Destination Tasmania – Part 11- The Tamar Valley

28th & 29th February 2020

We were now down to our last two days in Tasmania. We had allocated Thursday 28th to the eastern side of the Tamar Valley and Friday 29th (Leap Year Day) to the west side and to make our way to Devonport to catch the Spirit of Tasmania back to Melbourne on Saturday 1st March.

So on Thursday morning we set off to visit the area to the north and north east of Launceston, starting by following the East Tamar Highway on the east side of the river, through Georgetown to Low Head, to see the historic maritime facilities at the mouth of the Tamar River.

Low Head Lighthouse

The Low Head lighthouse looks over Bass Strait and the river mouth. The area near the river is dotted with white painted brick houses with red roofs, with more modern and larger houses on the higher ground. These white houses were the homes of the many people needed to run the labour intensive services required in the early days when ships plied the Tamar River right up to Launceston. The original signal station still operates as does the pilot service. Bass Strait looked calm with the icy wind coming from the south west, but the sun was shining so it was pleasant in shelter.

View from the lighthouse at Low Head across the Tamar mouth to Greens Beach on the western headland
The house at the centre is now a cafe. The building to the left is a maritime museam.
The buildings of the signal station surround a village green

We returned to George Town, but history there is not recorded in the continuing use of old buildings. Driving through, it looked like most country towns. The town is built on an inlet from the river called Stone Quarry Bay.

George Town on Stone Quarry Bay

When we drove around to the other side and looked across, older houses were visible that we could not see from the main street and we had a better view of the town centre. A substantial and modern resort, the York Cove Holiday Hotel, on the south bank of the inlet, didn’t look very busy but we did see a house maid trundling her trolley between buildings.

York Cove Holiday Hotel at George Town

Bell Bay is only a short distance south of George Town. It is an important industrial port with an aluminum refinery, a ferromanganese plant and a port for handling cargo. It replaced the old docks in Launceston for handling of freight for this part of Tasmania many years ago.

MV The World moored at Bell Bay

Upstream from the port a large white ship was at anchor. We took it to be a cruise ship visiting Launceston at first but a closer look through binoculars showed it to be passenger vessel named “The World” but with no cruise line identification. A Google search informed that it is the largest private yacht in the world. It is a floating block of apartments owned by permanent residents and wealthy folk who take their holidays aboard and rent their apartments when absent. It pulls up for several days at a time at various ports. It cost $13.5 million to buy into the scheme initially, so it is not for your every day battler.

We moved on towards Bridport via the north Tasmanian wine trail. We saw hillsides covered in lush green vines but mostly producing cool climate white wines. The heavier end of the red wine range seems scarce in Tasmania. Pinot Noir is as serious as wine production gets. The weather is probably too cold. If you are looking for a Cab Sav or a Shiraz don’t bother with Tasmania.

Pipers Brook Vineyards

Pipers Brook is a well known brand of white wines. The winery is near to the road so we called in. The entrance driveway passes through a couple of kilometres of vineyards, making it a pleasant drive, but you do start to wonder when you will arrive. There is a cellar door and restaurant. We went in, but I don’t taste when driving and Ruth seldom does, so we had a look at some historical artefacts and then moved on. Winery restaurants are for more leisurely dining than we had in mind for that day.

Pipers Brook Winery and Cellar Door.

Located quite near to Pipers Brook is Clover Hill Wines. They specialise in sparkling wines produced by traditional methods. The cellar door building was quite new, very modern and attractive in the vineyard setting.

Clover Hill Wines Cellar Door

A sign near the buildings advised that if you were to dig through the earth from that spot that you would come up near the champagne area of France. I had always heard that you would come up in China. But France does sound a better proposition right now.

Bridport commands views over Bass Strait and is a pleasant town and is the principle beach side town on the eastern part of the north coast. We found a pleasant cafe that commanded those same views over Bass Strait and with seafood chowder on the menu. Well, what else could we do but go in and order? Ruth settled for fish. Our tastes in food often differ.

Bridport Cafe with indoor and alfresco dining

About 20 km south brought us to Scottsdale, the last major town through which we passed coming over from the east coast a couple of days before. This time we took an alternative road to Launceston that avoided the worst of mountain range. Scottsdale is 62 km from Launceston via the Tasman Highway (over the mountains) and 68 km via Lillydale. It is a substantial town and has a Woolworth’s anchored shopping mall as well as the kind of businesses that support agricultural production.

Sadly the lavender was not in bloom at Bridestowe Lavender Farm

The road through Lillydale brought us near to what is, I think, Australia’s largest lavender farm. Bridestowe Lavender Farm grows lavender which is converted to a wide range of products sold in the farm’s retail outlet.

An artist decorated power pole at Lillydale

Later we drove through Lillydale, a town that has attracted artists to take up residence. As a community project, locals have assisted a number of the now local artists to paint murals on the electric power poles. Consequently Lillydale is known as The Town of the Painted Poles. It is about 28 km from Launceston.

Shorter decorated poles surround the park at the rest area.

We checked the time and decided that we would try for seats on the last Tamar River cruise for the day, if seats were available. We would have made it except for Launceston’s peak hour. I didn’t know it had one but we were held up for about 20 minutes as traffic made its way from north to south through the city. We returned to our unit for another quiet night.

The following morning we packed and loaded the car. As I sat in the seat to drive I noticed a slip of paper under the wiper blade. When I retrieved it I found that it was a note from the old neighbours who we had met on Bruny Island. They had spent the previous night under the same roof as we had.

Launceston river cruise ferries. Our craft was the smaller boat with transparent blinds.

Before we set off to explore the west side of the Tamar we gave the Cataract cruise another try. We were successful and got tickets for the first cruise.

Walkways and modern accommodation now occupy this part of the river. This is the mouth of the North Esk River.

The opportunity to see Launceston and the Cataract Gorge from the water was better than the commentary from the expatriate Kiwi skipper, but he did add some interesting information. The day was sunny but with the same persistent cold wind that has apparently been blowing all summer. The see through blinds on the cruise boat were kept down.

This Peppers hotel was developed in a set of four silos.
A house on the western side of the river has its very own set of silos.

There has been a great deal of development of the old Launceston river waterfront with extensive walking and bike ways that run between the river and modern unit developments. Open space has not been forgotten. The development has provided for public access to the river bank. The development includes new hotels like the Pepper’s hotel developed in a set of four grain silos over the North Esk River mouth, directly opposite the tour boat wharf.

Bridges span the mouth of the South Esk River where it enters the Tamar. Original iron bridges carry local traffic while the new concrete bridge carry the through lanes of the West Tamar Highway.
The navigable limit if the South Esk River within Cataract Gorge.

It is at the wharf area that the Tamar splits into its two major tributaries, the North Esk and South Esk Rivers.  The North Esk River turns to the east before moving off in a south easterly direction. The South Esk River flows from south of Launceston, through Cataract Gorge and joins the Tamar opposite the ferry terminal. We had crossed both Esk rivers on our drive two days earlier to the stately estate homes to the south of Launceston.

Houses on the western bank of the Tarmar have fine views of the river and the city

We disembarked and set off on the day’s drive. Our first stop was the shopping village at the Aspect Tamar Valley Resort at Grindelwald. There we found a neat little Swiss bakery with good coffee and pastries as well as specialty shops, within a Swiss themed shopping mall.

The Grindelwald Swiss themed mall
The Swiss bakery. Choosing a pastry to go with the coffee was quite a challenge

Having returned to the West Tamar Highway our next stop was Brady’s lookout, named after Tasmanian bush ranger Matthew Brady. The lookout provides sweeping views of the Tamar, particularly to the north towards the river mouth.

The Tamar flowing towards Bass Strait from the vantage point of Brady’s Lookout.

We headed then towards Beaconsfield, of gold mine collapse fame, but first made a detour to see and cross the Batman Bridge over the Tamar River. It is a single span “A” frame bridge with the span supported by cables. It looks quite spectacular but is not new. But new to us!

The Batman Bridge over the Tamar between Launceston and the river mouth

The mine collapse at Beaconsfield killed one miner and buried two more for a couple of weeks. The widely publicized event put the town on the map.  The residents have worked hard to keep it there. The mine was on our itinerary but our interest was sharpened when we heard a couple of days before that the mine had been sold to a mining company and there were plans to restart gold production.

The mine head facilities at Beaconsfield

There is real history in old buildings but the heritage centre built to commemorate the mine disaster is the focal point. There is a mining display in part of the original mine buildings but it costs $16 for an adult so you need time to get value. You can get the idea from outside and you can shop in the attached gift shop for souvenirs and the like.

The view of a water wheel through a window.

A new brewery has been built next door that has used the gold theme for a partial free ride. It is called the Miners Gold Brewery.

Buildings of the Miners Gold Brewery

Moving on, we drove directly to Greens Beach, a seaside town immediately opposite Low Head on the west side of the Tamar Mouth. If it has a commercial centre we didn’t find in but it does have many large homes overlooking Bass Strait and the river.

The view over the mouth of the Tamar from Greens Beach. The Low Head Lighthouse is on the tip of the point in the background.

On the way back we detoured to Beauty Point, a pleasant river side community where, among other attractions, there is Seahorse World, an aquarium specialising, as you might guess, in sea horses. On the same wharf structure you will find Platypus House where you can see platypus and echidnas up close.

Seahorse World. The Platypus aquarium is out of sight behind the trees.

We stopped at the Jubilee Bakery for lunch as we passed back through Beaconsfield and discovered more history. The “Jubilee” part of the name was in honour of the 50th anniversary of the coronation of Queen Victoria.  Irishman Paddy Manion opened the bakery in 1887. Some modernisation has since occurred but the original wood fired baking ovens remain in use. So my lunch time paste was cooked in the original wood fired oven, installed in 1887. The story goes that Paddy used to claim that his products were made with holy water because it came off the roof of the church next door.

Bakery and church at Beaconsfield. The holy water may have come from the roof of an earlier building.

We then drove south over a collection of country roads to Deloraine before joining the Bass Highway to Devonport.

Deloraine has park lands on both banks of the Meander River.

Deloraine, on the Meander River, is another town of historic buildings. The town is close to the mountain range known as The Great Western Tiers, named because of the way the range steps down, with each successive mountain lower than the last, as it progresses to the North West.

Historic buildings by the road side as you enter Deloraine from Launceston.

We spent the last night in Tasmania in a unit at the Postmasters Quarters, a modern development of historic buildings at East Devonport. This was another digital reception establishment with the access code texted to us, before our arrival. The interior decoration was a bit quirky but functional and comfortable. The location is within walking distance of the Spirit of Tasmania terminal. There is a pizza shop even closer.

Both table and book shelves were adaptions of machines at The Portmaster’s Quarters.

Destination Tasmania – Part 10 – Bicheno to Launceston

26th & 27th February 2020

When we drew back the drapes that morning the sun was a red orb in a strip of blue on the horizon. But that didn’t last for long. Grey clouds blew in from the west and wiped it all away.

The day’s journey started as a repeat of the drive two days prior, as we needed to go via St Helens to reach the Tasman Highway to Launceston. We only just made it through morning coffee (made on a picnic table and taken back to the warmth of the car) before drops of rain appeared on the windscreen. A few minutes later, as we made our way out of town, we were in drenching rain.

Farming land near Ringarooma

The first part of the drive was mostly beside the sea, with regular ocean views over calm and unruffled waters. The road turns inland at St Helens and meanders its way over mountain after mountain and through valley after valley, until it reaches Launceston. The mountains are almost all heavily timbered but much of the area in the valleys are cleared for farming. We at last saw the emerald green Tasmania of which we had so often been told.

Old cheese making equipment on the veranda of the cafe at Pyengana Cheese

The plan for the day had included visiting a couple of waterfalls and doing some short scenic walks, but the rain put a stop to that. So our first tourist stop was at a farm and cheese factory. Just off the main road at Pyengana, right on the farm, the factory and a retail outlet and cafe attracts a large proportion of passing tourists from this relatively busy highway. We had to line up to sample. We bought two cheese flavours.

The Pyengana cafe

Immediately after we married, Ruth worked in the cheese producing Drouin Butter Factory in West Gippsland. We used to buy full cloth wrapped cheddar rounds, like those displayed at this cheese factory. On this occasion we satisfied ourselves with two small cheese wedges.

Cheeses on display under a glass pyramid in the cafe floor

Further down the road, past the farm, were a couple of waterfalls, but the rain was too persistent for us to see them and stay dry. So we returned to the highway and drove on steadily, because that is the only way to handle Tasmanian roads, particularly in the rain. But the scenery was attractive, even through the rain, so we did not feel robbed.

At about midday we reached the old tin mining town of Derby. The tin mines have long been closed but its history and its location on the road to the east coast has kept the town alive.

The mountain bike themed cafe at derby. Mullock heaps in the background.

The housing that remains lines the road that runs through the valley. To our right the hill was a large mullock heap from the mining activities.

The mining long gone, Derby has reinvented its self.  It has become a Mecca for mountain biking. Bike tracks have been built in the surrounding hills that are drawing competition from around the World. One cafe has committed itself to mountain biking culture, whatever that is.

With rain abated we found the Two Doors Down Cafe (there has to be a story to that name) and enjoyed a pleasant lunch.  An interesting feature of the cafe was a large picture on the wall showing the town in its mining heyday.

The picture of the old town of Derby displayed on the cafe wall

A bit further on we stopped at Branxholme to photograph the Chinese bridge over the Ringarooma River. Branxholme has a strong connection to the history of Chinese miners in Tasmania. It is a key point on what is known as The Trail of the Tin Dragon that links tin mining sites from Launceston to St Helens.

The Chinese bridge at Branxholme

A short distance past Branxholme we detoured on what was not much more than a country lane, towards the town of Ringarooma  to find the small town of Legerwood its carved trees. In 1918 seven trees were planted beside the road at the location that in 1936 became Legerwood, one for each of the locals who did not return from WWI.

Memorial chain sawed tree stump at Legerwood

By 2001 the trees has become a safety risk so they were cut back and the stumps were carved into a memorial for each of the men. The carving was carried out using a chain saw. A plaque on a stand at each tree tells the individual serviceman’s story. A rest area has been built behind the memorial trees with space for a few RVs to park overnight.

A different perspective of the carved memorial trees

The only other stop was at Sideling Lookout near the summit of the Sideling Range, the last mountain before the commencement of the decent into Launceston. Even with low clouds the view was great. A sign says that on a clear day you can see features on the Bass Strait Islands to the north east.

View back towards Scottsdale from Sideling Mountain

Our Launceston accommodation was at Adina Place Apartments on the steep slope above the Launceston central business district. Adina Apartments is a multi storey block with access to the rooms from a balcony that runs the length of the building, overlooking the road. The views from our windows were to the North and North West along the Tamar Valley.

View towards the north west from our Launceston accommodation
Looking north from our unit. The water in the background is the Tamar River

The first day in Launceston was not very holiday friendly. We started out at 14C and (according to the BOM) feeling like 12C, with a strong and cold north-easterly gusting in from somewhere around the freshly fallen snow. It may have got to 16C later in the day. It was hard to tell.

This historic water tower at Evandale is no longer used but kept full of water to help to preserve it.

We had intended to start the day with a visit Ben Lomond, one of the highest mountain peaks in Tasmania and host to some of the local ski fields, but that had to be scrapped with forecasts of low temperatures, wind and possible snow. The plan would have taken us south of Launceston so we stuck with that plan to visit the other items that we had identified. These were mainly National Trust managed homes. All are open to the public for a fee, but with only a morning to spare we were only intending to look at them from the outside and to drive through the country side.

The Evandale Bakery. It was really a licensed cafe but also fulfilled the role of a bakery.

First we drove to Evandale, passing Launceston airport on the way. At Evandale we found a bakery so inviting that we went in for coffee. The warmth was very welcome as was the coffee smell and the wide range of cakes from which to choose.

Evandale, on the old Hobart to Launceston road, has almost all historic houses. It is like an English village. If you built a new house I think that you would need to make it look old to fit in.

The Evandale Village Store

About a week before we were there Evandale hosted the annual penny farthing bicycle championships. The races are run over a triangular course in the village. A village fair forms part of the event featuring stalls, music, singing, dancing, vintage cars, historical costumes and a grand parade. It must be quite a day.

Antiques for sale from truly antique buildings.

Of the National Trust homes that we visited, Clarendon is the stateliest. It was built in 1838 and must have been the centre of colonial social life in the area. Like its piers it is available to host special functions.

Extensions to Clarendon to accommodate functions such as weddings, balls and commercial promotions.

Brickendon and Woolmers Estate, near Longford, were built by the Archer brothers. Brickendon has been operated by the same family since 1824. Woolmers Estates dates back to 1817. Both properties were added to the National Estate in 1910 because their connection to convict history. Both were built by convict labour. The Archer brothers were regarded as humane masters. Jeffrey Archer became a member of parliament and played a role in the ending of transportation.

The visitors centre at Woolmers Estate. This National Trust property hosts functions and offers tourist accommodation.
A peep into the back door of Brickendon Estate. The back door is the tourist entrance.

We came back to Launceston to pay a visit to some friends of Briony at their place of business and then made our way to Cataract Gorge. This geographic feature is quite close to the City and surrounded by suburbia.

The cafe at Cataract Gorge with the chair lift overhead.

Some of the developments in the gorge have been there for a long time. We remember them from our previous visit. Other features are more recent. A suspension bridge and a chair lift carries people over a small lake and link to various walks. There is a swimming pool, surrounded by lawns, a cafe and a inclined elevator to make it easier for the less mobile to move between the various levels.

Chairlift and pool from the cafe at Cataract Gorge

We started with late lunch in the café. Then I went for a walk past the pool, returning via the suspension bridge, while Ruth tried to hide from the cold. We gave the chair lift a miss, as did almost everyone else that day.

Cataract Gorge pool lake and suspension bridge
The South Tamar River flows through Cataract Gorge above the suspension bridge.
This inclined elevator connects three levels at the Cataract Gorge cafe.

We finished with a drive through city streets. Launceston is built in a narrow valley with city and suburbs spreading up the sides of and over the hills. There are streets that look like the plunge of a roller coaster.

By now there was not much of the day left so we returned to our apartment. It was pleasant to be able to turn the heat up on the air conditioner and settle back in warm comfort for a peaceful evening.