I end the day at Stanley, 226 kilometers northwest of Launceston. Set on the end of a narrow isthmus beneath a towering volcanic plug called the Nut, the historic townshipâ€”it was first settled in 1826â€”resembles a Cornish fishing village, with rows of brightly colored cottages arranged around a tidy bay. A popular tourist haunt in the summer, Stanley is home to more than a dozen hotels and B&Bs. I spend the night on the outskirts of town at the Beachside Retreat West Inlet, where four self-contained cabins overlook kilometers of empty coast. As I arrive late, Iâ€™m invited to dine with owners Chris and Janette Bishop, who also raise grass-fed cattle on the property. The meal consists of homemade vegetable soup, thick eye-fillet steaks butchered on-site, and a garden salad picked fresh from Janetteâ€™s garden, all washed down with an aromatic Pinot Noir from nearby Rubicon Estate. Itâ€™s a locavoreâ€™s fantasy.
â€śWeâ€™re spoiled rotten when it comes to food in Tasmania,â€ť Chris says. â€śThe only challenge is deciding what not to put on the menu.â€ť Chris joins me the next morning for a walk down the beach at West Inlet. Along the way, he points to a rock pool where guests can forage for oysters, and to his favorite spot for salmon fishing. Thereâ€™s not another human being in sight, only the vast, churning emptiness of the Bass Strait and the howl of the â€śroaring fortiesâ€ť winds. They say the air here, which blows in across thousands of kilometers of open ocean before making landfall in Tasmania, is the cleanest in the world. Inhaling a crisp lungful of it, I reckon theyâ€™re right.
After breakfastâ€”tea and freshly baked bread with homemade lime conserveâ€”I head back to Wynyard, where I turn south on a backcountry road that connects with the Murchison Highway. Linking the north coast to Tasmaniaâ€™s central highlands, the Murchison winds through rolling farmland speckled with grazing cows and sheep. At Hellyer Gorge, the bucolic scenery gives way to an ancient temperate rain forest.
My destination for the day is Cradle Mountainâ€“Lake St. Clair National Park. More than 40 percent of the island is protected parkland, and this World Heritage area is arguably its crown jewel. After checking in to my hotel, I drive to the visitor center and buy a day pass. There are a number of overnight and even weeklong treks that start here, but I opt for the shortest and most popular routeâ€”a two-hour self-guided circuit around Dove Lake.