George Town: The Watch House and Bass & Flinders Centre

Traversing the Norfolk

George Town is a small town in Tasmania’s north. It boasts a beautiful waterfront and some of Tasmania’s oldest buildings. Originally designated by Governor Macquarie as the hub of Tasmania’s north, it is now primarily a residential and tourist town, supporting the industry at nearby Bell Bay.

The Watch House

The Watch House
The Watch House © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

The first attraction that you should visit in George Town is The Watch House. The reason that you should visit The Watch House first is because it contains a model village of historical George Town, as it was in the early- to mid-1800s. Created by Debbie Rainbow to commemorate the 200th anniversary of British settlement in George Town, the model shows the five remaining original buildings, one of which is The Watch House. The model of George Town is a real treat as Debbie has taken the time to show the finer details of life in the early 1800s. There is something to delight people of all ages, including a woman moving into her new home, a blacksmith hard at work and someone sitting in an outdoor toilet!

George Town
George Town © emily@traversingtasmania 2017
The Watch House Interior
The Watch House © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

The Watch House has been a police station, council chambers and a shop. Nowadays, it has been restored to reflect its original appearance (which is lovely!) but it is more of an exhibition space than a museum. When I visited yesterday, one room contained silk paintings and scarves by renowned Australian artist Barbara Gabogrecan and another contained a portion of Christina Henri’s “Roses from the Heart” bonnet display (a tribute to convict women and their deceased children). There are two cells: one contained a doll collection and the other cell was set up to show its original use.

Bass & Flinders Centre

Bass & Flinders Centre
Bass & Flinders Centre © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

Bass & Flinders Centre is a relatively new attraction, which opened in 2006. The building was originally a cinema and you can still see an (enormous!) original projector in the upstairs Gun Deck Cafe. It now houses the replica Norfolk, along with various other Bass and Flinders and maritime related memorabilia. Sounds underwhelming, right? Wrong!

The Norfolk
The Norfolk © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

When you enter the Bass & Flinders Centre, you first see a copy of Bass’s book of maps, open to the page showing his Tasmanian explorations. It is a stunning representation of Tasmania’s north coast. Sadly, Bass died shortly after completing the book. A friendly guide will then lead you into the museum. This is where the real surprise is. The replica Norfolk is huge. In fact, they had to take the roof off (it still leaks sometimes) just to get the boat in!

The Elizabeth
The Elizabeth © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

The replica Norfolk was created from Huon pine (not the original Norfolk pine) by Bern Cuthbertson and was used to reenact Bass and Flinders’ journeys in the Norfolk 200 years after the original journeys. Now a museum piece, the boat is used to show both Bass and Flinders’ voyage and the commemorative voyages. You’ll find the boat still set up as if ready to sail, with all the modern conveniences such as a torch and enamel crockery! You can climb down into the three compartments of the boat. Sit at the dining table and smell the Huon pine!

As well as the Norfolk, the Bass & Flinders Centre has several maritime delights on display. You can view Tom Thumb (Bass and Flinders’ row boat), the Elizabeth (a whale boat used to cross Bass Strait) and an old wooden surfboard. There is a small exhibition of maritime paintings, model boats, Bass and Flinders memorabilia and various other water crafts. It is an old salty’s delight! Dad, I think you need to visit!

Getting There

George Town is 45 minutes drive north of Launceston. The Watch House is on the main road (84 Macquarie Street) and Bass & Flinders Centre is just off Macquarie Street on Elizabeth Street. There is plenty of parking in George Town. Make sure that you take note of the signposted parking conditions though as some parks have a time limit or access restriction.

Cost

To visit The Watch House costs approximately $3 for adults and to visit the Bass and Flinders Centre costs $10 for adults ($8 concession, $5 student, $4 children, $24 family). I recommend purchasing a Historical Attractions Pass for $13 ($40 for families). This gives you entry to the two George Town sites as well as the nearby Low Head Pilot Station Museum, which is a bargain!

To read other posts about Tasmania’s north, click here.

Low Head Pilot Station and Lighthouse

Traversing Low Head
Low Head Pilot Station
Low Head Pilot Station © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

Low Head is one of the prettiest places in Tasmania. It’s also one of Tasmania’s oldest settlements. Named by Bass and Flinders because it is, well, a low headland, Low Head has had a pilot station in operation since 1805. It’s still in operation today. All large ships entering the Tamar River (usually commercial vessels heading to Bell Bay) are piloted into the river due to the narrow channel, which is deeper than Bass Strait in places, and the dangerous Hebe reef between Low Head and West Head. The reef was named after the first ship to be wrecked on it and it’s thanks to this reef, and the many ships wrecked on it, that such excellent artifacts can be found in the Low Head Pilot Station Museum.

Low Head Pilot Station Museum

Low Head Pilot Station Museum
Low Head Pilot Station Museum © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

Housed in the 1835 Pilots’ Row, which was designed by colonial architect John Lee Archer, the museum pays homage to the maritime history of the Tamar River, with a particular focus on the Port Dalrymple region. It has 13 rooms, each with a specific focus (lighting, diving, signaling and so on). Each room has an impressive array of well-displayed local artifacts, allowing you to imagine what life aboard a ship would have been like during a variety of eras. The ingenuity of some of the inventions, such as Walker’s “Cherub” log, which measures the ship’s speed via a spinning brass log dragged behind the ship, is staggering.

Diving Suit
Diving Suit © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

My favourite thing about the Low Head Pilot Station Museum is that it’s more hands-on than most museums. No, you can’t touch the diving suit or climb into the canvas trousers of the life buoy (even though you will probably want to!) but you can practise your Morse code… it turns out that I’m terrible at it! Look out for the button to set off the light display (to satisfy the child in us all).

The museum is located in the larger Low Head Pilot Station precinct, which is very beautiful. You can have lunch in the cafe, visit the church or even stay the night in one of the cottages.

Signaling
Signaling © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

Low Head Lighthouse

Low Head Lighthouse
Low Head Lighthouse © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

A very short drive from the pilot station is Low Head Lighthouse, the pinnacle of the signaling system. Built in 1888 (to replace the original 1833 lighthouse), the tower is very photogenic. The light station is the third oldest in Australia (second oldest in Tasmania). From the lighthouse precinct, you have views of East Beach, Bass Strait and Low Head, as well as access to (very) short walks in the Low Head Coastal Reserve. At noon every Sunday you’ll even have the privilege of hearing the restored fog horn sounding loud and clear! Penguin tours take place in the Low Head Coastal Reserve.

Getting There

View from Lighthouse
View from Lighthouse © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

From Launceston, drive north on the East Tamar Highway to George Town. Keep driving north to Low Head. The way to the pilot station and lighthouse is clearly signposted (if in doubt, follow the river north!). The drive from Launceston to Low Head takes approximately 45 minutes and is lovely. We stopped for lunch on the way at Hillwood Berry Farm which was delicious!

Cost

Boat Shed © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

You’ll always receive a warm welcome at the Low Head Pilot Station Museum. The volunteers are friendly and give you more than your money’s worth of information. Entry costs $5 for adults, $4 for concession and $3 for children or $13 for a pass to the museum plus the Bass and Flinders Centre and the Watch House Museum in George Town. Access to the Low Head Lighthouse precinct is currently free (but you can’t, unfortunately, climb the lighthouse). The museum is open from 10am – 4pm everyday except Christmas.

Lagoon Beach
Lagoon Beach © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

While in Low Head, walk at least some of the trail along the river, passing the leading lights, Lagoon Beach, the Pilot Station and, finally, reaching the Lighthouse. It’s a very picturesque area! We stopped to help a driver in distress and, as a passerby said while we were waiting for the tow truck, “enjoy the view!” We did.

To view other posts about Tasmania’s north, click here.

Notley Fern Gorge State Reserve

Traversing Notley Fern Gorge
Notley Fern Gorge State Reserve
Notley Fern Gorge © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

Notley Fern Gorge State Reserve is a unique place. You’ll find at least four varieties of fern, towering trees, Tasmanian native animals, and the giant, hollowed-out tree that bush-ranger Matthew Brady and his band of followers sheltered in during the 1820s.

White Gum Tree
White Gum Tree © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

Notley Fern Gorge is accessed via a circuit walk which supposedly takes one hour (I completed it in 35 minutes and stopped to take plenty of photos). The track is well-defined, with steps up and down the hill and bridges across the stream. You head down the hill (whichever way takes your fancy) and loop back up after walking through the gorge. It is amazing how different the flora is at the bottom of the gorge from that at the top of the hill; look out for fungus growing on fallen logs, fairy-tale moss-covered trees and plenty of ferns. Signs help you to identify the various plants, including common filmy ferns, hard water ferns, kangaroo ferns and mother shield ferns. Above the ferns are trees soaring into the sky, including white gums and blackwoods. It’s a very peaceful place.

Notley Fern Gorge State Reserve
Notley Fern Gorge © emily@traversingtasmania 2017
Brady's Tree
Brady’s Tree © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

If you’re not very steady on your feet (the ground is covered in leaf litter year-round which can be quite slippery) and don’t feel up to walking the full loop, Brady’s Tree is only five minutes’ walk from the car park. A hollowed, burnt out tree, this is reputedly where Brady and his men sheltered from the authorities about 200 years ago. It’s a fun place for kids to explore. There is also another hollowed-out tree nearby (just a few metres further down the hill).

Getting There

Information Shelter
Information Shelter © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

Notley Fern Gorge State Reserve is located on Notley Gorge Road. From Launceston, head north on the West Tamar Highway. When you reach Legana, turn left onto Bridgenorth Road and then, after about 10 minutes, turn right onto Notley Gorge Road (C731). Ignore Google Maps and, if you’re using it to estimate travel time, add about five minutes. The turnoff to the reserve is signposted (although overgrowth can make it hard to see the sign from a distance). You can also read Notley Gorge Road from Frankford Road (it’s the right turn shortly after Glengarry as you travel towards Exeter). There is a car park, toilet and information shelter at the reserve.

Cost

Bridge, Notley Fern Gorge
Bridge, Notley Fern Gorge © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

There is absolutely no cost to visit Notley Fern Gorge State Reserve. Parks and Wildlife Tasmania do an excellent job of keeping the track in good order. Please respect their conservation work by keeping to the tracks and taking your rubbish with you.

Will you see an animal at Notley Fern Gorge State Reserve? Almost certainly. I saw two lizards and a native bird (sorry Mum; I’m still not a very good bird-spotter!). Will you see a mammal? Maybe. A bandicoot dashed across the track in front of me, too fast for me to take a photograph, and I heard a wallaby thumping through the undergrowth. If you visit at dawn or dusk, you’re more likely to see wildlife (including on the roads, so drive slowly and carefully!). We have previously visited the reserve during spring and saw a few pairs of mother and baby wallabies so I highly recommend a spring visit! Even if you don’t see a native mammal, Notley Fern Gorge is a beautiful place. If you’re driving through the Tamar Valley, you should definitely stop and take in a small slice of native Tasmania.

For more posts about places to visit in northern Tasmania, click here.

Evandale Village Fair and National Penny Farthing Championships

Penny Farthing, Ingelside Bakery
Solomon Cottage, Evandale
Solomon Cottage © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

Each February, Evandale, a small, historic town in Tasmania’s north, comes alive with the sights and sounds of yesteryear. A lady in a straw sun-hat plays honky-tonk on an antique piano, accompanied by a washboard player. A couple stroll down the street in their turn-of-the-century Sunday-best. A bearded gentleman wearing breeches sits astride a penny farthing and you’d best get out of his way!

Penny Farthing Relay
Penny Farthing Relay © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

Visiting the Evandale Village Fair and National Penny Farthing Championships is a must if you are in Tasmania in mid-February. The penny farthing is a bicycle that looks like a penny attached to a farthing, hence its name. These bikes are historic, rare and are very difficult to ride. They are also very difficult to stop so be mindful of where you walk.

Evandale Village Fair and National Penny Farthing Championships
National Penny Farthing Championships © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

Watching people ride penny farthings might not seem like everyone’s cup of tea, but I promise that you’ll enjoy the day! The skill of the riders is phenomenal, particularly the children! Your “must watch” list includes the slow race, which rewards the slowest rider… a mean feat on a penny farthing! The obstacle course, which has riders run to their bikes, carry them (some over their heads!), push them and finally ride them, is a sight to behold. Most importantly, barrack for Tasmania! This year, we won the penny farthing relay, despite stiff competition from mainland states. For a good laugh, listen carefully to the commentator, who paid out just about everyone, in his own delightfully jovial way.  The day goes from 10am to 4pm.

Jarryd Roughead
Jarryd Roughead © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

Aside from the penny farthing races, there are other events at the Evandale Village Fair and National Penny Farthing Championships. My favourites are the period costume parade and a charity race event involving a sprint leg, a (regular) bicycle leg and a wheelbarrow push! This year, the team from Hawthorn Football Club won but the other teams weren’t far behind!

The Rag Dolls, Evandale
The Rag Dolls © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

The Evandale Fair provides plenty of entertainment, food and market-stalls away from the track. You’ll find penny farthing souvenirs, handmade wares (including dog treats), Tasmanian goods (this year, there was a stall of lovely thick merino socks!) and plenty of local food vans. There’s a plethora of entertainment for the kids, including a jumping castle and face painting. One of my favourite things to do is to sit and listen to the country music band and watch the locals dancing and singing along (I may have been singing too!).

Statue, Evandale
Penny Farthing Statue © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

Evandale itself is a picturesque town and has some must-see buildings (such as the water tower) and must-visit stores (look out for the historic cash register). If you’re feeling peckish, the Ingelside Bakery Cafe has a beautiful rose-filled courtyard area and tasty food, including gluten and dairy free options. For art lovers, local galleries house excellent artworks year-round. The prestigious Glover Prize art exhibition is also held in Falls Park pavilion on the March long weekend each year.

Getting There

Evandale is about a 20 minute drive from Launceston (2 minutes from Launceston Airport). Parking is easy if you arrive at 10am but becomes increasingly difficult throughout the day. My tip is to arrive on time as there are not-to-be-missed events that take place early on in the day (such as the slow race). If you need to arrive later in the day, you’ll have to walk quite a distance from your car to the main entrance (the start of Logan Road, opposite Solomon Cottage).

Cost

This year, the cost was $12 per adult for entry to the Evandale Village Fair and National Penny Farthing Championships and children were free. This is money well spent, in my opinion! You should also bring some cash with you for food, market goodies and to tip the buskers. If you’ve forgotten to do this beforehand, there is an ATM at 5 Russel Street.

Relay Preparation, National Penny Farthing Championships
Penny Farthing Relay Preparation © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

If you didn’t make it to the Evandale Village Fair and National Penny Farthing Championships today, don’t worry! You can see the penny farthings on the road tomorrow (Sunday) as they race 20 miles from Evandale towards Perth and then back through Evandale to Clarendon Homestead. And if you’re reading this post too late even for the 20 mile race, there’s always next year! Put it in your diary.

To read about other places that I’ve visited in northern Tasmania, click here or in the Midlands, click here.

Shot Tower

Traversing the Tower
Shot Tower
Shot Tower © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

When my Dad was a boy, his parents took on the role of caretakers for a landmark Hobart building: the Shot Tower. He used to race his three siblings up and down the tower’s steps. Today, I walked those same steps. Located on a winding, tree-lined stretch of the Channel Highway between the suburbs of Taroona and Kingston, the shot tower is an unexpected sight. Built in 1870 by a Scotsman, Joseph Moir, the tower has an unusual history.

Inside the Tower
Inside the Tower © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

The Shot Tower was constructed in order to make lead shot (ammunition). Molten shot was poured through a colander from varying heights (to create different sizes of shot) into a tub of water below. The largest shot used at the time could be created by pouring molten lead from a height of 150 feet. Joseph Moir, the Shot Tower’s owner-builder, built his tower 149 feet high with landings at various heights. He used stone from a nearby abandoned convict probation station and took on many roles as part of the construction process, with the assistance of two stone masons. The tower took eight months to build. After this, Moir had to experiment with the shot-making process; his unique recipe remains unknown. The Shot Tower operated for 35 years, run by Moir or members of his family, until making shot became unaffordable. A series of caretakers have preserved the history of the tower (including members of my own family) and it is now operated by Parks and Wildlife. Why visit the Shot Tower? Three reasons: history, beauty and mathematics.

Inside the Tower
Inside the Tower © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

The Shot Tower was Australia’s first shot tower, is the tallest such tower in the southern hemisphere and is the only sandstone shot tower in the world that is still standing. It is well worth a photograph! Once inside the building, take the time to look at the small but intriguing display at the base of the tower. You’ll see three sewing machines for making shot bags, a cabinet containing various sizes of shot recovered from the site, an explanation of the shot-making process and Joseph Moir’s desk, among other things. Inside the tower actual, you can climb the stairs down to the base of the tower and/or climb to the top. The bricks are gorgeous; be sure to admire the structure as you walk, including the tower’s tapering walls and the views through slits in the walls.

View, Storm Bay
View Towards Storm Bay © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

At the top of the tower, you’ll find one of the original cauldrons used to melt the lead before you step outside and take in the astonishing view of the Derwent River. A viewing platform allows you to walk around the tower and it’s a view that is well worth the climb! For children and for those who are just plain interested in how many steps high the tower is, count the steps is a must. I missed count on the way up as I stopped to take too many photos and I’m not convinced that I counted correctly on the way down either so you won’t be getting any stair numbers from me!

Counting Down
Counting Down © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

Cost

Shot Tower Entry
Shot Tower Entry © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

Entry to the Shot Tower costs approximately $8 per adult and $4 per child. Children under 4 are free. Everyone who climbs to the top receives a souvenir sticker and you can purchase more souvenirs from the gift shop located at the base of the tower. There are tea rooms and toilets on site. The tower is open from 9am – 5pm every day of the year except for Christmas Day.

Getting There

View, Derwent River
View, Derwent River © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

Drive from Hobart through Sandy Bay (on Sandy Bay Road), past the Alexander Battery, and you’ll wind your way into Taroona. It is a beautiful suburb that has embraced its history, the surrounding bushland and its river views. We stopped at The Picnic Basket, a cafe that has the honour of being the best petrol station conversion that I’ve seen yet! It’s worth a stop just to admire how they’ve zoned and decorated the site. Once you’ve had your cuppa, keep driving on the main road through Taroona and you’ll eventually see the shot tower (you can’t miss it). Enjoy standing at the top of Australia’s first shot tower and seeing one of Australia’s most beautiful views!

Yesterday, I visited the Australian Wooden Boat Festival. For more posts about Tasmania’s south, click here.

The Australian Wooden Boat Festival 2017

Traversing the Australian Wooden Boat Festival
Constitution Dock, Australian Wooden Boat Festival
Constitution Dock © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

Every two years, Hobart’s waterfront comes alive with tall ships, wooden sail boats, floating musicians, seafood, nautically-themed theatre, boat building displays, model ships and punters wearing hats bearing slogans such as “Ancient Mariner” (my Dad, wearing a hat that I gave him a few years ago!). The Australian Wooden Boat Festival is my favourite event on Tasmania’s festival calendar for several reasons.

The Boats

Young Endeavour, Australian Wooden Boat Festival
Young Endeavour © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

There is something awe-inspiring about stepping aboard a beautifully crafted and lovingly restored boat, especially when she has travelled half-way around the world to be there. Today, I boarded (for free! Thank you!) the Young Endeavour, the Australian Navy’s showpiece sailing boat, and she was magnificent: decks swabbed, ropes coiled, fixtures gleaming, masts soaring into the sky. I highly recommend that you have a look at her tomorrow if you can or, if you are young enough, consider applying to be a volunteer crew member. It really would be an experience of a lifetime!

The Buzz

The Music Shed, Sullivans Cove,
The Music Shed, Sullivans Cove © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

There is something for everyone at The Australian Wooden Boat Festival. Old-salties sit aboard their ships, sharing stories with the neighbours. Boat builders skillfully demonstrate their craft (check out the perfectly finished boat-like folding tables near the Waterside Pavillion). Students hammer boats together, ready for the “Quick ‘n Dirty Boat Challenge” race on Sunday at Kings Pier (watch it: it is very entertaining, particularly if a boat doesn’t quite pass muster…). Children are treated to a variety of performers on Parliament House Lawns. Best of all, you can wander past the boats with a drink in one hand and an icecream in the other, looking out across the water at boats in full sail (or back through the rigging of the tall ships towards the mountain), listening to the music echoing across the water from whatever watercraft they’ve built for the band. This year, it’s a shed. Last time, it was a dingy with an in-built piano!

The Exhibits

Model Boats, Australian Wooden Boat Festival
Model Boats © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

I have always been fascinated by model boats, and not just the pretty ones. While there is, sadly, a much smaller model boat display at this year’s festival, my favourites are still there: the huon pine boat baby cradle, the freighter, the tugboats and the model Enterprize. This year, the model boats are located in the Waterside Pavillion. You can also board many of the tall ships (for a fee) or even sail on them (for a larger fee). Another brilliant exhibition is the Water Ways exhibit in Salamanca’s Long Gallery. You’ll find paintings of the tall ships and Tasmanian waterways, as well as sculptural pieces, all by local artists. You can vote for your favourite piece in the People’s Choice Award and can enter a raffle for an atmospheric Roger Imms painting. On the way to the Long Gallery, pop in to Nutpatch Chocolates, the iconic Kettering store with a brand new (opened three days ago!) waterfront location at the Murray Street Pier.

Cost

Tall Ships, Elizabeth St Pier, Australian Wooden Boat Festival
Tall Ships, Elizabeth St Pier © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

Entry to the Australian Wooden Boat Festival is FREE. Excellent! You’ll need a bit of cash handy for the food stalls and for entry onto the tall ships (this is only available at certain times of the day). For more information and to download the festival program, see the the Australian Wooden Boat Festival’s website.

Getting There

Young Endeavour, Australian Wooden Boat Festival
Young Endeavour © emily@traversingtasmania 2017

The Australian Wooden Boat Festival is located in Hobart. The festival stretches from the Princes Wharf around to Victoria Dock and it is well worth seeing everything (wear comfortable shoes!). Parking is tricky as the Hobart Regatta takes place on the same long weekend but you can park for approximately $8 on the Regatta Grounds, for free on the Queens Domain if you don’t mind a walk or you can pay to park in a multistorey car park (if you can remember to get your car out before the car-park closes!). Once you’ve parked,  wander down to the docks and enjoy my favourite Tasmanian festival!

For more posts about Tasmania’s south, click here.