Verona Sands, Tasmania

Verona Sands, Tasmania

Tasmania has long been on my "bucket list" of places to visit. I was attracted by the combination of history and landscape, by its tradition of ecology, and its reputation for food and wine. I was not disappointed.

The most significant new discovery was the fact that the population of the entire State/island is barely one-tenth that of Sydney, c. 520,000 compared with c. 5 million, with Hobart (the capital) being c. 220,000. With the result that you could go places and find free parking nearby. Unheard of in Sydney!

Another impressive statistic is that 45% of Tasmania's area comprises reserves, national parks, and World Heritage Sites.

Once again, we have to acknowledge our gratitude to Qantas, whose "companion fare" promotion made this first trip affordable. A 2-hour direct flight, and you're in a different world.

We split our 12-night stay between Hobart and Glaziers Bay, a small location on the Huon River, 45 minutes drive from Hobart (if you don't stop at the cherry orchards or cider producers) and not far from the "hippie" little town of Cygnet.

Unfortunately the availability of our self-catering properties meant we had to do 2 nights Hobart, 6 Glaziers Bay, and back for 4 more in Hobart, but that was only mildly inconvenient.

The Hobart property was well located for our purposes, near the shops and restaurants of Sandy Bay, and close to the main route in/out of the city. The "Riverside" property at Glaziers Bay not only had a great location in the bush overlooking the river, but was also comfortable and well-appointed.

Arriving in Hobart on a Saturday morning, and with some time to occupy before we could get into our accommodation, the Salamanca Market was an obvious destination. It's what 'everyone' does, so it was a crowded as Hobart gets, I imagine. But we found the 'mainland' shop of the Bruny Island Cheese Company, and also looked at some of the cruises which we might do later in our stay.

Sun, 11 Dec - Richmond and the Coal Valley

Today we headed north-east out of the city towards Richmond, one of the main historical centres in the area.

The 1823 bridge over the river claims to be the oldest Australian bridge still in use. We walked around the back streets, avoiding the commercialised Richmond Gaol, and found the Anglican Church of St Luke, one of the few early colonial churches which hasn't been extensively rebuilt.

Then via the Wicked Cheese Company (their chilli camembert is great) to a couple of vineyards, Frogmore Creek, big and brassy, and the slightly more homely Coal Valley Vineyard, where we had a late lunch on the terrace looking over the vines and down to Pitt Water.

One of the greatest attractions of the Hobart area is the ubiquitous water views - the whole place seems comprised of rivers, estuaries, islands, spits, bays, headlands, you name it. Our favourite, partly because of having to practise pronouncing it, is the D'Entrecasteaux Channel.

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Mon, 12 Dec - Dunalley, Pirates Bay, Port Arthur, and Bangor

Port Arthur is one of the major tourist destinations in Tasmania, primarily as an extensive and well-preserved site dating back to convict times, but it also gained further notoriety on account of a mass shooting in April 1996 in which 35 people were killed and 23 wounded. The murderer, Martin Bryant, pleaded guilty and was given 35 life sentences without possibility of parole. Fundamental changes of gun control laws within Australia followed the incident.

On our way home from Port Arthur we called in to the Bangor Vineyard Shed, where we had our evening meal.  I carelessly managed to wipe my photos of Bangor, so I urge you to visit their link, including the section about the farm, a 6,200 hectare property which has been in the Dunbabin family for generations and which has built an international reputation for its fine merino wools.

The Shed opened in December 2014, as a joint venture between the Dunbabins and a local oyster fisherman, in the wake of the devastating bush fires which hit in January 2013. Matt Dunbabin, the present head of the family, was selected as Australian Farmer of the Year for 2015, but when we entered he was bent over a sink shucking oysters, he took and delivered our order, wiped down other tables, etc etc. You couldn't get a more hands-on proprietor.

And the answer to the question I immediately asked when first I came across the name? The property is named after the Welsh Bangor where the Dunbabins originated in convict days (John Dunbabin arrived in 1830), not my Northern Irish home town Bangor. Nevertheless ...

And I have to admit, I'm a convert to Pinot Gris Tasmanian style, and even to oysters, although we haven't had them 'au naturel' yet.

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Tue, 13 Dec - Sandy Bay, Cascade Brewery and Mount Wellington (in a gale!)

Tasmania has a strong tradition in brewing, but unfortunately it is now mostly foreign-owned.

Cascade, founded in Hobart in 1832, was eventually swallowed up by Melbourne-based Carlton United Breweries, which changed its name to Fosters, before being in turn devoured in December 2011 by South African SAB Miller, who since October 2016 have been part of Anheuser-Busch InBev NV, the world's largest brewer, headquartered in Belgium.

The other main Tassie brewer, James Boag and Son, founded in 1883 in Launceston, hasn't fared any better, being taken over by trans-Tasman company Lion, who in turn are now owned by Japanese beverage conglomerate Kirin, themselves tied up in the ubiquitous tentacles of Mitsubishi.

At least both companies still brew in Tasmania.

Mount Wellington really looms over Hobart, and as one can drive right to the top it is something one just has to do, despite the fact that it was blowing a gale.

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Wed, 14 Dec - Glaziers Bay, Huonville, Ranelagh and Cygnet

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Thur, 15 Dec - Woodbridge, Kettering and Verona Sands

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Fri, 16 Dec - Birdwatching around home

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Sat, 17 Dec - Franklin, Geeveston and Dover

These small settlements lie along the western side of the Huon River - our base at Glaziers Bay is on the eastern shore. 43.19' South was as far as we came, equivalent to just north of Christchurch in New Zealand terms. The Russell Falls, our most northerly point at 42.41', would be level with the southern edge of Kaikoura. So when the Tasmanian wine producers talk about their 'cool climate' wines in the Coal Valley and elsewhere, it's a relative term.

The important factor in all the wineries in this region is that they are close to the moderating influence of the sea. The Bangor vineyard is at 42.53'S. Forty-two Degrees South is a brand of Frogmore Creek.

Since our visit, Geeveston has achieved fame under the name of "Rosehaven" in the TV comedy series of that name, much of which was filmed in and around the town.

Geeveston is also famous for the chain-saw timber sculptures of prominent former citizens.  They serve to indicate the town's links to the timber industry.  It is also the hub of an important apple-growing area.

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Sun, 18 Dec - to buy or not to buy!

This morning we drove up to the top of Winns Road, Cygnet, to look at a block of land that is for sale.  Fabulous views down over Port Cygnet to the Lower Huon, which means south-facing, but careful placement of a house could allow plenty of north/west facing too.  Winns Road itself is pretty quiet, but at the bottom of the hill is Channel Highway, the main route along the western side of the peninsula, carrying quite a lot of traffic, at least by Tasmanian standards.

We have found it impossible to find an existing house to suit us - you see some absolutely wierd floor plans!  But managing the design and build of a new home from a distance ...?

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Wed, 21 Dec - Derwent Valley, New Norfolk, and Mt Field National Park

The Derwent is the main river which runs through the middle of Hobart. In the earliest days of convict settlement there were two colonies, one on each side of the river, totally independent of each other.

We headed out on the main road to Launceston, the second largest city in Tasmania (population c. 87,000), 200 km or 2.5 hrs drive to the north, but soon turned off to follow the Derwent as it took a big-ish turn towards the west, following the Lyell Highway which eventually leads to Strahan on the west coast.

Russell Falls, Mt Field National Park

Our first port of call was the small, bustling and freezing cold town of New Norfolk, so named for the fairly predictable reason that the first European settlement here was by 163 out of the 554 people who were removed when Norfolk Island was closed in 1807/08. They originally called it Elizabeth Town, but changed it to New Norfolk in 1825.

Quite a number of the Norfolk Island people were "First Fleeters", and 10 of them are apparently buried in New Norfolk, including Betty King, allegedly the first white woman to set foot in Australia, and the last First Fleeter to die.

St Matthew's Anglican Church, built in 1823, claims to be Tasmania's oldest. It certainly boasts some very attractive stained glass.

Today's photos

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