“I reckon I’m the luckiest girl in the Valley,” says Bec with a proud grin. “From where I stand, I can see the point of Mount Wellington and the snow on Mount Field.”
We’re standing in the middle of a paddock in the Derwent Valley. I’d never met Bec until I casually asked one of her neighbours where I could find ‘some of those shaggy looking cows.’
A big grin had appeared on Ashley Huntington’s face as he whipped out his phone and told me he knew just the lady to help. She lived just over the river, and if she wasn't home apparently if I jumped a fence I’d find her prized highland cattle.
Turns out Bec is a former Valley girl herself, who lived many years away before returning to her home patch where she has about 50 of these beauties and plans to build her home.
Ashley and wife Jane are equally fond of the Valley, and although I spend a few short hours meeting the locals and discovering what lies behind unmarked farm gates, I realise there’s lots more to this region than a road to elsewhere. It’s filled with characters in the kind of surrounds that beg you to stay longer than planned.
As tall as the fellow himself, Ashley’s Two Metre Tall Brewery is a pretty special 600-hectare haven. There’s Black Angus cows and Wagyu cows and chickens and pigs and, believe it or not, there's also a bar in his paddock.
Here, Ashley will pour you an ale or cider from farm grown ingredients- a true 'paddock to hand-pumped pint' experience. They grow grain and hops, and Ashley puts his organic chemistry degree to work in a way that brings much happiness to his visitors. Beer-Fed Beef can also be purchased at the brewery, and they’re most happy for you to bring picnics.
Just up the road, there’s even more surprises in store. It just so happens there’s convict buildings a good 12 years older than those of Port Arthur. What’s more, they come with a fine dram of single-malt whisky.
No sooner have we arrived at Redlands Estate, we are whisked round the corner to the ‘smelling room’ where wooden plugs are pulled from three hefty barrels. It’s a sensory welcome about as intriguing as the newly bottled apple schnapps that come complete with a bobbing apple.
Redlands has a good bit of history- it was granted to George Frederick Read, an outcast son of King George IV of England and was the location of bushranger hold-ups and much more. So much, we decide to wander the three-hectare gardens to contemplate its past.
We walk over cobblestones to an old wooden door- push it open- walk through a dimly lit outhouse and into the bright light. There before us, of all things, is a full-length clay tennis court. As a former tennis player, I'm overcome with nostalgic excitement and rush over with the haste of someone who's just seen Steffi Graf lining up to serve.
It's magical. There’s lush green surrounds that tumble down to the rivers’ edge. The sound of water tumbling over rocks adds a whimsical soundtrack. It’s like a fairy tale; a hidden garden that only the royals of the time might have played in. There’s even a swing in the sunshine.
Next-door are the Salmon Ponds, the heritage trout hatchery where our very first trout were raised in 1864- first in the Southern Hemisphere. Those who love hooking a rainbow or brown trout here in Tassie, like my uncle, have much to be thankful for to the men who carefully reared these babies. In doing so, they hatched a beloved pastime.
Talking of years gone by, New Norfolk is also the place to go if you’re after something beautifully old. Speciality antique stores are sprinkled through the town like little windows into the past. The Drill Hall Emporium is so tastefully displayed you’d think that someone from 1873 is far more stylish than any of us could attempt to be.
Dining tables whisper secrets, rolling pins tell of hard-working palms and suitcases hold tales of long-gone journeys. Speaking of journeys, some were sent to New Norfolk to get help. And perhaps some of these people never left.
The former Psychiatric Hospital has now been transformed into little stores featuring antiques and collectibles. Willow Court Antique Centre, the quaint Patchwork Café, boats under willows, outdoor pianos, dilapidated buses….for me the area cast a rather intriguing spell. I couldn't help but wonder about those once locked behind doors, confined to Willow Court's grounds; a place as peaceful as it is eerie on our quiet sunny day.
Now, I’ve barely told half the tale of my day in the Valley but there’s one thing I’ve realised for certain. One day isn’t enough. Not even two or three perhaps. We didn’t even start on the vineyards, the cooking schools, nor the wall in the wilderness or that gorgeous Russell Falls. So, it’s important to find a place to rest your head.
There’s one you can stay in, that may just have you feeling like royalty; an 1825 convict-built mansion. Is it because you can pluck an apricot straight from the tree on arrival or you can see a hand-written convict name that ‘Lewis’ wrote in chalk on the staircase? Or is it because it overlooks the gorgeous River Derwent and although boasts 39 rooms, only allows a maximum of 16 guests to enjoy its opulence?
I’m not sure what it is about Woodbridge on the Derwent that makes it feel so luxurious, so regal. What I do know, is that when you walk through its doors, you feel at home. You feel enveloped in charm. You feel its walls want to share a distant past while indulging you in today's luxury.
Not far up the road, for those wanting to share with up to 10 guests for a modest price of $400 ($350 for multiple nights) is Swallow’s Nest. Whatever your accommodation budget or choice, just be sure you book yourself in because eight hours simply isn’t enough. Alternately, if you want to be the luckiest girl in the Valley, plant yourself here permanently.
Find out more about:
Bec's Highland Cattle
Woodbridge on the Derwent
Two Metre Tall
The Drill Hall
Words and images by Alice Hansen
*Please note, with so many secrets tucked in this valley there will be a Part 2.
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