Only a stone’s throw from the mainland, a short and inexpensive mid-winter break in Tasmania is the perfect pick-me-up to get you through the rest of your year. Fasten your seat belt and take a road trip along the Heritage Highway from Hobart to Launceston – first stop, Coal River Valley.
Succumb to your senses
Ease yourself into your journey at Frogmore Creek Wines, the place to tickle your senses in a way our colonial forebears could never have imagined. Have a pinot by the open fire and, afterwards, pop in for a cheese and chocolate smorgasbord at Coal Valley Farm. You’re now ready for a tour of Richmond.
Take a close look at the architectural beauty of the Richmond Bridge, convict built in the 1820s. It’s Australia’s oldest bridge still in use, while Richmond Gaol is one of Australia’s oldest colonial prisons. Here, the walls can talk and they tell the tales of convict life. It’s believed that Dickens’ character Fagin in Oliver Twist passed through the prison’s doors. Find more history in the town’s antique stores, where curious artifacts can keep history buffs occupied for days.
A whisky warmer and a cosy French cottage
Old Kempton Distillery in Kempton is worth a visit for its grand colonial architecture alone. You won’t be able to resist the smells from the kitchen and while you eat your meal, you can taste test a selection of spirits and choose your favourite to accompany you on the rest of your trip.
Settle down for the night at Riversdale Estate in one of its French provincial cottages where you can enjoy a bath in a claw foot tub and the tipple you bought from Redlands Distillery.
Founded in 1821, the tiny township of Oatlands boasts 87 original sandstone buildings on its main street and presents an eerily accurate depiction of early European settlement. Start your self-guided walk with a copy of Stories from the Sandstone and on the way stop by Elm Cottage and pay exiled Irish nationalist Kevin O’Doherty a visit. On your tour, you’re sure to hear the story of Solomon Blay, Tasmania’s most feared hangman.
The Oatlands Supreme Court House built in 1828 stands in remarkably good condition given it’s the oldest supreme court in Tasmania. The Callington Mill, built in 1837, is also a marvel. Perfectly restored, it’s still in use today. Also pay a visit to St Paul’s, where the mood may inspire you to pen a Tasmanian gothic story. This neo-Gothic style Catholic church was built by Augustus Pugin, the man who also designed the interior of the Palace of Westminster and the Big Ben clock tower.
A scallop pie to die for
At the Ross Village Bakery, soak up the old world charm, relax in front of the open fire and try a scallop pie, a real Tasmanian delicacy. For dessert, their vanilla slice is said to be the best in Tasmania.
Completed in 1836, Ross Bridge may be the third oldest bridge still in use in Australia, but it’s arguably the one with the most colourful back story. First attempts to build it in the early 1830s were thwarted when the stone cut by convicts disappeared, believed stolen by the local settlers who used it to build homes. The remarkable carvings that cover the bridge are the work of convict and stonemason Daniel Herbert.
Before you settle down for the night in restored historic cottages at Somercotes, make one final stop at the Ross Female Factory, home to female convicts in the mid-1800s. Hear the women’s tales of woe and hardship as they worked themselves from dawn to death.
In the footsteps of our colonial ancestors
In Campbell Town, browse the antique stores before you head out to see the Legerwood trees and hear the story of the chainsaw carver who made sculptures out of old trees originally planted in remembrance of those who had died in World War I.
For more local history, a walk along the Convict Brick Trail tells of disease and misfortune, the lot of many convicts. Visit the Christ Church graveyard at Longford and take a self-guided walk Voices from the Graves. Hear Mary Anne Wise tell of how she married at 17, had 15 children, then died when her youngest was six months old. You can also play a game of Skulduggery where you can time travel to the 1800s and help solve crimes that took place along the Heritage Highway in the days when bushrangers roamed the countryside.
The finer things in life
To see how the more well-to-do lived in colonial days, visit Woolmers and Brickendon, pastoral estates of architectural splendour at Longford. The collections of furniture and other home contents in Woolmers offers a unique insight into family life over six generations, while Brickendon, across the way, was considered the best farm in the area in the 1840s.
It’s time now for you to enjoy some of the finer things in life at the Red Feather Inn in Launceston. Return to the luxury of the present day with a meal at the restaurant before you turn in for the night in accommodation that boasts deep baths, private gardens and a loft room underneath the stars.
If you’re game, a ghost tour around Launceston brings you face to face with colonial life at night when seedy characters come out to play – not too nicely. You may need one more nights in town to digest the horrors. Spoil yourself at Highfield House, a Victorian estate of laidback luxury with open fires, views over Launceston, and a mini bar stocked with Tasmanian produce.
You wouldn’t be dead for quids.