Exploring Tasmania and Eating Well Along the Way
Platypus, distilleries and grass-fed steaks: Tasmania brings some of life’s best things together.
Tasmania. For most, the word likely conjures images of the Tasmanian Devil, a cartoon whirling dervish who zooms around saying, “Taz hungry!” and creates all kinds of mischief. While he doesn’t much resemble a real-life Tasmanian devil, Taz has one thing right: in Tasmania, it’s a good idea to be hungry, because there’s no shortage of fresh, locally-sourced food in which to delight. Food which tastes all that much better after a day adventuring down one of Tasmania’s pristine rivers winding through pastoral farmland and eucalyptus-dotted wilderness.
Home to about 8.5 million sheep and just over half a million humans, Tasmania is an escape into another tempo of life. Craggy coastlines surround the island, verdant hillsides dotted with happy, healthy sheep and cattle mark the midlands and wild, pampas-like grasslands canvas the highlands. Tasmania is also home to a variety of micro-climates; locals say every hundred meters of elevation gain means another week’s delay in the arrival of spring each year. And in a country where sheep outnumber humans nearly 16-to-one, it’s easy to imagine that life outdoors would be at the core of the culture.
How to explore
There’s hardly a better way to appreciate a landscape than by immersing oneself in it right alongside the locals. Tassie Bound Adventure Tours, located just a short drive from Hobart, the island’s capital and most populated city, specialize in presenting Tasmania to travelers seeking outdoor adventure and a new perspective.
The team leads half-day kayaking tours down the scenic Derwent River, which winds through wooded hillsides, hops farms and scenic farmlands. Paddling through the idyllic countryside, it’s easy to relax with the flow of the river, but there’s another mission at hand: spotting platypus. The Tassie Bound team describes the odd creature aptly: “With the bill of a duck, the body of an otter and the tail of a beaver, this evolutionary relic has a long history of confounding humans and puzzling scientists.”
Platypus are becoming more difficult to spot — and some say within the decade there could be no more platypus on mainland Australia — but thankfully the Derwent River supports a healthy population. The team averages six sightings a day, with a record setting 26 in a single day in 2017. The odd-looking creatures are typically more active at night and spend much of their time either in hidden riverside burrows or underwater, which can make sightings challenging.
So there’s no better way to see platypus than to meet them on their own terrain: in the river. Winding along the edge of the Tasmania’s Western Wilds, the Derwent offers a good chance of spotting platypus in their natural habitat, from the safety of an easy-to-paddle sit-on-top kayak. Tassie Bound supplies the gear, including a comfortable life jacket, helmet and wetsuit if needed. The tours are just long enough to settle into the flow of things, spot a few platypus and learn about the land.
How to fuel for adventure
After a day on the water, it’s time to sit back and appreciate some of Tasmania’s fine food. It’s worth the two-and-a-half drive to Launceston to spend the night, and on the way you can stop at Lawrenny Estate Distilling. The family-run, 400-acre property lies in the Derwent Valley, and produces high-quality gin, whiskey and other spirits using the pure waters of the Derwent River. Ross, the CEO, is as classically Tasmanian as they come, welcoming visitors and proudly showing off both the historic estate and the distillery’s process. Many of the botanicals used in the spirits are grown right on the property, and granddaughter Paris and head distiller Joe run the day-to-day operations of the distillery. Pick up some Highland Gin or Van Diemen’s Gin (spiced with anise seed) to take onward and enjoy later in the evening. As you drive along, keep an eye out in fields for wombats, which look like fluffy, trundling boulders. The friendly little marsupials dot the Tasmanian landscape, a friendly reminder that while some of the neighboring farms may look like postcard-pretty Europe, you’re actually continents away.
Upon arriving in Launceston, head to the Black Cow Bistro, marketed as “Tasmania on a plate.” Located in historic downtown, Black Cow specializes in grass-fed, free-range beef totally free of artificial growth hormones or antibiotics. It’s easy to taste the difference, and the restaurant team crafts a variety of side dishes, gourmet butters and sauces, and gorgeous desserts to complete the meal. Take a moment to sip a glass of Tasmanian wine while soaking in the warm, casual bistro atmosphere.
How to relax
From Black Cow, it’s just a few short blocks to Stillwater Seven, a uniquely indulgent boutique hotel consisting of seven gorgeous rooms housed in a 180-year-old flour mill alongside the scenic River Tamar. Like something out of a storybook, the mill has been exactingly crafted into a world-class hotel and detail-oriented restaurant. The rooms are all stocked with a carefully-chosen selection of Australian snacks and spirits, and guests are greeted by a fresh, steaming loaf of homemade bread and farm butter upon arrival. (If you’re lucky, the owner will be around and will present a fresh cocktail of your choice and seasoned popcorn as well!) Each room boasts an alcohol cabinet crafted from “hydrowood” — wood pulled from underneath local hydroelectric dam after 60 years.
From suites to premium rooms, Stillwater is extremely comfortable, and the deep spa bathtubs are perfect for relaxing after a day of adventure. A long soak using local sea salts is made cozier with spa-style lighting, then it’s time to crawl into bed and rest up for more adventures.
In the morning, head downstairs for breakfast at Stillwater Seven. Finely-crafted espresso beverages are delivered right to your table, coupled with freshly-pressed Tasmanian juices. Stillwater’s toasted granola with grated apple, berries and vanilla yogurt is hard to beat, but the menu caters to a variety of breakfast tastes. Sit by the window and watch the morning traffic of both boats and swans on the riverside.
If you look at it abstractly, the island of Tasmania is almost shaped like a rough-edged heart. It’s a shape that sums up the island oddly well. This little corner of Australia might be off on its own, separate from the mainland, but its heart is strong. The island’s residents are proud of their pastoral little isle, and for good reason: Tasmania is the perfect place to seek a little adventure, a taste of culinary exploration and whole lot of quality outdoor time.
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