As you read this, there’s every chance you’re draped across the sofa in a post-Winter Feast coma, cradling your pumpkin-sized food baby and wondering why you continue to inflict such punishment on your poor taste buds.
Every. Single. Year.
But!! What if I told you there’s something better?
Weirder? Muddier? Wassail-ier…?
That’s right, it’s the Huon Valley Mid-Winter Fest, and it’s only weeks away!
It all started four years ago, when Sam Reid and the rest of the team at Willie Smith’s Organic Cider started hearing strange noises down in the apple orchard. Fearing an exorcist-style awakening, much to the detriment of the forthcoming apple crop, they invited the good people of Tasmania to their property for a jolly good wassail!
Rooted in ancient English tales of yore, the wassail was an old tradition whereby the wassail King and Queen would lead their loyal subjects from orchard to orchard, waking the cider apple trees from their winter slumber with song, incantations and offerings.
And then, much to the delight of the villagers, scaring away any evil spirits that may have taken up residence since the last harvest with pots, pans, voices, sticks, drums…even the odd gunshot…essentially anything that could create a ruckus!
Considering Tasmania is known as the Apple Isle, and Tasmanians are renowned for enjoying a spot of good old fashioned ruckusing, it’s a perfect fit, right?
I’m not sure the little beasties hidden among the old withered apples would agree, but the public certainly think so, because it’s been a roaring success ever since and has turned into the largest wassail in the entire southern hemisphere!
While the Huon Valley Mid-Winter Fest is deeply rooted in the wassail, there is so much more on offer, spread over three days and two nights.
Rather than simply tell you about the program, how about we show you what happened last year, and how much fun we had making the most of our Weekend Pass (compliments of Hobart and Beyond, thanks guys 🙂 )…!
Friday – Burning Big Willie
The first day of the festival is always a Friday, with gates opening at 5:00pm. Ranelagh is only a half hour drive from Hobart, so if you play your cards right your boss may well give you an early mark and you can be there on the dot (so you can grab a great spot in front of one of the many bonfires, ready for all the action later in the evening)!
Priority number one? Get some food into you!
There are dozens of Tasmania’s best food stalls and food trucks dotted across the site. So go for a wander and see what takes your fancy!
As the evening cools, the fires are lit, bringing rosy cheer to every cheek!
Looming above everyone stands Big Willie, the garishly grinning straw and steel monstrosity that won’t be seeing the evening out in one piece…
It’s a strange experience as the chanting begins and the crowd surges toward the effigy. Already the soil is quickly turning to mud, and with much squelching and slipping, all bodies strain towards the straw man, eyes peeled for the first fiery arrow to be launched and the celebrations to begin in earnest!
With the formalities over, it’s time to either pull up a hay bale and gaze into the flames…or to find a stage and dance the night away.
Saturday – Wassail the Night Away
A morning of winter sun is never going to be enough to dry the site out, and as 2pm approaches the early revellers start to make their way across the fields, with evidence of the damp conditions plain for all to see.
Bring your gumboots!
If you’ve never experienced Morris dancing, then you are in for a real treat!
Leaping, cavorting and spinning their way across the straw, their brightly coloured ribbons and bells on their feet set the day off on a festive note.
Tonight is the night of the much anticipated wassail, and everyone is dressed in their finest furs for the occasion.
As the sun passes behind Sleeping Beauty and darkness descends, the great bonfire is lit and to a backdrop of embers the wassail begins…
And then again the night tails away in a riot of music, song, dance and copious mugs of apple cider!!
Sunday – Family Day
The adults have had the run of the madhouse for the last two day, so Sunday is designated ‘Family Fun Day’!
With organised games and activities among the hay bales, story telling in the big tent, and face painters creating exotic works of art, the young and young at heart will have a ball. Children have free entry (as they do every day!) and at $10 adults get in for half price.
From Brazilian cheese bread, to tuna steaks on sticks, to pork rolls dripping with hot, salty gravy…the food on offer at the Huon Valley Mid-Winter Fest is diverse and absolutely delicious!
One of our favourites last year was Ramona’s Raclette…think warm cheese, grilled over a flame and then scraped straight from the wheel onto a soft bun. They’re back again this year, so keep an eye out.
Others to look for include Munchies Street Food (ex-Tasmanian chef of the year 2016!), old favourites Quartermasters Arms and Spotty Dog American BBQ, and newcomer, Alfred Gough Pies.
There are also plenty of drinks options, with cider, beer, wine and spirits all well represented, including mulled varieties.
Huon Valley Mid-Winter Fest Details
Interested in going? Why wouldn’t you be?!
The Huon Valley Mid-Winter Fest runs from Friday, 14 July 2017 to Sunday, 16 July 2017. You’ll find the official website here.
Children under 16 years are FREE every single day of the festival. How good is that?!
Ticket prices for adults are:
- Friday (5pm – 11pm) – $23.50 (online) or $25 at the door;
- Saturday (2pm – 10pm) – $33.70 (online) or $40 at the door;
- Sunday (11am – 4pm) – $6.15 (online) or $10 at the door;
- Weekend Pass for all 3 days – $54.10 (online)
Chances are they will sell out, so best get online and book your tickets now rather than try and pick them up at the door.
Tickets are available online here: Huon Valley Mid Winter Fest Tickets
The event is being held at Willie Smiths Apple Shed near Ranelagh, just north of Huonville.
Public transport in the area isn’t designed to cater for these sorts of events, so the festival organisers have also wisely chartered buses from both Hobart (to the north) and Cygnet (to the south) for those not wanting to drive. Tickets for these buses are also available online at the link provided above.
Where to Stay?
Cherryview – Cygnet (25 min drive)
The bed and breakfasts scattered across the Huon Valley are all magnificent. One that we particularly enjoyed is Cherryview in nearby Cygnet.
With a luxurious king sized bed overlooking the orchards below, and the friendliest hosts possible, this is the perfect retreat in which to recover from all your festival exertions. We’re not sure is she’s still there, but they even had a pet pig when we visited some years ago!
Crabtree Riverfront Cottages – Crabtree (10 minutes drive)
Another great option that’s even closer to Willie Smith’s Apple Shed is the Crabtree Riverfront Cottages.
A beautiful blend of traditional and modern, you’ll be waking up to the sound of the burbling brook and views of the gorgeous Sleeping Beauty (snow-capped if you’re lucky!). We spent a really relaxing weekend here some years ago, and still have very fond memories.
At the time of writing it is possible to book either the Friday night or the Sunday night (Saturday night is taken unfortunately). So get in quick!
Fountainside Hotel – Hobart (30 minutes drive)
Alternatively, if you’d prefer to stay in cosmopolitan Hobart and want to keep costs down, then we recommend the Fountainside. It’s within walking distance of the city centre, Salamanca and North Hobart, the rooms are comfortable and they offer great value.
Islington Hotel – Hobart (30 minutes drive)
If you don’t mind splurging, then one of the best options by far is the Islington. Consistently rated as one of Hobart’s most prestigious and luxurious hotels, the Islington offers a very special, bespoke experience that you’ll remember for a lifetime!
Check availability and make a booking for the Islington Hotel (just don’t tell us, or we’ll die of jealousy!)
Other Tasmanian festivals
If you’re interested in other festivals around Tasmania, don’t forget to check these out:
- The Taste (Round 1) or The Taste (Round 2)
- Tasmanian Red Wine Weekend
- Effervescence Festival
- Taste of the World Festival
Have a great time at the festival, and don’t forget to tell us all about it in the comments below 🙂
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