May 07, 2016
David Leser takes a journey from Hobart to Tasmania's astonishingly beautiful Freycinet region, with gourmet pitstops along the way.
In Tasmania they call it the Great Eastern Drive but if you didn’t know any better you’d swear it was “La Grande Route Française” (The Great French Road), given the names that jump from the history books as you travel this glorious stretch of coast north of Hobart.
From Marion Bay up to Cape Bernier through to Louisville Point and Cape Bougainville. Then all the way to Mount Freycinet, the highest peak in The Hazards mountain range, looming over the Freycinet Peninsula. This might not be France’s Mediterranean coastline but with its green meadows and wild promontories, its convict bridges and stone walls, its oyster coves and wildlife rookeries, all framed by the forbidding grandeur of the Tasman Sea, it is equally – if not more – spectacular.
And what lends enchantment to the view is something the French would also be proud of – vineyards producing fabulous cool-climate wines and food that any Michelin-star restaurant would be pleased to plate up.
At Milton Vineyard in Swansea, a former sheep farm settled in the early 1800s, you can find an enticing range of sparkling wine, riesling, pinot gris, pinot noir and shiraz while also savouring a traditional Basque lunch of lamb seasoned with Moroccan spices, crayfish croquette and guindilla peppers at Jahan Patterson-Were’s Mahasti restaurant.
“These are crazy-good peppers,” says Patterson-Were, like a crazy-good adopted Basque son, “and the rest is pretty dangerous, too, so keep calm.”
We do just that and head north to Adam and Grainne Greenhill’s Gala Estate, an 11-hectare vineyard enfolding a Federation home that once served as a 19th-century post office and general store. Here are wines to buy at the cellar door (most notably the pinot noir but also pinot gris, chardonnay, riesling and sauvignon blanc) while you flip open an old, dusty bible and find – as I do – the following words from Genesis 13: Is not the whole land before thee?
Yes, it is so we move on to the Devil’s Corner Cellar Door to drink in the views of the Moulting Lagoon wetland area – a shedding place for black swans – with the pink-tinted Hazards in the background. Opened late last year, this new addition to Tasmanian drinking pleasure features a lookout that places the arresting mountain panorama before you. (Friendly warning: it’s best to sample the wines after ascent and descent.)
We arrive at Freycinet National Park at dusk and check in to our rooms at the delightful Freycinet Lodge in Coles Bay, with its cabins nestled in the maw of the bush. From there we continue to Honeymoon Bay, where – as if on cue – we find a couple canoodling on the rocks, bathed in the rose-coloured light and ancient silence.
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