Saturday, September 26, 2015

Treating Ourselves To Tasmania

Life happens.  You meet, grow up, move away and.... remain friends!  In celebrating our 30 years of friendship, 3 girlfriends and myself recently re-united in Tasmania for a 5 day getaway. In August.  It was not cold.  It was FREEZING!  But I did get to live out my desire to dress like I was weathering a New York winter complete with gloves, coat and hat for the duration of our stay.  I was in heaven!

Tasmania has so much to offer.  It is scenic beyond description.  We were embraced by our great country's stories, immersing ourselves in the abundance of history and the fresh surrounds in varying shades of green that only Australia displays.

I learned that Tasmania is not just history and lush scenery.  Along with the freshness of the temperature was the refreshing discovery that Tasmanians offer a friendliness and an effortless helpfulness I have not experienced in what seems like forever.  Not just one, but ALL.  Whether we were out for dinner, buying groceries, doing the tourist jaunts, e v e r y single person we came into contact with was pleasant and helpful.  And it was apparent that this was neither an effort or out of the ordinary for them.  Old fashioned perhaps, but the 'mainland' could learn a thing or two from our southern neighbours customer service.

We chose to stay at a house high up on a hill overlooking what I thought was all of Tasmania then quickly realised it was only all of Hobart, called, funnily enough, House on the Hill. Did I mention customer service?  Not a face as such to be seen by our hosts, but their touch was incredibly visible. To walk in to the home and see that quite a few of our needs for the weekend had already been thought of and catered for just took my breath away.  Have I become that jaded not to expect such consideration?  From our hosts Simon and Jennifer, it is probably all in a days work.  To us, it was attention to detail beyond measure.

Part of the view from The House on the Hill

Our first sight seeing venture took us south to Port Arthur.  Such an amazing experience to learn more of Port Arthur's early days as a convict settlement.  The weather was overcast, cold and drizzly - befitting the stories of its history.  It is perfectly picturesque and so beautifully kept to maintain its heritage.
Magnificent Port Arthur

Picturesque Port Arthur
Remains of a convict settlement, Port Arthur
Jonquils line the original fence at the Commander's cottage, Port Arthur
After a hearty home cooked breakfast on the Saturday morning, we set off for the renowned Salamanca Markets.  Most of where we wanted to go was either not that far or you get so swept up in the beauty of the scenery, it doesn't seem that far at all.  In this case, Salamanca was about a 10 minute drive from where we were staying.  And then... It is so easy to park in Hobart city, even on a Saturday!

Salamanca Markets with snow covered Mt. Wellington in the background.
The Salamanca Markets are something else.  They are down on the waterfront and showcase loads of local produce from fruit and vegetables to honey, truffles, nuts and condiments, literally to name but a few.  Local artisans display their craft: unique and practical items impeccably carved from Tasmanian timbers, jewellery made from kitchen utensils, loads of fashion ranging from clothing to various accessories, again to name but a few.  The whole extensive experience is like one huge treasure chest.

Salamanca Markets
True to local form, there are many helpful signs at the stalls letting you know what is acceptable to be taken back to the mainland or back overseas, what can be carried as hand luggage, what is suitable for main luggage or prices for shipping to your destination. The stall holders are all friendly and know their products.  They are more than helpful in explaining the item you are enquiring about: where it comes from, how it is made, why it is good for you. Tasmanians are exceptional at customer service!

Cascade Brewery - how could we not come here?

Need I say more?  Well, in fairness to the Cascade Brewery, yes I will.  We came here on the Saturday afternoon to do a tour of the brewery.  We learned not just of the beer and cider making processes but of the history of the brewery itself.  Did you know it was once a flour mill?  Being a weekend afternoon, the brewery itself was not operating but again, always thinking of the customer, there were detailed DVD's showing the brewery in operation so that we had a clear idea of how the amber nectar is brought to life.

At the beginning of our tour, we were given three bottle tops which we could 'cash' in at the end of our tour to try the various products. I was interested to learn, and saddened a little, that only a small variety of Cascade beers are distributed to the mainland.  The good stuff comes up here whilst they keep the great stuff for themselves!  True.  I tried the great stuff.  Made me sad we can't get it.

View from the top of Mt. Wellington.

Sunday saw me take the wheel of our hire car - a Ford Kuga.  Of course!  Because what other car do 4, dare I say it, middle aged women hire but a 'Kuga'?  We aptly named her Sonia Kuga and she was, I must say, a comfortable ride.  So, yes, my turn.  Of all days for me to take the wheel, it was the day we were heading up to the top of Mt. Wellington. Me who is petrified of heights!  And edges. That. Have. Nothing. On. Them!  It got the better of me half way up the mountain and my driving duties, for then, were relieved. Even the gentleman at the top of the mountain assisting the drivers where they could park was helpful, and friendly!  Could this place get any better?  I mean, seriously.  This is not just a one or two person being helpful type of thing.  This is now a running theme among all Tasmanians and my mind was being blown!

It was of course, chilly at the top of Mt. Wellington.  4 degrees cooler than at the bottom of the mountain to be exact.  It was breathtakingly beautiful between the snow and the views.  Hobart and its surrounds seemed to stretch on forever.  After the obligatory snow fight, we jumped back in Sonia and took in a countryside drive heading towards the Huon Valley.  Seeing a sign directing us to a winery we thought we would stop in for a quick visit.

The Home Hill Winery is at Ranelagh in the Huon Valley.  An architectural delight and clearly with wines and food to savour, the restaurant was filled to Sunday lunch capacity. Being a Taurean and therefore all about food (and wine) I couldn't help but check out the meals heading to the tables. They looked delicious and plentiful and I was personally sorry that we had arrived a little too late to enjoy lunch there.   Now I am very particular about my white wines. I tend to favour New Zealand whites and am on a personal mission to find a bad one! It has been an extensive search I can tell you.  But on the simple geographical basis that Tasmania is roughly in line with some of the most amazing wine producing parts of New Zealand, I thought I would give the Home Hill Sauvignon Blanc a try. I was not disappointed.  It was everything I had hoped it would be. From there I moved on to try Kelly's Reserve Pinot Noir.  Oh. My. Goodness.  Why did I only have hand luggage??? Rosemary who owns the winery with her husband Terry, talked us through each of the wines we wished to try and was so very friendly, happily answering all the questions we had about the wines,  the winery, the architecture and the history of Home Hill Wines. This is one place on my list of places to re-visit when I return to Tasmania.

We continued on our Sunday drive winding through the Huon Valley.  It is so pretty and picturesque and just so relaxing to take the time to enjoy the countryside.  We made our way down to Cygnet - what a beautiful township this is.  It has an outlook across the hamlet that makes you feel transformed by its serenity.  As I say in the photo below, it is as pretty as a picture: colourful, rural, balanced.  It is worth the drive there to check it out.

Cygnet - pretty as a picture.

We began to make our way back to Hobart, stopping in at the village of Kettering on the way. Kettering is the gateway for those wishing to travel to Bruny Island.  Another pleasant little township with, of all things, a Turkish cafe.  Pasha's wasn't what I expected to see but clearly what the locals and visitors alike appreciate as business could not have been busier! 

Back in Hobart, we headed out once again to the Brunswick Hotel for our last dinner.  I indulged in a huge plate of ribs and a pint or two of the Lazy Yak. The Brunswick has such a great vibe - live music, great food, chilled atmosphere, a tasty variety of craft beers and here I go again, helpful staff!

Up and at 'em come Monday morning.  It was our last day in Tasmania and we still had a few things we wanted to see.

Richmond Bridge - the oldest working bridge in Australia.
We headed up to Richmond where we stopped and paid homage to the oldest bridge that is still in operation in Australia.  As we stood with our beanies, scarves and winter coats on, we watched as the children at the school behind us played hockey in shorts and t-shirts! I guess you become acclimatised after a while.

You'll find this sign if you pop in to
the Man O Ross Hotel 
Further north we drove until we arrived at a quaint town called Ross.  It is a heritage town with the most beautiful colonial buildings.  Wandering around here is like stepping back quite a few decades. It is quiet, peaceful and yet draws many a visitor.  The Post Office houses some fantastic and reasonably priced gifts and souvenirs.  Across the road we found ourselves ordering Devonshire Teas, the famous Scallop Pie, Pasties and Coffees at The Bakery Cafe. Not a crumb was left on my plate.  The interior with its warmth and tasty aromas made it hard to leave.  I could find myself a permanent spot just outside that kitchen any day!  

A delayed flight home makes for extra sight seeing time.  We were all grateful the stars had aligned like that for us.  We called back in to Richmond to see more than just the bridge and take some time to explore the treasures it held.  What a perfect maze of interesting boutiques housing a unique variety of content.  

I couldn't go past the lolly shop! With its free samplings and colourful array of every. single. sweet under the sun, I was in lolly heaven. And so were the bus load of school kids that had just arrived! 

The Peppercorn Gallery is an amazing co-op of local artist's works. From photographs to jewellery to cards and carved timber pieces and so much more, there is something for everyone. Every year I like to add a keepsake ornament to our Christmas tree.  This coming Christmas will be the first without my Mum so when I saw this delicately handmade angel made in Mum's favourite colour, I just had to buy it.

A slight twist in the maze lead us into Rosehip and Co. It houses some of the most glorious homeware and giftware creations I have seen in a long time, all amid crisp, modern and fresh surrounds. I purchased these Coconut and Grapefruit scented tealights...oh how I wish you could take in their scent through this post.  They brighten my day - no pun intended!

You can smell ScentSations long before you get there.  Such beautifully handmade candles, oils and all the accessories you need to breathe gorgeous aromas in to your home - or a friends.  My visit there could ultimately be described as out and out loitering.  I looked, sniffed, admired and just stood there taking it all in for what must have seemed like an eternity to the lovely lady politely and proudly explaining each fragrance and methodology to me.  

Richmond is a place where you could lose yourself for quite a few hours if time permits. If you are visiting Tasmania, Richmond is most definitely one place to add to your itinerary.

With a name like The Wicked Cheese Co symbolised by a huge pair of lips blowing us a kiss, who were we not to stop?  We sampled some divine cheeses - my favourites being the blue goats cheese and the camembert as well as their amazingly flavoured yoghurt cheeses.  For a very reasonable price, we were able to purchase either a small or large icepack in order to bring our delectables home. And as luck would have it, the Wicked Cheese Co also have online ordering and a few outlets on the mainland where their wickedly tasty delights are sold.

Finally, it was time to bid Sonia 'adieu' and for us real live girls to enjoy one final drink together before heading off with our pilots into the sunset.

For anyone entertaining the idea of heading to Tasmania, I say do it.  It is lush, scenic and bountiful with an endless assortment of things to do, buy, see, eat and lose yourself amongst.  I will say it one more time.  The people are beyond friendly.  They have left the most amazing and lasting impression on me.  It is the first thing I think of now when I think of Tasmania.  I say thank you to the not so small island off our great southern land for being so hospitable and gracious in all manner of ways.  You make a return trip a must on anyone's bucket list!