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Monday 30 December 2013

Discovering one of Tasmania's best-kept secrets

Perhaps because it is tucked away in sleepy New Norfolk, or maybe because it closed for three years after a family tragedy, delightful Woodbridge on the Derwent remains something of a well-kept secret even to Tasmanians. 

New Norfolk is just a 30-minute drive from Hobart and is surrounded by some of the best cellar doors in the state, as well as two distilleries, superb countryside and great fishing - but it remains off the radar for many Hobartians, even though it is a perfect weekend getaway destination. 

Heritage-listed Woodbridge on the Derwent, the only member of the Small Luxury Hotels group in Tasmania, is a beautifully restored Georgian mansion set in lovely gardens above the fast-flowing Derwent River (well-heeled guests sometimes arrive by seaplane, docking at the hotel's own pontoon). 

Built by convicts in 1825, Woodbridge was originally the home of the new colony's magistrate and is one of Australia's oldest surviving buildings. It takes its name from the first wooden bridge over the Derwent, built in 1934 and next door to the property.

Owners John and Laurelle Grimley bought the derelict property in 2003 and have done a magnificent refurbishment job. After a spell closed following a tragic car accident involving their son, they reopened Woodbridge on the Derwent 18 months ago. They are fonts of knowledge on all things local; and as this is Tasmania the staff are uniformly friendly and eager to please, if clearly a little rattled when almost all the guests from a full house arrive for breakfast at the same time.

The rooms vary in style but include all five-star accessories including Molton & Brown toiletries, flat-screen TVs, free wi-fi, iPod docks, extremely comfortable beds, modern bathrooms, in-room safes and mini bars with complimentary soft drinks. They are so quiet that it is hard to imagine there are other guests in residence. 
Guests are welcome to help themselves to port and sherry in one of the three drawing rooms and public areas are tastefully decorated with period pieces and individually sourced artworks. There are lovely gardens in which to while away an hour to two taking in the river views.

Dinner, on the night we stayed, comprised an amuse bouche of a spicy prawn bisque, followed bydelightful starter of spinach ricotta ravioli with cherry tomato and basil sauce (below).
Then came a choice of maple-glazed Tasmanian ocean trout on a leek and fennel pancake with asparagus, or rack of Tasmanian lamb with rosemary jus, hasselback potato and seasonal greens. The trout was the stronger dish, but both were respectable. 

There were two dessert choices with a pannacotta with berries the standout - and a small but well though-out wine list featuring Derwent names including Stefano Lubiana, Derwent Estate, Laurel Bank and Kinvarra, as well as several other boutique Tasmanian producers. A Pooley 2013 Riesling was very reasonably priced at $40.  

Things are not perfect, however. I felt the dinner menu could do with at least a third choice of mains, even if just a salad, and while breakfast features delicious home-made yoghurts, stewed fruits and local salmon it was disappointing to see packet cereals along with industrial bread and cheese. It would be nice, too, if the music in the restaurant was changed more often.

These, however, are very minor quibbles. For a small hotel (just eight rooms) everything works very well and the Grimleys are happy to act as concierges, booking excursions and tastings, even a seaplane jaunt should your budget stretch that far. 
There is a bit of a boozy theme, too, with several featured packages involving tastings at nearby Redlands Estate, including dinner, bed and breakfast, a 45-minute whisky tour/tasting, a $30 credit for massages and full use of all facilities including bikes, kayaks, and the sauna/hot tub and mini-gym facility. This package starts from $625 a night for a double.

Dinner, bed and breakfast packages, including a massage credit and use of all facilities starts from $590 per night for two people.

Local attractions include the several cellar doors, the Redlands and Nant distilleries, Two Metre Tall with its home-brewed beers and ciders, the Agrarian Kitchen cooking school, the Sally Wise cookery school, as well as fly fishing, bushwalking and the famous Salmon Ponds. 

Nearby you'll find the Mount Field National Park and the Styx Valley, while New Norfolk itself is the third-oldest town in Australia and is known for its old buildings and antique stores. 

The celebrated MONA museum is just a 20-minute drive away making this an excellent base for exploring the Hobart region but many guests are happy to cocoon themselves for a day or two enjoying the gardens, riverfront promenade with its resident platypus, and the hotel's focus on local food and wine. 

Woodbridge on the Derwent, 6 Bridge Street, New Norfolk, Tasmania 7140. Phone (03) 6261 5566. Email: Website:  

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