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Motorhome Mission Down The Heritage Highway

The Heritage Highway of Tasmania traces much of the original 19th century route between Launceston and Hobart; the roads and bridges built by convict gangs. The run from Launceston in the north down to Hobart takes two-and-half hours down the Midland Highway, if you don't stop or get distracted. However, this is Tasmania, and it is full of distractions, in the form of lavish scenery, interesting towns and fascinating people to meet. Sensible holiday makers in a campervan don't rush down the Midland Highway, instead, they lope and linger, and so have an exceptionally fine time.

Launceston: This city makes for a glorious start to the Heritage Highway, with its wealth of history and architecture. The city's Heritage Walk takes you past the Victorian-era buildings, including the magnificent Albert Hall. The Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery has displays about local wildlife and the convicts. If you are feeling brave, you can always sign up for a ghost tour.

Evandale: After driving just 20km, you reach the town of Evandale. Evandale is a National Trust classified Georgian village, popular with tourists for its unspoiled heritage buildings, most can be found on High Street and Russell Street. The jewel of the Georgian-style buildings is Clarendon Homestead; it was built in 1838 as the home for James Cox, and has been maintained in nearly perfect condition. As well, Evandale is the home of The National Penny Farthing Championship, held annually, and includes a Victorian tradition, a Century Ride - 100km completed on a Penny Farthing in a day. This is a town that takes its history very seriously. If you happen to be in town on a Sunday then you will be fortunate enough to experience the Evandale Markets, a great place to pick up a souvenir and sample some local fare.

Longford: From Evandale,a 20min drive brings you to the town of Longford. The town's most striking heritage attractions are the Brickenden National Estate and the Woolmers Estate. In July 2010, these neighbouring estates were listed jointly as a World Heritage Site. The Brickenden National Estate is an historic working farm, settled in 1824, that has been owned and run by the same family for over two hundred years. The Woolmers Estate was a 19th century working farm estate, but now is a historic site offering accommodation, with many convict-built outbuildings remaining on the property such as the Wool and Apple Packing Sheds, the Coach House and Farm Stables, the Blacksmith's forge and the Settlers' Cottages (the cottages are currently utilised as accommodation).

Perth: Perth lies between Evandale and Longford, and is blessed with views out to the Great Western Tiers mountain range. Perth has more than forty historic buildings, many dating back to the early 1800s. You can pick up a National Trust brochure from the post office and take a self-guided walking tour to see the notable buildings in the town, including the Leather Bottle Inn - the oldest building in the town, built in 1839 using hand-made nails.

Cleveland and Epping Forest: Cleveland is a half-an-hour drive south of Evandale. Cleveland was once an important coaching station and convict road station. In the township is St Andrews Inn, an 1845 coaching inn currently used as a bed and breakfast. Cleveland Stables Gallery is just a short walk away. The Cleveland Union Chapel is a tidy little church that originally measured only 7m by 5m, built in the 1850s. With its small graveyard in front of it, the chapel is easily accessible and you can walk around the graveyard and the front of the building. The nearby Epping Forest was a favourite haunt of bushrangers and the site of a daring coach robbery by the notorious bushranger, Martin Cash.

Campbell Town: The next town as you head southwards is considered the historical heart of Tasmania, and boasts over one hundred buildings in the town that exceed a century in age. As well, it has three convict-built bridges: the Original Bridge - still used as path of a footpath; the Black Bridge, a rail bridge made of bluestone; and the Red Bridge, which oldest surviving brick arch bridge in Australia and still in use as part of the National Highway. Campbell Town was originally one of the four garrison towns linking Hobart and Launceston. The Campbell Town Convict Brick Trail is a commemoration and celebration of Australia's convict history, with each brick engraved with the name and a few personal details of a convict sent to Australia & Norfolk Island over the hundred or so years of transportation. The Heritage Highway Museum and Visitor Information Centre is based in Campbell Town, as it is approximately the halfway point; of course you have to drop in here!

Ross: The town of Ross itself is listed on the Register of the National Estate and many of the town's historic buildings are listed in their own right. The Tasmanian Wool Centre houses a museum, a wool exhibition, a wool and craft area, and it also acts as the town's tourist information centre. The beautiful sandstone Ross Bridge was constructed using penal labour in 1836, and is the third oldest bridge still in use in Australia. The Ross Female Factory Site, built in the early 1840's, was where female convicts were incarcerated from 1847 to 1854. It was one of four female factories established in Tasmania. Today, the Ross Female Factory is a protected historic site and although little architecture remains above the ground, it is the most archaeologically intact female convict site in Australia.

Oatlands: A 25min drive from Ross, and you reach Oatlands, which is worth a look because of the town's large collection of colonial sandstone buildings. Walking down the main street is like stepping back in time - there are over 87 of the sandstone buildings on this street alone, and a total of 138 in the town boundaries. Oatlands is one of Tasmania's oldest settlements. It was developed as a military base for the control and management of convicts because of its central location between Hobart and Launceston. The biggest historic attraction in Oatlands is the Callington Mill, a Lincolnshire-style tower mill built in 1837 by John Vincent. It is the third oldest windmill in Australia and is the only operating mill of its type in the Southern Hemisphere. The mill is accompanied by the Oatlands Heritage Highway Visitor Centre.

Bothwell: Bothwell is a 35min drive from Oatlands, through some of the most beautiful landscapes in Tasmania - and that is really saying something - and Bothwell itself is a gem for the history buffs. The village was settled in 1824 by Scottish immigrants; which probably explains why it is home to the oldest golf course in Tasmania. Bothwell contains some 53 buildings that are either classified or recognised by the National Trust. Many were built by convict labour, and a walking tour round the town can be most rewarding. For example, the elegant St Michael and All Angels Anglican Church was begun in 1887, built from sandstone quarried nearby. Just north of Bothwell is the Thorpe Farm, which dates back to the 1800s but is still a going concern; it is famous for producing fine cheeses.

Kempton: Kempton is a quaint colonial town settled in the 1820s, with handsome old buildings and a 19th century charm. A stroll through the main street of this historic village reveals an impressive collection of colonial homes, cottages, churches, shops, taverns and coaching inns, all within a distance of one kilometre. Established as a colonial settlement, Kempton became a busy coaching stop for hungry travellers and their horses. Signs along the main street tell stories of the town's historic buildings.

Pontville: Pontville is a village that was an early garrison town. Convicts built the sandstone bridge over the Jordan River, and the hamlet has its fair share of notable homes. The Sheiling, a stone cottage that started life as two conjoined dwellings, was built circa 1819 and was probably once used by police keeping an eye on travellers along the early road. The Sheiling's driveway is the original road from Hobart to the north of the state. Marlbrook is a beautiful double-storey sandstone grand Georgian mansion, built in 1828.

Hobart: And then it is on to Hobart, just a 25min drive away from Pontville and you complete your journey. Who could have guessed that such a short distance could take in so much the past and give a clearer insight into Tasmania's penal heritage? Who knew that a campervan could function as a time machine?

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