Maria Island Walk
Truth be told, I’m not much of a camping kind of guy. I like my comforts. Composting toilets, tents, mosquito nets and rocks that need to be climbed are not usually on my agenda.
The four-day Maria Island Walk, an internationally acclaimed guided walk off the east coast of Tasmania, loomed as something of a challenge, then, even if it is billed as a gourmet experience.
Small groups – a maximum of 10 guests and two guides – enjoy a combination of wilderness, heritage and Tasmanian food and wine. Along the way you’ll encounter wombats, pademelons, all manner of bird life including Cape Barren geese, kangaroos and maybe even a Tasmanian devil or two. Dolphins and migrating whales are sometimes spotted from the beaches (pictured above).
The Maria Island Walk is billed as “a gentle and relaxing journey” through one of Australia’s most beautiful and tranquil national parks and has been described as “one of the world’s great walks.” I found it less than relaxing – but it was certainly exhilarating.
The guides are chosen for their knowledge of Maria Island, including the birds, native plants and animals. They’ve studied the history and stories and can also cook, pour a wine and are infinitely patient with slow, sweating walkers. Our pair – Sarah and Jessie – were both charming and frighteningly capable.
A bus ride from Hobart to Triabunna is followed by a short boat crossing of Mercury Passage (quite calm in both directions) to remote Shoal Bay beach where we were dumped with a cheery “see you in four days.” It was noticeable that ours were the only footprints in the sand. After a short walk we arrived at Casuarina Beach camp with its tented village tucked away in the bush. Welcome to an eco-friendly, minimal intervention world of no electricity and no hot water – although the ocean makes for a pretty fine swimming pool and it is lovely to watch the stars emerge as the sun sets.
Post-walk, our group savoured local wines, beers and a dinner of tomato bruschetta, followed by local scallops with soba noodles, shiitake mushrooms, wakame and oyster sauce. It was restaurant quality – as was virtually every meal on the trip. That was no mean feat given cooking facilities are rudimentary, to say the least.
The next day temperatures soared to 35 degrees – and it was the longest day on the road. Except the road comprised delightful bush tracks and gorgeous deserted beaches before a final couple of kilometres that really strained the muscles.
The third day takes in a “gentle” inland track to Hopgrounds Beach and the Painted Cliffs – dramatically formed by crashing waves. There is also an option to climb Mount Maria and take in the 360-degree views – if the weather is kind.
Maria Island pre-dates Port Arthur as a convict settlement and was also home to short-lived silk-making and cement manufacturing ventures that were part of a bold but failed vision of an ambitious Italian entrepreneur called Diego Bernacchi. On the final night, walkers stay in Bernacchi’s gracious old home – which has toilets, showers, comfortable beds and a full-equipped kitchen. They can then explore the remains of colonial Darlington on their final morning.
The facts: Maria Island Walks operate from October to the end of April and the price is $2,300 per person inclusive. Walkers are advised to equip themselves with walking boots and warm clothing but backpacks, sleeping bags and bedding are provided. Phone (03) 6234 2999. www.mariaislandwalk.com.au.
Woodbridge on the Derwent
Perhaps because it is tucked away in the sleepy town of New Norfolk, the delightful Woodbridge on the Derwent boutique hotel remains something of a well-kept secret even to Tasmanians.
This heritage-listed property, a 30-minute drive from Hobart, is the only member of the Small Luxury Hotels group in Tasmania. It’s a beautifully restored Georgian mansion set in lovely gardens above the fast-flowing Derwent River (well-heeled guests sometimes arrive by seaplane, docking at the hotel’s own pontoon). Built by convicts in 1825, Woodbridge was originally the home of the new colony’s magistrate and is one of Australia’s oldest surviving buildings.
Owners John and Laurelle Grimley bought the derelict property in 2003 and have done a magnificent refurbishment job. After a spell closed following a tragic car accident involving their son, they reopened Woodbridge on the Derwent 20 months ago. They are fonts of knowledge on all things local and as this is Tasmania the staff are uniformly friendly and eager to please.
The rooms vary in style but include all five-star accessories including Molton & Brown toiletries, flat-screen TVs, free wi-fi, iPod docks, extremely comfortable beds, modern bathrooms, in-room safes and mini bars with complimentary soft drinks.
Guests are welcome to help themselves to port and sherry in one of the three drawing rooms and public areas are tastefully decorated with period pieces and individually sourced artworks. There are lovely gardens in which to wile away an hour or two taking in the river views.
Dinner, on the night we stayed, comprised an amuse bouche of a spicy prawn bisque, followed by a delightful starter of spinach ricotta ravioli with cherry tomato and basil sauce. Then came a choice of maple-glazed Tasmanian ocean trout on a leek and fennel pancake with asparagus, or rack of Tasmanian lamb with rosemary jus, hasselback potato and seasonal greens. There were two dessert choices and a small but well thought-out wine list featuring local labels.
There is a bit of a boozy theme, too, with several featured packages involving tastings at nearby Redlands Estate whisky distillery, while on-site facilities include bikes, kayaks, and the sauna/hot tub and mini-gym.
Local attractions include cellar doors, the Redlands and Nant distilleries, Two Metre Tall with its home-brewed beers and ciders and the Agrarian Kitchen cooking school, as well as fly fishing, bushwalking and the nearby Salmon Ponds. Nearby you’ll find the Mount Field National Park and the Styx Valley, while New Norfolk itself is the third-oldest town in Australia and is known for its old buildings and antique stores.
The facts: Woodbridge on the Derwent, 6 Bridge Street, New Norfolk, Tasmania 7140. Phone (03) 6261 5566. For stays before May 17 there is a 15 per cent discount on published rates. www.woodbridgenn.com.au.
The Tamar Valley Wine Route
Don’t expect flashy hotels and expensive restaurants in the Tamar Valley Wine Route of northern Tasmania. The region that encircles the state’s second city of Launceston remains small, friendly and largely undeveloped in terms of mass tourism.
Here you’ll find cellar doors that are unmanned until you toot your horn and someone drives in from the vineyard on a tractor. If you are looking for country charm you’ll find it here by the bucket load.
The Tamar Valley wine region actually encompasses several different vineyard districts. The bulk of cellar doors are on the west bank of the meandering Tamar River, but there are a couple on the east bank, a handful in the Pipers River and Lilydale regions to the east and a couple at Relbia, down the road from Launceston Airport.
The biggest names in the region include Tamar Ridge, Josef Chromy, Bay of Fires and Pipers Brook Vineyard and sparkling wine producers including Jansz and Clover Hill but there are plenty of family-owned producers worth visiting, some of them tiny with cellar doors. Some have quirky opening hours, so it pays to check before setting off on a day of exploration.
Visitors can follow 170km of trails marked by yellow and blue “Wine Route” road signage. The route was named one of the best 10 in the world by the UK’s Essential Travel magazine. Some of the local wines can be tasted and purchased at the award-winning Launceston Harvest Market every Saturday morning, or at specialist retailers like The Pinot Shop and Davies Grand Central.
Top local eateries include the restaurants/cafes at Josef Chromy and Velo Wines, and Launceston institutions like Stillwater, Black Cow Bistro and Me Wah.