There is a glorious sense of the frontier about Tasmania. Nestling off the southern coast of the bottom of deepest Down Under, it is at once part of and yet entirely separate from Australia – the last stop before Antarctica. Its craggy hills boast everything from heath and moor to rainforest and rock pool, unique plants and unusual creatures. Plus, of course, in the tradition of antipodean places replete with gorgeous wilderness, it has some amazing places to stay.
The island state’s reputation is as something of a country cousin to Australia. Tassie, as it’s affectionately known down here, is slow-paced and parochial – and that’s not entirely unfair; it shares a sense of gentle Aussie time warp in the same way the Isle of Wight does to England. But it’s a different sort of cousin: wild and occasionally tousled. Hobart, the low-rise capital, is just a short bounce from Melbourne. Its gentle streets, as any who have kept apace of the news here will know, are home to a mix of high gastronomy and chic places to stay. Its most recent culture bona fides come courtesy of David Walsh, founder of the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA). Set in the grounds of his carefully curated batcave, its achingly arty pavilions are, in fact, some of Hobart’s most in-demand accommodations, though the converted Regency house and boutique favourite, the Islington Hotel, runs a close second. Franklin, an unassuming-looking restaurant that opened in an old Ford showroom in 2014, and the Japanese-influenced Glass House both made many best-in-Oz lists this year.
But it is for Tasmania’s truly great outdoors that most come, Hobart’s charms aside. Increasingly, the island’s wilderness and wildlife custodians seem focused on bringing both to the forefront of international attention. The Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary, for example, about 30km north of Hobart, is a dream of a place, its trees thick with native birds. The way to see it is via an exclusive night tour led by the sanctuary’s owner Greg Irons. Australia’s answer to Gerald Durrell, Irons leads the charge in protecting several species, but especially the endangered Tasmanian devil, and seems to know the complete story of every single rescued animal in his care. It’s an extraordinary opportunity to get up close to Tasmania’s wonderfully weird wildlife..
For some time the experience of the Tasmanian wilderness in haute style has been dominated by the likes of Saffire Freycinet, which commands spectacular views across the Freycinet Peninsula on Tasmania’s east coast and has just 20 suites; and Cradle Mountain Lodge, with its beautiful cabins and alpine day spa, set in the national park of the same name. But some newer addresses are coming to the fore in off-the-beaten-track corners of this island and helping to put new Tasmania frontiers on the radar. Two, in particular, offer unique ways to experience the island’s wilderness; though neither is particularly known outside Australia, it won’t be long before they both are.
It doesn’t take much to reach Tasmania’s central highlands from Hobart. World Heritage-listed, the Jurassic peaks and plateaus of the Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park are the setting for some stunning glaciated scenery. The deeper you venture, the more the roads twist and turn, revealing a handsome landscape drawn from primeval swatches of pastel and torn bark. On Lake St Clair, Australia’s deepest freshwater lake, you’ll find Pumphouse Point, a truly unique endeavour not just for Tasmania, but all Australia. Back in 1940, it was opened as a pumping station for Tasmania’s hydroelectric programme, but with the advent of newer technologies it fell into disuse. In January it reopened as an 18-room retreat, after a decade of meticulous restoration and development by Simon Currant, a self-described environmentalist and sometime Tourism Australia officer, and the original brains behind Cradle Mountain Lodge.
Two buildings form Pumphouse Point: the Pumphouse and the Shorehouse, which are connected by a long, slender concrete jetty extending out over the ink-blue lake. It’s hard to make the judgement call as to whether you’re better off being in the middle of the water, or on the shore looking out at it. The art deco exteriors have been left largely untouched and allowed to develop a somewhat wabi-sabi patina, while the administration buildings and staff quarters are well out of sight. The goal of the renovation was to have as light a touch as possible, both on the buildings and the environment. Pumphouse Point can boast an impressive zero impact on existing vegetation; not a single tree has been removed from the site, and the local wildlife – wallabies, quolls, wombats, echidnas and platypuses – are left undisturbed and continue to roam the grounds.
There’s a dreamlike feeling on arrival of stumbling onto the shell of a grand engineer’s faded vision – a setting Iain Banks would be proud of. Greatly enhancing it is the dramatic, meditative view, one that hasn’t changed in millennia. This mix of post-industrial and post-glacial offers a wonderful juxtaposition, one that is driven home when touring the buildings. In contrast to the faded glamour of the exteriors, the rooms are chic, sleek modern studios, fitted out subtly but beautifully in copper, brass and Tasmanian oak. It’s as if an achingly cool Brooklyn industrial joint has somehow found itself transposed to the deep wilderness, and it works. Each suite has a fridge packed with local foodstuffs – smoked chicken, soups, cheeses – for snacking on in your room or by the waterside as you soak in the quiet.
Communality is at the heart of the experience, the idea being to gently rub shoulders with other visitors, almost all of whom are Australian. The generous shared spaces – have elegant wood-burners and views of the lake, so guests can relax and enjoy it all. Rather than retaining a chef on-site, Currant has the evening food prepped and driven up from top kitchens in Hobart; it’s served at long communal tables. This, together with a firm “no children” rule, makes for a refreshing blend of calm and grown-up conviviality.
The real luxury, though, lies outside. Sitting by Pumphouse Point’s windows or on the jetty you could easily spend an entire afternoon watching martens skim the surface of the lake for a late drink, or the occasional duck-billed platypus quietly plopping into the water and rummaging busily through the shallows. It’s this backdrop, along with ultra-clean waterways and robust populations of beautiful brown trout, that make Tasmania one of the world’s best fly‑fishing destinations; some of the area’s most prime spots are within strolling distance. If you’re more walker than wader in general, there are various day and overnight hikes you can make that trace splendid loops around lakes and up to summits. These trails wind through elegant bush and under tangles of gum tree, past rusty tufts of button grass to reveal tobacco-coloured bogs with boardwalks over the deep bits, to hidden lakes, all set to an unforgettable cacophony of birdsong. Many of the species here – the currawong, the honeyeater – you won’t find off the island, let alone outside Australia.
The semi-alpine setting at times seems to be missing a Piedmont villa to gaze at, or some ruins to clamber over; but the lack of monument is, in fact, part of the primeval appeal. The raw nature of this island space makes itself felt all the more deeply. The informal frontier style isn’t rough and ready – that does it a disservice. “It’s all about place and exclusivity,” says Currant. “Doing and seeing things you just can’t do or see anywhere else.” Currant and his architects have created a thoughtfully beautiful destination – the most civilised sort of wilderness accommodation – which leaves the wilderness unadulterated, and is all the more striking for it. What guests do with their time there – whether fly-fishing, kayaking or simply staring at the morning mist as it burns off the lake’s surface – is up to them.
Out of the mountains, and back down on the sea, there is another corner of Tasmania that’s only just being discovered – a place with year-round appeal that contrasts with Pumphouse Point (where the winter sets in well and truly, with snow and ice most years) but with a more Nordic, urbane aesthetic. Satellite Island is a 30-hectare haven in the D’Entrecasteaux Channel, between the southeast coast of mainland Tasmania and larger Bruny Island. You need either a helicopter or a boat to get there; but once you’ve arrived, you’re very much set.
Over the past six years, Satellite Island’s Melbourne-based owner Kate Alstergren and her husband have evolved this “island off an island off an island”, as she calls it, from a working fish farm into a natural holiday escape par excellence, though there are plans to restart the salmon-farm business. Named by French explorer Joseph-Antoine Bruni d’Entrecasteaux in 1792, who used it for the purpose of star-gazing, Satellite Island is completely private – clients of Alstergren can choose to fill it with friends and family; it accommodates up to 12, but will happily host just one.
Down at sea level on the wooden jetty is a two-bedroom accommodation called The Boathouse, remade from a cluster of boathouses. Roller shutters take the place of a side wall in each bedroom – you can wake with the daylight, make yourself a coffee and then jump back into bed to enjoy the view and engage in a bit of dolphin-spotting. Up a set of long wooden stairs is the main house, which shares the same clear, clean Scandinavian summer feel: canvas chairs, wooden floors and coir carpets, shabby-chic sofas laden with plush throws, and bowls and bell jars full of shells and treasures that have been collected by the Alstergren family for years from the 3km-long rocky shelf that surrounds the island.
Satellite Island abounds with such treasures. There are great gnarled wild oysters, crayfish, abalone and more for the taking, anemones to tickle, fossils to find and fish to catch (not to mention more perfectly weathered driftwood than could likely be admired in the entire World of Interiors back catalogue). Depending on the swell, water either gurgles gently off the barnacle-frosted rocks or washes over them. It’s like having the best bits of Lulworth Cove all to yourself. On any given day, the coastal walk brings sightings of fallow deer, chickens and guinea-fowl, as well as breathtaking views of D’Entrecasteaux Channel and Sunset Bay. Great tassels of bark shroud the ancient blue gum trees, at least one of which is home to a white-bellied sea eagle, and on the horizon is the unmistakable silhouette of the Hartz Mountains. Though this whole-world-to-yourself feeling is at the heart of a stay here, civilisation is still very much within easy reach. Until recently, Satellite Island wasn’t open to visitors, which accounts for the pristine nature of the experience. It’s a splendid sort of isolation, in every season.
Restaurants, here, are surplus to desires given the strength of the local suppliers (and the location). The island itself supplies beautiful pure rainwater to drink, as well as crayfish, venison, wild oysters and fresh eggs, but the larder is stocked with prize-winning cheeses from local Bruny Island and Grandvewe producers, and pâtisserie from cult favourite Daci & Daci in Hobart, plus Tasmanian olive oils and wines.
But every Tasmanian table benefits from its proximity to nature – whether here on Satellite Island, the shores of Lake St Clair or amid the buzzy atmosphere of Hobart. Tasmania’s true cachet, in its emerging places as much as its perennial ones, is – today as for millennia – its truly great outdoors.