Some of Tasmania’s best attractions can be found in its far less chartered northeast corner…
There’s etiquette involved in driving the deserted roads of Tasmania’s far north-east; but just remember the most important rule: don’t forget ‘the wave’.
I’m not talking about a full hand wave; no, that would just signpost your naivety; a quick flick of your index finger as a car passes will suffice.
Blink and you might miss it, but that microsecond of greeting speaks volumes about people… and life… in the north-east.
Not that you’ll see many cars as you drive through this often-forgotten corner of Tasmania; through tiny farming communities where surrounding green rolling hills make the landscape every bit as pretty as New Zealand.
Yet where steep, sharp ranges of sky-scraping gums and gnarly bush full of kangaroos look as harsh as anything you’ll see on the mainland. Even on roads to perfect, pristine beaches you’ll find few fellow travellers; it can get lonely out here, little wonder people wave as they pass.
But if this all suggests that isolation (not to mention a fair helping of ‘country-bumpkin-ness’) might be the region’s only draw-card, that’s where you’d be wrong… gloriously wrong.
Try these tasters out for starters: the northeastern corner of Tasmania is home to Australia’s highest rated public golf course; the world’s best sparkling wine region outside only Champagne and one of the world’s best beaches.
On past visits to Tasmania I’d overlooked the northeast in favour of better-known regions like Cradle Mountain. But inspired by the princely reputation of the region’s sparkling wine region, Pipers River (which forms the northern part of the Tamar Valley Wine Route), I venture north of Launceston for the first time.
It’s a pretty drive out – there’s as many farmers on tractors around here as fellow wine tasters – and while it’s the sparkling wines and Pinot Noirs of this region that have made wine judges the world over stand up and take notice, if the planet knew just how pretty the landscape is around wineries like Bay Of Fires Wines, Jansz, Dalrymple Estate and Pipers Brook Vineyard, traffic might flow as fast as it does in the Hunter Valley.
Instead, it barely flows at all, I sample wines in tasting rooms that look across national parks with no-one for company but the winemakers themselves.
With some of the best wineries in the region built a few kilometres from each other, it’s an easy task to sample all of the region’s best produce in a day, or two (if you prefer to linger).
I drive a few kilometres beyond Pipers River to arguably northeast Tasmania’s most lauded attraction.
Turning right just before the tiny coastal community of Bridport, I wind my way down a gravel track to one of the golf world’s true holy grails, Barnbougle Dunes and Lost Farm.
Two of the world’s top rated links-style golf courses are built on the site of a potato and cattle farm. The more established of the two, The Dunes, is regarded as Australia’s best public course, while Lost Farm is just a few places behind it.
The dream of a local farming and hospitality industry family, these courses closely resemble the infamously brutal seaside courses of western Scotland.
Wallabies watch as I play one of the most visually arresting courses on the planet; huge bunkers the size of small beaches lie in wait as I attempt to steer my way across coastal ridgelines to greens perched between huge mounds of thick tussock grass.
When I’m done – and feel battered senseless – I seek solace in the day spa and in the restaurant at Lost Farm with their floor-to-ceiling windows that look out across the Bass Strait to Bridport.
From Barnbougle I set out east across a landscape that climbs drastically through some of Tasmania’s best examples of temperate rainforest, in between perfectly manicured heritage homes in quaint mining villages that slope down to the roadway.
It takes two hours to wind my way to the east coast: in that time I see only a handful of cars. Where the ranges peak to a crest, I’m offered views out across a vivid blue sea, then I ride low gear all the way to the beach.
For a time I feel as if I’m lost in this dreamy landscape with its little pockets of bright green fern forests and soaring topography and it’s hard to imagine there’s anything at all on the other side. But then I reach St Helens and the mountains and low cloud turn to warm sunshine reflected on inky-blue water.
Bay of Fires Tasmania
The Bay of Fires begins just east of St Helens at Binalong Bay, surely one of Australia’s most picturesque beach towns.
From here the bay stretches out forever, set against inland lagoons and coastal bushland, with no-one on the quartz-white sands.
I drive north, stopping at deserted beaches with names like Swimcart and Sloop, each a tranquil, empty bay of white sands and calm turquoise water.
The road reaches a dead end 11 kilometres north at The Gardens, an eclectic collection of fishing shacks beside cow pastures and national parks.
Travel bible Conde Nast Traveller rated The Bay of Fires the world’s second best beach and the Lonely Planet listed the area as one of the top 10 places on Earth you must visit.
Bays stretch out along here at will, forming perfect, empty tiny havens. The Bay continues for over 50 kilometres, most of which can only be accessed by foot.
But that’s just the beginning; the northeast corner offers many more juicy treats for anyone willing to take the time out to find them. In summer, understandably, the numbers swell, but there’s always a slice of the northeast you’ll have entirely to yourself.
Craig Tansley was a guest of Tourism Tasmania
Wineries to visit: Bay of Fires Winery, Pipers Brook Vineyard, Jansz Tasmania.