AUSTRALIA, TAS: A Taste and a Tipple in TassieThis was my first trip to Tasmania so I was pleasantly surprised to find that Launceston’s gracious Victorian streetscapes were very different from many other Australian cities I have visited. Not only did the scenery look different but as I was to find out, the food and wine temptations are on a par with some of the world’s best hotspots.
AUTHOR & PHOTOGRAPHER: ©Shane Boocock 2012
No sooner had I left the airport than I was taking hiking in Cataract Gorge, Launceston’s own little 160 hectare Grand Canyon, less than five minutes from the city centre. It was drizzling rain and the aerial tramway (they say it’s the longest single span chairlift in the world) looping across the gorge was empty. In the Victorian rotunda café they advertised Devonshire teas as peacocks wandered aimlessly sweeping up the lemon-coloured oak leaves that littered the floor and pathway. It felt like a slice of England had been cut and pasted from a park in Sussex.
This was my first trip to Tasmania so I was pleasantly surprised to find that Launceston’s gracious Victorian streetscapes were very different from many other Australian cities I have visited. Not only did the scenery look different but as I was to find out, the food and wine temptations are on a par with some of the world’s best hotspots . . . why had it taken me so many years to visit this little Australian gem of a gastronomic destination?
It was Monday night and nearly every seat in the Black Cow Bistro was occupied. The restaurant was appropriately located in an old Art Deco butcher’s shop in downtown Launceston and on a cold wintery night it was the only place to be. After devouring Pacific oysters served four different ways, Kim the owner suggested I order the rib eye, which the menu stated had been dry hung 21 days on the bone – talk about a slab of tender beef that was perfectly cooked – it was then I thought thank God I'm not vegetarian.
Northern Tasmania’s largest city is located in a valley formed where the South and North Esk Rivers meet to become the wide Tamar River. Launceston, I soon learned was the gateway to the popular Tamar wine region, which I had thoughtfully allocated half of my next day to visit.
My first stop on the Tamar Valley wine route was to try a wonderful platter lunch at Piper’s Brook Vineyard followed by a visit to their tasting room. This huge winery is one of Australia’s leading producers of cool-climate wines. My favourite tipple of the seven tastings I tried was the 2011 Vineyard Estate Brook Pinot Gris . . . and it was a very smooth drop indeed.
Then it was onto Tamar Ridge Wines, a true state-of-the-art working winery. Tamar Ridge believes that the exceptional fruit grown at the Kayena Vineyard forms the cornerstone of the Tamar Ridge and Devil’s Corner range of wines they produce. Located on the western banks of the Tamar River, 40km north of Launceston, the vineyard is planted in a range of cool climate varieties including sauvignon blanc, pinot gris, riesling, chardonnay and pinot noir. Look for the ‘Research Series’ of wines with its funky label . . . my favourite was the 2009 chardonnay.
My final stop of the day was at the delightfully small Goaty Hill Wines. This 50 acre vineyard is owned by two couples and named after a landmark on the property, Goaty Hill, a steep and rocky hill that offers panoramic views of the west Tamar region. This vineyard produces 10-12 thousands cases a year that are only sold in Australia. The pinot noir 2010 was the pick of the bunch and a fine way to end my afternoon tasting session.
After a 30 minute drive I pulled into Quamby Estate, a place steeped in Tasmanian history as it was once the home of Sir Richard Dry – the first Tasmanian born premier of the state. The large manor house was built between 1830 and 1838. Originally a 30,000 acre estate in the Meander Valley, today its acreage is closer to 64 hectares including a nine-hole golf course and country club. Quamby has been renovated by one of its owners, Brent Godfrey the co-founder of Virgin Australia with another Sir Richard . . . UK’s very own Sir Richard Branson.
In fitting with the iconic calibre of the property, there has been a total refurbishment of the library and drawing rooms both handsomely decorated with antiques and period pieces. There are 10 individually appointed guest bedrooms each one styled differently with a combination of contemporary and period antiques.
During my stay they allocated me the Governor’s Bedroom (the nickname I gave it) with its five meter high, four poster bed surrounded by French-styled period furnishings and a custom designed en-suite bathroom. If you’re lucky enough to have Lucy greet you at the door, be ready to be looked after by the best guest host in the state.
Back on the road I headed for Freycinet Bay where I had been invited to lunch. Saffire Freycinet is a luxury coastal sanctuary – a very stylish two year old luxury resort with a manta ray styled roof where their ‘Premium Rooms’ go for a staggering A$2800 a night – I kid you not. As you can imagine the food and wine matched the view of the beautiful bay even on such an overcast day.
However, what’s a trip to Wineglass Bay without a glass of wine right? After checking into Freycinet Lodge where the rates are more in line with mainstream travellers’ budgets, I laced up my sneakers for the 30 minute hike to Wineglass Bay. On the trail there were couples walking as well as a friendly local Tasmanian Pademelon wallaby. In muggy conditions it’s a sure way to build up a thirst. This is an iconic picture perfect spot that says everything about Tasmania and its beautiful coastline and wilderness. As one local told me, “the aboriginals knew a special area when they saw one. They were the first people to holiday here.”
Back at the lodge I cracked open a bottle of Tasmanian pinot noir on my deck as a possum tried to steal crackers and cheese off my platter and as if to offer a final curtsy, the setting sun peeked out for a few minutes beneath foreboding skies that had enveloped the whole region. That evening in the lodge’s waterfront restaurant I ordered a salad and half lobster with a few glasses of chardonnay as the sound of burning logs crackled in the fireplace on a cold winter’s night making it a perfect day.
The following day after touring Port Arthur for most of the afternoon . . . a fascinating place and one worthy of an article alone I turned in for the night at Stewarts Bay Lodge. This lodge offers the ideal base on the Tasman Peninsular for outdoor enjoyment: bush walking, kayaking, scuba diving, horse riding, scenic attractions, aboriginal history and of course visiting the Port Arthur Historic penal settlement.
My final port of call was Hobart. It would take more than a few pages to cover all its best attributes such as kayaking on the Derwent River, its maritime history, Mount Wellington and on the outskirts its beaches and wilderness. The wonderful open air markets, fabulous cafes and restaurants serving sumptuous cuisine, arts, crafts, galleries and MONA . . . the Museum of Old and New Art.
Hobart is a city rich in history and culture that juts out from every angle. My accommodation was in the Old Woolstore Apartment Hotel. Like much of Hobart they have refurbished and redesigned many historic buildings rather than demolish them. With sandstone Georgian warehouses lining the waterfront it’s no wonder Loney Planet readers rated Hobart, the world’s third most photogenic city.
My last two days in Hobart were spent wandering the old part of the waterfront eating in great restaurants like Smolt and Ethos or drinking in old taverns and fancy new wine bars like the one at MONA. Yet sometimes there’s nothing better that to eat fish and chips sitting on the edge of the harbour, which I did . . . enjoying the perfect hotspot to have a taste and a tipple of Tasmania!
Peppers Seaport Hotel, Launceston
Quamby Estate, Launceston
Stewarts Bay Lodge, Port Arthur
The Old Woolstore Hotel, Hobart
FOOD & WINE:
Black Cow Bistro, Launceston
Piper’s Brook Estate, Launceston
Goaty Hill Wines, Launceston
Tamar Ridge Wines, Launceston
Smolt Restaurant, Hobart
Ethos Restaurant, Hobart
MONA Wine Bar
Shane Boocock would like to thank Tourism Tasmania for hosting him on his recent visit to Tasmania:
Please visit www.discovertasmania.co.nz
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