Soar through the tree tops and discover old mine tunnels with Alice Hansen, as she explores Tasmania's North West Coast for the first time.
I’m not so familiar with north east Tasmania, but have heard much about flying through tree tops and tucking into purple ice-cream. It seems mountain bikers are pedalling toward the region in their masses too, so it’s time to find out what the fuss is about. Oh, and there’s a sprinkling of vineyards to visit as well!
There’s no better way to leave the city behind than to do so on a “flying through the treetops’ mission in northern Tasmania. In just 15 minutes from Launceston I arrive at Hollybank Treetops Adventure for a high-wire canopy ride, ready for three hours of flying.
They call them cloud stations – nestled high up in the canopy they represent rest stations between soaring missions. All harnessed up and topped with a helmet, one by one we career over the green canopy, some 30 metres above the forest floor. It’s as close as I’ll come to being a bird and I don’t even have to flap any wings. Tracking along a steel cable, we swoop over the Eucalypts effortlessly.
Some stations are just 15 metres apart while others stretch out to around 400 metres of wind-in-your-face thrills. I make a note to return and do the night tour – the closest I’ll come to being a bat. I’m told on a starry night it’s fantastic, flying by the light of a helmet lamp. They also have Segway tours for those who enjoy keeping their feet on solid turf.
After Hollybank I drop into Lilydale Larder. They say it’s like “walking into Aunty Joan’s country kitchen’ and that’s about spot on. Although “˜Aunty Joan’ isn’t covered in flour, there’s a warm country welcome at this café come providore. With Leaning Church Vineyard wine and others to choose from, it’s the ideal stop for lunch and to tuck some pantry gifts under the arm. Not far up the road is the turnoff to Pipers Brook and Jansz – world class wine is worth a little detour.
Next stop? You only have to see a photo of the 265 acres of flowing lavender fields to add Bridestowe to your itinerary. The lavender farm is located at Nabowla and is home to Bobbie the lavender bear who is particularly famous in South East Asia. He’ll encourage you to try lavender ice cream and if you can make it out to the fields without it melting, the mauve-hued treat looks its best with a lavender backdrop.
They were the early pioneers of Tasmania’s north east and arrived in the late 1870s. They were Chinese miners, coming all the way to little-known Tasmania in search of gold. As it turned out, it was tin that they found in abundance and so began a tin mining quest. At one point, there were some 1,000 Chinese living in the north east.
The Trail of the Tin Dragon follows a journey from Launceston to St Helens bringing to life the story of these early miners, including the worst flood in Tasmania’s history, town by town. I drop into the Tin Dragon Interpretation Centre and Café to learn more and decide to head on my own discovery mission of the trail.
I head for Mt. Paris Dam and manage to completely miss the turn off (whoops) but this gives me more time to sit and take in the stories at Moorina Cemetery. The Derby local was right when she quipped “it’s a beautiful cemetery”. There are monuments and inscriptions that share individual tales and an oven of sorts, once used to ensure traditional Chinese customs were adhered to.
I’m also told that the Derby Tunnel is worth a peek. I see the turnoff and begin walking my way to the tunnel. It turns out it is right beside a mountain bike trail – where excited squawks of young enthusiasts emerge from under well-fastened helmets. It doesn’t take long to realise why the mountain bike trails of Tasmania’s north east have hit the international biking map. They are world-class and judging by those noisy little punters, navigating dusty turns equals serious merriment.
By the time I reach the tunnel, on a near 30 degree day, it’s the cool breeze coming from inside that hits me first. It’s a curious feeling as I peer into its darkness. Thank goodness I read about the Tasmanian Cave Spider after my tunnel excursion. It turns out the spider is the last of a Gondwanan lineage, its closest relatives found only in South America. Apparently its primitive jaws open and close sideways – fortunately my iPhone light doesn’t pick up any critters.
I choose not to venture too far in alone, but those with more courage might like to walk deep into a cave that was built by just one miner back in the 1880s. I decide that sunlight and the familiar mountain biker squeals are more inviting than a dark hole. No doubt, there are deeper stories for those willing and equipped with light to uncover.
It is cloth bound cheddar cheese that calls me this morning. I head to the lush hills of Pyengana and for some reason when I arrive at Holy Cow Café I walk straight through the back door and out to the “backyard.’ It’s there that I see the happiest cow in Tasmania. She’s standing still, underneath a cow tickler. What’s this you ask? It’s a giant brush of sorts that spins round automatically. The cows wander under it (they’re clever locals) and get a good rub on their back. Supposedly it helps them relax and produce delicious milk. Judging by the smooth, creamy cheese, it’s working a treat.
In the foothills of Pyengana I happily order an old-fashioned milkshake and settle into “˜cow time.’ It’s all about walking slowly and gently taking in your fertile surrounds. I could get used to that but after a bite to eat, there’s a place up the road I’m eager to visit.
It’s known as the Pub in the Paddock. It turns out that it’s just that…a pub in a big paddock. It’s like going back in time as I swing open the front door. There’s a lady perched on a bar stool chatting with the bartender and even a gold phone to my left. But it’s the big smile and welcome that strikes me. No sooner have I said hello and I’m given a watered down Boag’s beer. It’s not for me, it’s for Priscilla. She’s the pet pig and apparently she’s looking forward to my visit.
I walk over to Priscilla (the older pig is weary and fast asleep). It’s apparent she knows the routine. The minute she spots me her trotters rush into action and she’s ready to take the bottle like a young lamb eager for milk. Within seconds she’s inhaled the lot! Hands down she’d drink any farmer under the table if she were at the bar. And although I feel a tad guilty about gifting Priscilla a local ale, I’m assured by her human mother that there’s just a hint of beer in there and that they love her like a child. I wave goodbye knowing that Priscilla will remain upright on those trotters no matter how many bottles come her way.
By late afternoon I end up at the Weldborough Pub where a number of mountain bikes line the fencing. It is beer o-clock for these guys too, some having ridden all day and choosing to overnight at The Hilton, one of the pub’s cottages. I check out back at their sleeping quarters. The Hilton isn’t quite five star (its en suite is a nearby shower block), but I imagine a welcoming place to rest your head after sitting in the saddle all day.
The last day is devoted to Binalong Bay and surrounds. It begins with a morning beach walk followed by breakkie at Moresco Restaurant. The water views are a fitting side to a menu bursting with Tassie produce – roasted Huon Valley mushrooms served on toast with Tasmanian truffle oil anyone? Just up the hill there’s Kiss A Fish Cookery School too, for those who want to spend the day at Tasmania’s only seafood-specific cookery class.
Not far out of Binalong Bay I’m spoiled for choice as to where to explore. The Gardens? Peron Dunes? Cosy Corner? Aptly named, the corner really is cosy and a popular haunt for local campers. I head to the southern end of Cosy Corner, sprinkled with boulders dressed in that famous orange lichen and decide to take East Coast Tourism’s advice and “just stop.’ With a beach all to myself, there’s no reason not to. Having ticked over plenty of kilometres, the advice could not be better.
If I hadn’t already been on the Bay of Fires Eco Tour this would be today’s plan. The three-hour journey along the stunning north east coastline is one of the best I’ve taken. It’s not often the skipper is also the man who built the boat. But for this family-run cruise, personal touches are paramount and the Common dolphins that came to visit on our trip are equally friendly.
The ticket office for the eco-cruise doubles as a coffee stop on the main road of Binalong Bay. Known as Titley’s Shack, just 20 metres from the Binalong Bay Gulch (also a very worthy photo op), the shack includes a history room and stools to enjoy morning coffee. Still satisfied from breakfast, I opt for a hot drink but those looking for lunch will enjoy Mohr & Smith on Cecilia Street back in St Helens. On warm summer days the café come restaurant/bar becomes an open-air space where cool breeze drifts in and I hear the Japanese pancakes are a hit.
Before departing, there’s one last place to visit. Peron Dunes is not somewhere I’ve been before. So I follow the signs and venture about 10 minutes out of St Helens. A short walk rewards with rolling dunes and from higher points, it’s possible to see the azure horizon. It’s a lofty perch to farewell Tasmania’s north east corner.
Photo Credit: Alice Hansen, Phillip Barratt and Pyengana Dairy Company.