Convicts and Cream Teas - Tassie's East Coast
The direct route from Launceston to Hobart is only about 200 kilometres long and takes about two and a half hours. But by far the more interesting route is via the East Coast, taking in some of the spectacular sights along the way. This was the route taken by our AAT Kings’ five-day Tassie Getaway.
Launceston is a historic city of about 100,000 people in a spectacular setting on the Tamar River. Unlike most cities in Australia it still has many of its historic buildings – including the Batman Fawkner Inn, where John Batman and friends met in 1835 to plan the establishment of the village that became Melbourne. It’s also a centre for Tasmania’s artisanal food industry so there are some exciting foods and wines to be found locally. Both are well represented at Stillwater Restaurant, picturesquely located within an old mill on the river below Cataract Gorge, and the city’s finest restaurant.
We were two of 49 people on our AAT Kings’s coach that departed Launceston the following morning. There was a surprising wide range of age groups represented and all were very welcoming onto “their” bus as they had alredy completed a meandering week northwards from Hobart. Firstly, we had to be initiated into the system of rotating seats in place so everyone experiences everywhere on the coach. Then there was the music on Carolyn’s (our guide) IPod that ranged from Willie Nelson to the Monkees – Marty Robbins singing El Paso as we travelled over the pass on the Tasman Highway between Scottsdale and St Helens was a fitting choice.
Our first stop was the Bridestowe Lavender Farm. Only a few years ago this venture was failing but it’s now booming under new management. While Bobbie the lavender heat bear is justifiably popular I remain unconvinced that lavender milkshakes and lavender scones have a future. See scones recipe here and image below.
St Helens is a rare Tasmanian coastal town that looks very much like all the other summer holiday resort towns along Australia’s East Coast. We travelled further to stay in Bicheno, a town with a pretty beach, great coastal views from the adjoining hill and, this summer, a baby elephant seal stuck on the rocks while going through its first moult.
Just after sunset we took the $25 penguin tour that visits a private part of the coast where little (blue) penguins emerge out of the surf each evening, year round. Unlike other more visited sites in other states we are guided around narrow paths that we share with the penguins, though they prove understandably reluctant to walk between our legs. It’s a heart-warming couple of hours.
Freycinet Peninsula is, in all ways, the outstanding promontory of Tassie’s east coast. Our tour included a day cruise from Coles Bay around to the ocean side to have lunch while drifting off the exquisite white sands of Wineglass Bay. It was an unusual perspective to a beautiful area – and some common dolphins came to ride our bow wave on the way home.
Port Arthur on a sunny day is a wonderful, beautiful place of mown lawns, colourful gardens and imposing ruins. The gorgeous setting belies a violent past, both distantly when it was the site of a brutal penal colony and on 28 April 1996 when a lone gunman killed 35 people here – most at the Broad Arrow Café, now a memorial garden. In December 2014 the main building, the penitentiary reopened after a year of conservation that makes it more accessible than ever before.
Back on the Midland Highway there are several unexpected highlights. Campbell Town’s main street is lined with a row of bricks that reveal the names and ages of transported convicts – and the horrific penalties they received for often trifling offences. The Tasmanian Wool Centre is informative and it sells a good range of Tasmanian woollen products. Just down the road, the Tasmanian Scallop Pie Company really does sell Tasmania’s best scallop pies: the flaky pastry and a touch of curry brings out the flavor of the scallops.
An AAT Kings’ exclusive was a private visit to Shene, one of the grand Tasmanian estates, now being renovated. The high tea and tour were good and the task of restoration remarkably daunting.
Out on the town in Hobart
In Hobart our accommodation is at the Hotel Grand Chancellor with excellent modern rooms in a great location that overlooks the docks and is just down the road from the new replica Mawson’s Hut and the enticing craft shops of Salamanca Place.
On our free night in Hobart we went to Frank Restaurant a new dining option that offers beautifully cooked and presented meals with an Argentinean influence. It was food that was a bit edgy and that was the perfect match for our last destination in Tasmania: MONA the Museum of Old and New Art. The creation of gambling millionaire David Walsh, MONA is both inspired and confronting. We loved it, though a temporary Matthew Barney display has displaced some of the more fascinating exhibits. Many of our fellow travellers were distinctly underwhelmed.
The two main advantages of taking a package tour is that someone has done all the planning for you (and found sights you could easily overlook)– and you have a guide who provides relevant information throughout. Our AAT Kings Tassie Getaway perfectly fulfilled both these roles so we returned with a new appreciation of the delights of our island state.
For more information go to aatkings.com
The tour operates from September till May and costs from $1695 per person.
Lavender milkshake and lavender scones