Heritage Highway, Tasmania
The Heritage Highway follows the original inland road from Hobart to Launceston that was pioneered by Tasmania's early European settlers and built by convict road gangs in the 1810s. Aptly named, the Highway passes through some of the most complete and well preserved Georgian era villages in the world today in which the finest examples of colonial architecture and convict craftsmanship in Australia can be seen and appreciated.
When driving around Tasmania, it is difficult for the history buff or those who appreciate the finer points of craftsmanship of yesteryear to choose down which road to travel, as these is so much to see no matter which direction you turn. Such is the case when travelling from north to south - the east coast route has scenic coastal vistas; the west coast passes through World Heritage mountain wilderness areas; the road through Tasmania's heart - the Heritage Highway - takes in some of Australia's finest Georgian era colonial towns and villages.
The Midlands is farming country, green and gold hillscapes dotted with sheep famous for their superfine wool, cattle and poppy fields, hawthorn hedges and winding streams, all ringed by distant mountain ranges, snowcapped in winter. The area is dotted with historic villages; metal handcrafted silhouette sculptures along the roadside depict the bushrangers, convicts and colonial settlers for whose colourful past the highway is named. Location: The Tasmanian Midlands, between Hobart and Launceston.
Length: 197 km one way.
Return Journey: Follow either the east coast route via Bicheno, or through the Central Highlands via Bothwell and Miena. As an alternative, you can return via Heritage Highway, but take the road via Colebrook, Campania and the historic Georgian village of Richmond between Hobart and Oatlands.
Just about all the towns on Midlands Highway have excellent bakeries, toilets, and many have parks and reserves with picnic facilities.
Head south from Launceston via the Midlands Highway.
Immediately to the south of Launceston are three very pretty Georgian towns - Evandale, Perth and Longford. All three are worth seeing and if you have the time, we suggest you visit Evandale, then Perth and Longford in that order.
If that is what you would like to do, take the left exit at Breadalbane towards Launceston Airport. Drive past the Airport and you'll soon be in Evandale. Just before you reach Evandale, there is a road to your right signposted to Perth. After visiting Evandale, return to this corner and head towards Perth.
If you are visiting the Launceston area but don't want to spend all your time in the city centre, Evandale offers accommodation with that lovely village atmosphere. It's a classified historic town, a storehouse of superb Georgian heritage buildings which remain in largely original condition. It is also an agricultural and administrative centre located on a knoll rising from highly modified plains.
Unless you are happy wandering around, taking in the old worlde atmosphere of the place, there isn't a lot to do in Evandale, unless you are there on a Sunday, when the well patronised Evandale Markets are on. Call on another day and you'll find plenty of cafes, gifts shops and galleries open, and a fascinating general store to browse through.
In February, the village hosts the Evandale Village Fair and National Penny Farthing Championships. Started in 1983 the Evandale Penny Farthing races attract enthusiasts from across Australia and around the world. Accompanying the Penny Farthings races are a country fair and period themed festival. The Fair features a full program of Penny Farthing bicycle racing featuring the National Penny Farthing Championship.
More about Evandale
When you leave Evandale, had back as though you were heading towards Launceston Airport, but turn left when you reach the turn-off to Perth.
Perth is a quiet historic village which has largely been by-passed by the tourism that has turned many of Tasmania's other historic villages into centres full of gift shoppes and antiques retailers. There are a number of buildings of achitectural interest including Eskleigh, the Baptist Tabernacle, and St Andrews Church. A National Trust brochure, available around the town, lists no fewer than 41 building heritage buildings. These range from hotels, to private homes, to old shops. It is an invitation to wander around the town and explore its heritage.
More about Perth
Longford is the biggest of the three towns, an agricultural and administrative centre located at the junction of the South Esk and Macqarie Rivers. Longford Racecourse is the oldest continuously operating racecourse in Australia. The town is home to many horse studs and training facilities, and the Longford races are held annually on New Year's Day, with thoroughbred horse racing and the Elders Webster Longford Cup.
Longford's story is also intertwined in the history of motor racing in Australia. Stop off for refreshments at the Country Club Hotel and learn about the days when the likes of Alec Mildren, Bib Stillwell, Frank Matich, Bob Jane, Jack Brabham, John Surtees, Bruce McLaren, Lex Davison, Leo Geoghegan and Allan Moffat alll raced past the hotel's front door.
More about Longford
Leave Longford via Wellington Street and you'll soon like you are driving down an English country lane with high hedges on either side. In the middle of it all there is an lane off to the left which takes you to Brickendon Historic Farm and Convict Village. One of Tasmania's World Heritage Convict Sites, the Village was built in 1824, and going inside is like stepping back 150 years in time. There's a convict-built Gothic chapel, Dutch barns, chicken house, blacksmith shop and tool shed and stay in historic farm cottages.
Brickendon Colonial Farm Village
When you are ready to leave, go back to Wellington Street, but instead of turning left, go straight over the road into the entrance on the other side. After a short drive, you'll ready the Brickendon homestead and gardens. You can't go inside but visitors are free to wander around the grounds.
Return to Wellington Street, turn right, and after crossing the river you'll pass Wolmer Estate on your left. Another 19th century estate, Woolmers is quite different to Brickendon and is also worth a visit. Guide tours of the house and grounds are availble; Woolmers is also home to one of Australia's finest rose gardens.
If you don't have time to visit both Brickendon and Woolmers Estates, we recommended you see at last one and come back some other time to see the other as they are both well worth the entry fee.
Continue on the road out of Longford. Upon reaching Midlands Highway, turn right and continue on to Campbell Town.
Cleveland might have been one of those "don't blink or you'll miss it" places were it not for St Andrews Inn, which has been a popular stopping place since stage coaches stopped to change horses here.
More about Cleveland (see Conara)
Once an important railway junction, Conara is better known for the disappearing house, an optical illusion that has captured the imagination of travellers on the Midlands Highway for decades.
More about Conara
Once one of the early coaching stops between Launceston and Hobart, Campbell Town is nestled on the banks of the Elizabeth River on the main road between Hobart and Launceston. The town has an impressive collection of colonial buildings from the Georgian era. Campbell Town has a number of great eating placeas, and a great roadside park for kids to run around and burn up some energy.
More about Campbell Town
Ross was established in 1812 when a garrison of soldiers was established at the ford of the Macquarie River. Its convict built bridge is one of the finest examples of convict construction work in the world, and is the most photographed bridge in Tasmania. The town has an interesting colonial cemetery, the unique historic female factory, a 42 degrees south historic display, as well as an iconic pub and two excellent bakeries.
More about Ross
The town of Tunbridge came into existence in 1809 and quickly developed into an important coaching stop between Hobart and Launceston. Tunbridge convict bridge, built in 1848, is the oldest timber single span bridge in Australia. There's not a lot here but worth a stop if you're looking to photograph some interesting Georgian architecture without modern day vehicles spoiling the view.
More about Tunbridge
Oatlands, known for its iconic windmill, is said to have the largest collection of pre-1837 buildings in Australia. 87 such buildings are located in the main street while a total of 138 sandstone buildings are found within the town boundary. Oatlands' Topiaries Trail (shaped hedges) continue the tradition of the original topiaries located on the Heritage Highway north of Oatlands, first created by the late Jack Cashion.
More about Oatlands
Founded in 1816, the tiny historical village of Jericho is one of the oldest townships in Australia. Like its better known neighbour, Oatlands, the main road of Jericho contains some fine examples of early colonial sandstone architecture, and constructions including examples of convict cut culverts, bridges and walls, many of which date from the 1830s. A mud wall, a relic from the convict probation station, is appropriately known as the Wall of Jericho.
More about Jericho
Apart from two small churches, just about all that remains of the Melton Mowbray settlement is Melton Mowbray Hotel, which became a centre for the sport of hunting in the Van Diemen's Land colony. John Bisdee, whose property was nearby, is recorded as supplying deer for local hunting meetings. Whilst on holidays in England in the 1830s, John was introduced to Samuel Blackwell, a wealthy businessman, by John's father, both of whom were members of the exclusive Tedworth Hunt Club. They struck up a friendship, John persuaded Blackwell to accompany him on his return to this State, and they arrived in 1840. Two years later, Blackwell took over the Royal Oak Hotel (now Oakmore homestead) at Green Ponds (now Kempton), before purchasing 110 acres at the junction of the Main Road and the Bothwell Road where he built the Melton Mowbray Hotel.
More about Melton Mowbray
Lovely Banks is a picturesque farm with a rich history, located near Spring Hill. The origins of its name date back to the 1800s, when a Governor and his wife passed through the area and commented on the 'lovely banks' close to where the original farmhouse stands today. The historical estate has been family-run for five generations and is now managed by Tim and Andrew McShane and their families. One of the locations selected to accommodate gangs of convict labourers involved in building the road was the Lovely Banks Probation Station at Spring Hill. Work commenced to construct the road up Spring Hill in 1840, the Lovely Banks Bridge and a stone culvert further east were constructed as part of the road. Convicts housed at the nearby Probation Station built the bridge, with other convicts breaking rock in a quarry located just east of Lovely Banks.
More about Lovely Banks
A small and charming Georgian colonial village which is registered as a classified historic town. The district was first settled by Europeans in 1814 and was known as Green Ponds - a name which is still retained as the local municipality. The town is full of quaint Georgian cottages, shops and farm buildings. The Heritage Highway bypasses Kempton, however it is worth stopping by to explore.
More about Kempton
In the days of the horse and buggy, Bagdad was an important rest area and horse-changing place for those continuing their journey up Constitution Hill. Chauncy Vale Wildlife Sanctuary, located 40 km north of Hobart and 4 km east of the township of Bagdad, is one of the oldest private conservation areas in Tasmania. It is the top end of a narrow valley running east-west between the Midland Highway and the Coal River Valley.
More about Bagdad
Off the main drag these days, Pontville dates from 1830 and was one of the garrison towns on the highway between Hobart and Launceston. One of the best-known historic buildings is the St.Marks church, designed by James Blackburn and dates back to 1840. The town was originally named Brighton by Governor Lachlan Macquarie but was later changed to Pontville.
More about Pontville
History of the Highway
The Midland Highway (also known as the Midlands Highway and the Hetitage Highway) is one of Tasmania's major inter-city highways, running for 176 kilometres (109 mi) between Hobart and Launceston, Tasmania's two largest cities. It is today part of the AusLink National Network and is a vital link for road freight to transport goods to and from the two cities. It represents a major north–south transportation corridor in Tasmania and has the route 1 designation as part of the National Highway.
Surveyor Grimes marked out the track from Hobart to Launceston in 1807, and Governor Macquarie followed the route in 1811 when he visited the colony accompanied by his wife. The party took five and a half days to complete the journey. Macquarie again visited the colony in 1821, when the road was fit for a carriage, but his journal records many different sections, and it was not until 1831 that the first regular coach service was operated by J. E. Cox.
The first mailman, Robert Taylor, was appointed in 1816, he walked, leaving Hobart and Launceston on alternate Sundays and carrying the mail in a pack.
The first record of movement between the two centres was in 1821 when then Governor Lachlan Macquarie selected sites for towns on the highway. The road was built totally by convict labour using picks and shovels and initially had a gravel surface. Today's highway follows the oringinal route apart from the bypasses around a few towns, which were built over the past 50 years.
It was known as the 'Main Road' or 'Hobart Road' for most of its history. In the 1930s it became known as the Midland Highway, and in the 2000s - it also had 'The Heritage Highway' label applied to it. The route of the highway originally ran between Hobart and Launceston, and passed through the localities which are now known as: Bridgewater, Brighton, Pontville, Mangalore, Bagdad, Dysart, Kempton, Melton Mowbray, Jericho, Oatlands, Antill Ponds, Woodbury, Tunbridge, Ross, Campbell Town, Conara Junction, Cleveland, Epping Forest, Perth, Breadalbane and Kings Meadows.
In colonial days, the road to Hobart from Oatlands via Colebrook, Campania and Richmond was an alternate route that was often used.
If travelled by stage coach, the journey took two days (around 15 hours), usually with an overnight stop at Campbell Town. The main staging posts along the highway where horses were changed and passengers stopped for refreshments were Kempton, Oatlands, Tunbridge, Ross, Campbell Town, Cleveland and Perth. Travelling by horse drawn carriage or on horseback, the journey took between two to four days.
Travellers on foot unusally took 3 to 5 days. The average walking speed of a human is 3 to 4 miles per hour, or 1 mile every 15 to 20 minutes. As the journey was 109 miles, this equated to a minimum of 36 hours walking time (excluding stops).
Shadows of the Past Silhouette Trail: Stage-coach
Stage-coaches pulled by teams of horses were the primary mode of public transport in early Tasmania. The ‘stage’ refers to the need to divide the journey up into stages, or sections that one team of horses could undertake before they needed to be rested. This was a distance of about ten miles (16kms). This explains why townships and coach houses were built regularly along the Midlands Highway between Hobart Town and Launceston.
Considerable money could be made operating coaches on the fifteen-hour journey from one end of the island to the other. The most successful operators were John Cox and his wife Mary Ann, and Samuel Page and his wife Grace. Competition was fierce, and the drivers at times became reckless in their quest to be the fastest on the route. People and mail were carried at considerable speed and accidents were not uncommon. There was a lot of money to be made and competition was considerable.
The stagecoach industry contributed significantly to the prosperity of the towns along the Highway especially Oatlands. As well as providing employment for many caterers and accommodation providers, the business kept many grooms, ostlers and stable-hands, harness-makers and blacksmiths occupied. Tradesmen such as saddlers, wheelwrights, coachbuilders and whip-makers also owed much of their business to stagecoach operations. The last coach to travel the Highway did so on 31 October 1876, the year the steam train connected Hobart to the north of the island.
The first coaching service between Hobart and Launceston in 1832 had been owned by John Cox who was the proprietor of Macquarie Hotel in Hobart, the York and the Albany at Oatlands, and the Cornwall at Launceston.
The first trips took three days to cover the 120 miles (193 km) and a fare cost £5. As roads improved, a four-horse stagecoach replaced the tandem team, travelling twice a week and carrying mail under a government contract which was extremely lucrative. When Cox died in 1837 his widow successfully took over the running of the business and within ten years was operating seven daily and four nightly coaches a week from each centre. In 1849 she sold her seven coaches, 150 horses and 24 sets of four-horse harness to Samuel Page.
Page operated from Oatlands from the 1830s and was one of the most successful coaching operators. He had seven coaches and around 150 horses that carried both passengers and the mail; and became a very wealthy man in the process. Page and his wife Grace moved from Hobart to Oatlands in 1837 and ran the Oatlands Hotel. The hotel catered for the many travellers who came through the township on foot, horseback, bullock wagons and in gigs. At the time there were four coach owners vying for trade on the road between Hobart Town and Launceston.
In 1853 Page took over the mail contract. With three coaches daily each way, the service controlled most of the transport on the main road and required 300 horses and three main fodder stations. Fares ranged from 5/- (five shillings), for outside seats, to £5 (five pounds) inside.
During his coaching operations Page acquired many pastoral properties, including Thomas Anstey’s property, Anstey Barton. At one time his landholdings and his flocks comprising 63,000 sheep were said to be the largest ever held by one person in the colony. Page was also an enthusiastic breeder of race-horses and helped to found the Tasmanian Racing Club in Hobart. He died in Hobart on 31 March 1878.