It’s not often one gets to spend the day with tourism legends. It’s even less likely one might rub shoulders with them on a small aircraft. Rob Pennicott is wearing his trademark shorts, a fitting uniform for the country’s recently crowned Australian Tourism Legend and Bill Lark is earning friends quickly as we glimpse a prized Distiller’s Selection whisky in his arms.
We’re off to the South West, celebrating an unprecedented night at the Qantas Australian Tourism Awards where Tassie took home a record swag of medals. Alongside Rob and Bill, also on board is a very happy Kate McCarthy of Port Arthur Historic Site after picking up two golds, and Par Avion’s Shannon Wells is at the helm of the aircraft, his golden trophy taking pride of place at Cambridge Airport.
We venture out over Bruny Island where dolphins put on an impromptu show before flying over South East Cape. At this southern-most tip of Tassie the next stop is Antarctica. To the east is New Zealand whilst Argentina sits distantly to our west. Leaving our capital city far behind, Shannon then steers us in the direction of our destination- the rugged wilds of South West Tasmania.
Temperate rainforest is replaced with Jurassic-like landscape as we near Melaleuca’s white-quartz runway. Windswept islands peek above pounding waves. Shannon relays the story of volunteer lighthouse keepers on Maatsuyker Island attempting to keep veggie patches and even a flock of chickens that were sadly swept off to sea.
Lucky for us, we land in relative calm at ‘Melaleuca International’. In fact, hopping aboard our boat the air is so still the reflections even leave Rob speechless. Tannin-stained waters are mysteriously dark as we motor up to a staircase hidden in the foliage. We have arrived at Par Avion’s standing camp – easily missed without Shannon’s keen eye and Rob applying a trusty knot around a nearby trunk.
I follow Bill up the path. Back 15 years ago, before he took the whisky world by storm he came to this camp as a surveyor. Today, he’s here to share a dram among national award winners, having just been inducted into the Whisky Hall of Fame in London. According to our group, the Distiller’s Selection couldn’t taste better than poured by the grandfather of Australian whisky in Tassie’s south west wilds.
As I share Wicked cheese, laughter and later lunch on deserted Balmoral Beach with these characters, what strikes me is their unaffected, humble way. Bill is no harbourer of secrets, but willingly shares his knowledge with others opening distilleries across Tasmania. Rob developed his Seafood Seduction tour so that others could experience what he personally loves to do on a day off. And Shannon is grinning widely just because he’s flown us into a wilderness playground he has become so fond of. These three and the rest of the crew simply love Tasmania- their unwavering affection for the place – simply contagious.
Our day in the south west is barely enough to breathe in its magic, but certainly enough to promise a return. Par Avion’s standing camp is begging to be enjoyed for longer than daylight hours. As we climb back into the cabin for take-off, none of us know we’re about to enjoy one final treat – Federation Peak glowing in sunlight above the clouds. Even Shannon hasn’t seen it fashioned so majestically.
Before we know it we’ve touched down just outside Hobart. That’s the beauty of this city. Less than an hour before we were standing in wilderness Rob suitably coined a ‘place the world has forgotten.’ Next thing, we’re in a capital city- each of us a little changed by the silence and power of the south west.
Words: Alice Hansen
Header image: Graham Michael Freeman
Other images: Alice Hansen