Why you should take a winter Tasmanian road trip

With bright, crisp days and stunning views, winter offers a unique perspective on Tasmania’s enduring appeal. Max Brearley takes a road trip to remember.

Sunset over Lake St Clair, Tasmania
  • Jetstar
  • April 2018

Winter in Tasmania offers the perfect time for discovery: mild days, deserted beaches and a welcome chance to sit by a log fire, crack a bottle and marvel at the views.

Touching down in Hobart for the first time, Tasmania feels familiar. I’ve got good mates here and, like so many others, I’ve seen the TV shows and read the stories that proclaim Tassie as a must-visit destination; an island state of wilderness, whisky, wine, good food and art.

We head up the east coast in our van to Freycinet National Park, a place where plans go awry in favour of just one more night in this wild and beautiful place – there are deserted beaches that beg to be walked and many a road-trip detour. May to July is primetime for whale migration and the east coast is the best place to spot them. At home in Augusta (Western Australia) I’ve seen my share of whales, but whether it’s a southern right or a humpback, the first glimpse of the season is filled with anticipation. There’s no limit to the excitement of seeing a whale breach. The 100th time can still feel like the first.

Aerial shoot of lake st clair tasmania.
An aerial view of Pumphouse Point, Tasmania. Photo © Pumphouse Point - Photographer: Stu Gibson

Making a point

From the coast we take a winding route inland through the Central Highlands to Lake St Clair at the southern end of the World-Heritage listed Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park. Only two years old, Pumphouse Point has already become a Tasmanian icon. The converted pumping station, now a luxury hotel, sits out on Australia’s deepest lake, linked to the shore by a long concrete walkway.

You don’t simply happen upon Pumphouse Point; booking is essential. Its boutique design and staff who revel in Lake St Clair’s splendour as much as the guests are essential ingredients. A pontoon of rowboats is available, and most guests opt to paddle out well after breakfast. We ask if we can go early and receptionist Lauren doesn’t skip a beat. She’ll meet us at 5am. One of the great pleasures of Pumphouse Point is its communal dinners, which have the feel of the best dinner parties where wine flows, conversation wanders and there’s lots of laughter.

Next day, it’s 5am and we’re up and out. Lauren, true to her word, meets us for our safety briefing. We launch the boat into the lake. Shrouded in mist, it’s proof that Tassie’s beauty is as much in what you can’t see as what you can. The invigorating morning chill makes breakfast all the more deserved. Later, we slather fresh honeycomb over toast, enjoying the warmth of a log fire and the smug satisfaction of being the only ones to have already braved the lake.

Regretfully leaving Lake St Clair, we head towards the Huon Valley, 25 minutes south of Hobart. After a couple of weeks on the road, an invite to dinner with food writer Michelle Crawford is an opportunity for a home-cooked meal. The outdoor oven crackles and glows as we look out over the valley, the Huon River snaking below. Michelle and her husband Leo gave up life in Sydney more than a decade ago. There have surely been challenges along the way but, as we devour the last crumbs of Michelle’s dessert, I’m guessing it’s a move they don’t regret. Tasmanians, whether they are born and bred or later arrivals, take distinct pride in their state, offering tips for the best visit – sampling east-coast wines at The Farm Shed in Bicheno perhaps, lunch for the road at Summer Kitchen Bakery in Ranelagh, laidback wine tastings and wood-fired pizza at Pooley Wines in Richmond or an essential pub experience at Hobart’s The Whaler.

Experiencing the view from silica sands of Wine Glass Bay in Freycinet NP.
Experience the silica sands of Wine Glass Bay in Freycinet NP.

Matthew Evans of TV’s Gourmet Farmer stands tall in his purpose-built Huon Valley kitchen, designed to provide workshops, classes and home-cooked meals for the many fans of his books and TV show. The benches are filled with produce and his small team is prepping alongside him. He greets us with a smile and a taste of slow-roasted pork, fresh from the wood-fired oven. Jars of preserved veggies are interspersed with Matthew’s books and those of collaborators. We’re at the new incarnation of Fat Pig Farm, where Matthew and partner Sadie Chrestman have taken a further leap in their food journey. The buildings have a view of the farm: a true farm-to-table experience. “It’s like a dinner party, as if you are at our own farmhouse table,” Matthew says. “Bringing the produce from out there into the kitchen.”

Walking the garden, alongside a paddock of pigs, there’s conversation about the price of pork, the veggies they are growing, the mindset of the consumer and a heap of other issues. Matthew and Sadie have created a space where people come to eat and learn to cook, but also go away with some subtle guidance on the way we should be thinking about food.

On the way to Hobart we detour to Willie Smith’s cidery and hop across the D’Entrecasteaux Channel to Bruny Island for oysters, Australia’s best cheese and good beer at Nick Haddow’s Bruny Island Cheese Co. We leave with the impression that Tasmania is not a quick tick-box destination, but an island to be tasted year-round with the seasons.

Enjoying lots of oyster and lemon on Bruny Island near Hobart.
Enjoy local oysters and cheese on Bruny Island near Hobart.

Art done a new

Back in Hobart we board the Museum of Old and New Art’s (MONA) ROMA ferry. The crew, dressed in boiler suits and commando boots, cut a dash that’s very MONA: functional, stylish, with a strange sense of the anarchic. Seated on a plastic sheep I enjoy a beer for the short journey up river to the gallery, which has been one of the main drawcards for this visit to Hobart. Hewn into rock, dark and subterranean, it’s an experience as significant as the first time you roam London’s Tate Modern or spiral up the Guggenheim in New York.

Down in The Void, the starting point of any exploration of the museum, a mature couple look confused; the woman seated in a wheelchair, the husband grasping the visual and audio guides. A gallery assistant approaches and explains the layout and essential info. As he turns to walk away he stops and says “Oh, and don’t forget. Four o’clock.” The couple look at each other. And then, with comic precision, “Four o’clock. It’s when we have wheelchair races.” A long pause, as the comment hangs in the air. A few intakes of breath and then the tension is cut, the woman howling with laughter, her chair rocking perilously. As the husband wheels his wife away they’re still laughing, ready for what lies ahead. I wonder if there’s a training program here that teaches the MONA philosophy to other museums. The stiff collar, art-in-aspic approach has no place here. There’s no ‘don’t do this’ and ‘don’t do that’. It’s engaging. It’s distinctly Tasmanian.