But don’t be fooled – they are huge. Each includes a deep handmade wooden bathtub and rain shower. The large king beds with extra-thick mattresses, are centrally placed, all facing the tent’s entrance where you have unobstructed views across the river. With no WiFi or televisions in the rooms, it’s the kind of place most come to completely disconnect.

In the evening, you are welcome to join John, or one of the attentive staff, who will make you a home-cooked meal in the shared dining room, matched with local wine.

The next day, I stand on the hill above the tents to take it all in. The only sounds are birds chirping in the trees and the flow of the River Derwent, which lulled me off to sleep the night before. It’s hard to imagine that this pristine landscape is less than an hour from Hobart, let alone surrounded by artisan producers.

When the kitchen calls

There are some places that get a name for themselves for a very good reason and The Agrarian Kitchen is one of them. So it’s no surprise I decide to head to its eatery in New Norfolk, a pretty little town on the River Derwent. Rodney Dunn and Severine Demanet launched the business out of a longing to have a true paddock-to-plate experience. It began with a cooking school and farm, and in 2015 they took over the derelict former mental asylum in New Norfolk and turned it into the eatery. Over the coming year, they will relocate
the cooking school and gardens, too.

The concept is to use a community of local producers, and ingredients from its own farm, to create what they call unpretentious food. However, as modest as the food may sound, its presentation is nothing short of sophisticated, and the tastes will be a memory long lived on my palate.

On my last day I head north from Truffle Lodge to the banks of the upper Derwent to Lawrenny Estate, where I meet Ross Mace and his dutiful dog.

This expansive, stunning property was a retirement plan, but he knew the land wouldn’t be viable alone as a dairy farm. When it was suggested to him he should look at making gin, he thought why not and converted a Dutch-style derelict barn. Mace headhunted head distiller Joe Dinsmoor and they now produce multiple global award-winning gins, vodkas and whiskies.

After a tour and thorough explanation about the intricate process of making gin, of which I now have a completely new appreciation for, Ross walks me to my car. “ Joe’s the best in the country, you know,” he says, his eyes slightly teary. “I just wanted you to know what an important part of the team he is.”

It’s this kind of respect for each other, and the region, you feel when you visit the Derwent Valley. If this stunning land could talk I’m sure it too would thank these local people – people who genuinely care about it and, importantly, want to show it off to those lucky enough to visit.

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