Woodbridge on the Derwent, New Norfolk review: From ruin to renown

Read our writer's views on this property below

A historic Hobart pile has been restored to its former glory, writes Mal Chenu.

Just reading the story of the renovation of Woodbridge on the Derwent made my back ache. When John and Laurelle Grimley first saw the derelict 1825 convict-built riverfront mansion in New Norfolk, north-west of Hobart, they were angry that such a lovely heritage building could be so run down. A year later, in 2004, they bought the property and began a renovation that makes the contestants on The Block look like sissies.

The floorboards were rotten, bare electrical wires ran across leaking copper pipes, original doorways, fireplaces and windows had been bricked up and the walls were weeping with rising damp. An engineer told them "the bones were sound" and that Woodbridge could be saved, so the intrepid retirees took on the Herculean task of stripping the Georgian manor back to its skeleton and bringing it back to life. The reno took nearly two years and must have cost millions. "How many millions?" I ask. "We'll never tell," says Laurelle. John puts a more esoteric spin on it and says everyone in the Derwent Valley operates under the same credo: "We're all driven by a vision. Or a delusion." Whatever the spend, vision or delusion, their largesse and labour of love was rewarded with the 2005 Tasmanian and the 2006 Australian HIA Renovation of the Year awards, and Woodbridge stands today as a monument to their steadfast dedication and heritage savvy.

Woodbridge boasts eight rooms, including two suites - many with sunny outdoor settings where you can relax and watch the river drift by - plus the Pavilion dining room, reading room, ballroom and salon. Each room has a restful, welcoming feel and a personality brought out by Laurelle's eclectic - and occasionally eccentric - decor decisions. There are paintings, etchings, maps, letters, a giant birdcage in the Pavilion for some reason and - best of all - display boxes showcasing a section of the initial inner wall, masonry and stucco, rusted nails, lead pipes, keys and layers of ancient wallpaper.

"The Grand Old Dame by the River", as it was once known, is now a majestic, upmarket boutique hotel with a sense of history set among lovely gardens in the fecund Derwent Valley. White rendering of the external walls and the low internal doorways (you'll only bump your head once) recall its stately origin.

I settle into the Three Bridges - the manor's premier suite - with a sunroom overlooking the river, a living room with fireplace, a king bed in a huge bedroom with a second fireplace and a jacuzzi tub in the bathroom. Because of the layout, each room offers different facilities and charms, but all guests can access complimentary internet, DVDs, a library, bikes, kayaks and the sauna/hot tub.

Woodbridge even has its "own" platypuses, who nest on the bank of the passing river and show up on cue and frolic as we sit down to our entrees of pan-seared scallops and cauliflower puree. Dinner at Woodbridge is available only to guests, and the three main course options (including one vegetarian) are fresh, hearty fare. As I tuck into my delicious rack of Tassie lamb with rosemary jus and green vegies, John tells me they are growing Perigord truffles in a riverside paddock in the valley and hope to incorporate them into the menu soon.

Driving around the Derwent Valley is an easy, relaxing experience and there's something different around every poplar-lined corner - think convict-era buildings, remnant townships, woolsheds, wineries, beehives and orchards. Ironically many nascent businesses operate here in one of Australia's oldest regions of white settlement. You can take a loop road through the valley from New Norfolk, taking in commercial and niche farms growing beef, grapes, fruit and veg, poppies and hops. Stop at a street stall and buy whatever is in season, chat to the locals and you'll acquire a real affection for the people developing one of Australia's last unspoilt tourist attractions.

The writer was a guest of Woodbridge on the Derwent.

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TRIP NOTES

GETTING THERE

Virgin Australia flies daily to Hobart; virginaustralia.com.au; 13 67 89. Woodbridge is 40 minutes from Hobart airport and 25 minutes from the CDB and waterfront. Hobart Water Taxi fare is about $50. "Fun transfers" can be arranged by Woodbridge, including seaplane transfer between Hobart waterfront and the pontoon jetty at Woodbridge $500; amphibious plane from airport to pontoon $700; limousine transfer from $120.

STAYING THERE

Woodbridge on the Derwent, 6 Bridge St, New Norfolk, Tasmania. Rates vary depending on the room and stay. B&B or B&B and dinner options. Rooms from $550 a night; spa suites from $750 a night. Phone (04) 1799 6305 or see woodbridgenn.com.au for full details and to book online.

MORE INFORMATION

derwentvalley.com.au.

FIVE MORE THINGS TO DO IN THE VALLEY

DINE WITH THE FISH

At Salmon Ponds in Plenty, feed the fish, take pancakes by the ponds and don't miss the Tasmanian Angling Hall of Fame. Adults $8; children $7. Fish food $2. Open 9am-5pm daily. See salmonponds.com.au.

HIT THE TRAILS

Mt Field National Park offers walks of varying challenge, including an easy 25-minute stroll to the stunning Russell Falls. See parks.tas.gov.au/base=3589.

HUNT ANTIQUES

Bric-a-brac shopping in New Norfolk offers an antiquarian browse-fest with no less than eight antique shops.

BITE A BIG BURGER

Eat an Aussie burger at Possum Corner, Westerway. Grab a seat on the cafe's verandah and take on the massive burger, presented with a steak knife skewered through the fillings.

RATTLE THE PANS

Sally Wise Cooking School, Molesworth. A range of classes with lashings of flavour and fun. Classes $150 a person. Bookings 0408 569 423. See sallywise.com.au.