A panoramic picture of the sunrise in northern Tasmania

North Tasmanian Roadtrip

Where we went: Bridport, Tasmania

When we went: mid-winter

Our journey begins, as most of our journeys do, with both of us frantically packing the car in the dark. We tend to travel light, sun glasses, phone charger, water tank, soap and other toiletries. Our food rations are mostly crisps, bacon rolls, Nutino spread with Ritz crackers and whatever dried fruit and nuts we have left over from our last trip. Still, the dark is an added challenge, we could have packed our bags the night before but we weren’t even certain that we’d be taking a trip the night before. We only booked the hotel first thing this morning. We’re spur of the moment travellers.

Sunrise over Northern Tasmania

We like to change up our trips, sometimes we leave before the sun is up, sometimes we leave after dark, there are a lot of ways to fit in the 4-5 hour trip to the North-east coast from Hobart. Almost all of them involve travelling in the dark if you only have 1 day in the area. This particular time we have opted for leaving Hobart after work on a Friday night, travelling to Launceston in the dark and staying in whichever hotel allows arrivals at around 9:30pm. This time it’s the Art Hotel on York– to date one of my favourite hotels in Launceston, although I never saw it in daylight, or spoke to a single member of staff in person due to the vampiric hours we chose to keep. We wanted a sunrise photo from Sideling lookout, 45 minutes from Launceston. The sun rises at around 7:30 in winter so we got up at 5:45 to allow the less-charming-when-woken-early members of the couple a chance to have a cup of coffee first (it’s me, I’m less than charming when insufficiently caffeinated), I poked Sommelier yelling “caffinate” in my best dalek impression until he made coffee. He also made a mocha in the thermos, more, I suspect, out of a sense of self-preservation than anything else. I actually get up at around 5:30am every day for work but I hate doing it on my days off. I grumble very darkly about how this stupid sunrise had better be worth the sleep deprivation.

We scraped a distressingly thick layer of frost off the windscreen before departing for the lookout. The road to it is squiggly wiggly and frosty in winter so can be challenging journey but if you take care you will be fine. If travelling by the daylight hours that normal humans prefer then be aware that the area is very popular among the global mountain biking community and you will be sharing the road. Just give cyclists a polite amount of space and everyone will be happy. If you get stuck behind a big crowd, then take the time to appreciate the scenery.

Road sign for the Sideling Lookout in the morning light.

The view from Sideling lookout is of Scottsdale and Mount Stronach. There is a picnic table and toilet facilities which, if you’re like me and have a tiny bladder, makes for an excellent stopping point along the journey. We weren’t alone at the lookout but there is enough space that other tourists don’t have to invade your personal bubble to get their own good shots. Sommelier and I split up and I took the lookout platform while he takes a vantage point in the bushes so that we can both have quiet time and also get pictures from different angles; it’s a very efficient system.

Growing up in Africa I was always more of a sunsets girls than a sunrises girl, but Tasmania has changed my mind a bit. I enjoy what I call “the buzzing hour” (it sounds dirtier than it is). It’s that moment in the day when everything buzzes in anticipation. In Africa, where most predators are nocturnal, this is  sunset, in Tasmania, where there are no natural predators, this is sunrise. The sleepy stillness of the night is lifting as the birds wake and sing their first songs of the day. Ravens are in abundance along the Tamar highway and Great Eastern Drive. Cockatoos, wattlebirds, fairy wrens, and currawongs are also among the choir heralding the sun. Their song reaches a crescendo just as the sun peaks over the clouds and floods the valley in pink. Everything is very fast after that. It goes from waiting in the dark, to waiting as the grey-green dawn creeps at a snail’s pace to pink then to blinding gold in the blink of an eye. I mentally congratulate myself for being prepared enough to put my sun-glasses in my pocket, even though it was completely dark when I left the hotel.  Pro tip: always have sun-glasses in Tasmania, especially in winter, because the sun never really leaves the horizon. My grandmother always said that squinting’s how you get wrinkles (she said that about smiling too).

From Sideling Lookout we continued on to Scottsdale. This is an especially scenic road trip if farmland is something you like the look of but there are very few places to stop and really admire the fields from. Sommelier and I have a system whereby I take photos on my phone through the open window of the moving car – the trick is to withstand the cold until you have brain freeze and hope there are no good shots missed while you recover in the interim. A thermos containing a hot beverage of your choice is a must if this is your photography style. The other option, of course, is to enjoy the moment without photographing it, you do you, I’m in no position to judge.

A bend on a mountain road in the bush.

Scottsdale is a great little town to stay in, everyone is very friendly, it’s the sort of place where every car you pass will wave at you. It’s how you tell the difference between locals and tourists out here. Etiquette is to return the wave, preferably with more fingers than the wave initiator. If they wave with one finger you wave with two, three if they did you a kindness on the road like alerted you to a hazard or gave way (obviously if they wave with one finger and it is the middle finger then they are being rude, feel free to return the wave with two fingers in a reverse peace sign because this is also a non-verbal swear). We stop at The Cottage Bakery on our way. Cottage Bakery has won multiple awards, and plus carbs are one of the best things ever discovered.

Now, I can’t tell you our sapphire hunting spot, that would be against the rules of the prospecting code of secrecy but I will tell you that there were people already camping in the spots that we prefer to enter the river from and it is very rude to crowd the spot of another prospector so we were forced to circle back to the public prospecting site. If you are with kids, aren’t sure you will enjoy hunting for sapphires, or straight up don’t want to buy a licence then the public area is a perfectly respectable place to start. We packed our gear and fully expected to spend a few hours in the river this weekend but, on closer inspection, found that the puddles on the riverbank were frozen over. In my 26 years on this planet I have never seen a frozen puddle before and let me tell you, it did not fill me with feelings of excitement at the prospect of then submerging myself in running water and looking for shiny rocks. We initiated Travel Plan B which was to drive around aimlessly, stopping in stopping spots and tasting food along the way. To be honest, this is usually our Travel Plan A.

Pyengana valley is not far from Weldborough and Scottsdale. It is less of an adventure travel destination and more of a relaxed, wine, cheese and short walks kind of travel destination. Tucked in at the end of the main road through Pyengana Valley is St Columba Falls; I like to go to the falls because it is an easy walk through some overhanging man-ferns that lets you stretch your legs and get out into nature without having to change shoes. If you are with children who can still be convinced of the existence of fairies, then this is a particularly excellent walk to go on. We went in February once and there was a very impressive mushroom demesne that, had a small child been present, I would have definitely seen a fairy in. There are some very respectable public toilet facilities at the falls but, like almost all public toilets in Tasmania, there is never any soap provided to wash your hands (I have no idea why this is, but it is the main reason why a bar of soap is among my list of Tassie travel essentials).

The Pyengana Dairy Company is another must see sight for the non-lactose intolerant, or the lactose intolerant with a flippant disregard for their gastrointestinal health. They specialise in cheddar but they also sell products from other local producers, as well as crackers and a few dairy-farm themed knick-nacks. They have a café attached. I have never stayed for coffee before because coffee, a tiny bladder, and a road trip are not a recipe for success. There is a cheese factory viewing floor and the grounds are surrounded by rolling, often misty hills. I would recommend either stopping for lunch or buying most of cheesy centrepieces for a picnic here.

On the way back from Pyengana to Bridestowe Lavender Estate (which we just now realised that neither of us had ever visited) we stopped at the Myrtle Forest walk. Sommelier and I have very mixed feelings about the Myrtle Forests: on the one hand, it is an absolutely terrifying drive, there are hairpin corners, slippery surfaces, and it’s mostly on a slight incline (this is probably not a big deal in most other cars, but we drive a car who really hates hills…she just hates them so so much); on the other hand, it is beautiful. I love myrtle trees, they smell clean and herbal and are used in a lot of scented products in Tasmania. One of my all time favourite things about the Myrtle tree is its Latin name, Nothofagus Cunninghamii. I just enjoy how lazily the good fellow Cunningham shoehorned his name in. There is no bad season to visit the Myrtle trees; the leaves are rosey or copper in spring, they flower from November to January and they smell their best in the rain or on very misty days – it just depends on what you want out of your tree based activities. There is not a toilet at the Mytle Forest walk, come to terms with your own inner legality on that one. The walk is advertised as a 15 minutes one but that is a massive overestimation of the time needed to explore. It is a good excuse to leave the car for a bit.

We knew, going in, that it was not lavender season so we were not at all disappointed by the lack of flowers at Bridestowe when we arrived. It is clearly signed, easy to find and there is a reasonable amount of parking. There are very nice toilet facilities, which is probably the bare minimum that you’d expect from one of the most important tourist destinations in the area. We came to Bridestowe, this time, for the gift shop, I wanted a jar of honey. I like to buy the signature honey from regions that I travel through. My dad is a bee-keeper and, in much the same way that Sommelier likes to taste region specific wines, I like to try region specific honey, I needed me some lavender flower honey. There is a café on the estate but we didn’t stay to eat because the honey was the last piece of the puzzle that was our Tassie picnic for the day. There were two cats on the estate who were amazingly friendly, one was especially taken with my ring and demanded a great many sapphire scratches. If you are on the lookout for a cat scratcher that will cost thousands of dollars then I do, very highly, recommend claw set engagement rings. I can’t wait to come back to Bridestowe when the flowers are in bloom and I’m a little disappointed in myself for taking so many years to get to it in the first place.

A Cheese plate overlooking the sea.

We picnicked in Bridport. It is a small sea town where a lot of people have set up a sort of home-away-from-home vibe. There is good fishing apparently, and whale watching as well. People wave when they pass each other on the road here.

Old pier beach is the most popular picnic spot in Bridport. It is pretty, of course. The derelict remains of the old pier jut out of the water, directing the line of vision out across the open sea, I think there is a public toilet, but I doubt it has soap. I am far too introverted to find out. Old pier is the sort of place where Sommelier’s personal motto of “go where everyone goes, and then go a bit further” really come into play. We went, we saw, we carried on up the road because the screaming children of strangers and the litter left by the crowds that had been and gone that day are not my cup of tea. I’m a huge fan of quiet time.

Less than 5 mins up the road we found another, completely vacant picnic area overlooking the sea. It was a short climb down the cliffs (cliff is too strong word for the rockface we descended, but I think, technically the correct one), we could sit on the rocks with nothing but two seagulls for company and enjoy our picnic. Bread, cheese, and honey is a very simple combination, but everything tastes better when it’s fresh and enjoyed out in nature. My favourite thing about Tasmania is how easy it is to find solitude. We had only a very short distance to travel from a relatively bustling town, and a very crowded picnic area, to find ourselves alone with the sea and the silent, sun warmed, sentinel cliffs of Bridport.

A picnic overlooking the sea.

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