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February, 2015

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Newly retired Andrew Morris has dragged his wife Gill with him to Australia for 5 weeks. The main, wholly selfish, reason is to complete the tennis Grand Slam – sadly as a spectator, rather than as a player. Wimbledon, New York and Paris were conquered over the last four decades, the Australian Open in Melbourne will complete the set.

It’s a long way to go for a game of tennis, so they are also visiting Adelaide and Tasmania.

Part 8 – Tasmania, by camper van – Launceston and the Tamar Valley

After investing A$0.60 each for 6 minutes of a hot shower at Mole Creek Caravan Park, we were soon back in the camper van and continuing our journey eastwards through northern Tasmania.

We stopped briefly in Chudleigh, a small but obviously very proud rural village, wearing its civic pride on its sleeve – dazzling displays of roses in the streets, a communal garden with BBQ facilities, chocolate-box heritage cottages and much more bore witness to a solid community spirit. It was sad to wonder how long before this would all have been vandalised, had it been in the UK.

Next stop Deloraine….we were easily distracted as we aimed the camper van towards Launceston, our main destination for the day. This larger town is home to the appropriately named Meander Valley and, browsing the local newspaper in the excellent Deloraine Deli, we read of typical rural activities and characters. Deriving its name from a character in a Sir Walter Scott poem, Deloraine is a bustling community and certainly felt more upwardly mobile than some of the declining mining towns we had seen further west.

Launceston is Tasmania’s second largest city and as we drove through its sprawling suburbs, it felt strange to see development on this scale again, after the remote wilderness and quiet communities of the last few days.

Also one of Australia’s oldest cities, Launceston abounds with well-preserved and elegant colonial and Victorian architecture and parks. Strolling through City Park, with its period bandstand, conservatory, statues and towering lush trees, we could have been back in England, were it not for the more exotic birdsong.

Likewise, the shopping, commercial and civic hub of the city is full of typically Victorian architecture….it really felt as though we had stepped back in time, a bit like Rodders in Goodnight Sweetheart.

We had parked near the historic Boag’s Brewery, founded in 1883, where you can take a tour and sample the ale. But we were in search of lunch and headed towards the Tamar river that defines Launceston.

By luck, we ended up at Stillwaters, in the impeccably restored Ritchies Mill and Trip Advisor’s # 1 rated restaurant in the city. Overlooking the river on a beautiful, warm cloud-free day, we ate scallops and market-fresh Pink LIng fish, washed down with a couple of glasses of local white wine, recommended by our charming and proudly Launcestonian sommelier. We were probably a little under-dressed in our Pommie camping gear, but nobody minded and we lingered awhile, enjoying food that wasn’t cooked on a BBQ.

The city’s main tourist attraction is the majestic Cataract Gorge Reserve, a slice of wilderness that reaches out to touch this major city. From the restaurant, we headed out on the easier, right bank of the plunging gorge, commemorated by more Victoriana, as far as the 1st Basin. Here there’s an idyllic public park, an open-air swimming pool and a cafe, all in the shadow of steep bush wilderness and yet only 2 or 3 km from the city centre. We returned on the other side, by way of the challenging Zig-Zag route, looking way down to the other bank where genteel Victorian ladies would have strolled, twirling their protective parasols.

Back in the van and heading north along the fabled Tamar Valley wine route, we had missed the wineries’ opening times so went straight towards Greens Beach, 40 km from Launceston and where our waitress had recommended a camp site. The landscape quickly flattened out, with farmland appearing after the gentle grape-engorged slopes of the wineries. Then we were into wild, windswept open landscape as we reached the mouth of the Tamar, where it spills into the feared Bass Strait. Next stop the Australian mainland.

The camp site felt like the edge of the world, strong winds whipping at the canvas awnings of the more hardy camping souls than us. We pulled into a quiet, unpowered slot between the beach and the deserted golf course, before a quick provisioning at the local shop. “An eclectic shopping basket”, was the owner’s wry observation, as we paid for Bundaberg ginger beers, vanilla pannacotta, chunky Kit Kats and sweetcorn. I told you we weren’t very good at this camping lark.

Heading back on the mesmerising stretch of white sand, awe-struck by the two kite-surfers scudding through the choppy surf as if rocket-launched, we understood why the waitress had recommended this beach.

And in the evening gloom, as we walked to the amenities block for pre-bedtime ablutions, a couple of small wallabies bounced around the site, hopping between caravans. Surrey just won’t be the same.

Greens Beach was a very different place in the morning. It was cloudy, warm and very still after last night’s tsunami-like wind. Time for another sandy stroll before heading back down the Tamar valley in search of wine.

This time we took the meandering riverside route rather than than yesterday’s fast highway. We passed by The Rosevears Waterfront Tavern, opened in 1831 it’s one of Tasmania’s oldest and has great views from a bend in the wide river.

Our guidebook had recommended the Ninth Island Vineyard for its “achingly beautiful views”. Sadly it was closed so we pressed on towards the Velo winery, on the other side of the main road, not with such picturesque vistas but with an interesting story to tell.

It’s owned by Micheal Wilson, a Tasmanian former professional cyclist who rode in the Olympics and the Tour de France, while living in France & Italy for 10 years. In 2001 he and his wife bought the Legana Vineyard, since when they have painstakingly rehabilitated the 50 year-old vines to produce award-winning wines.

And in 2012 they built the stunning new Cellar Door and Barrel Room Cafe, with a broad outdoor terrace looking out over the beloved vines of the boutique estate. We enjoyed a tasting of several of their wines, hosted by Micheal’s wife Mary, before indulging in Thai fish cakes and a cheese platter, with well-matched Velo wines.

A rewarding Tassie Tamar experience with great wine, food and service, and just a little surreal to be admiring some huge photos of the professional cyclist competing in the Tour de France in the early 1980s, while the man himself sits a few tables away, perhaps a little heavier round the middle and with a few more grey hairs than in his athletic prime.

We buy a couple of bottles of Velo wines – and some of their new cider – to see us on the way, heading back through Launceston to cross the river and then towards the east coast on the Tasman Highway.

Andrew Morris

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