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Food, scenery and adventure: The Huon Trail

In Strine, Australian slang, a Tasmanian is called an Apple Eater. This is because of the enormous amounts of apples traditionally produced in the island's fertile soils. The Huon Valley in the south of Tasmania is still a major apple-growing region but it's also one of the island's premier tourist regions. Why not hire a car, make the drive south from Hobart and find out why?

The Huon River starts in the region of Lake Pedder and flows towards Huonville in the east, then south to the Tasman Sea. It's the fourth largest river in Tasmania and especially from Huonville, it becomes gradually wider until its mouth at Surveyors Bay measures about 5 km from bank to bank. The river valley is fertile and renowned for its fresh produce but it also offers so much more.

The region covers a relatively small area, so one of the best ways to explore it is to base yourself at a town like Huonville, about 38 km from the state capital, Hobart, and undertake short drives to whatever it is you want to see or experience.

Foodie experiences

Driving around in the Huon Valley, you only need to look at the orchards and farmland all around you to know that this is foodie heaven. Apart from apples, the region is a major producer of cherries, berries, dairy, wine and fish.

Sunday is market day in the region and browsing the stalls will give you an idea of what is on offer in terms of local produce. Huonville Market is held on the first and third Sunday of every month, as is Cygnet Market. The second Sunday of the month sees the Judbury Market, the Geeveston Country Market and the Kingston Beach Handmade Market. The Franklin Market for food and the Snug Market for arts and crafts are held on the last Sunday of every month. For shopping with a twist, head to Margate where the Margate Train houses a variety of shops in the carriages of what was once the Tasman Limited. There is a market here every Sunday too.

Every self-respecting food-producing region finds and excuse to celebrate the good things in life and the Huon region is no exception. In March, Ranelagh hosts A Taste of the Huon, a festival that draws around 90 stallholders, a variety of entertainers and in the region of 20,000 visitors. As the nights turn cooler with autumn setting in, what better way is there to spend a weekend than to indulge in some great food?

Once you've had a taste of what the Huon Valley has to offer, how about going straight to the source? Many of the farms and wineries in the region are open to visitors and you may even find the opportunity to pick your own. At Lymington, you'll find 13 varieties of berry at Tru-Blu Berries. Glen Huon is home to Huon Valley Mushrooms, while Bruny Island Berry Farm gives you the opportunity to pick your own berries, stock up on berry products like jams and then simply cross the road to have a picnic on the beach. Bruny Island Smokehouse, only a couple of kilometres from where the Bruny Island Ferry docks, is a popular eatery where you can enjoy not only a variety of smoked products but also locally produced wines and ales.

Have you always wondered how they milk the sheep to produce sheep cheeses? Head to Grandvewe Sheep Cheesery, the only one of its kind in the whole of Tasmania, for a demonstration. The cheesery is located near Peppermint Bay and overlooks the D'Entrecasteaux Channel, so you can interact with the sheep, see how the cheeses are made and taste the end results while enjoying a fabulous view.

Cheese goes very well with honey, so pick up a pot or two of Tasmanian sweetness at The Honey Pot, located at the Huon Valley Visitor Centre just outside Huonville.

Another thing that goes well with cheese is wine and the Huon Region has no shortage of wineries. They include Elsewhere Vineyard near Cygnet, Nondroya Vineyard at Margate, Hartzview Vineyard overlooking the Hartz Mountains at Gardners Bay, Grandview Vineyard near Birchs Bay, Panorama Vineyard at Cradoc and the Tinderbox Vineyard.

Cultural experiences

The Huon Valley is not only about eating and drinking, though. The first Europeans started settling the area in the early to mid 19th century. In Gardners Bay, right next to the Hartzview Vineyard, walk back in time to the early 20th century at the Hartzview Vineyard Heritage Pickers Hut Village to see how grape pickers and their families lived all those years ago.

Long before the Europeans, though, the region was inhabited by Aboriginal people. Find out more about their traditional way of life at the Living History Museum of Aboriginal Cultural Heritage in Cygnet.

There are other fascinating museums along the Huong Trail too, many of them to do with the area's maritime past. In Franklin, the Wooden Boat Centre shows you how these vessels are built and how they've been used in the region. Why not take a workshop or a full course in boat building so you too can be captain of your own ship?

The Channel Heritage Centre tells the story of the area from Margate to Gordon, known as the Channel Area. The Bligh Museum of Pacific Exploration on Bruny Island is dedicated to explorers like Captains William Bligh and James Cook, Matthew Flinders and Admiral Joseph-Antoine Bruny D'Entrecasteaux. Exploration has never ended and to find out more, head to Kingston, where Australia's Antarctic Headquarters is located.

The Huong Region is home to several galleries, artist's studios and crafts workshops. Do you want something quirky to take home? Then head to the Tasmanian Appleheads and Model Village in Glen Huon. Appleheads are heads carved out of apples. These apples have then been dehydrated to give the faces an aged, caricature-like appearance. While you're here, stroll around the two model villages too. One is an imaginary country town while the other features some of the world's famous buildings in miniature form.

Tired of driving? Why not take the train for a change? Head to Lune River to take a trip on the Ida Bay Railway, the southernmost narrow gauge trackway in Australia. The locomotives date from the 1940s and the carriages are converted bogie flat wagons dating from the 1890s. The train travels through coastal heath and bushland to Deep Hole Bay. From here, take a walk up to the King George III monument which commemorates the 134 people who died when a convict ship sank near here in 1835. Then go for a dip in the ocean or spend some time on the sandy beach before catching the train back.  

Outdoor experiences

It's entirely possible that there is not one destination in Australia where you can't enjoy the great outdoors too and the Huon Region is no exception. There are many walking and biking trails throughout the area, as well as several golf courses if you want to work on your handicap.

Naturally the region offers a variety of water-based activities too. Go trout fishing or try and catch the big one out on the ocean. Take a ride in a powerboat along the wider parts of the Huong River or go for a quiet paddle along the coast instead. Of course you don't have to do it yourself if you'd like to see the coastline with its dramatic cliffs, caves and animals like seals and dolphins. Go on a cruise around Bruny Island, for instance, or simply take the Bruny Island ferry and smell the salty ocean air.

One of the most popular attractions in the area is the Tahune Forest AirWalk near Geeveston. Go hiking or mountain-biking along one of the trails here or soar like an eagle with the help of a hang glider. Follow the steel pathway over the treetops and make your way across the swinging bridges with the Huon and Picton Rivers far beneath you.

After an active day, go underground by visiting the Hastings Caves near Lune River and then have a relaxing soak in the adjacent thermal springs' pool.

When to go

The Huong Region has a temperate climate with four distinct seasons, which explains why it's such a great area for farming. Summer is high season and cherry time. Unlike most other destinations in Australia, summers here are pleasantly cool with average highs of about 21 degrees, so bring something warm for the evenings. If you love apples, be here in autumn. Winters are cold and quite wet, and often snow covers the Hertz Mountains. Luckily you'll find plenty of knitwear on sale at the markets and at places like Pelican Point Paca Products, a working alpaca farm near Glen Huon, and there's nothing like a glass of locally produced red wine by a roaring fire to warm body and soul. Things warm up a little again in spring. Even though it's the rainiest time of year, it's also one of the most beautiful, with the orchards covered in fragrant blossoms.