The southernmost tip of Australia is (apparently) just a two-hour drive from Tasmania’s largest city, and you can stop off for cider (or apple juice, if you’re driving), sushi and platypus-spotting along the way. Adventure.com hits the road in disbelief.
We begin our road trip at the end. This, Cockle Creek, is where all roads in Australia cease. To head further south from here, you can choose to either swim to Antarctica or hike the South Cape Bay trail into the depths of Southwest National Park—the largest and wildest chunk of protected land on Tasmania, where even the wilderness is engulfed in wilderness.
And it’s all just a couple of hours’ drive from Hobart.
Nice place, Cockle Creek. Fairytale nice. Could-be-the-setting-for-a-Disney-movie-nice. It helps that we’ve arrived late in the day, an hour or so before sunset. Recherche Bay (of which Cockle Creek occupies the southernmost point), lovely and silent save for the waves lapping against the shore, is warmed by the gently simmering sun. Give Monet a couple of centuries and even he couldn’t paint anything quite like this.
We go for a swim, spend a while taking in the view, and watch as a small fishing boat pootles past, followed closely by a pod of dolphins. I mean, come on.
Though it’s peaceful today, the view from this spot wasn’t always this picturesque. In the 1820s, shore-based whalers set up camp in the bay, hoping to pluck off Southern right whales as they made their winter pilgrimage up the D’Entrecasteaux Channel from Antarctica. Grim scenes abounded, and the bay ran red.
Before the whalers, in the late 1700s, the French popped in for a couple of visits (hence the French names). French explorer and colonial governor Antoine Bruni D’Entrecasteaux, wrote—more eloquently than I ever could—of his stumbling upon Recherche Bay in 1793:
“It will be difficult to describe my feelings at the sight of this solitary harbour situateted at the extremeties [sic] of the globe, so perfectly enclosed that one feels separated from the rest of the universe.”
And of course, before the Europeans, Recherche Bay was home to Tasmanian Aboriginal people known as Lyluequonny, thought to be one of the most ‘maritime adapted’ groups of Tasmanians on the island.
In his book The Axe Had Never Sounded, archaeologist and historian Professor John Mulvaney writes that the Lyluequonny people would sail seasonally on hand-made catamarans to nearby Bruny Island, home of the Nununi people, where they would “maximize resource exploitation and cement social life and obligations”.
Records indicate that initial contact between the French and the Tasmanians at Recherche Bay was friendly and respectful—in stark contrast to encounters elsewhere on the island—but all the friendliness in the world couldn’t help stop the spread of disease, for which the Lyluequonny had no natural defense, nor any notion of their looming woes.
While we can’t know for certain what the Lyluequonny made of their visitors, D’Entrecasteaux, who was afforded only a fleeting encounter, wrote of his experience:
“If our stay … could have been extended, we would have had a real opportunity of obtaining a very interesting insight on the lifestyle of human beings so close to nature, whose candour and kindness contrast so much with the vices of civilization.”
All of this to see, learn and explore. And to think: we drove here in a Hyundai i30.
The journey we took to get here, Tasmania’s ‘Southern Edge’ drive, has all the hallmarks of a world-class road-trip. First, the aforementioned history. Good, bad, sometimes ugly: learning the story of Tasmania, and each very distinct chunk of it, only serves to deepen the understanding and appreciation of the place (anyone heading to Cockle Creek would do well to glance through Mulvaney’s tome on the region, which is available online for free).
Second, the journey can be tailored to your timeline. Those on a time limit—as we are—can drive straight from Hobart to Cockle Creek in a little under two hours without stopping (but you’ll want to stop). Those with more time can hang a left at Huonville, head into Cygnet, drive the loop around to Flowerpot and up into Kettering—from where another diversion to Bruny Island is possible, and comes highly recommended (if you like your islands covered in cheese, oysters and history).
Completing the loop (several kilograms heavier), you’ll pass through Huonville again before heading south, as far as you can go, until you hit Cockle Creek and, if you’re lucky, dolphins. You can sample variations of the drive in a single day or spend weeks exploring this chunk of the south.
Even our abridged version of the Southern Edge features an unfair amount of eye candy. If you’re not caught gazing wide-eyed across the Huon River, you’re certainly marveling at the hills, valleys and emerald expanse of the bush as it rolls alongside you. And if you’re not doing that, it’s because you’ve stopped at one of the highly stoppable towns or roadside curiosities along the way.
The first curiosity of our drive, just 30 minutes outside of Hobart, tucked snugly into the apple-friendly microclimate of the Huon Valley, is Willie Smith’s Apple Shed. Here they make cider—lots of it—and cider-adjacent things (Tasmania is the ‘Apple Isle’, after all). And they do so with a verve and care that is rare in this day and age but not, as I am learning, in Tasmania.
“We don’t waste anything,” says Dan Hennessy, who’s worked at Willie Smith’s in a range of roles for almost 15 years, as he shows us around a small on-site orchard. Willie Smith’s no-waste philosophy is especially impressive when you consider the fact that the enterprise has around half a million trees to its name, grows millions of apples every year, and that the entire operation is organic, entirely as nature intended. “It means we have far fewer apples per yield, but the apples are far better quality,” says Dan.
The cidery is also located at the Willie Smith’s orchard, meaning the apples travel the smallest possible distance before they’re turned into what is quite possibly the freshest, most flavorful and thirst-quenching cider I’ve come across. And I don’t even like cider (though I drank enough of it in my younger years to know good from bad).
“There’s everything down here: Orchards, mountains and hills to climb, beaches, rivers… You can pretty much fill your desires.”
For those passing through, the Willie Smith’s Apple Shed experience consists of a pub-style bar and restaurant offering local fare (try the Scottsdale pork croquettes, the charred pumpkin and, of course, the apple pie), and a shop for take-home booze, trinkets, and apple-based snacks, preserves and condiments. And did I mention the on-site distillery, that produces pommeau (a sweet, French-style apple liqueur) and apple brandy, among other things?
The Huon Valley itself is an immaculate wedge of the Tasmania to explore. Just ask Ellie Smith, who runs Willie Smith’s Apple Shed with husband Andrew (great grandson of Willie Smith), having moved to the valley from the UK some 20 years ago. “It’s just beautiful,” says Ellie. “A lush, green valley; apple trees growing everywhere. It just feels very alive. There’s everything down here: Orchards, mountains and hills to climb, beaches, rivers… You can pretty much fill your desires.”
After Willie’s, we hang that left at Huonville and head towards Cygnet, tracing the Huon River—which is every bit as Middle Earth-marvelous as anything I’ve seen in New Zealand—as we do so.
We’re looking for Fat Pig Farm, a quiet speck of land where former chef and food critic-turned farm owner and author, Matthew Evans, and wife, Sadie, share their vision of farm-to-plate dining.
Punters need to book ahead to secure a spot at one of their regular Feasts, during which they’ll be served a steady stream of dishes prepared using seasonal, hand-grown produce from the farm, and be treated to a tour of the farm itself.
“It’s paddock to plate, taken to the ultimate end point,” Matthew tells me while we talk on a balcony overlooking his farm. “It’s these paddocks. Our paddocks.” Around 90-95 per cent of the food served at Fat Pig’s Feasts comes from the farm itself, and Matthew doesn’t know of many other establishments providing as much variety in their paddock to plate offering. “Mostly because it’s a ridiculous notion, unless you’re stupid. I had brown hair when we started.”
Still, for Matthew, it’s worth all the hard work—and the grey hairs. He believes that food has enormous potential to be used as a force for positive change in the world. “We all have to eat, which means we’re empowered with our wallets,” he says. “We can buy off someone who looks after the land, and who looks after the animal, or you can choose not to care, and spend your money in a way that buggers up communities and ecosystems. But if you make those better choices, you can help save the world, essentially.”
If there’s a theme developing as we edge closer to Cockle Creek, it’s this: Tasmania is full of entrepreneurial people living out their desires, unhindered by the usual constraints (lack of time, lack of opportunity, lack of space) of mainland Australia’s busier bits.
For travelers to Tasmania, this deeply-ingrained DIY attitude and seemingly island-wide commitment to hard work and high standards, pays dividends in the form of plenty of places to eat, liquids to drink, and experiences to savor.
“People here just have amazing produce… it makes things very simple for me.”
Passing through Geeveston, a small town known for being a great place to view platypus, we chance upon Masaaki’s Sushi, a popular sushi joint owned by Masaaki Koyama, who moved to Tasmania from Osaka in 2007.
Known locally (and internationally) as the ‘surfing sushi chef’, Masaaki has a reputation for dishing up some of Australia’s best sushi. His secret? Location, location, location. “What I do is nothing unique,” he tells me over the phone (his shop was closed when we passed through Geeveston). “People here just have amazing produce. The fish is really fresh, our oceans are so clean, the vegetables are so fresh…it makes things very simple for me.”
A little further south, in a tiny town called Dover, Tasmania’s industrious spirit is manifested yet again in Martin Wohlgemuth. Bearded, enthusiastic and with a lifetime’s worth of yarns etched into his face, Martin distils ‘Evoke’—allegedly the world’s first sassafras spirit—at Bakehouse Distillery.
A white spirit, Evoke’s flavour profile falls somewhere roughly between gin and vodka. Martin, who’s had his distilling license for around six years (and is an alumni of the distinguished YouTube distillery school), began dabbling with native southern sassafras leaves because, as he puts it, “I wanted to make something that reflected here”.
“I was born in Tasmania,” Martin continues. “With our rich Gondwana history, the rainforests here are really precious for us—and offer quite different botanicals from the rest of Australia really, which are mainly eucalyptus, acacias, and so on.”
Operating from what was, in the 1920s, Dover’s original bakehouse, Martin also bakes sourdough to order once a week. Open to the public on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, Martin, who often gets tourists popping in to say hello, gets a kick out of showing people around his humble operation, and is in the process of installing a larger distillery and tasting area next to the bakehouse.
Whether it’s something you can eat, drink, explore, look at or learn, it seems you can’t travel far down Tasmania’s Southern Edge without hitting upon something worthwhile. And we haven’t even talked about the Tahune Airwalk, Hartz Mountains National Park, or the Hastings Caves yet—all excellent spots for outdoorsy-types to get their fix.
As for the road south itself, the driving is easy (it gets a little gravelly towards the end of the road, but the roads are otherwise sealed), and the scenery is, at any given moment, verging on the obscene. You couldn’t ask for much more.
After the year we’ve all had, there’s a certain kind of catharsis involved in intentionally driving as far south as you possibly can, in making a beeline for the southern edge of the world, where something as significant as Tasmania can so suddenly turn into nothing. I’m not typically one to get all misty-eyed about the restorative power of the natural world, but something about Recherche Bay caught me off guard.
Next, we make the final push south, flanking Recherche Bay on our way down towards Cockle Creek. And, well, you know a fair bit about that place already.
Looking for a road trip with a difference? Plot your journey down Tasmania’s Southern Edge.