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A toast to Tasmania

Tasmania has come of age with a wealth of new luxury hotels, properties and exciting, indulgent places to visit. Cathy Wagstaff takes a long weekend whistle-stop tour of some of the best sights, and enjoys the high life at Saffire Freycinet.

There is nothing quite as pleasant as being met by someone friendly when you arrive at a new destination, especially if you are only there for a short time.

As a guest of Saffire Freycinet a smiling face greets me at Hobart Airport, gets my bags off the carousel and escorts me to the Saffire Airport Lounge. There, a representative from Overdrive, Tasmania’s only sports, touring and luxury car rental company, meets me. Just a few forms to sign and I am happily ensconced behind the wheel of a BMW Z4 Roadster convertible. With the wind blowing through my hair and the sun ablaze, my mission to discover the new, the impressive and the unusual is off to a flying start.

The local crafts, entertainment and lovely cafés of the Salamanca Saturday Markets is my first stop. The brand new Salamanca Wharf Hotel backs onto the historic Salamanca Place and fronts Castray Esplanade with its Despard Gallery, the cultural and historic heart of the city. The hotel is built on just 430 square metres, and its wharf building houses four penthouses, 15 one-bedroom suites and three studios. This contemporary, self-contained boutique apartment hotel features photography of Alaskan-based photographer Laurent Dick and offers ultimate comfort and convenience within one of the oldest and most beautiful precincts in Australia.


Unique stays

The nearby waterfront Henry Jones Art Hotel is Australia’s first dedicated art hotel and one of Australia’s most richly awarded properties. The site of Georgian warehouses dates back to 1804 and the former jam factory has been transformed into a working gallery and eclectic ‘warehouse’ hotel furnished with more than 300 artworks from local artists. With a continuously changing exhibition, the hotel’s 56 unique rooms and suites have been created as a fusion of art, heritage, tradition and nature.

Perhaps even more unusual is the Avalon City Retreat, an innovative environmentally friendly ‘omnipod’ sky penthouse designed by Brett Torossi. Right in the city centre, this two-bedroom portable structure was prefabricated in Launceston and transported for luxury fit-out before being craned atop 152 Macquarie Street. Its glass walls and ninth floor rooftop deck, complete with outdoor bath, ensure spectacular views out to the water. Brett says her omnipod idea is likely to be seen soon in other Australian cities.

I step off the ferry at the MONA (Museum of Old and New Art) at Berriedale. This unique complex has been created by David Walsh, with money accumulated from gambling. Described as ‘a subversive adult Disneyland,’ the multi-million dollar, mostly underground building is full of beautiful, shocking, disturbing and thought-provoking art from around the world. There are no labels here. Instead, visitors are given a touch screen MP3 player which contains information on each artwork.

MONA has its own winery, brewery and even a cemetery where you can eventually join the museum pieces preserved in your own fancy jar. If you can’t tear yourself away from its many attractions you can stay at MONA in high-tech, super-flash luxury dens called Pavilions on the River Derwent, all named after Australian architects and artists – Charles, Arthur, Sidney and Brett. Each has a painting by its namesake, as well as antiquities.

Wine trail

By now it’s time to head onto the open road up the east coast – just 10 minutes’ drive brings me to the start of the Coal River Valley Wine Route. I stop in at two family-run wineries. Puddleduck Vineyard offers reverse BYO, you bring the food, they provide the wines. Everything here is duck related and there are a variety of lovely spots in which to comfortably relax.

Three generations of the Pooley family run Pooley Wines and, at the Belmont Vineyard cellar door created from 1830s sandstone stables, you can try their cool-climate wines. I met the delightful John and his wife Libby and learnt that their winemaker daughter Anna (winner of the 2010 Young Winemaker of the Year award) has joined the business. Meanwhile, son Matt is this year’s Australian Nuffield Scholarship winner supported by the Grape and Wine Research and Development Corporation. As I sit in the glorious sunshine, I also learn that The Coal Valley boasts a record 300 days of sunshine each year, which even beats sunny Queensland.

Then it’s on to Saffire Freycinet, a magnificent coastal sanctuary. It is one of the Luxury Lodges of Australia and a member of Relais & Châteaux. While I arrive in my convertible, I see you can also fly in by helicopter.


Freycinet bliss

First off is a truly indulgent remedial massage in the glorious Spa Saffire before heading to my room. With its magnificent views over the Hazards mountain range, it’s not difficult to shift into relaxation mode.

Nearly everything is included here, from the room’s mini bar and pre-dinner drinks, where you mingle with other guests, to a range of fun and interesting activities. I later don waders at the Freycinet Marine Oyster Farm and learn to shuck oysters, which I enjoy with Champagne standing at a white linen-covered table in the sea.

The following day I gaze on the stunning turquoise waters of the internationally renowned Freycinet National Park on a two-hour walk to Wineglass Bay, known as being one of world’s top 10 beaches.

Canoeing, archery, mountain biking, fishing, golf, mixology and cooking demos are all on offer, but the highlight for me was the exquisite food created by celebrity chef Hugh Whitehouse. Hugh or one of the other chefs can also cook up an exclusive feast in your villa. Other optional extras include quad bikes and cruises. The half-day cruise to Schouten Island gave me the chance to get up close to fur seals and dolphins.

After a blissful night’s sleep in the resort’s super comfortable king-sized bed complete with luxury linen, I must admit I wanted to take it home. Alas, it wouldn’t fit in the convertible, but I discovered you can order a bed to be delivered, complete with linen, to your home.

By now I am convinced Tasmania is committed to going beyond the ordinary to cater for discerning guests. With more than a long weekend to explore, you can discover equally impressive properties at Peppers Cradle Mountain Lodge, Eagles Nest Retreat, and Rocky Hills Retreat, winner of this year’s Signature Media Australian Tourism Unique Accommodation award. Tasmania has indeed reached a most luxurious maturity.



Travel Information

Overdrive Luxury Car Hire
Premier Travel Tasmania
Salamanca Wharf Hotel
The Henry Jones Art Hotel
Avalon City Retreat
Saffire Freycinet
Pooley Wines

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