I had an idea of what to expect on this, my first visit to our most southern state. Wide expanses of farmland, forests of tall eucalyptus, rolling hills and rugged coastlines. I’d already seen the postcard pictures and polished travel documentaries, but here we were in Tasmania’s north west, getting a taste of it first hand.
Hitting the road doesn’t come with the anxiety many of us mainland city folk are accustomed to. Driving is a breeze. Open stretches of road that seem like they’re all yours. Roads that meander through rolling hills of wheat as it sways in the coastal breeze. Lone farmhouses surrounded by seemingly endless fields of white poppies and rows of bright green crops of potato. It’s a visual treat no matter where you set your gaze.
… says the other half as we cruise along the Bass Highway between the township of Wynyard and Rocky Cape. It was a small billboard displaying an aerial photo of Boat Harbour, somewhere that must have been close to where we were. Without even thinking, I took the next road and followed the signs. And then the road swings to the left and we’re presented with this.
Turquoise waters, barely a breath of wind and our discovery of a tiny hamlet hugging the pristinely white sandy beach at Boat Harbour. Families were already out sunning themselves and splashing about in the chilly water. And for a moment I regretted not bring my swimmers. It may have been 34°C beneath the sun, but that water had a bit of a bite!
And speaking of bites, it was near perfect timing for lunch. We weren’t sure where we’d end up eating as we drove between townships, but by default we chanced upon the Boat Harbour Beach Surf Life Saving Club.
Fresh from the sand, punters order coffees and ice creams from a small window at the side of the club building. Next door is Harvest & Cater, the club restaurant, some cool little digs with an ideal outlook over the lapping water.
It was at this point that I wanted to kick back, drink a few beers and eat into the afternoon. Sadly no beers made it to the lunch table, thanks to being the driver, but some local oysters (16) did. Plump, juicy and deliciously fresh.
The Harvest & Cater menu is fairly brief; a few chalkboards offering the likes of house made pies, bruschetta, sandwiches and seafood. Fish & chips (15) was a given for the beachside location. Crunchy golden batter and some tasty hunks of fish within. Mine was a little more fancy. Seared blue eye cod (26) slumped over a crunchy salad of raw snow peas and feta. And to the side is a trio of mushroom arancini nestled in tzatziki, which were by far the hero of the plate compared to the overdone fish.
Half an hour from Boat Harbour is Burnie, the state’s most westerly city. It was here that we spent the first night, very comfortably shacked-up at the IKON Hotel in the centre of town. The 100-year old federation building has been beautifully refurbished with 12 boutique style suites with lofty views over town and Emu Bay.
For a 4-star hotel, the rooms are rather enormous and one of the biggest I’ve stayed in. Flash leather furniture, galley kitchen, two flat-screen TV’s, even a tempur mattress I desperately need at home. Light sleepers like myself have nothing to worry about when it comes to street noise, thanks to the city centre being virtually people and traffic free at night. Seeing a city centre devoid of people seemed a little odd for this pair from the big smoke.
A great place to start exploration in Burnie is the Makers’ Workshop, an impressively designed building that’s home to not only an information centre, but a contemporary museum, arts centre, gallery and craft workshop. The centre features Burnie’s industrial heritage; in particular the paper-making and mining industries. Visitors can even try their hand at making paper and working with local paper makers. Ever heard of paper made with kangaroo or wombat droppings? Well you can buy it here.
We may have had complimentary continental breakfast offered at the IKON, but there was already a table waiting for us at Run Rabbit Run, a cute little cafe in the centre of town. A punchy single origin coffee provided a much needed kick start, courtesy of local roaster Infuse Coffee.
Sweet and savoury muffins, egg & bacon tarts, frittata, cakes, it’s all made in-house. Even the French toast (14) had just come out of the oven. They sidestep the traditional presentation and use a spiced bread that’s toasty and a little caramelised on the edges. The dense texture goes nicely with a generous smear of crème patisserie, some rhubarb and almonds.
Then there’s the smashed avocado (13.5), all mixed up with local Red Cow feta. A bit of bacon joined in, but sadly the bread was more like a crouton rather than the toasted sourdough we were expecting.
The friendly barista let me take a peek upstairs at The Otis Room, a multi-level lounge bar and live entertainment space that’s housed in Burnie’s old cinema. Pity we weren’t in town longer as I was already picturing myself slumped in one of the old cinema chairs, sipping on Tassie wine or beer.
A few minutes drive to the other side of town brought us to Hellyers Road Distillery, Australia’s largest single malt whisky producer. The location couldn’t be more perfect, with views over Emu Valley and surrounding farmland. We’re here to take the Whisky Walk, a guided tour of the facility that’s actually part of the Betta Milk cooperative next door.
In the 1990’s the milk co-op wanted to diversify and decided to give whisky a burl, thanks to the perfect climate Tasmania provides for its production. The first cask was filled in 1999 and aged for 7 years before being bottled for the first time. Today the whisky is aged in white oak casks from Jack Daniel’s in Tennessee; casks that are used by Hellyers Road Distillery two or three times before being replaced.
The barley that’s used in the whiskey is grown in the Midlands near Hobart and when it’s time for malting, it’s sent to Cascade Brewery where they’ve been malting for about 100 years. The malted barley then arrives at Hellyers Road where it’s stored in grain silos for about 6 weeks to allow enzymes to develop, before it hits the grist mill for crushing. Fermentation follows the mashing process, then distillation to produce a 65-70% new-make spirit that’s casked and aged. It’s the cask that provides all the colour and 70% of the flavour to the whisky.
Those that are up for a taste can sample a little cask-strength whisky and pour and wax-seal their very own bottle. It even comes with a signed certificate of authenticity.
At the end of the tour you get the chance to taste the Hellyers Road products, including their own vodka and whisky cream. There’s no guessing where the cream comes from. You can even stay and enjoy a meal at the distillery cafe.
Back in town overlooking the beach and esplanade is Bayviews, a modern eating house that celebrates great local produce in its varied menu. We’d sat down to eat our way through the six course degustation, matched with local wines. Sadly I could only taste small sips of the wine, as there was a bit of a drive after the meal; but a few sips are better than none!
An amuse of braised lamb shoulder gets the tastebuds kicking; deliciously rolled in brik pastry and served with goat curd and salsa verde. The soft crunch of the pastry gives way to juicy and slightly sweet lamb. And no need for cutlery!
A citrus spice fried calamari follows, served over orange and spice infused couscous. Some pickled vegetables fleck the couscous and a tasty squiggle of peri peri aioli brings some heat to the twisted pieces of fried squid.
Chicken & pistachio terrine is next, tumbled with fried cubes of locally made black pudding. There’s also a house-made brioche roll, pickled radish and cucumber and smear of mayo.
These guys make their own salmon gravlax, sourced from Macquarie Harbour on the west coast. For the next dish, the salmon is teamed with house-smoked mussels from the east coast, a coil of pickled beetroot, shaved radish, crème fraîche and micro coriander. Not a great deal of smoke came through in the mussels, but overall the flavours worked well. Nice touch with the lemongrass and vanilla dressing.
Moving on from seafood to one of my favourite cuts of meat. Pork belly, which comes from Scottsdale, 60km northeast of Launceston. Tender cubes of confit belly on a pumpkin and coriander purée, and some beautiful crackling crowning the pork. Nesting on wilted spinach are two ham hock and mustard croquettes, with creamy smokiness that stole all the attention from the belly. A little splash of pinot noir reduction makes it all the better.
A small scoop of shiraz & black pepper sorbet cleanses the palate before a larger than expected hunk of Longford beef lands in front of us. There was no asking of how we preferred to have it cooked, but the juicy medium-rare eye fillet was just as I’d wanted it anyway. A disc of Paris butter slowly melts its multitude of ingredients over the charred meat, beneath a lone crispy onion ring. A spear of steamed broccolini adds a green crunch and a beautiful potato and prosciutto pavé takes care of the starches. A simple dish that any meat lover would be chuffed with.
The final course is a layered violet crumble cake, presented in a martini glass with a side of Bridestowe lavender ice cream. Layers of cake that’s texturally similar to a brownie, mixed with Mawbanna honey, chocolate mousse and topped with cream and honeycomb. A sweet finale to a very filling dego.
Half an hour east of Burnie is Cradle Coast Olives, an oil producer located in Abbotsham, south of Ulverstone. Husband and wife team Tony and Carol O’Neil own and operate the 15 hectare property, planted with 400 olive trees in nutrient-rich volcanic soil. The mild and buttery French Verdale variety, warm and peppery Italian Paragon, the robust Spanish Manzanillo and the Californian Queen, a mild and fruity olive that yields only 4% oil.
These guys are unashamedly boutique and strive for quality rather than quantity, pressing their own olives, and others, using their imported Olio Mio cold press that’s housed in a shed no bigger than your average house garage.
The land was actually home to an old dairy farm, before Carol and Tony got hold of it after getting back from New Guinea in 1978 where Tony was a patrol officer. Not one tree was growing on the property before they started planting a variety of trees like willow, the odd fruit tree and then olives.
The olives are harvested by hand, using a nifty extendable rake, then cold pressed on the same day. This ensures high quality oil for a top quality product. No wonder these guys keep winning awards.
Three generations of the O’Neils work at the grove, and that includes the grand kids. The kids were even kind enough to show us the rather tame resident eels in the nearby pond. A little coaxing with fresh meat brought them to the surface, and I couldn’t help but start thinking of smoked eel. Sorry guys!
And take a look at my short video below.
hnf & co travelled, ate & stayed courtesy of Tourism Tasmania