Ways to visit the Tasman Peninsula

I have an old touring map of Tasmania; on its back is reproduced a much earlier tourists’ map of the Tasman Peninsula dating from the very late nineteenth century. Transportation having ended and the penal stations closed, the Peninsula was the ideal destination for a late-Victorian era short break from Hobart.

Tourists’ Map of Forrestier’s and Tasman’s Peninsulas, circa 1895. The map is still available, in reprodution, from Tasmap.

The map – still available in reprodution from Tasmap – details various transport options, ranging from the steamship SS Nubeena to the ‘overland’ route by ferry, rail and horse & cart via Bellerive, Sorell, and the other towns to the south, all the way to Port Arthur.

Around the edge of the map are printed notices relating to various accommodations and places to hire horses in order to visit the points of interest around the area. ‘Good board and residence’ was to be had at Mrs Daly’s at Impression Bay – ‘terms moderate’, while at Saltwater River, Mrs JW Jenkins offered ‘good accommodation to visitors…the house is situated in an elevated position commanding a view of nearly the whole of Norfolk Bay and only five minutes walk from jetty’.

Mrs Jenkins also notes that at the nearby Coal Mines ‘there are a great number of interesting relics of early days’. Those ‘early days’ were just forty or so years previous. A range of other recreations were available – boating, fishing, yachting and shooting noteable among them, with the map indicating that large sections of what is now the Tasman National Park offered ‘good kangaroo shooting’.

Time has marched on, but there are still many ways to experience the Peninsulas, which these days are just an hour or so’s drive south east of Hobart on much improved roads. Some – seeing the historic sites and ‘points of interest’, along with boating and fishing, remain. Walking – whether for day walks or longer overnight trips like the Three Capes Track – also remains popular.

On a recent tour hosted by Hobart and Beyond and Tourism Tasmania, the historic heritage was eschewed in favour of some of the newer boating activities and other recent amusements that Mrs Daly and Mrs Jenkins could never have imagined – or perhaps they could have?

Ewe with a view – Port Arthur Lavender

First stop after the run down from Hobart was for a cuppa at Port Arthur Lavender where the display gardens were in full spring bloom. While most of the flowers for its essentail oil production are grown elsewhere, their visitor centre at the top of Long Bay near Port Arthur offers meals and refreshment as well as demonstrations of their distilling process and a shop stocked with their products.

Port Arthur Lavender
Port Arthur Lavender
Port Arthur Lavender
Roses outside Port Arthur Lavender
Port Arthur Lavender

Next stop involved the Tasman Peninsula’s amazing natural assets, including some of the highest sea-cliffs in the world. To see these, you can hike, dive or fish, but perhaps the most fun is to board one of Robert Pennicott’s powerful yellow boats for a Tasman Island Cruise.

This tour coincided with equinoxial westerly gales, so we didn’t get all the way around Tasman Island and Storm Bay, but skipper Ben stuck to the lee of the sea cliffs came with plenty of stunning scenery and encounters with the local maritime mammals.

Unlike the equally-impressive Bruny Island Cruise, the Tasman Island cruise comes with a range of options which make it spectacular, safe and enjoyable no matter what the weather. The powerful engines – the carbon emmissions of which, which we were assured, were fully offset by the company – enable precise manouvering close into the shore, avoiding the prevailing wind gusts.

Siltstone seacliffs near Eaglehawk Neck on the Tasman Peninsula
Entrance to the Devil’s Kitchen on the Tasman Peninsula
Sea caves on the east coast of the Tasman Peninsula
Cape Hauy from just outside of Pirates Bay
A squall offshore from the Tasman Peninsula
Heading towards Cape Hauy
Cape Hauy
Sea cliffs, east coast of the Tasman Peninsula
The Thumbs
The Lanterns, near Cape Hauy
Seals near Cape Hauy
Seals near Cape Hauy
Sea cliffs of the Tasman Peninsula
Seals near Cape Hauy
Seals near Cape Hauy
Seals near Cape Hauy
Seals near Cape Hauy
Seals near Cape Hauy
Seals near Cape Hauy
The Candlestick, Cape Hauy
The Candlestick, Cape Hauy, with a yacht visible in the gap
A boat full of keen photographers
Sea caves on the Tasman Peninsula near Cape Hauy
Sea cliffs with the Peninsula’s two major rock types visible – Permian siltstone on the left, and columnular dolorite on the right
Sea caves on the Tasman Peninsula near Cape Hauy

It is also great to see the growing number of dining options available in the area – one is no longer dependent on the culinary abilities and temperament of one’s chosen landlady for a good meal.

Options inlcude the aforementioned Port Arthur Lavender and the relatively new 1830 Restaurant and Bar in the new Port Arthur Historic Site Visitor Centre. Our lunch on this tour was courtesy of a well-established favourite, Gabriels by the Bay at Stewart’s Bay Lodge.

Selection of gins at William McHenry & Sons Distillery, near Port Arthur

Appetites sated, the next stop was William McHenry & Sons Distillery up a narrow road on the slopes of Mount Arthur, which founder and chief distiller Bill McHenry established in order to produce whisky from the natural spring water abundent on the property. Whisky must be barrel-aged for at least two years, preferably longer, which is a long time to wait for a return on a substantial investment, so like many other distillers, McHenry produces gin as well.

We were whisked further up the mountain to his ‘gin laborarory’, where he brews up unique flavours using both traditional and native botanical flavourings. And he’s enjoyed success – his Federation Gin, flavoured with native botanicals from every Australian state and territory – is the official gin (what a  great country we live in!) of Australia’s Parliament House, and many of his gins have medals and awards around the world.

William McHenry & Sons Distillery boasts many awards for its products
William McHenry & Sons Distillery
The view west from William McHenry & Sons Distillery Gin Laboratory near the sumit of Mount Arthur on the Tasman Peninsula
William McHenry & Sons Distillery Gin Laboratory
William McHenry & Sons Distillery Gin Laboratory

McHenry’s Gin Laboratory, tucked away in its secretive mountain eeyrie, offers weekly gin making classes in which participants can create their own bespoke drop.

William (Bill) McHenry, founder and chief distiller
William McHenry & Sons Distillery Gin Laboratory

Our final stop for the day was the Bangor Vineyard Shed at Dunalley.  Matt Dunbabbin’s family has been farming wool, beef and lamb in the area since the 1890s, but a few years ago Matt and his family decided that they needed to diversify and planted some vines, which now produce an impressive range of premium cool climate wines.

Matt Dunbabbin at Bangor Wine and Oyster Shed

The property suffered extensive damage in the 2013 Dunalley bushfires; the Vineyard Shed replaced the burned woolshed and opened up yet more opportunities. According to Matt, around 90% of the wine produced at Bangor is sold direct to customers at the Shed, with the remainder available in very limited quantities through selected restaurants and a very few local bottle shops.

Bangor Wine and Oyster Shed

The first European landing on Tasmanian soil occured on the property when Abel Tasman and his crew landed on the coast in December 1642. Matt and his family also consider themselves custodians and caretakers for the area’s natural and cultural heritage. The property includes large areas of native forest and wetlands, and around 2100 hectares of Bangor’s native forests are perpetual nature conservation reserves.

Bangor Wine and Oyster Shed
The Bangor Wine and Oyster Shed overlooks the township of Dunalley and Boomer Bay
Bangor Wine and Oyster Shed
Vines at Bangor Wine and Oyster Shed
The view west towards kunanyi – Mount Wellington from the Bangor Wine and Oyster Shed

What would Mrs Daly and Mrs Jenkins have made of all this? I suspect they were enterprising women and would be delighted at the ways the Tasman Peninsula is reinventing itself and continuing to be an appealing destination for visitors from Hobart and further afield.

Who knows – maybe they had secret gin stills tucked out the back of their accommodations?