You may recall the article we published recently written by Roger Findlay: Hobart to the East Coast of Tasmania. Margaret Morgan, the owner of Sheoaks on Freycinet B&B wrote to Think Tasmania, saying this about the article… “as usual it was excellent. However, I thought readers might like a few additions for the same route”.

Margaret Morgan - Swansea Tasmania
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View over Great Oyster Bay from Swansea on the east coast of Tasmania

We’re pretty keen on the back roads and regional areas of Tasmania, and we’re delighted to share with you this version by Margaret Morgan. It’s very comprehensive, and I for one cannot wait to follow her directions to discover the places she so aptly describes.

Margaret Morgan: Inside Information

Photos by Dan Fellow

Motor cyclists love Tasmania’s winding but relatively traffic free roads. Roger’s route from Oatlands via Woodsdale is a popular one with motor cyclists who have previously ridden the “usual” route to the east coast via Sorell and are looking for a change. An addition to this route is to start at Hobart, head for the airport, turn left for Cambridge and Richmond, follow the road through the latter, then Campania and Colebrook to Oatlands, for some lovely long sweeping bends.

Margaret Morgan - Colebrook
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Colebrook is included in the alternate route from Hobart to the east coast by Margaret Morgan

Roger’s article included a photo of the marvellous Woodsdale Museum, but no mention of the wonders therein. Once a state school teacher’s residence, this outstanding volunteer run local museum is also a community centre,  community shed and the venue for many activities, fundraisers and an annual festival on the March long weekend. Displays include a late 1800s school room and residence, shearing interpretation and one created by Levendale Primary School students about the Tasmanian tiger, once common in the area. If there are a group of you, the volunteers will open any day to host a picnic, luncheon or dinner for your group to raise money for their museum. Otherwise it’s open every Sunday or by appointment.

Hobart to the East Coast - Woodsdale Museum
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Woodsdale Museum, between Oatlands and Bucklands (photo by Roger Findlay)

Tasmanian Bushland Garden, Buckland

If you’ve joined the Tasman Highway at Runnymede call in at the Tasmanian Bushland Garden. When you are part way down Break Me Neck hill it’s on your right – just after the sign to Pulchella Nursery. This recently established terraced botanical garden was built by volunteers on an old quarry site and features native plants from the east coast area. A picnic shelter, the best public toilets on the coast, frog ponds, fabulous pieces of sculpture using recycled materials and walk ways leading through native forest beyond complete the garden.


 

It’s an ideal place for children to stretch their legs, perhaps while the adults in the party take the opportunity to learn something of our local flora. A feature children adore is the waterfall down the old quarry face into a rocky pool. It’s activated by crossing a beam of light. Absolute magic! There’s usually a knowledgeable volunteer on hand who will be delighted to answer questions about the garden. Open from dawn till dusk. Free entry.

From Buckland to Orford

As you drive through the gorge of the Prosser River towards Orford, look towards the opposite bank. There you will see the remains of a road, with gaps where the bridges are no longer. During the 1840s there were two probation stations between Buckland and Orford, between them accommodating 200 convicts while they built the road from each end. If you have time, enter the convict road immediately north of the Orford bridge. It takes about an hour to walk to the ruins of the ironically named Paradise Probation Station and back.

Margaret Morgan - Orford
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Alan and Margaret Morgan stop for coffee and pizza in Orford on their travels

After this you will need a coffee. Scorchers by the River, almost next to the bridge at Orford, is where we always stop – unless it’s Wednesday, when sadly they are closed. They also do great thin crusted wood fired pizzas, including gluten free bases. My favourite is a sweet chilli sauce topped with fresh spinach, Ashgrove cheddar cheese and local scallops – maybe not traditional, but delicious all the same. Another popular topping uses locally made wallaby salami and Tassie brie. Scorchers promote the work of local artists, with changing exhibitions of their work. Many’s the time I have bought someone that perfect gift as my pizza cooked.

If you’ve brought a picnic lunch, then Raspin’s Beach across the road from the golf course as you are leaving Orford is an ideal stopping spot. Views over Mercury Passage to Maria Island are unsurpassed and there’s a board walk with information about Orford’s history. Council has recently installed classy new barbecues here too. The toilets, though showing their age, are always clean.

Margaret Morgan - Triabunna
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Margaret Morgan speaks of the old bridges on the east coast (this one at Triabunna)

There is lots more to see around Triabunna and Orford, but that would require a whole article on its own.

Picnic at Salt Works with Oyster Catchers

Further north the Lisdillon Salt Works is a relatively unknown gem and one of our favourite picnic spots. Admittedly there isn’t all that much left of the old buildings, though a display board provides information about how salt was once extracted from sea water here and a very brief history. It’s a serenely beautiful place with a sandy white beach looking over to the Freycinet Peninsula. Usually we are the only picnickers, but are likely to be joined by a pair of oyster catchers at the water’s edge or a sea eagle soaring majestically overhead. The site is reached via Saltworks Road which joins the Tasman Highway between Boomer Creek (to the south) and Lisdillon Rivulet (to the north), approximately 24km south of Swansea.


 

About 1.5km along Saltworks Road, a rather potholed road on the left hand side (beside an olive grove) leads directly to the Salt Works site car park. In my little Toyota Yaris I negotiate this road safely by going very slowly and dodging the worst holes. You can also reach the Salt Works by driving on a bit further to the boat ramp at the mouth of the Swanport River, then turning left (north) to follow the coast back to the site. The river estuary here is an ideal spot to see pelicans, black swans and migratory waders in season. Salt Works is managed by National Parks. Their website has lots more information and the rather sad and macabre story associated with the site’s history.

Rocky Hills Probation Station

A bit further on at Rocky Hills, now known for its handful of superb luxury holiday houses (available for rent) which truly do have million dollar views, 300 convicts once lived at the probation station. It’s about 10km south of Swansea. Some of the convict station buildings remain. The officer’s quarters are now a family home and the store awaits renovation. You can see these buildings from the Tasman Highway. The best place is as you climb the hill after Mayfield Beach. Carefully pull off the road into a lay by about half way up on the seaward side of the road. Get out of your car and look back. The old probation station is on the hill immediately in front of you.

Convicts from Rocky Hills built the Tasman Highway. At Mayfield Beach at the bottom of the above hill you’ll find Old Man Creek. Pull into the camping area and park, then follow the track down above the beach till you reach the creek – only about 150 metres. There’s an information board showing where to go and telling you about the bridge. This one has three arches and you can see the original convict road, with another road on top and finally the present road on top of that. Many other such bridges still exist along the highway, but this is the easiest to see. It’s also another great stopping spot for kids, who love to race up and down the usually dry creek bed under the arches, while the traffic roars by overhead.

Spiky Bridge - Three Arch Bridge
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Three Arch Bridge: 14kms south of Swansea, Tasmania (photo by Gavin Horne)

The Rocky Hills convicts also built Spiky Bridge already mentioned by Roger – a major undertaking. You can see where they quarried the stone from the hill immediately beyond Spiky Bridge. Imagine having to walk the distance from Rocky Hills each morning and return there each evening, probably wearing ill fitting shoes. They were expected to work in all weathers, were provided with few warm clothes and a diet we would now consider totally unsuitable for such hard physical work. Life as a convict may have been an improvement for some, but all in all it can’t have been much fun. We owe them a debt for their contribution to the development of this island.

Margaret Morgan - Spiky Bridge
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Spiky Bridge near Swansea on the east coast of Tasmania

Swansea on the East Coast of Tasmania

As Roger indicated, Swansea is a historic town. It’s well worth visiting the East Coast Heritage Museum there to learn more about its history from the expertly designed displays and knowledgeable staff, then to stroll around the town, having first bought a copy of the “Swansea Heritage Walk” booklet. It tells you what you are looking at.

On Swansea’s northern outskirts the Bark Mill Museum Complex tells the story of collecting and processing wattle bark for the leather tanning industry and that of the 1802 Baudin Expedition, origin of many of our French place names. Both are what I call fascinating by ways of history. The museum is open 365 days of the year. Cost $10. While you are there, the Tavern’s $12 lunches are great value. Their bakery in the same complex opens in time for hearty early breakfasts at 6.00am.

Margaret Morgan - Bark Mill Tavern, Swansea
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Barn Mill Tavern and Museum in Swansea on the east coast of Tasmania

If you are staying in Swansea between early October and April don’t miss the mutton birds or Short-tailed shearwaters (Puffinus tenuirostris). You’ll find them in their rookery below Loon.tite.ter.mair.re.le.hoin.er. walking track at Waterloo Point. The Tasman Highway runs parallel with the sea for much of the time it passes through Swansea. Go round the 90º bend heading towards Hobart then almost immediately turn left into Wellington Street. Continue on until you reach the Esplanade, turn left again and park in the car park at the end of the street. Here you will find information boards about the nearby Catholic and Anglican cemeteries (worth a look) and the walk through the mutton bird rookery. During the day there are great views across the bay to the Freycinet Peninsula.

Mutton Birds and Ugly Duck Out

Do this walk at and just after dusk from October till April, when the mutton birds will be returning to their nesting burrows. There is a period from mid October till mid November when only a few will return each night. They have by this stage re-bonded, repaired their burrows and mated. For about a month they go out to sea fishing to store up energy for the breeding season, when they will take turns at incubating the egg and for a while, at minding the chick. If this is the only time you can see these amazing birds, then seeing a few is better than not seeing any. Still go.


 

Keep to the path to avoid crushing their burrows and only use your torch to shine down to prevent tripping. Illuminating the birds will confuse them. Stay low (there are seats) and keep very quiet. You will be rewarded with marvellous close up views of the birds as they glide in on their astonishingly long wings, crash landing near their burrows. The waiting birds and as they get older, the chicks, make quite a racket as the other birds come home. Eventually all will be silent once more. During the shearwater season you will often see rafts of these amazing birds fishing if you go out with Wineglass Bay Cruises.

Margaret Morgan - Wineglass Bay
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Wineglass Bay, Freycinet on the East Coast of Tasmania

By this time you’ll need a meal. The award-winning Ugly Duck Out is nearby. Head back the way you came but instead of going round the 90º bend, turn right. There’s a garage on the corner, then the restaurant, with plenty of parking behind it. They serve delicious food, using organically produced ingredients, with some even grown at the premises. It would be a good idea to book before you set off to see the mutton birds. Phone (03) 6257 8850.

This fabulous and very thorough article was written by Margaret Morgan,
co-owner (with husband Alan) of Sheoaks on Freycinet B&B in Coles Bay.
Phone (03) 6257 0049. Think Tasmania will be visiting Sheoaks soon, and
will have more information to share with you about their accommodation.

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