Tastes and temptations

Warren Steptoe | VOLUME 22, ISSUE 4
All part of the fun on Bruny Island Charters. A high-speed pass between the cliffs and a standing pillar.
Food, fishing and the great outdoors – you’ll find Tasmania a feast for all the senses.

Barely a hint of the trout’s tail waved above the mirrored surface of the water as it foraged amongst shoreline grasses. A low bulge twirled perfect reflections of sky and sedge as the fish turned. It was moving to my right…

A short back cast aimed the flyline above the sedge scattered across marshy ground behind me; my forward cast unrolling to delicately deposit the Red Tag fly some 20 feet out, which soon after was enveloped by the most subtle of swirls.

It was a perfect Tasmanian morning; a heavy mist burning away over breakfast to reveal trout tailing along a shallow verge. Our morning became an afternoon and eventually other commitments forced us to hang up our rods, reluctantly.

I love Tasmania; I’ve been down there many times over the past 20 years and it’s not so much something about the place that keeps me coming back as everything about it. One thing has always frustrated me though, and that’s the fact that every time I’ve been to Tassie I’ve been on a job.

However, this time I had only 10 days of work before my wife, Mary flew down to join me for another 10 days of simply enjoying the Tasmania I’ve come to love. No photographic assignments and only a rough timetable.

But first, it was nose to the grindstone with colleague, old fishing mate and guide extraordinaire, Ken Orr. I’ve fished with Ken many times since he started guiding back in the early ’80s. Nowadays, he’s one of the best trout fishing guides you’ll find.

Our first destination was a private trout fishery called Currawong Lakes in the northeastern corner of Tasmania, inland from the popular east coast and an hour’s drive from Coles Bay and Bicheno. Currawong Lakes has been there for years, but new owners have recently given it a new lease on life.

Now Currawong Lakes is everything a world-class private trout fishery should be, including the quintessential Tasmanian trout fishing experience mentioned at the start of this article.

There are three separate fisheries: Lakes Currawong, Long Marsh and Macquarie. Lake Macquarie is maintained purely as a brown trout fishery, while the other two have a mixture of browns and rainbow trout. Currawong Lakes guests have a choice of three four-star, self-contained cabins.

Fishing can be fully or partly guided by arrangement with resident managers, Scott and Sally Richardson. Experienced fishos are welcome to do their own thing. Non-fishing visitors get to relax and enjoy being far away from busy roads, amidst a full complement of birds and wildlife.

All three cabins are laid out with shared accommodation for two couples in mind and are located separately on the 1000-plus hectare property. It felt like Ken and I had the place to ourselves, although we, in fact, didn’t.

Corporate gatherings are catered for with a roomy group barbecue at Lake Currawong. Trout were tailing right beside it when Ken showed me around. Remote areas of Currawong Lakes are set aside for trophy deer and bird hunting is now also an option.

Unfortunately, Ken and I had to leave Currawong Lakes’ trout and move on, but our next destination was another reborn gem – the old Hydro Electric Commission village of Tarraleah.

HYDRO HOSPITALITY

Tarraleah is an interesting story in itself, and is located on the Lyell Highway midway between Hobart and Strahan. Built in the 1930s to house a population of 2000 people during construction of the Tasmanian central highlands’ amazing hydro electric scheme, Tarraleah was, effectively, the capital of the central highlands.

But despite its location beside Tasmania’s busiest thorough fare, Tarraleah faded. It struggled on, a mere shadow of its former self, until a group of investors saw Tasmania’s booming tourism sector as an opportunity to bring it back to life.

Officially opened in October 2006, the reborn Tarraleah blends original infrastructure beautifully restored ‘in period’ into a modern resort complex, incorporating the whole spectrum of accommodation from five-star to campground. At the luxury end of the scale is an ageing chalet, perched spectacularly above the Nive River Valley, transformed to offer some of the finest wining, dining and accommodation available in Tasmania.

Strategic landscaping maintains the exclusive lodge’s separation from the village. Here HEC executive cottages have become self-contained, four-star villas. Clustered around the old village green, the school house and hall are now alpine-style studio apartments, with a full-facility conference centre close by. There’s also a bar/bistro, a café and a store (incorporating a G. Loomis Pro tackle shop), plus the aforementioned campground. There’s a handy casting pool, too, which just happens to be stocked with trout.

Tarraleah’s attractions include eco-tours, guided bushwalks, wildlife, mountain biking, golf, river rafting, and, of course, the central highlands’ famed trout fishing. Its location is central to some of the most famous trout lakes in the world, and, as I found when weather closed out the highlands, some superb stream fishing, too.

Ken and I were enjoying a magic sunny morning’s photography (and fishing) on picturesque Lake King William when the cloud closed in. So Ken simply descended to the upper Derwent Valley, where he introduced me to some of the prettiest and most productive trout streams I’ve ever seen.

To demonstrate the variety of fishing available from Tarraleah, Ken asked me to lure fish while he stayed with the fly. I love stream fishing passionately, and several times commented that we could have been chasing bass or jungle perch – well, except for our thermal underwear and the fact that there weren’t any crocs about!

After nearly a week in the high country, Hobart’s bustle takes some getting used to. From breath takingly still nights at Tarraleah to remembering the correct dress code for dinner at Wrest Point Casino – it’s a bit of a wrench.

The different culture was matched by a different world the next morning, when Justin O’Shannassy and Jim Barwick picked me up for a day’s bream fishing on the Derwent estuary. Derwent River bream are the southern black bream, Acanthopagrus butcheri. It’s a species restricted to southern Australia, although similar to the familiar silver bream (Acanthopagrus australis), which has become a tremendously popular sport fish over on mainland Australia in recent years.

Tourism Tasmania is keen to foster interest in bream fishing and now I know why. The Derwent proved a wonderful fishery despite the industrial scenery, which couldn’t have been more different to the backdrop I’d enjoyed while pursuing trout. This great fishing is available right in the city of Hobart, and is easily accessible to everyone, visitors included.

I’m not a “numbers” fisherman, so I can’t remember our score, but we caught heaps, this wayward Queenslander being politely allowed to top score for the day. Lovely people, those Tasmanians!

An entirely different bream fishing experience awaited me the next day when professional guide, Bob McKinley, was waiting downstairs at Wrest Point. Bob spends most of his time guiding people for trout, but has diversified into bream in response to burgeoning interest in these saltwater battlers.

We fished the Lune River, a pristine estuary way down at the southern end of the D’entrecasteaux Channel. It was back to typical exquisite Tassie scenery, all natural bushland and crystalline water that gradually gave way to a tannin stain as we ventured upstream into the brackish reaches. A memorable day, good company, and more great fishing.

Later in the trip, I saw still more fantastic bream water along the east coast, although that’s getting ahead of the story. Alongside its well-known trout fishing, Tasmanian bream fishing is quite an experience.

TIP OF THE ICEBERG

The Lune river is merely one aspect of an unsung saltwater fishery locals have kept almost entirely to themselves – until recently anyway. Tasmanian fishing tourism is gradually expanding into saltwater and my next experience showed that we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg so far.

Next stop was Bruny Island; onto a vehicular ferry 20 minutes south of Hobart then south again across a narrow isthmus known as ‘The Neck’ to Adventure Bay. With half a day to fill before going fishing, Tourism Tasmania arranged an adventure tour with Bruny Island Charters for my afternoon.

I’m not much of a tourist, I have to say, although I became immediately interested when I noticed a trio of pretty radical and potent-looking 12.5m boats edging in to the wharf. Triple 275hp super charged Mercury Verado outboards lined their transoms, with row-upon-row of seats ahead of a high control console aft.

Owner/operator Rob Pennicott invited me aboard and we powered out of Adventure Bay in loose convoy. Not much of a tourist I said, didn’t I? Well, I was soon gawping with the best of ’em at towering sea cliffs as we rounded Fluted Cape – and I knew enough about the sea to keep my camera case firmly closed when Rob nosed the big craft in close to a sea-level cave in the towering dolerite.

Whoooooof! A rolling swell piled in immeasurable tons of water and squeezed a monstrous blast of air and spray back over us. If the other passengers thought that was fun, next came a full-throttle blast between a free-standing pillar of rock and tall cliffs whizzing by an arm’s length away as we streaked on into the Southern Ocean.

However much of a tourist, any boating enthusiast would enjoy the trip back from the Friars, a bunch of rocky islets off Tasman Head. They were as far south as we ventured before turning north again, the big Mercs screaming away mutedly aft. An escort of browed albatross windsurfed past; I decided about then to bring Mary over to Bruny in a few days time.

After Rob Pennicot’s horsepower-packed tour, fishing charter operator, Chris Martyn’s big plate aluminium centre console was something of an anti-climax as far as boat rides went. Fishing with Ol’ Kid Charters is a different kind of fishing altogether; all big baits, big sinkers, deep water and bloody hard work, as you haul up all manner of unfamiliar creatures from the depths, including an impressive striped trumpeter in the case of one happy angler.

LUSCIOUS LOBSTER

On our way out, Chris had dropped lobster pots, which we picked up on the way back to Adventure Bay. Graham confessed that as much as he enjoys fishing, it was lobsters he really came for, and when I asked how they taste he just rolled his eyes in reply. Silly question, apparently.

Back at the dock it was into the hire car and back to Hobart to pick Mary up from the airport. For the first couple of days, we enjoyed some of best things this city has to offer, including: staying in a 120-year-old pub on the Hobart waterfront; discovering that Mures seafood restaurant more than lives up to its reputation; browsing art galleries; en during the crowded Salamanca Markets; and sampling plenty of Tasmanian wines.

For a complete change of pace, we then ventured west along the Lyell Highway, retracing our steps past Tarraleah to Lake St Clair, stopping only at ‘The Wall’, an enormous sculpture that’s still in progress along the way. A late afternoon walk along the lake to enjoy its mountainous skyline brought a long day to an end.

We departed our lakeside cabin at first light the next morning, all kitted out for bushwalking. Our ascent of nearby Mt Rufus rewarded us with glorious 360-degree views, taking in the head of the Franklin and Gordon Rivers, Frenchman’s Cap and nearby Mt Olympus.

Track notes suggest a seven-hour circuit, but we took nine altogether, counting stops to boil the billy, and over an hour on the summit simply enjoying the view. What a day!

BEST OF BOAGS

Mary was tiring in the end – a good excuse to eat out, she said, so we wandered over to the restaurant and fronted the bar to wait for a table. “I reckon I deserve a beer,” my lady informed the barmaid, adding: “the best you’ve got.”

“That’d be a Boags; what size luv? Bear with me though, these middies and pots have got me all confused,” replied the lass in an Irish lilt. “A big one with a handle,” retorted Mary, in brogue just as thick.

“That’d be Mary Catherine O’Neil you’re talkin’ to,” I interjected – to be left understanding scarcely a word while the pair prattled lingo way too fast for my Aussie ears.

The only part I understood was when Mary thumped her glass on the bar and said in broad strine: “That was bloody good, can I have another one please!” And so we discovered Boags on tap, a truly delightful taste of Tassie we subsequently enjoyed everywhere we went.

From Lake St Clair, a half day’s travel landed us on Bruny Island, which, of course, was the second time around for me. Bruny hardly rates as ‘undiscovered’ these days, given the number of visitors it receives, but with time to explore and relax a little, we found it delightfully uncrowded, with scenery as good as Tassie gets – which is pretty darn good.

Mary agreed the boat trip south along Bruny’s coastline was something special; for several days we toured about the island leisurely. Chris and Graham, hearing I was bringing Mary back, had kept a fillet off the trumpeter for us, but when I enquired about lobsters they looked down and muttered. The trumpeter was nice, but I suspect lobster would have been even nicer!

Still, we found some consolation when sampling Bruny’s oysters. I reckon I’m something of an oyster connoisseur and conscientious sampling from Cape York’s black lip to the fabled Sydney rock rated Wooli River (northern NSW) oysters my favourite – until I tried the Bruny Island variety.

From Bruny, we drove back through the now familiar environs of Hobart before turning south again towards the Tasman Peninsular and Port Arthur. I’d been here before, and again being not much of a tourist, I was going along purely because Mary wanted to see the old penal settlement, perhaps Tasmania’s most famous tourist attraction, for herself.

It’d been many years since I’d visited Port Arthur and despite my oft-repeated conviction about being a poor tourist, I was pleasantly surprised. After a mandatory brief orientation tour, we did our own thing for the afternoon while waiting for the evening ghost tour.

As tours go, Port Arthur’s Ghost Tour is pretty famous, although after mixed reports we were a little hesitant. So what did we think? Well, towards the end, the call of nature became pressing – but there was no way I would leave the group and venture out into the darkness alone…

From Port Arthur, we would spend a couple of days checking out the east coast regions of Freycinet and the Bay of Fires. We wouldn’t have the time to do them comprehensively on this trip, as our time was drawing to a close, but like so many other parts of this spectacular isle that forever beckon, there would always be next year.

KNOW BEFORE YOU GO…

USEFUL CONTACTS:

• Visit Tourism Tasmania’s website at: www.discovertasmania.com for a wealth of information about the Apple Isle

• To contact Tarraleah, tel: (03) 6289 3222; email: info@tarraleah.com or visit: www.tarraleah.com

• To contact the Lodge at Tarraleah, tel: (03) 6289 1199; email info@tarraleahlodge.com or visit: www.tarraleahlodge.com

• For information on Bruny Island, visit: www.brunyisland.org.au and www.brunycharters.com.au

• For information on Port Arthur, visit: www.portarthur.org.au

FISHING:

• The Professional Trout Guides Association can steer your fly fishing in the right direction; for more information visit: www.troutguidestasmania.com.au

• To contact Currawong Lakes, tel: (03) 6381 1148; email trout@currawonglakes.com or visit: www.troutfishtasmania.com.au

• To contact Ken Orr, tel: (03) 6289 1191; email orrsome@trump.net.au or visit: www.orrsometassietrout.com.au

• To contact Bob McKinley, tel: (03) 6223 8917; email info@fishwildtasmania.com or visit: www.fishwildtasmania.com

• You can reach Ol’ Kid Charters on: (03) 6293 1128; email capcookolkid@iprimus.com.au or visit: www.capcookolkid.com.au.


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