Meeting the Locals in Tasmania

25 Jun 2018

There are many special things about Tasmania, not least the quirks of its landscape and the characters who call it home. From a couple who make award-winning spirits to a man protecting the island’s eponymous devil from extinction, Isabel Dexter meets some of Tassie’s residents...

The Alchemists – Shene Estate & Distillery 

“It’s an ancient landscape and a beautiful part of the world – completely unspoilt,” says David Kernke of the 197-year-old colonial Shene Estate in Pontville, half an hour’s drive from Hobart. “We knew immediately that it was the one for us,” says his wife, Anne. “And when we restored the property we found various relics, including bottles that showed the historical residents enjoyed a drink or two. That inspired us to meet with a distiller.” The couple now make a whisky from prime Tasmanian malted barley and the pristine waters here. “It’s won a Best World Whisky award and is the only triple-distilled whisky in Tasmania,” David says proudly. “When you raise a glass, you’re helping to conserve a piece of Tasmanian history.” They also make the award-winning Poltergeist gin. “The name comes from the German word for a mischievous, cheeky spirit that moves things,” says Anne. “The estate can be pretty spooky and we’ve found lots of marks that were said to welcome in good spirits. It’s alchemical, turning something from history into something for the future.”  

Insider tips

ENJOY: A glass of unfiltered Poltergeist gin with ice, a splash of good-quality tonic water and a sprig of rosemary. 

EAT: Local, seasonal produce at The Agrarian Kitchen Eatery & Store in New Norfolk. 

SEE: Oatlands, one of Tasmania’s oldest settlements. You can wander around the Georgian buildings, go to Callington Mill and shop for antiques and local crafts.

DON’T MISS: Mona, the Museum of Old and New Art, in Hobart. It has reinvented Tasmania’s art scene and is exceptional.

The Surfing Sushi Chef – Masaaki’s Sushi 

Masaaki Koyama came to Tasmania for love, but once here he fell in love all over again, with surfing, fishing, fresh produce and what he regards as “the best salmon on Earth”. If he’s not tending his veggie garden or chasing the southern swell, you can visit him on Fridays and Saturdays at his sushi bar, Masaaki’s Sushi, in the rustic town of Geeveston. His traditional hand-rolled masterpieces have turned this small country town in southern Tasmania into a sushi destination. “Sushi has been my passion since I was 12. I grew up in the countryside in Osaka, Japan. One day my father took me to a sushi restaurant. It changed everything. The taste was just incredible!” he exclaims. “Surfing is my second passion. In Tasmania it’s beautiful – quieter than the mainland, and the water is so clean.” 

The Devil’s Keeper – Devils in the Dark 

“Tasmanian devils are the island’s iconic animal. We need to do everything we can to save them from extinction,” says Simon Plowright, who has devoted his life to the endangered species, creating a place to observe them in their natural habitat. “I came to Australia in 1981. The first night I arrived I lay in bed listening to the screaming noises of the devils outside. I just had to go and find them. Now I’ve spent thousands of hours watching devils and taking people out to the forest to see them.” Simon set up Devils in the Dark, based in the seaside town of Bicheno on the east coast (pictured below, bottom), to promote awareness of these nocturnal animals and to enable visitors to see them at their wild best. “People come and say, ‘Wow, I never thought they’d be like that.’ It’s wonderful to see them experiencing a little bit of the forest. I took out a group who had been to Antarctica and Africa – they said it was as good as anything they’d seen elsewhere in the world.” 

The Dambuster – Aardvark Adventures 

“The Gordon Dam is the highest commercial abseil in the world,” explains Phil Harris, who was the first one over the edge. “And now I do it nearly every day - I have one of the best jobs in the world! You leap 140m into Tasmania’s magnificent southwestern wilderness. When you see it for the first time, it’s terrifying. But everyone who does the abseil comes back with a real sense of achievement. The drive from Hobart to Gordon Dam is an experience in itself. It’s two and a half hours of the most gorgeous scenery. There’s tons of wildlife and it’s not that well known, so it feels like you have the place to yourself. I take my kids out there for holidays. There’s an area called Land of the Giants, which is full of the tallest trees in Tassie. I’ve been doing this drive for 20 years now and I still stop to take in the scenery. It’s breathtaking.”  

Insider tips:

ENJOY: The Royal Hobart Regatta, an annual three-day event in February that’s now in its 180th year. It’s a brilliant water-based event with family-friendly activities.

EAT: The Taste of Tasmania festival (December/January) always has a variety of stalls and plenty of eclectic entertainment.

SEE: From Hobart, there are lots of ways to take in the incredible scenery – day walks, bush hikes, mountain biking, sea kayaking…

DON’T MISS: Maria Island is a stunning place to visit. You’ll see  wombats, devils, kangaroos and possums - up close. Plus, Shoal Bay has out-of-this-world beaches. 

The Canyon Chaser – Cradle Mountain Canyons 

“Cradle Mountain is stunning,” says Anthony O’Hearn, who takes adventurous guests on once-in-a-lifetime canyoning experiences. “It involves putting on a wetsuit, jumping in a river, then doing whatever you have to do to get down that river!” he explains. Having kayaked, canyoned and mountain-biked his way around the globe, Anthony co-founded Cradle Mountain Canyons eight years ago. “People say it’s the best thing they’ve ever done, it blows them away! Cradle is an amazing canyon: the perfect length and in pristine rainforest, right at the top of the World Heritage area, which takes up around a quarter of the state. The waterfalls are exciting but safe to navigate. The pools are deep, so rocks aren’t a worry. And the canyon is lined with trees you can’t find anywhere else in the world.”

Insider tips:

ENJOY: Cradle is the place to see Tassie devils.

EAT: The bar at Hellyers Restaurant is the only indoor place with a view of the mountain.

SEE: Everything! Tassie is so diverse. Rugged rainforest and mountains in the west; sunny beaches in the east; culture in Hobart…

DON’T MISS: Hiking at Cradle Mountain. The views are incredible. You can do a round-trip of about five to eight hours to the top of the mountain, or take a much shorter walk. 

The Oyster Lovers – Melshell Oysters 

“This is an incredible place: white sand, perfect blue water, granite rocks,” says Cassie Melrose. Based on Dolphin Sands, on the east coast, she runs Melshell Oysters with her husband Ian. “Come and taste the product, learn how we farm the oysters, experience the nurturing… For one slurp, the process takes two years.” Having farmed oysters for 35 years, Ian says it’s a passion: “If you want oysters that taste exceptional, you’ve got to immerse yourself in it. Our first date was to look at an oyster barge in Margate, in the south of Tasmania. It’s a lovely spot – you feel like you’re in Antarctica and it’s quite a foodie destination. I think the date went quite well,” he adds, with a wry smile. “Our area of Tassie is breathtaking. The Freycinet coast has amazing scenery that’s always changing. I’ve got the best office in the world!” enthuses Ian. And the oysters? “They have a signature flavour – sweet and salty – that you don’t get anywhere else,” says Cassie. 

Insider tips:

ENJOY: There’s a gorgeous chain of beaches between Bicheno and St Helens with great camping and self-contained caravans.

EAT: Bark Mill Tavern & Bakery in Swansea is Tassie’s only restored black-wattle bark mill.

SEE: Drive around the island to appreciate the changing landscape – the variety is amazing. And be prepared for seven different types of weather in one day! 

DON’T MISS: We have some of the best vineyards in Australia. Try Milton Vineyard, Gala Estate or Spring Vale. Grab a bottle and enjoy it at our oyster shack - a Riesling brings out the flavour perfectly.


Check out our range of Tasmania Journeys, or chat to a Travel Expert about travelling to Australia.


You might also like: 

11 Things to Know Before You Go to Tasmania

Explore Hobart, Mona and Beyond in Tasmania