With St. Helens in my rear view mirror, I twisted and turned my way along the A3 as it snaked itself through the Blue Tier Forest Reserve. Tasmania’s tumultuous weather, which I had become accustomed to, was unbeknownst to me, about to add a blustery Antarctic punch to its already extensive plethora of meteorological power. As much as the temperature dropped however, it was to be no match for the warmth and reception I would soon be greeted with by the people I was to meet along my drive across the Northern coast of Tasmania.
My first stop was the small seaside town of Bridport. This sleepy town is the home of the Barnbougle Dunes (and Lost Farm) golf courses who now hold the forty-first and eighty-second spots respectively of the top golf courses in the world. I met with Richard Sattler, the owner of the course and on whose land the dual courses have been built. I felt an instantaneous rapport with Richard only minutes after meeting him. He was my kind of guy-down to earth and easily approachable. As we drove around the grounds he told me about the history of Barnbougle and the quest to remove the strict formalities that preside around golf and return to the days of golf being fun, which is one of the reasons that both the courses remain open to the public. As we wandered from fairway to fairway, I learned more about Richard and his entrepreneurial background, whether it was buying a pub or a hotel, he told me that he’s simply always just gone for it.
“I’ve never been afraid of the consequences” Richard told me, simple as that. If he thought it was good idea, he went for it. This was true with several of the people I met along the Northern Coast of Tasmania-there was a certain free-spirited vibe that I found refreshing.
As I rolled through the countryside which was dotted with small cattle farms cut out of deeply lined forests, I found myself presented with a scene of pastoral perfection. The impending clouds which sat above me for most of the day had broken and what followed was a sky that blushed with every shade of red that one could imagine. I quickly pulled my car to the side of the road and ran up to a fence to watch a herd of cows quietly mooing as they picked at their evening’s dinner and as smoke bellowed out of the closest home’s chimney, it was a beautiful end to the day.
My second day along the Northern coast was a day filled with design and pure gluttony, to put it mildly. Launceston is Tasmania’s second largest city and is more or less the capital of the North. Victorian homes dot the city’s streets of what was once the gateway to the timber mining industry, but has adopted a more tourism based approach in recent years thanks in large part to the ever-growing Tamar wine region. My first morning in Launceston, I awoke to an image of the freshly budding springtime leaves being blown off their host trees as a series of wind gusts knocked them loose. But hey, this is Tassie right? I was told by the locals when I arrived to be prepared for all the elements, sometimes all four seasons in one day.
At my first stop of the day, I was guided first hand through the craftsmanship of the island by Patricia Sabine at the Design Centre of Tasmania. Quite simply, Tasmania is known for its wood and the intricate woodworkings that go hand in hand with the local timber. From decorative chests, one who’s craftsmanship has won a best of show award as far away as New York to the eccentric wooden designs of a chest shaped like the much proclaimed Tasmanian Tiger (Thylacine), the work displayed at the center demonstrates Tasmanian’s wood artists’ extreme versatility. The variety and immaculate woodwork is what surprised me most about the centre. As my day progressed, I quickly found myself drinking a glass of naturally cooled Riesling wine poured directly from the vats of the Josef Chromy Vineyards. David Milne, the sales and marketing manager, elaborately negotiated me through the strengths of Tasmanian wines, which arise from being located in such a temperate climate. We spoke about the expanding global market for Tassie wines all the way down to the hunt for the the perfect Pinot Noir, or the holy grail for vintners, as he described it. As we sipped a glass of Pinot, siphoned directly from the oak barrels in the vineyards storage house, I may not have fully understood everything about tannins and the recent shift towards gastronomical tourism in Tasmania that David spoke about… but I’ll tell you what, I sure felt like I did. For a brief second in time, I felt I fit the part, I talked the talk. Maybe I did? or maybe it was just some really damn good wine. To be honest, I would say it was the latter of the two.
That evening I found myself sitting across the table from Kim Seagram, who along with her husband, owns the award winning Stillwater Cafe Restaurant. I wasn’t completely sure what type of meal, or evening for that matter I was going to have but in true form of the day, I was utterly taken aback. Over a glass of local bubbles (Aussie for Champagne) we discussed the founding of the Stillwater restaurant and their desire to open their second restaurant, The Black Cow, a true Tasmanian steak house. Before long the first and second plate of our degustation meal was being brought out.
We began with an Amuse Bouche du jour, which was followed by a Beatroot and sugar cured striped trumpeter, ocean crackle, seaweed and creme fraiche all served with a 2010 Dalrymple Sauvignon Blanc, Pipers River Tasmania. (Note: I had to triple check the spellings on all of these courses, that’s not my typical daily fare if you know what I mean)
As delicious course after course rolled out from the kitchen, my conversation with Kim danced from topics that spanned across an entire range of categories. From the organic food movement in Tasmania, to her relocation down under after growing up in Canada and meeting her Tasmanian husband while working at a ski resort, Kim and I spoke about a lot (and do I dare say a bit of my love life as well?) Like I have with so many other Tasmanians on this trip, straightaway I felt I had known Kim for awhile, as if we had been friends in another lifetime and as we finished the delectable meal, I thought about the fact that I had sat down with a stranger, who at the end of the meal felt more like an old family member than anything.
In the days to come, I tucked into the cozy coastal town of Penguin, and walked amongst the rows of brilliantly colored tulips in Wynard, and rode the chairlift to the top of the “Nut” in Stanley. I had some more time to reflect on my few days on the Northern Coast of Tasmania. The Northern Coast may not have the striking geography of the Southern coastline, the turquoise water of the eastern half or a few of the other bold characteristics that makes this small island what it is, but what is does have is just right. What I mean by that is that the flash may not be there, but the soul is. As you coast from town to town there’s an energy about it, it’s hard to pinpoint what exactly it is, but it’s an area that neither surprises nor offends, there’s a feeling of comfort in Northern Tasmania, welcoming, warm… a bit like home.