The people and places that make Huon Valley so special. By David Leser.
On this lovely, green and melancholy island, there’s history and nature’s bounty at almost every turn. And in the fragrant, often sun-kissed Huon Valley – a mere 30-minute drive south-west of Hobart – you can literally touch and taste this convergence through its most iconic symbol: the apple.
Speak to Andrew Smith, a fourth-generation Tasmanian apple grower, and you quickly learn how this humble, nutritious fruit came to exert an almost mythical hold over the collective imagination of our most southern state. “This place is named after my great-grandfather Willie Smith,” he says, guiding me through Willie Smith’s Apple Shed, where visitors can taste three different types of organic apples, along with three varieties of organic apple cider, an apple-cider vinegar, schnapps and a new Calvados-style brandy.
“And here,” he says, “are our orchards, which produce two-million kilograms of apples each year. Today, we’re the largest certified organic apple supplier in Australia.”
It’s quite a story here in the pristine shelter of the gloriously named “Sleeping Beauty” mountains: from Willie Smith, son-in-law of a convict, to his son, Ron Smith – a survivor of Singapore’s notorious Changi Prison and the Burma Railway – who returned to Tasmania following World War II to rebuild the business. The tale moves on to Ian Smith, Andrew’s father, who took over at the age of 21 at a time when ships sailed from the wharves of Hobart and Port Huon for London laden with Huon Valley apples. (That was before fires roared through the valley in 1967, cooking the fruit on the trees and destroying Ian Smith’s packing shed, as well as large parts of Hobart.)
Ian passed the reins to Andrew, who convinced his father in the early 1990s to triple the planting density then trial organic farming. “I told Dad I wanted to go organic,” he says with a toothy grin. “He said it wouldn’t work but by 2001 we were fully certified.”
From Smith’s organic apple orchard we go south – with our bellies full of Bay of Fires cheddar cheese and organic sourdough, paired with a cool, spritzy apple cider, all courtesy of Andrew Smith – to Ranelagh. In the drizzle and mist of a late autumn afternoon, we sample produce from the Huon Valley, D’Entrecasteaux Channel and Bruny Island. This is the site of the annual Taste of the Huon, a festival where you can taste everything from apples, berries and cherries to oysters, salmon, truffles, pickled onions and an amber-coloured, thick-textured Miellerie honey produced by Yves Ginat, who began his beekeeping career as a young boy in France before bringing his techniques to Tasmania.
Taste of the Huon now attracts more than 20,000 visitors each March for its two-day program. What to do but follow the lovely Huon River south to Franklin – famed for its wooden boats – cross over to Cygnet, home to an annual folk festival, then make our way back to Hobart via Snug. How sweet is that?