Road test: Apollo Euro Deluxe motorhome

From animal close encounters to game-changing field-to-fork ventures, we discover three of the Huon Valley’s best farm experiences.

Our photographer would have the perfect shot lined up, if it weren’t for the cow licking his elbow. We’re on one of the daily tours at Glen Huon Dairy Co, and a female Australian dairy shorthorn named James is determined to befriend the humans standing around in her paddock. It’s our second close cow encounter in 24 hours in the Huon Valley, an epicentre of Tasmania’s blossoming agritourism industry.

The treechange

The verdant hills, waterways and valleys of the Huon begin just 30 minutes from Hobart, but feel much farther-flung. Local pioneers such as Matthew Evans and Journeys columnist Sadie Chrestman of Fat Pig Farm were among the first to open their Huon farms to visitors, feeding a growing demand for rural escapism. It was the dream of the rural idyll that drew Queenslander Julie Sade to her Ranelagh farm. At Highland Getaway, Julie offers a scenic farm stay and small-group tours – the highlight of which is brushing her Highland cows.

After feeding the alpacas, we’re off in Julie’s all-terrain vehicle (ATV) for the main event. Julie first saw a Highland being combed on YouTube, and discovered that hers also enjoyed it – almost too much. “I’ve actually created a problem for myself,” Julie laughs. “They don’t like it when you stop brushing…” During our visit, we meet a herd of pushy yearlings, fluffy calves and long-horned bulls (carefully brushed through the ATV’s windows). A self-taught farmer, Julie has devoted herself to the care of her property and livestock – even her octogenarian parents pitch in. “There’s a lot of trial and error – googling and talking to people and observing your animals,” she says. “I’m learning as I go.”

Brushing highland cows in the Huon Valley

Credit: Chris Crerar

Glass half full

While Julie’s cattle earn their keep by being ornamental, the 55 cows at Glen Huon Dairy Co sustain a productive dairy farm. Our guide is Richard Butler, a farm manager lured from the UK in 2017 by cheesemaker Nick Haddow. Today, nearly all the milk used at Bruny Island Cheese Co comes from Glen Huon Dairy. The aim of Nick’s paddock-to-plate venture, Richard explains, is simply to produce the highest-quality cheese. “And that meant having full control of the story, right from the soil up to milking the cows and into the cheesery.”

The tour concludes with cheese tastings by a roaring brazier. Glancing at the production date, Richard tells us what was happening in the paddocks and its impact on the aged hard cheese we’re nibbling. “We can tie each cheese back to a specific place and time,” he says. “I see the whole process – from start to finish – which is so satisfying.” When establishing Glen Huon, Richard says, they set out by asking how they could do things differently to the rest of the dairy industry. Through the new farm tours and onsite farm shop, visitors can see their answer.

“I see the whole process – from start to finish – which is so satisfying.”

After watching the daily milking, we meet some friendly pigs (who enjoy spent grain from Bruny Island Beer Co and whey from the cheesery in their diet) and newly hatched chicks, soon to join a free-range flock that helps turn over paddocks. When we reach the herd, Richard produces tiny bottles of milk that we drink, standing beside the cows it came from. After running huge commercial dairies, Richard now knows all his charges individually. “It’s one of the luxuries of a small herd. And they’ve all got their own personalities – huge personalities.”

The Huon Valley

Credit: Chris Crerar

Vegie patch to plate

In Cygnet, Port Cygnet Cannery is also doing things differently. The acclaimed eatery surprised fans by swapping a busy regular food service for pop-up events last year. But the pivot was a step in a journey towards self-sustainability that began with Gardners Bay Farm. This modest plot is the Cannery’s private larder. “It just makes everything feel very different, as a chef, to know where it’s grown and how it’s grown,” says Cannery co-owner Franca Zingler. We’ve joined Franca and head farmer Phil O’Donnell to try the new tour on offer for curious diners, green thumbs and school kids.At Gardners Bay, Phil can share his passion for regenerative small-scale farming. “Winter two seasons ago, this was just a bare paddock,” he says, gesturing to the sun-drenched plot. Everything is done by hand; wheelbarrows are as heavy duty as it gets. Gardners Bay is now planted with 75 annual crops (not counting perennials) and home to a drift of Saddleback pigs, with it all – from kilos of produce to flowers and even weeds – destined for the Cannery’s Thursday and Friday pizza nights and chef Lachlan Colwill’s weekend farm lunches. The farm tours let the Cannery team show the potential of thinking big by acting small. “I think the beauty of it is in staying small,” Franca says. “Tasmania is quite unique in that sense, that we can do so many great things on a small scale. There’s lots of little businesses here doing their thing.”

Running wheelbarrow up to house

Credit: Chris Crerar

Veggie medley

Credit: Chris Crerar