Poppies in Tasmania

Tasmania image library


Smithton is a basic rural service town with not too much to recommend it and the coffee is worse ! To add to the down feeling, McCains have just announced their potato process plant is  to close. This being the main town employer, one wonders what will become of Smithton as working age people move away for work. Other local traditional industries, such as dairy and timber will continue but economic growth for the area is constrained.


In an easterly direction now we divert to Sisters Beach for a brief stroll and then arrive at Boat Harbour near to lunchtime. A very pretty bay with a reasonable number of well maintained baches – more than baches really, 2nd homes. Jolly Rogers on the beach café is just the best spot for a fish lunch. A charming young waitress seats us at the perfect table out in the beach pavilion. It turns out she was born in New Zealand so we feel at home straight away. It's quite warm today so we are feeling more like a beer than wine with our lunch and Linda spots Iron House Brewery lager  - remember we spent a night at Ironhouse Point on the east coast. A bottle each to go with our flake (shark) lunch. At $12.50, the flake is excellent value and very, very good. We linger a bit but by 2:30 it is time to move on. A quick walk out to the point affords a view back to the Jolly Roger for a photo and then we are on the road for Devonport via Burnie, Penguin and Ulverstone.

Coming through Penguin and thinking about coffee we are lucky enough to fall upon Repast Café situated in a narrow residential street. They seem just about to close near to 4:00pm but are not in the least put out at our request for 2 coffees and a piece of their very delicious looking fig pudding. We are not disappointed in the coffee or the fig pudding and now feel much more able to tackle the 5 o'clock Devonport 'traffic'!

We don't delay at Ulverstone as we know we are to meet Terry Stuart of the Poppy Control Board in the morning and his office is in Ulverstone. Very soon we are driving into the Sunrise Motel in Devonport – back where we started nearly 3 weeks ago – and Barbara has our quiet room 27 all ready.


Our dinner venue is to be the Dannebrog café and bar where we tried on our first night in Tassie but decided not to wait the 1 hour for a table, so  tonight we are a little earlier and on first look we think the same fate awaits us but within 5 minutes or so we are seated at a nice corner table we had not spotted. The Dannebrog is not very inspiring on the inside being rather like an American southern style steak restaurant and very brightly lit but I tell you what – the steaks are really, really good and the salad or vegetables freshly done. I can recommend it.


We have been in touch with Terry who is going to collect us from the Sunrise in the morning around 8:30, giving us just enough time for a quick continental breakfast in the bright little Sunrise restaurant. Back up to the room, collect jackets and camera and Terry rolls up in his Dept of Justice double cab ute. The weather is looking really good for the day and as we drive away from the motel Terry gives us a brief rundown on what he has planned. It is obvious a lot of thought has gone into the day and my expectation from what Terry is telling us is that we will be poppy industry experts on our return tonight. An intensive, insider's view of the industry is how I would describe Terry's program and we feel very privileged  to be in the company of such a knowledgeable, long term industry participant.

Poppies are big business in Tassie with around 20,000 hectares this season. Products from this acreage supply half the world's medicinal opiate market. The main growing area is in the north, where we are now, both to the east and west. If you think about the potential for illicit drug dealing, international gang involvement and so on it is easy to realise growing poppies is a very serious business. Mandated by the 1961 United Nations convention on narcotic drugs Tassie laws prohibit unauthorised cultivation or possession of any part of the poppy plant. To become an authorized grower being able to withstand police scrutiny, obtaining a Government license and being able to obtain a manufacturing contract from 1 of the 2 international drug companies involved are all prerequisites. Terry and his team closely watch all authorised crops and quickly deal with any illegal activity.

Terry's commentary throughout the day is extremely interesting covering all aspects from variety information, how the poppy crop fits with other crop rotations, how the farmers are paid for their crop, which parts of the poppy plant yield the opiate products, the mechanics of the harvesting process and what happens to the poppy stubble left in the field. This is now burnt but in the early days sheep were let in to clean up – the result being a flock of very dopey animals!


We visit many poppy fields in varying stages of maturity during the day which gives us multiple photo opportunities, many on out of the way backroads that average tourists would rarely ever find.

The day's highlight is a visit with Jim Allen, one of the original poppy growers in the industry's early days and still a major grower today. Jim's main property is at Gawler with the house situated in a commanding position with nearly 360 degree views. Fresh coffee accompanied by, what else but fresh poppy seed cake and absolutely delicious.

As the day wears on we find ourselves near Penguin in time for late lunch at the Penguin Surf Club's classy restaurant – Casablanca. Excellent menu choices from full meals to delicious quick options. We choose the latter as we can't spend too long with quite a bit of ground yet to cover. Soon after finishing lunch we are driving into a heavily treed property which hides a slightly decrepit but totally charming English style Georgian manor house. You could easily imagine yourself somewhere in ancient Cornwall. The reason for the visit soon becomes obvious as the owners come out to greet us. Just before lunch, up in the hills behind Penguin we had visited some very large undulating poppy fields – well, these were the owners of those fields. Terry knows them very well and an interesting discussion ensues. It turns out that the owners are frequent visitors to New Zealand and have often toured in a hired campervan, so we have lots in common. We are thrilled to have the opportunity to see an original 19th century property such as this set in grounds which so suit and compliment the house. We reluctantly take our leave and take the road back towards Devonport.

Terry says we have a couple more fields to inspect which are on the other side of Devonport on the way to airport. 25 minutes on the freeway sees us coming up to fully mature poppies having completed flowering with the green seedpods on their long stalks waving in the light breeze. Terry executes a skilfull ute manouvre which brings us to a stop off the side of the freeway near a sign stating 'absolutely no stopping'. Terry grins and points to his Ministry of Justice sign written ute which we are riding in and says – no problems but don't try this in your hire car !   My resulting pictures complete a full gamut of poppy images and finish off one of the most full and interesting days we have spent in a long time.


We are not too hungry tonight and decide to revisit the Elmatta Hotel where we dined our first night in Tassie. A good choice again, excellent value with plenty of light option menu choices. This is our last night in Tassie and we are sad it is – we could easily start again and have an equally enjoyable time. Our flight back to Melbourne the next day is not until late afternoon so the opportunity to visit the north east coast area of Beauty Point and Beaconsfield including a lunch at the Ninth Island winery will be a bit rushed but too good to pass.


We settle our account, bid Barbara goodbye until next time, point the Mitsi east to first stop for coffee at Anvers Chocolate factory on the Bass Highway. Great coffee in their charming garden and an interesting visit to their small chocolate museum. Don't miss this if you're nearby.

The road gets very twisty past Frankford and it seems quite a drive to Beaconsfield. The mileage is not so great but the going is slow – sealed road but lots of sharp bends. Beaconsfield is a mining town coming to world fame a couple of years ago with the courageous underground rescue of 2 trapped miners. Actually it is a lovely little 19th century town boasting a number of interesting buildings of the era – not a lot here but worth the trip. Another few kilometers to Beauty Point on the Tamar estuary. Lovely views and very pretty countryside.

As we haven’t yet managed to see a live platypus we are visiting the Beauty Point Platypus House where platypus can be seen in a near natural habitat, also a close encounter with echidnas is a rewarding experience. Although quite expensive for the visit we rate it highly and are still talking about platypus antics some weeks afterwards.


Our lunch venue is some distance down the West Tamar Highway near Rosevears, towards Launceston and we need to get a move on as we want to enjoy our lunch without a not too frantic drive back to Devonport airport for our 4:30flight. Can't miss it – as it is the last today.

Our Ninth Island lunch proves to be a fitting end to our Tasmanian sojourn – magical terrace venue overlooking the Tamar river, probably the best food we have experienced in Tasmania, although all has been very good and to complement our delicious lunch the excellent Ninth Island Pinot Noir which we have  enjoyed several times previously, today it seems even better.

After a very well crafted espresso it is sadly time to push our chairs back and commence the about 2 hour drive back to Devonport airport. Just before we drive away we walk quickly down through the vines to view an outstanding, ornate rambling villa probably dating from the mid 19th century. The setting does this beautiful old house real justice.


An uneventful drive has us at the airport with 45 minutes to spare and then we discover our flight is considerably delayed. Oh Qantas, what are you doing ?  Not a lot to do at Devonport airport and I had finished my book last night also the cafeteria is very unappealing. When our Dash 8 aircraft finally shows up no explanation is offered, just a half hearted apology – not really good enough Qantas, but we do not let this 'hiccup' spoil our otherwise memorable and wonderful Tasmanian adventure.