Saturday, 18 April 2015

So you really want to get away from it all in Tasmania?

For almost two decades Australian tourism entrepreneur Simon Currant had a vision of converting a unique but derelict piece of architecture in Tasmania into a boutique hotel.
An aerial view of Pumphouse Point

In January, after many travails, Currant's dream became reality with the opening of Pumphouse Point, a striking 18-room property in the dramatically beautiful and remote wilds of Australia's island state.

A three-hour drive north-west of the Tasmanian capital of Hobart in the Cradle Mountain Lake St Clair National Park, Pumphouse Point is a quirky wilderness retreat with a difference; a complete re-imagining of two brutalist 1940s buildings into a juxtaposition of the old and the new.

People arrive at the property and say: “Is that it?” admits marketing man Tom Wootton, who has also been known to fill in as a waiter during busy periods. “Then they check out the views, and the rooms, and go: “Wow!”

Pumphouse Point comprises 12 rooms and two lounges located in an old hydro-electric pumphouse at the end of a 250-metre flume perched over Australia’s deepest lake, and a smaller art deco-style shorehouse, with six rooms and lounge/dining area, overlooking the water.
Hydro Tasmania built the pumphouse in 1940 to pump water from Lake St Clair to the nearby Tarraleah power station. It was only used a handful of times and was decommissioned in the early 1990s, falling into disrepair. It was back then that Currant, who also developed Cradle Mountain Lodge, first identified it as an outstanding tourism site.

The new resort maintains the old exteriors with completely re-built interiors. Each room has satellite TV, a modern bathroom, and its own tablet computer with information about the history of the property, local wildlife, walking tracks and available activities. Powered by the property's free wi-fi they also have VOIP access and music via Spotify.

Sitting in the pumphouse, in front of the roaring fire; it is disturbingly easy to believe you are at sea, and hours pass quickly as the light constantly changes on the mountains, Myrtle forests, native pines, gum trees and rippling waters.
The boutique wilderness retreat inside a World Heritage-listed area is surrounded by snow-capped mountains in winter. There is access to the famous Overland Track walk from the property and suggested treks range from a 45-minute stroll around the property to an 18-kilometre, seven-hour climb to the peak of Mount Ida.

The pleasures here are simple ones; fishing for brown or rainbow trout, hiking, rowing in drift boats, kayaking and mountain biking, or maybe a game of boules, but guests are also encouraged to experience the pumphouse and its remarkable views; to sit down and wind down with a glass of wine.

Dining options are, deliberately, limited to a table d'hote menu, with guests invited to imagine they are attending a chic dinner party. They mingle in the lounge over complimentary drinks and appetisers before sitting at communal tables to sample dishes like lemon and thyme chicken on quinoa with fresh roasted vegetables, or honey and orange-glazed ham with broccoli salad.

Desserts include chocolate and beetroot brownies served with fresh raspberries and berry ice cream. Gluten-free and vegetarian options are available.

For those who wish to dine separately in their room or one of the cosy lounges; each room contains a maxi bar that is more like a larder with a range of soups, local cheeses, charcuterie meats and smoked salmon, all from artisanal local producers, that can serve as a picnic lunch or light dinner.

There is also a local pub within driving distance at Derwent Bridge for those looking for a rustic and very different style of Australian social experience.

There is a selection of very good – and reasonably priced – Tasmanian wines, beers and ciders available in rooms, or the lounges at Pumphouse Point, using an honour system by which guests simply fill in a form to show what they have consumed.

One of the things we try to aim for is 4½ star accommodation but with six-star service,” says co-general manager Josh Bradshaw, “but we also make sure guests have time on their own to explore the wilderness and a haven to return to.”

Wildlife lovers will enjoy spotting wallabies, echidnas, quolls, possums, wombats and Tasmanian devils, which were scared away during construction but are now flocking back to the areas surrounding the retreat.

For the elderly, or less mobile, converted golf carts, known as flume buggies, are available to provide transport or help move luggage to and from rooms to the accommodation.

The style here is casual and relaxed,” says founder Currant. “Whether guests are exploring the outdoors or watching the weather from their lounge, we encourage them to do their own thing at their own pace. We want it to be a place to relax and reflect.”

Early indications are that visitors will be a mixture of Tasmanians and overseas visitors, most staying two nights. Children under 12 years old are not permitted. Weekend bookings need to be made well in advance but midweek (when the country roads are quieter anyway) is easier.

Pumphouse Point: 1 Lake St Clair Road, Lake St Clair, Tasmania 7140, Australia. +61 428 090 436. The 18 rooms range in price from $240 to $480 a night, including bed, breakfast and a range of outdoor activities. Guests can arrive via road or sea plane and additional activities on offer include white water rafting, abseiling and scenic flights. 

# A version of this story originally appeared in American Express Centurion Magazine. 

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