Welcome to the Bottom of the World – Part 3

To Launceston and Lilydale

We left early when the sun was dull and the air brisk.  The Hyundai pulled back onto the highway as we backtracked our way inland.  Tasmania isn’t known for its direct routes, our directions limited by a handful of roads.  To leave Coles Bay, first we had to travel back north along Coles Bay Road, then travel south east on the Tasman Highway.  We backtracked our way to the vineyards that provided the prior day’s entertainment.  Google Maps told us to turn right along Lake Leake Highway, instead of turning left towards Swansea.  We were moving west.  This highway was no different to the roads I had now become accustomed to driving.  I still held two hands firmly on the wheel, though my pedal foot had become much more loose along the turns and bends.

Lake Leake Highway wiggled its way across the eastern mainland of Tasmania.  It climbed hillside and mountain ranges.  My ears popped as I gazed across the disappearing road ahead, the car barely slowing down as the hills peaked.  I was driving like a local.  The southern sun was now in midday force, only dulled by the thick grey clouds that swirled in the sky.  Bushland littered the surrounding gaze; we were once again on a trail that led us to the middle of nowhere.  Accompanying cars on the highway were a welcome sight, at least we knew this was a well-travelled road unlike the rock road we had driven across the day before.  The music streaming from my phone once again cut out, the thick gum and ironbark eliminating any reception we desired. We had no option but to more forward.  There was only one road anyway.

The highway came to an abrupt halt after descending the highland.  The new speed limit felt like walking pace compared to the mountainous one-ten I was doing only minutes prior. We were in Campbell Town, a small town nestled along either side of the Midland Highway – the main highway that runs north and south in Tasmania.  Otherwise known as the one road from Launceston to Hobart.  Campbell Town had as many streets as you could count on two hands, a pub, a church, an IGA and a bakery.  Pulling onto Highstreet, the slower section of the Midland Highway, we drove over The Red Bridge.  A bridge whose name would have been easy to guess if it wasn’t for the plaque stationed nearby.  The red-bricked-bridge felt out of place in the Australian landscape, as if it belonged in the hills of Northern England or in a quaint European village.  Instead it has laid across the Elizabeth River in Eastern Tasmania since the early 1800s, greeting and farewelling those who pass through Campbell Town.  We drove over The Red Bridge in a matter of seconds not knowing its significance or historical relevance to the area.  Teish merely muttered, “hey look, a red bridge.”

We parked along High Street to stretch our legs and relieve ourselves in the closest clean toilet.  The wind nearly broke my ears as it whistled past, the chill numbed my face like a natural anaesthetic.  And the cold made me want to piss more. Fortunately, a bakery sat adjacent to the Campbell Town Hotel, so I could kill two birds with one stone; piss and grab a pie.  The toilet in the CT Hotel was clean, and the curry pie at JJ’s Café was scolding hot but worth the stop in. 

Leaving Campbell Town, we followed the one road to Launceston, the Midland Highway.  We had another hour to go, this time greeted by a smooth bitumen highway like those on the mainland.   We passed along sheep farms and vacant farmhouses before arriving in the English-esque town of Perth, twenty kilometres south of Launceston.  The town felt older than Australia itself, it’s churches and houses made of cobblestone, dating back to the nineteenth century but could easily fit into any historic village in the UK.  Green pastures extended across the hill filled horizon, a stark contrast against the red bushland we had driven from on the east coast.  This was the Tasmania I had envisioned. 

The highway opened up to three lanes and more cars pulled alongside the gumball blue Hyundai as it sped towards Launceston.  The city sat at the bottom of surrounding hills, one of which we flew down on the highway.  Our destination was straight ahead, the cars screaming down the steep highway like a flock of birds diving for prey.  The closer we got to Launceston, the wider our view of the city became.  Pockets of houses spilled across the vast hillside encompassing the city below.  From a distance they looked to be stacked on top of each other like a behemoth’s Lego set.  Launceston looked like an English sea-side town, the city nestled in the centre of surrounding hillside cottages.  Down below, a grid of old streets criss-crossed, running parallel to the River Tamar and the North Esk River.  We had some time to kill before our check in at the next AirBnB, an eco-lodge in the mountains overlooking Lilydale, twenty minutes outside Launceston.  There was only one thing I knew could occupy us until then.  Beer. I wanted beer.  And the James Boags Brewery was just up the road.

Nestled at the bottom of George Street, one of Launceston’s longest and most vibrant streets, the James Boags Brewery stood three stories high, built of ancient red brick.  It’s chimneys bustled with smoke, evidence of the hard-working artisans inside.   Fresh red and yellow paint covered the front side of the building, matching the colour scheme of the earliest James Boags bottles. 

Inside the fire roared in the corner.  Leather lounges sat alongside red oak tables and patrons sat to eat their mid-day meal.  We went to the bar; we weren’t interested in the tour.  If you’ve seen one brewery, you’ve seen them all in my opinion.  Except for the Heineken Experience in Amsterdam, go to that.  But I digress. We ordered a beer paddle and a cheese platter.  The paddle came with three pot glasses of the only three beers on tap, the XXX Ale, the Draught, the Lager and the Wizard Smith’s Ale.  Half of which are only available in Tasmania, much like most Tassie alcohol.  An unfortunate fact because I would smash a handful of the XXX Ale tinnies any day of the week.  Teish and I sat outside despite the cold.  It was refreshing to rug up with our coats and scarfs coming from the Sunshine State.  Our cheese platter soon accompanied our beers, all three cheeses – Tasmanian of course – complimented the three beers in the paddle.  A healthy handful of crackers rested amongst the cheeses.  The cheeses ranged in textures and flavours, some smoky and crumbly, some smooth and creamy.  One had wasabi blended through which paired well with all four beers, though I’m sure it was supposed to be for the lager.  The icy ales made the fresh air colder than the weatherman would let on. We picked up our glasses and embraced the warmth of the bar.  I ordered a schooner of the XXX Ale, cautious of the fact I had to still drive up a mountain in an hour’s time.

We left the warmth of the brewery and stopped off for a handful of groceries at the supermarket up the road.  It was the first Coles we had seen and we were happy we didn’t have the limit selection of a small town grocery store.  I grabbed a six pack of the Boags Ales at the neighbouring bottle shop, I thought I better get my fix in the short time we had in Tassie. 

The climb up the mountain wasn’t a strenuous one.  The highway from Launceston to Lilydale was calmer than those down south, the landscape much greener in comparison too.  The further north, the more it felt like a foreign country compared to where we had come the days prior.  Each pocket of Tasmania we had driven through could be it’s own country, individual biomes littered the island at the bottom of the world.  We turned onto a dirt road as the rain began to fall.  It wasn’t heavy, just enough for the wipers to carry across the windscreen.  The dirt road climbed the green mountainside.  Cows greeted us along property fence lines.  Soon we were encompassed by thick foliage on either side.  The road became narrow and towering trees blocked the little sunlight that was trying to peer through.  We were on the lookout for The Trig, our eco-lodge for the next couple days.  The car continued to twist along damp dirt bends before a small sign poked out from the shrubs.  The Trig.  The rain turned into a drizzle as I parked the car at the foot of the hillside property.  To the left was the thick tree line that covered the pass, to the right and beyond laid rolling hills and thick marshmallow clouds.  Sun began to peer through the clouds as they broke above the Lilydale township below. The sun’s gaze was misty and thin as it pirouetted through the clouds.  It was heavenly and picturesque like God’s own work. 

The Trig was meticulously set out, every nook carefully choreographed.  A fireplace sat at the front of the living space surrounded by two-metre-high glass windows.  Leather couches with woollen blankets rested against the back wall, a small library of books and collection of old records beside.  A selection of red wines stood in one of the nooks, though they were not as complimentary as I would have liked.  The kitchen was equipped with the necessities needed for a home cooked meal, though the gas oven needed to be lit the old-fashioned way which we would later find out.  The pantry was full of pastas and rice, organic jams and spreads; the fridge full of local pale ales and produce from the property.  The beers weren’t complimentary though we could eat as much seasonal fruit as we could stomach.  The shower stood at the back corner of The Trig, past the kitchen area.  It’s stone finished walls and indoor greenery made it feel as if we were showering in a Tasmanian cave, the temperature to match.  The bedroom was spacious.  Local woollen blankets were spread across a lusciously large king bed, an electric blanket tucked underneath for extra warmth.  Shrubs and branches from the outside wilderness brushed against the bedroom window reminding us of the secluded serenity of the property. 

Tinges of orange and yellow painted the late afternoon sky.  The rain had settled, and the clouds had decided to let in more sunlight than they had previously done.  Teish and I sat outside on the deck overlooking the Lilydale valley below, Boags XXX Ale in hand.  Quolls and sheep shared the hillside, crunching on the crisp winter grass.  An outside bath sat on the far end of the deck.  I considered running a bath as the sun set, though I knew the Tasmanian chill would soon become more brittle.  I walked around the corner of the lodge to collect firewood for the cold night ahead.  Teish peered through her polaroid camera trying to capture the little light left across the hillside.  The Rolling Stones Let It Bleed played on the record player inside.  Smoke had begun to bellow out from the chimney above. The fire I had lit minutes prior started to take on a life of its own.  A success in my books.  As the sun set, Teish and I returned to the warmth of our eco lodge.  A smokiness still lingered inside thanks to the little ventilation surrounding the fireplace.  Teish begun to slowly boil the water on the gas stove for our pasta dinner.  I slid open the glass door and waved the remaining smoke out with a pillow from the couch.  This is living at the bottom of the world. 

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