The Great Ocean Road is incredibly special. Even the apostles would agree on that. But as a little Tasmanian being taught we were once connected to the mainland, I became a firm believer we must have the cookie-cutter equivalent. It may not possess the spectacular features, nor the helipads or marketing budget – but to me it’s the undiscovered, unhurried little sister.
I must qualify that I grew up in these parts, but this morning as I watched a Spirit-load of visitors roll off the ferry and straight to Hobart, I decided to take the less well-worn path – from Devonport out west. And perhaps this little roadie might inspire others to hug Bass Strait from Devonport to Marrawah- a surfing mecca where the roaring forties deliver the cleanest air on the planet. Next stop is South America. But first things first before leaving the port- a coffee from delightful Leigh at The Harbourmaster Café...one can guess it's former harbourmaster's history, later a rowing club on Devonport's Mersey River.
En route to the edge of the world, our first stop is Table Cape, formed some 13.3 million years before we rolled up to the lighthouse. Fire and ice are to blame for the rich landscape of the cape, awash with tulips in the springtime so vivid the bulbs are even sold to Holland. Middens and fish traps speak of early Aboriginal inhabitants and fast forwarding to the 1900s, a school sat perched on the cape; children’s favourite pastime? Rolling large rocks off the cape, listening to them tumble 300 feet down to the sea below.
As we drive along the cape’s soil-stained roads, we see a bike and excited farm dog up ahead, a man pedalling in a well-worn blazer. He must be 80 or so, and waves us happily on. Apparently on Table Cape this is how you move your flock from one paddock to another. Those overtaken by Table Cape's beauty who feel compelled to stay, booked the Winged House. Who doesn't like sinking deep into a Japanese bath overlooking Bass Strait?
A few minutes up the Bass Highway and it’s time to indicate again. The Bombay sapphire waters of Boat Harbour peek through the gums. This local holiday favourite is sprinkled with shacks and less than 200 permanent residents. For decades it’s been a well-kept secret, happened upon by lucky tourists but mostly these cobalt waters and squeaky white sands are reserved for those in the know- hidden down a hillside.
Dip a toe in and you’ll be fully aware you’re not in the Whitsundays – perhaps today why more people are kayaking and atop paddle boards than beneath a snorkel. It is a warm Easter Monday though, and chocolate-filled kids are thrashing through the shallows. I prefer to pop into Harvest and Cater, a café nudging the sand, for a cool drink. Come on a Sunday and you might find yourself kicking up sandy heels to the weekly jazz sessions.
Further along this glorious coast (the journey is equally transfixing as the stops), appears another curious looking volcanic plug rising from the coastline. Referred to as the Nut, I have fond childhood memories of chairlift rides to the top. Told not to look down, wide-eyed I’d watch the town grow small below nervously dangling legs. Today we settle for a picnic down near the fisherman’s wharf.
Back at town level, there are no surprises why Hollywood transformed Stanley for a recent blockbuster- the streetscape appears trapped in time with all the trimmings of a colonial postcard including the cottage of Tasmania’s only Prime Minister, Joseph Lyons, born in Stanley back in 1879. For a small donation you can walk the hallways of a man the country coined ‘honest Joe.’
At the top end of the main street stylishly sits Providore 24. Better fitting for a capital city, the intimate store brims with Tassie produce, regional artists, the island’s finest Pinot, the latest women’s fashion (clearly influenced by the good taste of owner Patricia) and crusty fresh breads. Eleven years on, Max and Patricia Reid continue to welcome visitors into their providore with the charisma of a couple who opened last week.
After cheerful chats, we are on our way again, bound for Marrawah but clearly slipping into North West time, meaning we’re not getting anywhere fast. We venture up to Highfield House, where I’m told the ghost tour is chilling, but today we settle for daylight snaps of the 1834 convict barrack ruins.
Highfield House is considered the birthplace of European Settlement in Tasmania’s northwest, where in 1826, Europeans sailed ‘beyond the ramparts of the unknown’ to north west Tasmania. This place of impenetrable rainforest they appropriately termed ‘wretched country.’ Establishing the Van Diemen’s Land Company, these Europeans forged ahead under chief agent Edward Curr where at its height, 73 convicts lived at the barracks to assist on Highfield.
It’s easy to get swept up in the history, but I’m reminded I’m with a surfer and a windsurfer- two crazies itching for the wild seas of Marrawah. No more stops until we reach Green Point Beach. Like a farmer’s placid rollercoaster, we dip and curve and climb through rolling hills of bright green. Languid cows raise heads in unison and return to lush desserts. Not much goes on in these parts.
On final descent to the beach, the view stretches out before us. The sun is dipping, the coastline rugged and raw. If it weren’t for the distant wind farm, this scene looks untouched by the hand of man. Surfers huddle around a well-travelled camper, which looks decidedly permanent. A couple sit with a bottle of wine watching the sun sink. And my two companions strip off and suit up in neoprene. Before I know it….they are 30 metres out….leaving me with the Mersey Valley cheese and crackers. The classic close to a North West day.
Words and images: Alice Hansen
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