Its spring time in the Huon Valley in Tasmania and there is that brisk chill in the air, enough to stand your arm hairs up but not enough to freeze you to the core. The heater in our hire car stabilises the temperature, and we can comfortably watch the stunning scenery float past the window. On a holiday to Hobart, we just couldnt resist a couple of days checking out the Huon Valley. No one seems to have anything bad to say about these southerly parts of the island, and driving through it now I can see why. The landscapes remind me of fairytales my grandmother used to read to me as a child, and looking at the low lying clouds swirling around the tops of the thick forest Im filled with a strange sense of nostalgia, despite never having visited these parts before.
Its just a 30 minute drive from Hobart to Huonville, the commercial capital of the Huon Valley. Driving into this small town of 1700 people is like taking a step into the past, and we soon notice that about all the settlements in the Huon Valley. While Hobart is a modern and vibrant city, towns like Huonville and Geeveston seem to have retained the elements of their past very faithfully- although they have incorporated elements of modern life with these. Its a good combination, as you get a feel for the history of the area whilst having all the conveniences one may need to be comfortable.
For many years the apple industry of Tasmania has been one of the biggest in the world, and the Huon Valley has always been at the forefront of this. The towns here were the centres of production for the industry, and a lot of the heritage buildings are associated with apple growing and producing. To really see what the apple history here is all about we paid a visit to the Huon Apple and Heritage Museum. Set up in an old packing shed, you get a good feel for the evolution of the apple industry here- an evolution that is inextricably tied in with the history of the Huon Valley. There are a host of old machines on display, as well as other associated artefacts, plenty of photographs and over 500 different species of apple. The insights into the lives of settlers in the early 1800's I found particularly interesting.
Another major element of the Huon Valley are its forests. Huon Pine is a much sought after softwood timber that produces exquisite furniture, and it is very important to the economy of the region and of Tasmania. For a tourist such as myself it is the forests that are simply breathtaking, and to cut them down seems such a shame. But a visit to the Forest and Heritage Centre in Geeveston shows how the harvesting of the timber is done in alignment with conservation and preservation policies. The centre is a fun place to take kids, as it has a large collection of antique machines and an especially interesting sculptured log truck.
To really appreciate the forest we took a trip to the Tahune Forest Reserve, a beautiful reserve on the banks of the Huon River. This is a must see for tourists because of the Tahune Airwalk, a 600 metre walking platform built through the trees, 20 metres above the ground, that provides stunning views of the surrounds. In the centre of the walk there is a cantilever that rises 48 metres above the ground, and somehow I overcame my fear of heights to reach the peak of this. Majestic views of the confluence between the Picton and the Huon River were my reward, so its one climb Im thankful I took!
We overnighted in a cosy little town called Franklin, which again had that feeling that time seemed to forget it behind. Built on the River Banks, it has hung onto a village atmosphere and many of the buildings are made from the local pine, which gives it a very alpine feel. We were told by many that a visit to the Hastings caves were in order, and indeed the 40 million year old chambers took mine and my familys breath away. Stalactites and stalagmites rise and fall in a rich tapestry of colour and light, making it easy to picture oneself being on another planet. A visit to the caves was topped off with a swim in the warm thermal springs, and conveniently there are picnic and barbeque facilities there as well.
We left the Huon Valley satisfied. It is an area that has managed to avoid the pitfalls of mass tourism, yet at the same time it provides the beautiful countryside and the secluded escape spots that any visitor may want. Being so close to Hobart it is very easily accessible, and I would have to say that a driving holiday through the valley is the way to go. Just pick up a rental car in Hobart, and you have the freedom to explore the Huon at your leisure.
Gavin Wyatt is a journalist with a passion for travel. originally from Zambia he has traveled around the world to end up on the sunny shores of Australia. For more of his articles visit Tasmanian Car Hire
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