Tips from a travelling Tasmanian – convict history, food and wine »

The island state has an abundance of all!

By Kerry Scambler
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Woolmer's Estate Shed

Woolmer's Estate Shed [©Kerry Scambler]

Cubed Espresso Bar
Bangor Wine and Oyster Shed
Coal Mines Historic Site - Tasman Peninsula
Cascades Female Factory


If you’re into some history being dished up with your wine and food, then the island state is the perfect place to get a blend of it all. 

World Heritage listing together with engaging and knowledgeable tour guides have made Tasmanian convict sites come alive with stories of people past. Of course, one still needs sustenance whilst absorbing all this history (and the wonderful views from many sites) so just as well the island state has plenty of fabulous food and beverage on hand.

After a recent national conference in Hobart, we took some interstate guests on a Tassie road trip and it wasn’t long before we were all enthralled with the stories and history of the convicts who were sent to the other side of the world. We also came across some culinary highlights too!

Tasman Peninsula (South East Tasmania)

Eaglehawk Neck: our base on the Peninsula and it was this 30m wide isthmus, lined with dogs, that put the majority of convicts at Port Arthur off making an escape. It’s also one of the most beautiful bays in the state, close to some spectacular coastal cliffs and home to the quirky Doo Town (but that’s another story!).

Port Arthur Historic Site: not having visited for nearly ten years, we were very impressed with the work, both on the site conservation and interpretation and the whole experience now offered. For the basic fee, you also get a 40 minute walking tour which is a great introduction to the site and a 20 minute cruise around Isle of the Dead and Point Puer.  From there you can wander whichever area of the site piques your interest. Tip: allow at the least a full morning or afternoon. In fact a whole day wouldn’t be hard to fill and enjoy at a leisurely pace.

Saltwater River Coal Mines: overlooking the coast, these ruins are open to the elements. Signage helps tell the story of the first operational mine in the state, using the labour of the “worst of the worst” of the convicts. It’s a quiet, reflective place with a view that few of those labourers would have had time to appreciate. It’s also home to a many birds and native wildlife.

Wine & food highlights:  A fabulous lunch and wine-tasting at Bangor Wine & Oyster Shed at Dunalley. The oysters were divine, the outlook delightful and the staff friendly and helpful.

Coffee and heavenly orange mochas were consumed at least once a day from the Cubed Espresso van at the Eaglehawk Neck Lookout. Surely one of the best coffee views around. Check their Facebook page as they are seasonal.

Cascades Female Factory, South Hobart

In the shadow of Mount Wellington is the most significant Australian female convict site. Thousands of women and children were imprisoned here which, even standing within the ruins of the walls, can be hard to comprehend.  But you can get a glimpse into their lives with the compelling dramatisation, Her Story, which is played out at noon every day.  We came away deeply affected and certainly more aware of how life for these women and children could be so precarious.

Wine & food highlight: to lighten our mood, we enjoyed afternoon tea at the Mt Nelson Signal Station. Great food and service and a spectacular view across the River Derwent to the South Arm and Tasman Peninsulas beyond.

South Arm Convict Trail, South Arm Peninsula (SE Tasmania)

A community driven project saw a series of signs produced to recognise the central role of convicts in establishing the South Arm Peninsula.  This walk starts in the small village of South Arm and continues to Opossum Bay where you can then walk out to the Gellibrand Vault, looking across the River Derwent to Mt Wellington. There are also many stunning beaches on this peninsula and it’s just a 35 minute drive from Hobart.

Wine & food highlight: South Arm RSL & Community Club serves meals every night and does magnificent Sunday lunches. (Book on 6239 9171)

Sarah Island, Macquarie Harbour on the West Coast

An absolute standout feature of a Gordon River Cruise out of Strahan on Tasmania’s rugged West Coast is a tour of Sarah Island, a former penal settlement.

Between 1822 and 1833, this small island was a place of secondary punishment where the worst of convicts were sent. It was a harsh landscape with no easy escape and there are some grisly tales of attempts to leave the terrible living conditions. And yet there are many puzzles about the settlement which was also the Empire’s largest ship-building port at the time, constructing an amazing 113 vessels.

These puzzles are teased out particularly well in a tour of the island with guides who are great communicators with no shortage of acting skills.  You’ll have to do the cruise to find the answers!

Food and wine: perhaps unusually it was the buffet at Strahan Village that came out on top with a good range of food. Drinks on the balcony overlooking the harbour were doubly impressive, first watching the colours of the sunset and then a clear, star-studded sky with a crispness in  the air.

Woolmers Estate, Longford (Northern Tasmania)

When Thomas William Archer died in 1994, he left his family estate and its contents to the Archer Historical Foundation as he wanted to share this treasure with the public. And what an astounding journey from 1817 it is.

Throughout its history the family never threw anything away and now the house and outbuildings are brimming with relics of the distant and not so distant past. 

Woolmers is also home to the National Rose Garden which is quite simply breathtaking (literally when they’re all flowering!). It has one of the finest collections of historic roses in the southern hemisphere.

Woolmers is World Heritage listed for its convict links, along with its neighbour, Brickendon and tours of both properties are available.  Note the house at Woolmers is only open to guided tours but the grounds are easily self-guided.

Food and wine: it’s just a short drive back towards Launceston and Josef Chromy or Sharmans for a winery lunch or if you’re heading south, the scallop pies and Cornish pasties in the Ross Bakery are always popular!

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May 10th, 2017
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