Find yourself in a fairytale with picture-perfect vistas, stories of lost craft and lashes of apple cider; Tasmania’s Huon Valley yields loveliness and surprise at every turn.
For at least 20 kilometres my husband and I have been volleying back and forth exclamations of “Look at that!” and “How adorable!”
We’re driving from Hobart to the Huon Valley, passing through idyllic towns, such as the saccharine-named Snug, and gently rolling meadows adorned with the occasional charmingly dilapidated barn.
As Tasmanian novices, we were unprepared for the loveliness revealed at each bend.
Somewhere along the Nicholls Rivulet Road, the adorableness becomes too much and we pull over to capture a particularly enchanted scene on camera: apple trees in the dainty blush of spring are bathed in delicate afternoon sun, leading the eye down to a white wooden farmhouse the likes of which any fairy godmother would be pleased to occupy.
Frolicking lambs skip down to a quaint pond, irking some brilliant-white geese in the process. It’s all so storybook-wholesome that I half expect to see Snow White skip by to round up the farm animals for a sing-a-long.
The little farmhouse isn’t our abode for the night, though, so we drive out of the fairytale and on to Cygnet, to stay at the Helmsman’s House at Frenchman’s River.
With the owner nowhere in sight, we tentatively try the front door and are mildly alarmed to find it swing open almost in expectation of our arrival.
Hesitantly we tip-toe inside and notice a fireplace popping merrily in the centre of a large and beautifully styled living room. A selection of local cheese is softly oozing on a platter and a bottle of red sits nearby suggestively.
I feel like Snow White happening upon an empty-but-inviting house in the woods. I’ve almost convinced myself we must be intruding on some unsuspecting Tasmanian’s afternoon ritual when a note addressed to us alleviates any fear of being busted by a rightful owner (or seven dwarves).
And what a place. The house, restored by author and producer Posie Graeme-Evans and husband Andrew, feels both luxe and put-your-feet-up comfortable.
A knock at the door reveals Andrew. He’s come down from his house up the hill to check that we, and the fire, are getting along OK.
We chat about the restoration of the cottage, the manufactured hill he created to add extra privacy from the neighbours and, more intriguingly, how Tasmania was almost French.
Andrew tells the story of how, at the turn of the 19th century, French explorer Nicolas Baudin was under direct orders from France to snatch up as much Australian territory as he could.
Although he came across Tasmania, he thought it was attached to the mainland, which the English had already laid claim to, thus he sailed on.
Had Baudin discovered it to be an island, Tasmania today may have been the Québec of Australia. Modern-day locals seem slightly dismayed that it didn’t turn out French, and each year Cygnet holds a French festival as an ode to what might have been.
We’re still contemplating this historical crossroads when Posie arrives.
With her rosy cheeks, Possum Magic-style round spectacles and bearing a pot of homemade cassoulet and mashed potatoes, she could easily fill the role of fairy godmother.
The following morning (after an omelette made with the Helmsman’s House provisions, starring Petuna ocean trout), armed with Posie’s sightseeing tips, we set out to marvel at more adorableness.
While the Huon Valley is the launch pad for Bruny Island, it seems Bruny gets all the attention and I suspect there’s a lot more going on here than long-lashed livestock and Beatrix Potter-esque landscapes.
Tasting Tasmania… Walk & eat Tassie’s tasty Bruny Island
Bypassing the turnoffs to the Bruny ferry, we instead heed Posie’s advice and head in the direction of Franklin in search of wooden boats and apple cider.
The Wooden Boat Centre may initially seem like something that would interest only woodworking hobbyists and salty-bearded marine buffs but, being neither of these myself, I guarantee that spending $12 on a workshop tour is something that won’t stir regret.
Not merely a museum of a bygone craft, the centre is a living, working school, where anyone can join in building a beautiful sea-worthy watercraft from scratch using salvaged Huon pine, celery top pine and other Tasmanian timbers.
The purpose of the school is twofold, explains our tour guide Ea Lassen as she takes us through the workshop.
The school helps to keep the craft alive by passing on skills and knowledge while also invigorating the Franklin community through tourism and, hopefully, attracting more boat-builders to set up shop along the Huon River.
Ea is a bright-eyed Dane who also runs sailing tours up the river on her own traditional ketch Yukon (yukon-tours.com.au) with her Australian shipwright husband, David Nash.
Her devotion to wooden boats is complete and it’s impossible not to feel affected by her commitment to not only resurrecting a fading skill, but also a once-robust town.
Ea sees the same potential in a rotten, down-on-her-luck vessel as she does in Franklin: all they need is a bit of hard work and a lot of love.
The skill and patience required to bend, shape and mould wood to fashion a watertight vessel is enchanting.
“This is one of the best ways to preserve the Huon pine timber, because it will last forever,” says Ea as she watches me marvel at the lightness of a piece of pine, its huddled rings telling the secret of its ancient age. I leave feeling uplifted.
Across the road is the Frank’s Cider cellar door, where you can warm up with a tasting paddle of Frank’s best and a country-size serving of pie.
An old church hall plays host to Frank and the family memorabilia, which traces Frank’s life since his birth in 1894.
The orchard he planted is still run by the family, despite the Apple Isle losing one of its prime industries in 1973, when Britain abruptly terminated their importing of Tassie apples following its absorption into the European Union.
Many an apple tree was uprooted, hills cleared and new lives forged, but for those who remained, the cider boom in the early 2000s finally gave purpose back to these heirloom orchards. Happily, it’s a theme throughout Tassie, and cider boffins can embark on The Tasmanian Cider Trail.
Another Huon favourite is the Willie Smith’s organic cidery, a short drive up the road on the way to Home Hill Winery.
We’ve heard the restaurant here is worth a detour from cider tastings, but, wrongly assuming that a small vineyard set in rolling hills would be able to accommodate us at our whim, we’ve neglected to book for lunch and there are no available tables.
No matter, we have options and time at our disposal.
Soon, we’re seated at Peppermint Bay. There’s no Good Ship Lollipop, but there are oysters shucked to order, octopus grilled over coals and slow-braised goat.
Perched atop the village of Woodbridge, its location exploits the beauty of the channel below. It’s a good place for sampling Huon’s fare and fine wine.
Sit and sip on the terrace and ruminate over the journey so far.
A journey that has revealed a lost craft reanimated, a crop reimagined, and a landscape so endowed with agrarian loveliness it can cause you to lose your way; and you may never recover the will to find it again.
The details: Huon Valley, Tasmania
Home Hill Winery: Book at the winery restaurant for a beautiful lunch showcasing Tassie and Huon Valley produce. 38 Nairn Street, Ranelagh; homehillwines.com.au
Peppermint Bay: Snack on oysters, sip on sparkling, take in the view across the D’Entrecasteaux Channel. 3435 Channel Highway, Woodbridge; peppermintbay.com.au
Grandvewe Cheeses: Taste sheep’s milk products including sheep’s milk vodka. 59 Devlyns Road, Birchs Bay; grandvewe.com.au
Frank’s Cider Bar and Cafe: Stop by to sample Frank’s best and take in the family history. 3328 Huon Highway; frankscider.com.au
Willie Smith’s: Match Willie Smith’s organic cider with a dish from The Apple Shed menu. 2064 Huon Highway; williesmiths.com.au
Helmsman’s House at Frenchman’s River: The perfect place to retreat to at the end of a frosty day exploring the valley. Owners have also created the nearby Writer’s House. frenchmansriver.com.au
The Wooden Boat Centre: Learn about the lost art of wooden boat building. 3333 Huon Highway, Franklin; woodenboatcentre.com
Tahune Airwalk: Take to the treetops on a walk above the forest or, for the brave, try the cable eagle hang glider. tahuneairwalk.com.au