Ferry trip to northern Tasmania: The spirit of Tasmania

The Nut at Stanley, Tasmania
The
little french bulldog rolls its great eyes, a young german shepherd starts to
howl, the ship shakes free of its moorings, and we’re off.  If you thought
you had to get to the Mediterranean to go sailing, you’ve forgotten about our
own modest sea crossing, from Melbourne to Tasmania. 
Sure, you
can fly to Tassie – it’s just two hours from Sydney and but an hour from
Melbourne to Launceston. But the luxury of time and the convenience of driving
your own car obviously appeals to many, for tonight’s sailing on the Spirit of
Tasmania is a busy one. There holidaymakers with their fur families (hence all
the hounds in the hold), caravanners with kids’ car seats and those who, like
us, have a few empty eskies  waiting to be filled with Tassie’s spectacular
produce.
We set
sail on the Spirit just in time for dinner, and already the message is clear:
you’ll never starve on this island. The ship’s yet to clear Melbourne’s Port
Phillip Bay and already our dining table in the ship’s Leatherwood restaurant
is laden with smoked quail, brandied chicken pate, ocean trout all from the
island state – and that’s just entrees. The exploration of Tasmania’s 60-plus
vineyards also starts here, with a handy list of cellar doors and wines
including Ghost Rock’s hard-to-get, sparkling wine, the Catherine, and a cheery
MacForbes Riesling, both from northern Tasmania. 
Our gang
of three shares a four-berth cabin: it’s compact and comfortable with two sets
of bunk beds, and the ship rocks gently across the Bass Strait to arrive in
Devonport just on sunrise. The information booth hands out leaflets on the best
breakfast cafes open at this ungodly hour, and the recommendation is for
Anvers’ Chocolate Factory, in nearby LaTrobe (anvers-chocolate.com.au).
Bingo.
The plan
is to drive from east to west along the north coast in just a few days, seeking
out its hamlets and beauty spots, avoiding the (relatively) big smoke of
Launceston, the Bass Strait keeping us company all the way. 
I have
already drawn up a shopping list for our three-day getaway, and it’s
embarrassingly food-oriented: raspberry jam from Christmas Hills in Elizabeth
Town (raspberryfarmcafe.com),
Hellyers’ single malt whiskey in Burnie (hellyersroaddistillery.com.au),
Tasmanian wagyu pies in Devonport (wagyupiecompany.com). There are scallop pies to
be devoured, wine and cider to be drunk, berry ice-cream to be licked. Lucky
I’m also sailing home: the airlines surely would charge me excess baggage on
the return journey.
A word on
driving in Tassie:  a hundred kilometres will not take an hour: there be
many corners, there be wild animals on the road, there be the cutest little
beach just right for paddling, a pick-your-own berry farm or a glorious vista
begging to jump onto your Instagram feed. 
Scallops at Lost Farm

On the
drive east of Devonport, our journey comes to a screeching halt at a crossroad
on the B82, amid  a cluster of Australia’s top sparkling producers,
including Jansz and Piper’s Brook, and we celebrate our find with a glass of
bubbles. 

Further
along, at Bridport, the diversion is a sweet little local bakery followed by a
walk through the rolling sand dunes that stretch out in front of our room for
the night at Barnbougle Dunes, whose  golf course, The Dunes, is rated
11th in the world. We snicker at road signs warning of kangaroos and golfers, and
play “what’s that funny name”  when passing Squeaking Point and
The Dazzler Range.
Driving
west of Devonport, the diversions are many and fabulous, such as the hamlet of
Turners Beach, notable for its kid-friendly beach and the welcoming La Mar
cafe, which packs together a dinner for our night’s stay in the self-catering
The Winged House. 
Further
on, at Penguin, we stop to admire a giant (concrete) penguin, penguins painted
on shop walls and the town’s rubbish bins garnished with penguin sculptures.
The actual penguins are absent, although a smiling woman at Cocoon, one of
Penguin’s brace of remarkable homewares shops, tells me she spent the morning
watching a baby whale frolic in the warm coastal waters with its mum. It’s
lunchtime so the  order is for a couple of scallop pies from the town’s
bakery and, like every other time I’ve eaten them, I’m surprised all over again
that the fat scallops are baked in a curry sauce so thick it’s almost rigid.
Not Thai or Indian or some exotic curry, but more like a super-yellow,
English-love-it Keen’s-curry-powder curry, and I just can’t help but feel a
little sad.
La Mar cafe at Turners Beach
With a
population of 20,000, it feels like we’ve hit the big smoke at Burnie, which
has more than its fair share of great finds, including the best little drive-in
boozer in the north, with rare and wonderful ciders galore, set beside the
recently renovated Ikon Hotel, with great family-sized apartments. But if you
had to make but one stop along this coast road, make it Burnie’s Maker’s
Workshop. 
The town
is packed with art deco architecture thanks to a cash injection via the
Australian Pulp and Paper Mill in 1938, yet the Makers’ Workshop is a
super-modern construct of glass and steel, built in 2009 on the waterfront. At
any time, up to five “makers” will be creating anything from
jewellery to baskets, paintings to glassware and I strike up a conversation
with a peg dolly maker and a felt maker. 
The glass-fronted cafe lets you watch
the working waterfront from a cosy perch. The tourist information centre is
comprehensive and its gift shop, selling Tasmania’s artisan wares, really is
worth saving your pennies for. While the paper mill has since closed, they’re
still making paper here – but this time, it’s from wombat poo or apple pulp and
visitors can turn their hand to making it on the frequent paper-making tours.
But  it’s not all scones and cappuccinos. There’s also a monstrous, yellow
Elphinstone underground loader in the foyer, a reminder that Burnie is also the
home to a Caterpillar factory and the former mechanic and the state’s richest
man, Dean Elphinstone. 
The Winged House, Table Cape

Table
Cape is best known for its tulip farm, but it’s out of season, and no vivid
strips of flowers to be seen. From our architecturally intriguing  home
for the night, The Winged House, the coastline disappears into the mists, first
mapped by Matthew Flinders with his surgeon friend, George Bass, in 1798. To
the west is The Nut at Stanley and further on, Robbins Island and Cape Grim,
said to have the world’s most pure air. It’s a delight to learn that the IGA
supermarket at nearby Wynyard  does what a franchise is supposed to do,
and stocks local scallops, whole Tassie salmon fillets and the famed beef from
Cape Grim.

It’s
 invigorating here on this headland, with the Roaring Forties living up to
its name. So after photographing the coastline from the island’s last working
lighthouse, we push on to Boat Harbour, which a Tassie friend tips as a
must-visit. She’s not wrong. The tiny harbour has a sunny cafe-cum-surf
life-saving club, set on a sandy beach that curves sweetly into the headland,
every one of the village’s beach shacks has commanding water views. It’s the
same story at nearby Sisters Beach, where sea-changers and retirees are
providing brisk business for the local tradies and real estate agents. 
Despite
its location on the north-west edge of Tasmania, little Stanley is terribly
chic. Sure you can hike or catch the chairlift to the top of The Nut, a rough
volcanic bluff  but it also sports a genuinely boutique hotel, @ VDL
Stanley,  upmarket fish-and-chipperies, more fabulous homewares shops and
cafes with a dash of city slickery. 
Next time,
I’m going to juggle my days better to hit the Sunday markets at Penguin and
pretty Ulverstone, I’m going back to funny little Tomahawk to pitch my tent
once again, and I’m going to finally hike in the Tarkine wilderness.
  
On the
way home, a vivid super-moon lights the ship’s decks and I score an upgrade to
a vast deluxe cabin with a double bed, right at the very front of the ship.
Instead of portholes, there are panoramic windows, just the spot to sit and
write that list for the return journey. 
TRIP
NOTES
MORE
INFORMATION
See discovertasmania.com.au.
The
Spirit of Tasmania sails from Melbourne into Devonport. Children travel free
between March 6 and September 13, book by February 28. Costs from $96 adults in
an ocean recliner, or from $258 for two adults and two children in a four-berth
cabin, one-way. See spiritoftasmania.com.au. Virgin Australia (virginaustralia.com),
Jetstar (jetstar.com)
and Qantas (qantas.com.au)
fly from Sydney and Melbourne to Launceston. Rex Airlines flies Melbourne to
Burnie (rex.com.au
STAYING
THERE
Barnbougle
Dunes in Bridport costs from $190 a night. Phone (03) 6356 0094, see barnbougledunes.com.au.
The Winged House at Table Cape costs from $360 a night,  Table Cape. See thewingedhouse.com.au.
Ikon Hotel, Burnie  costs from $170 a night. Phone (03) 6432 4566, see ikonhotel.com.au.
EATING
THERE
Create
your own foodie drive across northern Tasmania, see cradletocoasttastingtrail.com.au
or  the food review app, see tasmanianfoodguide.com.au.
WHILE
YOU’RE THERE
Makers
Workshop, Burnie, makersworkshop.com.au is a must-see. 
FIVE MORE
GREAT TASSIE DRIVES
East
Coast
Hobart to
St Helens.
Explore
some of the island’s  best national parks, including Bay of Fires and
Maria Island. Distance: 295km.
Convict
Trail:
Hobart to
Port Arthur via Richmond. Discover our picturesque, yet brutal colonial
history. Distance: 205km.
Cradle
Country:

Devonport to Cradle Mountain. Balance farmgate snacking and shopping with
world-class hiking. Distance: 226km.
Due
South:
Hobart
to Cockle Creek. Camp at Cockle Creek and take a short walk to South East Cape,
the most southerly point on the island. Distance: 148km.
Wild
West:
Burnie
to Strahan. Drive through Australia’s largest rainforest, the Tarkine
wilderness, via Waratah to the remote west coast. Distance: 180km.


The
writer was a guest of the Spirit of Tasmania, Barnbougle Dunes and the Winged
House.  
This feature by Belinda Jackson was published in the Sun-Herald’s Traveller section.

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