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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 5 – Tasmania, by camper van – Tarraleah in the Central Highlands

Batteries recharged by some outstanding fresh seafood right on the docks in central Hobart, we were soon back on the road in our camper van, heading north along the shimmering west bank of the Derwent River, then turning west through the flatlands of the Derwent Valley, past New Norfolk until we reached Hamilton, a sleepy village with the perfect place for a pit-stop.

Our attention was captured by a surprising sign outside Glen Clyde House. Sitting on the balcony in shade, overlooking the beautiful – and very English – back garden, we were soon tucking into the advertised cream tea. We’re not very good at embracing this camper van ethos….

The interior of the house was charming, with an arts and crafts gallery occupying a couple of front rooms, and an unexpectedly sophisticated restaurant at the side, old floorboards restored to their original rich, dark sheen with a lot of TLC, and a well-used wood-burning stove and logs at the end of the dining room, next to the garden terrace and ready for cooler times.

Leaving Hamilton, the terrain quickly changed and we were soon rising gently through densely forested landscape towards Tasmania’s lake district and challenging Alpine interior.

We anchored for the night at the surreal settlement of Tarraleah. Developed in the 1920s and 1930s as a residential village for hydroelectric workers building the nearby power station, the village grew to have a population of several thousand and a complete infrastructure.

But the work dried up and the complete community was closed down in the 1990s. Fortunately, a wealthy family from Queensland bought the site in 2006 – “The Family That Bought A Town” as the tabloids dubbed them – and invested millions to regenerate the community.

It all felt a bit Truman Show-like, rather than the Tasmanian wilderness, but we enjoyed our night in the camper van at the very comfortable Highland Caravan Park. Although it would have been interesting to stay in either The Lodge or The Scholars House and, as luxurious as they look now, spend a night in properties once more purposefully used by the vibrant, hard-working community.

At dusk we explored the waterfront lakes, only the sound of birds sliding in to land on the water breaking the silence. And we indulged in local cider at the Highlander Bar before bedtime, and excellent coffee at Teez Cafe in the morning.

Before heading off on another perfect Tasmanian morning, we read more about the astonishingly hard construction of the Tarraleah power station and its subsequent thriving community, from press cuttings and a quite haunting series of outdoor story boards.

Tarraleah was not what we were expecting to stumble across, but was all the better for that.

Andrew Morris

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