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Travelling a beehive of backcountry roads in Tasmania’s central north, I am tempted to take the turnoff to Paradise. The Paradise signpost pops up somewhere near the tiny rural outposts of Nook, the Promised Land and Nowhere Else. All lie in Cradle Country, a dairy farm-dotted region whose roly-poly farming lands unfurl from the edge of the Central Plateau Conservation Area to the dramatic seascapes of the North Coast.
I encounter its landscapes and savours along Tasmania's self-drive Cradle To Coast Tasting Trail. My starting point is Deloraine, an artsy and agricultural hub, and historic National Trust town, on the banks of the Meander River. Its main street in keeping with the river’s name, meanders through a huddle of heritage-listed shopfronts, arts and craft studios, antique stores and old stone mills. In the backdrop is the mesmerising expanse of the Great Western Tiers - the 1400-metre range of bluffs drop abruptly from plateau to paddock on the northern rim of the Central Highlands.
As I head down Emu Bay Road in search of lunch, I’m inadvertently following the Great Western Tiers Sculpture Trail. Colourful characters carved out of pewter or iron - Aboriginal Girl, Champion Axeman and Guitar Man - brighten up the town’s streetscape and form an outdoor art gallery.
At the mellow-yellow painted Deloraine Deli, my hearty Ploughman’s Lunch includes a spread of local cheeses, pickled onions and Tassie ‘tracklements’ (pickles). I deliberated about also taking a Cradle Mountain picnic hamper of salmon, dips and crusty bread for the road.
A 10-minute drive west on Mole Creek Road, between fields of grazing cattle, and I’m pulling up at Three Willows Vineyard. Here it’s jazz among the vines and drystone walls, while quaffing typical Tasmanian cool climate varietals - Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Rosé.
Further along Montana Road is 41 South Salmon & Ginseng Farm, whose salmon - enjoyed on the spot in platter, sandwich or burger form - is reared from water fresh from the nearby Montana Falls. The fascination of 41 South’s German-born owners - Ziggy and Angelika Pyka - with ginseng’s myriad medicinal and culinary properties is spelt out in ginseng-infused spice bags, ginseng-flavoured China Sencha and Orange Pekoe teas, and pure Tasmanian leatherwood honey from the Tarkine Wilderness, perked up with a hint of Asian ginseng.
Blink and you will miss it, but just off evocatively-named Dairy Plains Road, in the adjacent hamlet of Needles, truffles and honey flow bountifully from the earth. At Truffles of Tasmania, Biscuit, the truffle dog together with his owner, guides me on a black truffle tour through the truffière of gracious deciduous oaks, as I learn the art of hunting perigord truffles. Before leaving, at the farm gate I buy some truffle powder to throw in pasta sauces, pizza doughs and focaccias.
I head north, past the little district of Dunorlan - named after a famous Kentish parkland.
Somewhere between the cauliflower and spud signs of Elizabeth Town, is the Christmas Hill Raspberry Farm Café. I am truly not hungry ... until that is, I set my sights on the pancake stacks with fresh berries. It is afternoon tea time after all. The views here over the farmland and lakes are pure Northern Tasmanian bucolic bliss.
I’m an absolute sucker for a good bakery. The Elizabeth Town Bakery Cafe, now catchily known as ETC, dates to 1862, when former convict John Spicer - transported from England to Van Diemen’s Land for highway robbery - was, somewhat ironically, granted a license for a highway inn.
The old balustraded Victorian-era inn has been modernised, but still overlook pastures from its cafe with outdoor deck.The ‘tucker’ here includes quality Aussie comfort food - egg & bacon, meat and scallop pies, scones, toasties and fish & chips - topped off by bakery treats (many of them gluten free or organic), and excellent espresso-style coffee.
Cruising along the Bass Highway, I drop by the farm store of Ashgrove Cheeses and buy a couple of their delicious new edition cheddars - Tasmanian Bush Pepper and Wild Wasabi - both of which provide a nice spicy twist on the usual melt in your mouth crumbly varieties.
On this occasion, I am just passing through Sheffield, yet still with time to take in its colourful high country culture, depicted in murals along Main Street - the Tasmanian tiger toilet block, the blacksmith shop, and other Wild West-like depictions of hydro history and mountain horsemen.
At the heart of Tassie’s own Kentish country, the "town of murals" and the surrounding valleys and pastures, are crowned by the craggy mass of Mount Roland rising up from the fields like a great ocean liner.
The scenery is best soaked up with a glass of sparkling or rhubarby Pinot Noir at Barringwood Vineyard Kitchen & Cellar Door, which sets up its tangerine tuckshop van once a month on the lawns. Outside of those times, the tasting room cafe has a lunch menu of ‘handmade, locally-sourced’ food - freshly shucked oysters and house made bread, ripe cheese, terrines, pasta, pastries and cakes.
Former Sydneysiders, Vanessa and Neville Bagot, say their five hectare vineyard, which is regularly awarded 5 stars from Australian wine critic James Halliday, is “hand tended” - with manual pruning and harvesting of the grapes.
From here all the way along the North West Coast, a patchwork quilt of crops, flowers and rich chocolate and rust coloured soils spread to the horizon.
Herb and vegetable stalls dot the roads, cows graze on cliff edges and glorious rainbow-hued fields of poppies and tulips devour rocky capes and volcanic headlands.
In Spreyton, I sample squeaky clean Apple Isle cider at the four generation Spreyton Cider Company, then additive-free rainforest honey in Mawbanna where Nicola and Robbie Charles at Blue Hills Honey are known as ‘the beekeeper and his queen’. The region is said to be so fertile, it could supply the entire vegetable needs of Australia.
I love the mix of true blue Australian countryside and stunning coastal scenery that come in a relatively short distance on this drive through my island home. One minute I’m travelling the lush inland valleys, the next navigating the stunning red soils near Table Cape, which roll out like the lid of a dazzling sardine can in the sun towards the Bass Strait Coast. It is indeed a little Tassie Paradise.
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