TRAVELLING AT A DIFFERENT PACE.
Paul Murrell joins the media launch for Volkswagen’s all-new grand tourer, the Arteon, in Apple Isle
Text: Paul Murrell | November 2017
There’s something special about Tasmania. You look at your watch and it’s ticking at the same rate as it does on the mainland, but somehow, time seems to pass at a more leisurely rate.
Driving out of Hobart up Davey Street, the landscape is dominated, as it is from most places in our most southerly state capital, by Mt. Wellington. By local standards, we’re coping with peak hour traffic but there’s a notable lack of urgency, and drivers seem to be more patient, even when dealing with an out-of-towner relying on sat nav instructions to find his way around unfamiliar streets. I chuckle to myself when I see an electronic sign warning that due to roadworks, there may be a delay of up to seven minutes. Seven minutes! It takes longer than that to get into a high-rise parking station in Sydney.
As if the experience isn’t sufficiently surreal, the peak of Mt. Wellington is dusted with a covering of snow that fell overnight. In November!
After overnighting at the new MACq01 hotel overlooking Constitution Dock, we’ve decided to visit one of the few places in Tasmania we’ve not seen first-hand, despite it being so close to Hobart. The Huon River wends its way through the very heart of the apple orchards that once defined Tasmania. With its source in the depths of the South West National Park and World Heritage Wilderness Area, the Huon flows south, joined by the Picton River near the Tahune Forest as it makes its way past Huonville, Franklin, Geeveston and then out into the D’Entrecasteaux Channel.
As we leave Hobart and climb towards Mt. Wellington, signs warn that the road to the summit is closed due to the unseasonal snowfalls, but we won’t be heading in that direction. Instead, we skirt the foothills of the mountain, the brooding, cloud-capped peak defining the view on one side, and to the other, sweeping views of Hobart and the Derwent River.
The road we’re travelling is picturesque and was once the main road between Huon and Hobart, passing through the outer suburbs of Hobart and then sleepy little villages. It’s a far more enjoyable drive than the quicker, but characterless A6 motorway, and a timely reminder of just how much freedom we have been granted by the motor car, the ability to wander wherever our heart desires, to visit villages and tea rooms that would have been a day’s journey from Hobart by horse or dray. Once we reach Lower Longley, we turn south again, but before arriving in Huonville, we take a break at Willie Smith’s Apple Shed on the right. An original apple packing shed built in 1942, it now houses a museum recalling Tasmania’s proud history of apple growing. You can also taste test a range of ciders at the bar.
Just through the little town of Huonville, the commercial hub of the valley, you make a decision: to continue driving south across the river or to turn left towards Cygnet. We decide to carry on along the west bank of the Huon River Estuary and passing through the villages of Franklin (where friendly locals are happy to explain to us the disappearing art of wooden boat building), Castle Forbes Bay and on to Geeveston. Stretching away as far as the eye can see are magnificent temperate rainforests, once the source of Geeveston’s logging wealth. This is Tasmania as our forebears knew it, unspoiled and vast.
From Geeveston, we turn inland towards the spectacular Tahune Airwalk. From this graceful 620 -metre structure, suspended 50 metres above the Huon River, we take in breathtaking views of the forest canopy, with vistas across the wild southern rivers. Equally memorable are the two swinging bridges suspended over the Huon and Picton Rivers, and any number of peaceful pine forest walks, accompanied by the sounds of bird life and trickling water.
Time to make another decision: should we continue south and drive as far as Australia’s southernmost road to Cockle Creek (and if we’re feeling really strong, a hike to South East Cape, the southernmost point in Australia)?
That sounds far too energetic, so we retrace our path back to Huonville and then head east towards Woodstock and then on to crafty Cygnet. A few kilometres further on, we veer off to the left along the C627 towards Woodbridge, having been promised unequalled views of the D’Entrecasteaux Channel, and we’re not disappointed as the rugged coastline stretches out below. It was here that French explorer Admiral Bruni D’Entrecasteaux sought relief from the fierce Roaring Forties in 1792.
This is Channel country, a coastline of tranquil waters, protected by Bruny Island and equally tranquil seaside towns. Time doesn’t permit a ferry ride across to Bruny Island, once the departure point for whalers and still a haven for sea eagles, shearwaters, echidnas and wallabies. These days, the migrating whales can frolic past Bruny with no fear of being harpooned. Bruny Island (known as Alonnah Lunawanna to the native aboriginals) was first visited by Abel Tasman in 1642, and Captain William Bligh also visited in 1788 and 1792 and is said to have planted some apple trees.
We quickly realise that we could have dedicated a whole day to the Channel, and yet it’s just minutes south of Hobart; wine and cider to try, seafood to sample and a host of farm-fresh produce including cheese, chocolates, jams, bread and so much more, as well as fresh fruit and vegetables and locally pressed olive oils, all with flavours more intense than we are used to in big cities.
All too soon, we are approaching Hobart, with yet more sweeping views of this picturesque city, including Australia’s first casino off to our right. It gives us pause to appreciate that nothing man-made could possibly compete with the natural beauty and wonders this magical island has sprinkled before us in one short day.
Following a successful career in advertising which surprised everyone (not least himself), Paul escaped to the Adelaide Hills where he has indulged himself ever since by enjoying and writing about cars (old and new), travel and wine. He lives and travels with his wife and designated driver, Sandra.