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Oct 12, 2016
Pumphouse Point could be the world’s most improbable hotel, says Larissa Dubecki of staying at this former hydro-electric pumping station in the heart of Tasmania’s wilderness.
First impressions? An eerie quiet. Arriving at Lake St Clair from the big smoke – in this case, Hobart, 180 kilometres away – it seems like nature has hit the mute button. Tucked into the Central Highlands of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, this pristine lake – Australia’s deepest – is a moody vision of untrammelled beauty.
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Then there’s Pumphouse Point, a frontrunner for the title of world’s most improbable hotel. The Pumphouse is a stern-looking structure that appears to levitate on the lake, connected to the land by a 270-metre-long flume. What you’re seeing is a triumph of upcycling: a decommissioned 1940 pumping station that’s transmuted Tasmania’s hydro-electric past into its wilderness tourism future.
It’s beautiful rather than pretty: think of the coolly unrelenting aesthetics of a Bergman film then add a likeable dash of P. J. Hogan, thanks to the resident wombats and cheery staff who keep the dial turned to casual. Arrive by car or helicopter and expect a boutique experience through and through (note children aren’t allowed) – but one that’s certainly not priced beyond the means of mere mortals.
There’s a second building at Pumphouse Point that’s onshore. The Shorehouse, a former substation, has additional guestrooms (taking the total to 18) and a ground-floor dining room. But our money is on staying on the water.
The rooms are decorated in Boy Scout chic: Tasmanian-oak accents, charcoal-grey carpet and not an ounce of frou-frou. There’s underfloor heating in the bathrooms and flatscreen TVs (but who needs the box when the views are as mesmerising as this?). Scrabble rules in the shared lounges, which are decorated with Mid-century flair and heated by blazing wood fires.
The place has the relaxed feel of a ski lodge. Guests tumble in after hiking and it’s a strictly casual dress code (thick socks and loose pants are de rigueur for mooching around the fireplaces).
Dinner is a communal affair with few pretensions and a whole heap of joie de vivre as guests share platters and conversation. File the food under “rustic and hearty”, with dishes such as confit duck cassoulet with celeriac and potato mash and coconut-lemon tart. Breakfast is a DIY meal of epic proportions, including gourmet toasted sandwiches made with local ham and cheese, boiled free-range eggs and pastries.
Each room has two fridges: one stocked with Tassie wine and beer, the other with goodies such as pork rillettes, roasted salmon and duck-and-pistachio terrine. It works on an honour system ‒ you simply write down what you take. Call reception and they’ll deliver a warm loaf of sourdough, gratis.
When it comes to hiking, you can be as bold (the seven-hour Mount Rufus Walk) or as relaxed (the one-kilometre Fisherman’s Trail) as you like. Platypus Bay Walk skirts the area where the mercurial aquatic mammal is often seen playing (at five kilometres, only medium exertion is required). Or watch the local fauna from the hotel: landlubber possums, echidnas and wallabies are regular visitors and two wombats patrol the grassy shore near the dining room. Totally pat-able, they’re like friendly fridges on legs.
Trout lurk in the depths of the lake, which means you can try your luck at fly fishing. Or if you want to explore Lake St Clair’s further reaches, take one of the hotel’s rowboats out (the staff will prepare a picnic for you).
In the nearby Derwent Bridge area, artist Greg Duncan’s The Wall in the Wilderness is certainly worth a visit. It’s a meticulously carved timber mural depicting Tasmania’s Central Highlands, including its amazing ‒ and blessedly ongoing ‒ hydro history. ￼
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