22 September 2021
22 September 2021
The drive from Hobart to Launceston can be made in a little under two-and-a-half hours – a relatively straight shot up the Midland Highway through the heart of Tasmania. But to rush this roadtrip would be doing yourself and the Apple Isle a grave disservice.
Fortunately, interior stylist Steve Cordony had nothing but time when he embarked on the journey north in his Mercedes-Benz GLC following a busy weekend in Hobart. So much time, in fact, that he started by heading south.
If tasting your way around Hobart’s Salamanca Markets and Farm Gate Market leaves you wanting more, start your Tasmania road trip right with the 35-minute detour south to Bruny Island. Drive onto the ferry at Kettering and you’ll be on this unspoilt patch of paradise in about 20 minutes. “It’s all very simple,” says Belle magazine’s style director-at-large. “But the sheer expanse, flatness and ruggedness of the landscape is amazing. And the sunsets ...”
Stay overnight - at least - to explore the island, whether it’s checking out the fairy penguins after dusk from the Big Hummock lookout on the Neck (the narrow isthmus linking Bruny’s north and south); discovering the stunning beaches around Adventure Bay; or taking the long drive along the dirt road to Cape Bruny Lighthouse. The latter is a trip the GLC takes in its stride, smoothing the way with AGILITY CONTROL suspension configured for ultimate ride comfort and 4MATIC-enhanced permanent all-wheel drive delivering outstanding off-road agility and optimum traction.
Steve was charmed to discover Bruny’s quirkiest bakery. “Each day, John Bullock, The Bruny Baker, bakes a whole bunch of loaves at his off-grid home at Sheepwash Bay,” Steve says. “He brings them to the corner of Sheepwash Road and the main road, where a couple of retro Kelvinator fridges serve as his honesty box. He stacks them with this beautiful sourdough wrapped in white paper, and whatever else he’s been baking, and you stop by, pull out what you need and leave the money.”
Hotel Bruny – self-proclaimed as ‘not just your average pub’ – has a variety of accommodation options, from new one-bedroom lodges to a family cabin. The bistro menu is designed around Tasmania’s (and Bruny’s) bounty. Freshly shucked oysters straight from Cape Bruny are a must-have, perhaps paired with a glass of Bruny Island Cider on tap, or a brew from Bruny Island Beer Co. (stablemate of Bruny Island Cheese Co.).
The Bruny Island Cheese Co. cellar door is an essential stop in itself. Of Nick Haddow’s award winning range, Steve recommends the semi-hard cheese ‘George’ and ‘Otto’– a soft, fresh cheese wrapped in local prosciutto. “The idea is to bake it in the oven, so you get this melted, gooey cheese inside the crisp prosciutto case.”
Next stop is a private island just off Bruny in the D’Entrecasteaux Channel. Satellite Island is the kind of luxury castaway experience Robinson Crusoe could only have dreamed of. “This has been on my bucket list for years,” says Steve. “It’s all yours to explore, fish, swim and slow right down. And it’s staying on that list so I can visit again and again!”
The island’s accommodation, booked exclusively for up to eight people, comprises the Summer House, with dramatic elevated views over the Channel; The Boathouse, right on the water’s edge; and a bell tent for luxe glamping. Order provisions when booking, and they’ll be waiting for you upon arrival. Or you might be lucky enough to land your own dinner. “Michael, my partner, caught a couple of fish,” says Steve, “and we had fresh oysters every day. Richard, the island keeper, cleaned the fish for us, and we cooked it on the open fire by the deck. It was the most magical experience.”
Back on the mainland heading north from Hobart on the Midland Highway, this colonial village bordering Lake Dulverton is a lovely detour before picking up the coast road. “Check out the topiary all over town,” says Steve. “And the high street is crammed with charming sandstone buildings.”
Oatlands is also a honeypot for lovers of antiquing. “Among our favourites were Elm Cottage and Oatlands Antiques & Collectables,” says Steve. The Jardin Room and Provincial Interiors was another highlight. “The Jardin Room has all these French provincial antiques and architectural pieces for inside and out. I could have brought a lot of things back! So much of it would have been perfect for our farm.”
Back on track and cruising up the coast along the Tasman Highway (aka the Great Eastern Drive), nothing quite prepares you for that first glimpse of the pink granite peaks of the Hazards Range edging Great Oyster Bay. The pretty little seaside town of Swansea sits across the bay, its sheltered waters as clear as glass and beaches stretching for miles. There are also excellent wineries nearby, including Kelvedon Estate, Spring Vale, and Milton.
Just south of Swansea ‘city limits’ lies Piermont Retreat, a heavenly combination of stylish accommodation and award-winning restaurant. Take in the views over Great Oyster Bay and explore the private beaches – “the sunsets are incredible,” Steve says – then indulge in a leisurely dinner at the onsite restaurant. Chef Tristan Stephens heads up the kitchen at Homestead, housed in a beautifully restored building with a cool, Hecker Guthrie-designed interior. “Dinner here was a highlight, with an emphasis on local produce,” Steve says. “We had great oysters and kingfish.”
Freycinet and Coles Bay
Across the bay from Piermont, perfectly camouflaged amid the bush, lies Saffire Freycinet. This multi-award winning luxury lodge, its shape inspired by the sinuous grace of a stingray in full ‘flight’, is your next base camp – and what a camp …
“The buildings sit so beautifully in the landscape,” says Steve, “The food’s amazing and – as luxurious as Saffire is – there’s also a hominess that, combined with its sustainability and eco credentials, makes it so special. It’s very private, the service is fantastic, and the spa is wonderful. You feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere.”
Steve suggests finishing a day at Saffire sitting on the shoreline, “eating freshly shucked oysters, while you watch the sunset tinting the Hazards to a deep pink.”
While Saffire is a destination in itself, Freycinet National Park beckons, offering a variety of walks – from easy to challenging – and incredible views at every turn, including of the iconic Wine Glass Bay. The hamlet of Coles Bay is gateway to the national park and home to Géographe cafe, a favourite with locals and visitors. “It’s in such a beautiful spot, and has great homemade food and coffee,” says Steve. “They make a really good eggs Florentine – one of my favourite breakfasts!”
Bicheno and Falmouth
The popular small seaside town of Bicheno is known for its resident colony of fairy penguins and fabulous seafood (try a spanking-fresh southern rock lobster roll at Lobster Shack). The shopping isn’t bad, either. “Islander is a luxe, boho beach shack-style shop stocked with some interesting fashion, homewares and gifts,” says Steve. “We particularly liked the elm furniture and brass hardware.”
Even the coffee is worthy of note. “We picked up a coffee at The Sandbar, and it was really good,” says Steve. “They use Ritual beans, a Launceston roaster.” Also check out The Farm Shed East Coast Wine Centre, which, as the name suggests, showcases the region’s cold-climate wines. Designate the driver, then settle in for a tasting.
A little way up the coast at Falmouth is the self-contained Whale Song shack. “It’s beautiful, with a similar luxe rustic style to Satellite Island,” says Steve. “It’s set right on the edge of the ocean in very rugged surrounds. Sitting by the fire pit as the moon rises over the Tasman Sea is magical.”
St Helens and Binalong Bay
A stopover at the incomparable Bay of Fires is essential. “The Bay of Fires and The Gardens – the soft light there is so beautiful,” says Steve. “It reminded me of Lake Como in Italy. The sheer expanse and low-lying aspect as you walk along the beach was just heaven.”
If you’re planning to stay, check in to Holland House at The Gardens, a contemporary ‘beach shack’ suspended above the bush on slim steel columns with jaw-dropping views from the deck (or bed!)
The area’s largest town, St Helens, is only a few clicks down the highway. The holiday hub of the north-east coast, it’s also become something of a mountain biking mecca, if you’ve happened to strap a couple of bikes onto the GLC.
“We popped into the cool little Lifebuoy Café at Sco and Co.,” says Steve, “which has a lovely collection of boutique Australian-made homewares and gifts.”
Leave the coast and drive inland to Derby. Like its big sister St Helens, this unassuming town has reinvented itself as a mountain-biking hot spot. But for Steve, Derby’s unique ‘Floating Sauna’ proves the biggest drawcard. “A 10-minute walk through the bush along one of the bike tracks opens out to this little shack on the shores of the most picturesque little lake surrounded by mountains,” he says. “There’s someone there to greet you, then you change and sit in the sauna above the water, with this amazing view of the lake and mountains. To refresh, you jump into the lake. It was freezing, but so much fun.”
Heading south-west down the Tasman Highway towards Launceston, the National Trust-listed village of Evandale is slightly off-route, but worth the detour. “Evandale turned out to be one of the absolute highlights of our trip,” says Steve. “It’s the most picturesque historic little town, with beautifully preserved Georgian and Victorian architecture. There’s a lovely bakery set inside the old council chambers, and antiques shops, including The Evandale Village Store, which had lots of cool pieces and great textiles. We had a quick stop at the Clarendon Arms, which is also beautifully styled.”
There’s no better way to end a road trip than at Stillwater, a converted 19th-century flour mill situated in a crook of the Tamar River. Long regarded among the top places to eat in Tasmania, and awarded accordingly, Stillwater Restaurant has been joined by Stillwater Seven, comprising seven beautifully designed rooms.
“The accommodation is great, with lovely waterfront views,” says Steve. “And the restaurant is a standout, with superb service and a menu proudly showcasing local wines, produce and seafood.”
Wandering around Launceston is a delight, with its river views, pocket-sized parks and occasionally quirky attractions. “We stumbled across Penny Royal – a little pirate-themed park,” says Steve. “It’s so cute – especially if you’re travelling with kids.”
Also high on quaint factor is the National Trust-listed Old Umbrella Shop in the heart of the city, which looks as though it’s been frozen in time since its heyday in the early 1900s.
Steve’s stay happily coincided with the Saturday Harvest farmers’ market. “They were selling Bruny Island oysters there, and cheeses by Elgaar Farm, from nearby Deloraine,” he says. “Another of the cool stalls was Hillwood Fresh Food Co., which sells a variety of mushrooms, and some that you can take away to grow yourself. And, of course, we picked up some divine West-Bee Honey to take home. I love my honey…”
On the road checklist
On the road checklist
3959 Bruny Island Main Rd, Alonnah
Bar and bistro open seven days from 12pm.
Bruny Island Cheese Co. and Bruny Island Beer Co.
1807 Bruny Island Main Rd, Great Bay
Cellar door open every day 10am – 4pm.
82A High St, Oatlands
Open Monday to Sunday 11am – 5pm.
The Jardin Room and Provincial Interiors
87 High St, Oatlands
Open most days 11am – 3pm (to confirm, call ahead on 0429 941 514).
12990, Tasman Hwy, Swansea
Homestead Restaurant is open seven days from 5.30pm (bookings essential).
2352 Coles Bay Rd, Coles Bay
6 Garnet Av, Coles Bay
Open seven days 8am – 8pm.
40 Esplanade, Bicheno
Open seven days 11am – 7pm.
The Sandbar Bicheno
1/79 Burgess St
Open 7.30am – 2.30pm, days vary over winter.
79 Burgess St, Bicheno
Open seven days 10am – 4pm.
The Farm Shed East Coast Wine Centre
53A Burgess St, Bicheno
Open seven days 10am – 4pm.
Whale Song Shack
Falmouth, exact location provided upon booking.
1160 Gardens Rd, The Gardens.
Sco & Co. + The Lifebuoy Cafe
29 Quail St, St Helens
Open Monday to Friday 7.30am – 3pm, Saturday 7.30am – 2pm, Sunday 8am – 2pm.
Lake Derby via suspension bridge and track from Main St, Derby
Open seven days 7am – 8pm (booking necessary).
The Evandale Village Store
5 Russell St, Evandale
Open seven days 10am – 5pm.
11 Russell St, Evandale
Open Wednesday 10am – 4pm, Thursday, Friday and Sunday 10am – 5pm and Saturday 10am to late.
2 Bridge Rd, Launceston
Stillwater Restaurant open seven days for breakfast and lunch, plus dinner Wednesday to Saturday from 5:30pm.
1 Bridge Rd, Launceston
Open Saturday and Sunday 9.30am – 5pm, closed on weekdays during the school term.
Old Umbrella Shop
60 George St, Launceston
Open Monday to Friday, 9am – 5pm, Saturday, 9am – 12pm.
71 Cimitiere St, Launceston
Market runs every Saturday 8.30am – 12.30pm.
By Sally Feldman