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Apple trees once dominated this cool-climate corner of Tasmania, earning it the nickname “Golden Valley”. Just 40 minutes from Hobart, the Huon Valley’s charms are more diverse these days. Home to a plethora of artisans, sailors, farmers, foodies and cider makers, the bounty of orchards and hobby farms here spread like a patchwork quilt across the valley, crisscrossed by rivers and estuaries – the ever reliable fruit bowl of the south.
The Valley has gone through a lot recently. Bushfires hit the region 18 months ago, followed by the double whammy of Covid-19. But now there’s light on the horizon. Once-shuttered businesses are reinventing themselves and welcoming visitors again.
Visit the tranquil towns of Franklin, Cygnet and Geeveston. Take a calm river cruise on a Danish gaff-rigged ketch, comb the hair of shaggy highland cattle on a luxury farmstay, eat fresh seafood, explore hidden caves or simply sit by the fire with a glass of local wine or cider.
Here’s where to eat, drink and stay, and what to do in the Huon Valley.
Fat Pig Farm
You’ll find Fat Pig Farm at Glaziers Bay, on the road to Cygnet (consider calling in to Pagan Cider on the way). Run by chef and author Matthew Evans – who you might have seen on SBS television’s Gourmet Farmer – and his partner Sadie Chrestman, who host tours of their 27-hectare market garden and farm, finishing off with a paddock-to-plate home-cooked feast, matched with local beer, wine and cider.
Gumboots are provided for a tour of the micro-dairy, veggie garden and bush garden, heritage apple orchard and wildlife corridor, and an introduction to “Dennis” the woodfired oven (it will make sense when you go). A romp with the playful pigs is included, and you’ll also encounter chooks, goats and cows. The feasts happen most Saturday afternoons (check website for details and to book), but throughout the school holidays in September the farm runs an extended “backstage” tour (with a more basic lunch), aimed at families. Keep an eye out also for one-off events.
“Fat Pig Farm Afloat” sees the venue collaborate with Yukon Tours to run water-based experiences through summer, combining a Huon River cruise on the ketch Yukon with an onboard gourmet Fat Pig Farm lunch.
Fat Pig Farm
Harvest and Light
“Don’t picture a cafe as you think you know it,” says Harvest and Light owner Cassy Faux. Instead, picture pickles. Lots of them.
This cafe in Geeveston, an hour south of Hobart, dishes up lavish pickle platters made with seasonal ingredients. Think grazing plates of Tassie cheeses, pickled mushroom, cider mustard, cucumber and wild fennel, served with buckwheat and quinoa crackers. Faux preserves all the pickles and is responsible for the artwork on the walls – large photographic prints of local landscapes and gorgeous macro photography of bird feathers.
The picklery – as Cassy calls it – is fully licenced with Tassie beer and wine, like Anim chardonnay from Tinderbox Vineyard and Hughes & Hughes rosé. Visitors should note Harvest and Light is only open on Saturdays and Sundays, but you’ll also find Cassy selling her preserves at Hanging Garden Green Grocer in Hobart every Friday.
By the way, if Geeveston looks familiar, that’s because it’s the location of the fictional, idyllic country town Rosehaven, from the ABC television program of the same name.
Harvest & Light
Truly great sushi has a singular pull. The queues for the now shuttered Masaaki’s Sushi pop-up food truck at Hobart’s Sunday Farm Gate Market are legendary. Masaaki’s has now found a permanent home in Geeveston, inside a tastefully restored Anglican church. You might not expect to find world-class sushi in a quiet rural town in southern Tassie, but for founder Masaaki Koyama, life is full of surprises. After falling in love with a Tasmanian English teacher in Tokyo, he followed her here to start a new life in the Huon Valley in 2007 – in the process importing the culinary treats of Osaka to an unlikely Australian town.
Try Koyama’s fresh Tasmanian wasabi, miso soup made from local crayfish and wakame seaweed, or the spicy tuna rolls. Vegetarian favourites include vegetable sushi wrapped in an omelette, and inari tofu pockets with beetroot, shredded carrot, sesame seeds and toasted almonds. You’ll want to get in early though, as the queues for Masaaki’s sushi have followed him south. “We usually sell out by around 2 o’clock,” he says. “Then I go surfing.”
Willie Smith’s Apple Shed
History runs deep at Willie Smith’s Apple Shed. Co-founder Andrew Smith’s great-grandfather planted the orchard’s first trees in 1888. Tasmania was the Southern Hemisphere’s largest apple producer in the 1960s, until the UK joined the European Common Market in 1973, killing exports.
But apple is king here once again, thanks in part to Andrew and head cider maker Tim Jones, who have helped give cider a drop of sophistication and nuance.
“We want our ciders to have the prestige of a great dinner wine,” says Jones. “There’s no reason why they shouldn’t.”
Housed in a renovated 1942 apple-packing shed just outside Huonville, Willie Smith’s is Australia’s first certified organic cidery, comprising a restaurant, pub, cellar door and apple museum. Mainstay ciders are traditional, organic, bone dry and wild, but there are always new concoctions on the go. Just released is Willie Smith’s Sullivans Cove Whisky Aged Cider, made from the heritage Yarlington Mill apple (a bittersweet fruit from Somerset, England) and aged in Sullivans Cove whisky barrels. This is liquid apple pie for grown-ups, packed with caramel, baked apples and buttery pastry notes, like a perfectly baked tarte Tatin.
While you’re there take a distillery tour and check out the copper alembic charentais still, and learn how apple spirits are made and aged to create Australia’s original apple brandy. Tours run Thursday to Monday from 2pm and take around 45 minutes. Willie Smith’s also hosts the annual Huon Valley Mid-Winter Festival, a traditional “wassailing” celebration said to induce a bumper harvest.
Osteria at Petty Sessions
This modern and authentic Italian restaurant is set in the tranquil riverside town of Franklin. A former courthouse, the heritage-listed building is an optimal spot to sit with a wine and watch the placid Huon River drift lazily by.
Wild-caught Tassie seafood is the speciality, but you can also expect homemade rye pappardelle with duck ragu; gnocchi coated in creamy mushroom sauce; Tassie black truffles; beef scaloppine; hand-folded tortellini; or slow-cooked sausages. On the seafood side you’ll find Spring Bay mussels, scallops, pink ling croquettes, cold-smoked albacore tuna, pickled mackerel, southern rock lobster risotto or whatever catch of the day has been hauled in. For dessert, try its famous tiramisu, baked panna cotta or berry gelato. The wine list focuses on the local. Sample a pinot noir from Nandroya Wines or Sailor Seeks Horse, or take Osteria’s own dry gin out for a spin.
Reservations are required here, and there’s a different set menu each week (posted on Facebook. All food is sourced from Tassie producers, and the vast majority of that from the Huon Valley. Look out for the Osteria stall at Hobart’s Farm Gate Market every Sunday, and grab a homemade pasta and sauce combo to take away.
You might find it baffling that the Instagram page for Highland Getaway, a luxury farmstay B&B in Ranelagh, is dominated by shaggy cows. But the resident highland cattle – with their long wool, emo locks and devilish horns – are a star attraction.
Visitors here can take a guided all-terrain-vehicle tour of the farm with host Julie Sade to get up close and personal with the bovine residents (you can even comb their luscious locks – yes, combs are provided). Also look out for alpacas, silky chickens and bountiful wildlife wandering around the property.
When it comes time to bed down, choose between the cinema suite, with its 2.5 metre by 1.4 metre cinema screen, surround sound and Netflix access, or the spa suite, with a private outdoor five-seater hot tub. Both have a king-size bed, an ensuite and a kitchenette with fridge, microwave, toaster and pod coffee machine. A homemade continental breakfast is included.
Families or couples travelling together can book the self-contained, three-bedroom Farm Stay House, which boasts its own private hot tub, an open-plan lounge room with a 55-inch smart TV with Netflix, and a fully-equipped kitchen. Wake up to bacon and eggs breakfast provisions, in true farm style.
Big Shed House
Daring architecture and contemporary interior decorating bring an almost futuristic vibe to this formally disused and derelict apple shed one kilometre from Huonville.
The original, 100-year-old hardwood flooring has been retained, complementing the rustic rafters in the striking cathedral ceiling. The chef’s kitchen, though, with an eight-seat timber dining table and rotating central fireplace, is all new. Plonk down and soak up mountain views from the north-facing deck (complete with comfy sun lounges), while the Huon River flows just metres from the gate. Venerable wooden barn doors slide across to reveal an ultra-modern, raised red-tiled bathroom, crowned with a deep, freestanding feature bathtub.
Other surprises include the “Dunny of Old and New Art” (DONA) – best experienced to be understood. The cute, ply-lined bedroom pod is set in a raised alcove open to a living area adorned with Tasmanian books and artwork. Expect the fridge to be stocked with local produce for breakfast, and forget about buying staples for dinner because the pantry is always filled with oils, seasoning and sauces. In the evening, relax on the leather lounges or rotate the fireplace to face the bath and lie back with a glass. The height of rustic luxury.
Big Shed House
Cygnet Old Bank
Cygnet is a coastal hamlet that’s reinvented itself from an apple and farming port community to a creative artisan hub. Links to the past hold strong, especially at the Cygnet Old Bank, which houses a conservatory cafe as well as three luxury rooms for bed and breakfast accommodation.
The renovated, heritage-listed 1909 Victorian brick building on the town’s main street is a former bank (in case you hadn’t guessed), and you can still find the bullion vault and bank manager’s office inside. The landscaped courtyard is lush with fruit trees and an espaliered orchard.
A sweeping wooden staircase leads up to the Sterling, Sovereign and Franc rooms, which overlook the town square. A tip: the Sterling room has a slightly smaller bed than the other two rooms (queen instead of king) but is the only room with an ensuite (the other two rooms have a private bathroom across the hallway). A complimentary continental breakfast is served between 8am and 9.30am in the Conservatory Cafe, and in-room dining is available. The gourmet tasting platter of charcuterie, Tasmanian cheese, olives, dip, house pickles and crusty bread is a winner.
You don’t need to know exactly what a Danish gaff-rigged ketch is to be besotted at first sight by Yukon. The yacht looks cut out of a picture book, complete with block and tackle, coiled nautical ropes, four-cornered sails and a pointed bowsprit thrust toward the waves. Salvaged from the bottom of the sea in Denmark in 1997 then sailed to Tasmania by Australian David Nash and his Danish wife Ea Lassen, the Yukon has been lovingly restored for comfort cruising.
Yukon Tours operate a 90-minute weekend “Soup and Sail” river cruise on the Huon. Take a turn on the helm, sit by the fire below, or watch the world drift by from the deck with a cup of Lassen’s homemade Tuscan soup.
A collaboration with Fat Pig Farm combines sailing with a gourmet picnic-hamper lunch of charcuterie, including free-range ham; woodfired bread; farm pickles; seasonal fruit; and a savoury tart with yogurt pastry – plus local beer, cider and wine. Or gin. Soup and Sail cruises depart every Saturday and Sunday April to September at 12.30pm from Franklin Marina, returning at 2pm, while the Fat Pig Farm Afloat cruises kick off on November 7, running every second Saturday in summer. If you have time (you do) check out the Franklin Wooden Boat Centre next door, where the long-lost art of wooden boatbuilding is kept alive and on display.
Hastings Caves and Thermal Springs
Fifty metres below the deep green sassafras rainforest lies a labyrinth of dolomite caves, with chandelier-like stalactites formed over a period of 200,000 years. Discovered by forest workers in 1917, the subterranean chamber of Newdegate Cave is now the largest dolomite cave in Australia open to visitors.
Lit by warm orange lights, a guided tour leads you down a long set of steps, where the temperature plummets and dramatic, dagger-shaped mineral formations protrude alarmingly from the walls. There are no narrow passages to negotiate (good news for the claustrophobic) and the guide walks you through the surprising array of life that exists in this unique ecosystem. Above ground, you can cap off the day by floating in the balmy 28-degree thermal pool fed by pure spring water, and have a picnic among the fern glades. Keep your eye out for platypus, quolls, pademelons and native forest birds.
Hastings Caves and Thermal Springs
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Tourism Australia. Whether you’re seeking a quick getaway, lazy holiday or epic trek, Australia is a land of endless adventures. There’s never been a better – or more important – time to get out and explore. Take a Holiday Here This Year.