I’m sure you’re familiar with the phrase ‘heaven on earth’. It’s a phrase that’s repeated throughout the guestbook at Thalia Haven; our favourite place in the world.
It was John’s birthday weekend, so we packed up and headed off just after lunch on Friday. This is our eighth stay at Thalia over the last two years (almost to the weekend). The first time was also John’s birthday and we had a little ten-week-old Archie with us; on his first trip away. It would be fair to say that we set the bar sky high that weekend.
Thalia Haven is approximately twenty minutes south of Swansea on Tasmania’s east coast. The house sits atop one of the many peninsulas along the Great Eastern Drive, on 130 acres. The entrance to the property is unassuming, providing no indication of the luxury awaiting you at the end of the road. After turning off the main highway you follow the farm road which passes through a series of gates on your way to the house. With the opening and closing of each gate, you get further away from the outside world and closer to a feeling of inner peace.
Fun fact – after eight visits to Thalia it’s still hilarious to drive off, just as I reach for the car door handle, after I’ve opened and closed a gate. Every gate. Every time. We even have video footage to remind us how funny it is.
On the final leg to the house you pass the track to your own private beach. Archie knows it well by now and will be leading the way on the morning’s walk. As you drive up to the house, you can see the view out to the left, over Great Oyster Bay and the Freycinet Peninsula. The view is spectacular any time of the day, but at sunrise and sunset it’s particularly breathtaking. Thalia is completely off grid, powered by solar roof panels and wind generated from its own little windmill near the house. There’s no television or Wi-Fi and when you see the surroundings you can understand why. Thalia is the pinnacle of rest, relaxation and rejuvenation.
When we arrive, I always make a bee-line for the front of the house to take in the view, breathe in the crisp, clean air, and reflect on how grateful I am to be here. Archie is a bit quicker off the mark, leaping from the car, winding his way through the lavender filled garden and taking in the new smells. Being John’s birthday, we have some friends joining us for the weekend including Archie’s two best friends, Harry and Megan (the original Harry and Megan). There were lots of squeals and wagging tails when the three were reunited.
Thalia sleeps eight people very comfortably in four separate pavilions. The dolerite stone buildings are a work of art in themselves with the beautiful rocks creating a tapestry of shapes, colours and textures. Recycled timber from an old bridge in NSW has been used for the house’s posts, beams and lintels, adding to the rich character of the property. Each pavilion has been carefully positioned so it has a view out to the ocean. The separate buildings are connected by a central courtyard, full of olive trees. Standing in the courtyard you could be forgiven for thinking you were in another time and place; somewhere ancient perhaps.
John and I took up residence in the main house which follows the sloping landscape of the peninsula. The three main rooms in the house (kitchen/dining, lounge room and bedroom) are open plan but have a sense of being three distinct areas. This has been cleverly achieved by stepping down (or up) to each of these areas via three steps. The kitchen/dining and lounge are also separated by an enormous, beautifully crafted stone fireplace and chimney. The fireplace is two-sided, so you can enjoy an open fire in the kitchen or the lounge area. There’s plenty of room in the house to congregate, share meals or just laze around.
The main building also has a bathroom off the bedroom and a separate toilet with convenient access from both the bedroom and living areas. Outside the French doors of the bedroom is THAT bath. Potentially the most photographed bath in Australia but undoubtedly the one with the best view. There is also an outdoor shower if you want to brave the elements and did I mention the wood-fired sauna? The open-plan style of the main pavilion means you have views over Great Oyster Bay from wherever you are in the house; yes, even the toilet and bathroom if you’re happy to leave the doors open.
The other three buildings are generously sized, two of which contain king-sized beds which are cosy and comfortable. On a previous trip one of our friends had a doona made after discovering what was used on the beds at Thalia. All the beds feel like you’re sleeping on a big, fluffy cloud.
The third room has a double bed and two single beds. There’s a bathroom attached to the first pavilion, which can be accessed via the room or from a door outside. The bathroom is shared between the guests in the outer buildings and accessed via the courtyard
Our unpacking routine at Thalia is down to a fine art now, so once that’s complete it’s time to grab a beer, take in the view, and wait for the others to arrive. As great lovers of music, the Bose iPod dock is a highly valued addition at Thalia and is playing our latest favourite tunes, not long after we arrive. Archie (as always) is keen for some frisbee action before it gets dark and the large grassed area by the side of the house is the perfect spot.
We’re much more organised when we go away as a group, these days. I think the turning point came when five of us brought a dozen eggs each, for a two day stay. Food is now coordinated via a Messenger group, with each of us taking on responsibility for one or two meals. This approach minimises food waste and results in each of us spending less time in the kitchen. John and I purchased, prepared and cooked two meals for the whole weekend.
Friday night we assembled a gourmet platter with some of our favourite fare. Anything is easy to prepare and cook in Thalia’s gourmet kitchen and everything you need is provided (including a great selection of different sized platter boards). There are also breakfast cereals, spices, condiments and other staple foods provided in the pantry.
Low-level Aurora activity had been forecast for Friday evening. Once the sun went down, John grabbed his camera and head torch, and disappeared into the darkness. His trusty assistant (me) waited back at the house for the signal to kill the lights. By this time, the dogs were completely worn out and after some bed-hopping, (Archie’s bed always seems to be popular) were sound asleep. When John returned, he was slightly disappointed he hadn’t seen any of the lights he was chasing. He may not have been so lucky with the Aurora, but the Milky Way didn’t disappoint.
We lit two of the three open fires – one in the kitchen/dining and one outside so we could spend the evening drifting between the two. The platter provided ample grazing opportunities throughout the night and was a lovely accompaniment to the selection of craft beers we’d brought along. Everyone had finally arrived, so the card games continued, the beer and wine flowed, the laughter ratcheted up a notch, and it all equated to John having a fantastic birthday.
Waking up at Thalia is not easy to describe and pictures don’t do it justice. From the super comfortable king-sized bed in the main house you can see the sun start to peek over the horizon. As the light overtakes the dark, the colour starts to spill across the sky and ocean. It’s mesmerising. You even forget feeling a little second hand from the beers the night before. Saturday morning was no exception; so, we snuggled in to the doona and watched one of nature’s greatest shows.
There are no sleep-ins with Archie who is always eager to get up and play with his friends and head to the beach. Once he’s awake it’s not long until the whole household is up and about. We were treated to Mexican style burritos for Saturday morning breakfast. I thoroughly enjoyed all the meals at the weekend, but I think the breakfast burritos were my favourite. Fried chorizo, scrambled egg, guacamole and salsa combined in a tortilla; fried and served with sour cream. I’m partial to a good breakfast and I think this one is a keeper for future trips.
After breakfast, showers, and a mandatory frisbee throwing session we headed to the beach, which is a short walk, south of the house. As you wander along the road there are a couple of trees off to your right that are home to a pair of white bellied (or breasted) sea eagles. There are less than 200 pairs of these magnificent birds in Tasmania and it’s always a treat seeing them. John has some great photos of the eagles from our previous visits to Thalia but is always keen for more. Needless to say, he went off stalking them again (with camera in hand) as the rest of us kept on to the beach.
The pups reached the sand first and were straight in for a dip, despite the icy water temperature. It was a lovely mild day, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and it was hard to believe we were in the middle of a Tassie winter. With the beach all to ourselves, we meandered to the far end where there’s a small rivulet. It’s roughly a half hour walk; depending on how quick you meander, of course. Archie has always enjoyed swimming in the rivulet as he doesn’t have to be on the lookout for freak waves threatening to dump him. He’s a great little swimmer and looks just as handsome when he’s drenched.
It was a slow walk back to the house for some lazing around and looking at the ever-changing view. The Thai green curry chicken was easy to prepare for lunch as we’d made it at home before we came. We heated up the curry, cooked rice and opened a beer. We were on holidays after all. Archie was still a ball of energy, so the frisbee came back out after lunch.
We played more cards, drank beer and ate jalapeno poppers. They were delicious but weren’t for the faint hearted; think, jalapeno roulette. The heat ranged from mild to eye-watering, and up to full hiccups.
A leg of lamb was prepared to slow cook for dinner. We said goodbye to one of our friends and welcomed another. Marmalade joined the four paws group and settled in nicely. Archie was shattered by late afternoon. Once he’d eaten dinner, he took himself off to the other end of the house and crashed out for the night. The rest of the evening went similar to the one before – eating, drinking, laughing, playing cards and generally having a fantastic time.
The lamb was sensational, cooked to perfection in the steam injection oven. The remainder of the night may have included some bad singing and tequila; but I can’t confirm or deny that.
Sunday was heralded by another heart stopping sunrise. We ate warm croissants for breakfast – ham, cheese, smoked salmon and cream cheese which were delicious (we do like to eat well when we’re away). Archie led the way to the beach for our usual morning walk as we farewelled our two Hobart friends. Our remaining friends packed up and said goodbye when we returned from the beach. There was just the three of us then, for one last night in paradise.
The sunset on Sunday evening was so beautiful it rivalled the last two morning’s sunrises. Cue the fancy camera. The sky and sea were both pink and the mountains in the far-off distance changed various shades of blue and mauve. The pink seaside daisies in the foreground just topped off the magical scene. You could easily sit and watch it all day.
Alas, the sun disappears all too quickly and the colours soon fade; but then come the stars. With no city lights they’re big and bright and it’s easy to pick out the various constellations. The waves crashing on the rocks out the front of the house are a constant, comforting sound that gives you cause to reflect (again) on how lucky you are to be here.
Archie, John and I had a lovely peaceful night. Archie was tired but happy and didn’t move far out of his bed all evening. John and I played jalapeno roulette again and grazed on snacks. We’d eaten so much food over the last few days, we weren’t overly hungry. After a few quiet beers we called it a night.
For the first time I can remember, we awoke Monday morning at Thalia to a very cloudy day with pouring rain. This interfered with our plans to go to Dolphin Sands Beach on our way back to Launceston. By the time we packed the car and headed off (around 9.30) the clouds had disappeared, the sky was blue, and the sun was sparkling off the water. We said goodbye to Thalia and promised to return soon. Next stop was Swansea to grab a coffee before hitting Dolphin Sands Beach for a nice long walk and some beachcombing.
Around 12.30, we jumped back in the car and drove towards Cranbrook (roughly 20 kilometres north of Swansea). I’d come across a Facebook post about Craigie Knowe Vineyard earlier in the week and discovered (after conversing over Facebook) that it’s dog friendly. The turn off to the vineyard is just before Cranbrook and only ten minutes off the main (Tasman) Highway.
A glass of their Pinot and a share platter was the perfect way to finish off our fantastic east coast weekend. The cellar door sits amongst the vines in the most picturesque setting which includes some beautiful old buildings from the 1840s. The staff are lovely and the food and wine, superb. We’ll definitely call in again next time we’re down that way. There are water bowls for your four-legged friends and plenty of places to tether a leash. Archie gives it two paws up
Another adventure done and dusted. Archie was absolutely pooped but still smiling when we drove into the garage at home. Where to next, is the question?
Until then choose your own adventure, just make sure you take your best friend along.