Charming colonial towns dot the road between Hobart and our old frenemy, Launceston. The days of convicts and bushrangers are long gone, but echoes of Tasmania’s colourful, chequered past remain along the Heritage Highway.
Today, visitors can enjoy the best of old and new. We’ve put together our top 10 activities in the Southern Midlands.
1. Follow the Silhouette Trail
The veil between our time and the 19th century is a little thinner along the Heritage Highway. Keep an eye out for 16 silhouettes frozen in action between Kempton and Tunbridge (they could be right by the roadside or high up on hilltops). The sculptures were created by local artists Folko Kooper and Maureen Craig to shine a light on aspects of the region’s colonial past.
2. Explore the quaint towns
The well-preserved Georgian towns along the Heritage Highway mostly began as 19th century coaching stops. Many of the convict-built homes, inns, and other buildings are enjoying modern life as eateries, distilleries, antique shops, gift shops, galleries, and accommodation. Explore Pontville, Kempton, and Oatlands, as well as the smaller towns dotted along the way.
For the morbidly fascinated, wander the region’s historic graveyards and visit the final resting places of many early settlers. For the botanist, the cemetery at St James’ Church, Jericho, is one of only two sites in Tasmania where the rare plant Leptorhynchos Elongatus, or Lanky Buttons, can be found. The grave of John Hutton Bisdee, the first Australian-born Victoria Cross recipient, can also be found in this cemetery.
3. Step back in time at Oatlands
In the 19th century, Oatlands was a busy coaching stop and bustling military outpost. Today, the quaint town feels locked in time, with the greatest number of historic sandstone buildings of any town in Australia. To unlock the historic Gaoler’s Residence and Supreme Court House, pick up the Oatlands Key from any business in High Street displaying the key logo (it’s free but you will need to register with a refundable deposit).
Don’t miss the charming Callington Mill Historic Precinct, home to the oldest working Lincolnshire mill in the Southern Hemisphere (guided tours no longer run but visitors are welcome to explore the site). Take a relaxing stroll along the shores of nearby waterbird sanctuary, Lake Dulverton. In town, keep an eye out for the delightfully quirky Topiary Trail and refuel in the town’s beloved eateries.
4. Taste whisky at Old Kempton Distillery
In the 1840s, Dysart House was a grand coaching inn. Today, this colonial gem is home to the wonderful Old Kempton Distillery. Tour the distillery, relax in some of the manor’s charmingly restored rooms, taste their whisky and other boutique spirits, and enjoy amazing food from their fresh, home-cooked menu (the Devonshire tea is very popular).
5. Go gothic at Shene Estate & Distillery
Shene Estate & Distillery is a historic treasure at Pontville. The 200-year-old estate has been lovingly restored as a living museum, and is also home to the Kernke family, Poltergeist Gin, and triple distilled Mackey Single Malt Whisky. Book a tour and a family member will show you around, telling fascinating tales about the property’s convict past and its links to the royal family. On Sundays, swing by their quaint roadside stall to pick up a bottle of gin (10am – 4pm).
6. Dance with the devil at Bonorong
Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary is just a 30 minute drive north from Hobart. The passionate team do amazing work caring for and rehabilitating native animals in need. Residents include Tasmanian devils, wombats, koalas, quolls, birds, and free-roaming kangaroos. Join one of the regular guided tours (free with entry) to meet and learn about the animals. Be sure to spend some time hand-feeding the roos!
7. Explore Chauncy Vale Wildlife Sanctuary
Chauncy Vale Wildlife Sanctuary is one of the oldest private conservation areas in Tasmania. The sanctuary was home to beloved children’s author Nan Chauncy (They Found a Cave), who drew inspiration from the landscape. Today, visitors are welcome to explore the peaceful creek, cave and forest habitats on foot.
8. Browse the local markets
Browse the local markets for fresh produce, baked goods, arts and crafts, bric-a-brac, and more. Markets are usually on once a month, but please check directly with specific markets for up-to-date info.
- Brighton Market at Pontville Park, first Sunday of the month, 9am – 2pm
- Oatlands Community Market, first Sunday of the month, 9am – 1pm
- Coal River Valley Farmers’ Market at the Campania Hall & Grounds, second Sunday of the month, October to April, 9am – 1pm
- Tunbridge Country Market at Tunbridge Hall, second Sunday of the month, 9am – 3pm
- Oatlands Mini Farmers Market at Roche Hall, third Sunday of the month, 10am – 1pm.
9. Admire 19th century architecture
Architecture geeks will love exploring the Midlands. A few places to add to the list are:
- St. Mark’s Church at Pontville (c. 1839–41) was designed by convict James Blackburn in rare Romanesque style.
- The convict-built bridge at Tunbridge (c. 1848) is a rare example of a sandstone bridge with timber decking, and is the oldest wooden span bridge in Australia.
- St Patrick’s Church at Colebrook and St Paul’s Church at Oatlands were designed by Augustus Pugin in Gothic Revival style (Pugin also designed the interior of the Palace of Westminster and its iconic clock tower, aka Big Ben).
10. Stargaze & aurora chase
The further away from bright city lights you get, the better the night sky looks. Looking up on a clear night in the Southern Midlands is magic. The quiet towns and wide, open spaces are perfect for stargazing and chasing the ethereal Aurora Australis.
We love it when you share your adventures with us! Share your snaps by tagging @hobartandbeyond and using #HobartandBeyond on Instagram and Facebook – we’ll share our favourite pics on social media and in the blog.
Our Guide: Dark Mofo 2019
Weekend Adventure: 7 Things to Do on Bruny Island
An Adventure in Tasmania’s Central Highlands
On Location: 5 Films & TV Shows Shot in Southern Tasmania
Shadows of the Past: The Midlands Silhouette Trail
Step Back in Time: 6 Things to Do at Oatlands
Callington Mill | @michaelmartinsphotos/Instagram