South of Hobart, after driving along the beautiful Huon River, you’ll find a little patch of green bohemia in the town of Cygnet. For a small community, there are quite a lot of things to do in Cygnet, because the town has become a hub for creators of all types – art, crafts, food, and wine.
For decades, Cygnet has been a little bit hippie. Something about the green Tasmanian countryside attracted people from across the state – and the mainland – to come here and pursue their artistic passions. This meant the community grew and attracted even more residents.
Recently Cygnet has caught the eye of the wealthy retired professionals – people who’ve led high-powered and stressful jobs in the city and are looking for some peace and quiet. Somebody in town joked with me that there are more retired people with PhDs in Cygnet per capita than anywhere else in Australia.
When you visit Cygnet, you’ll notice all of this just beneath the surface. It’s a small town and most of the action centres on the main road. Bookended by two old classic pubs at either end, the stretch in between (about a kilometre long) is lined with art galleries, boutique shops, cafes, and heritage buildings.
One of the most popular things to do in Cygnet is just wander the main street, popping into the small businesses. Lots of visitors time their visit to coincide with the biweekly market (more on that shortly).
But you can’t ignore the surroundings. Just a few minutes out of town, you’ll be in the gorgeous landscapes of the Huon Valley, fishing boats bobbing in the water, tall gums lining the roads, birds flying overhead. Cygnet may be a hive of activity, but it still reflects its peaceful setting.
Visit the artists
In a town famous for its creativity, one of the best things to do is visit some of the galleries and workshops – and, of course, meet the artists themselves.
A good place to start is the Lovett Gallery, at the back of the town hall. This small art space has a selection of works from local artists (often amateur ones) that shows the range of how people here interpret their landscape and community.
On the main street, there are a few larger galleries exhibiting the work of more professional artists. Pop into Stanley’s Studio (at the northern end of town) to see the moody landscape paintings of Richard Stanley, or head into Huon Art which has a range of styles from about 15 Tasmanian artists.
To see an artist in his studio, I would definitely recommend you visit Ian Clare’s pottery studio, just off the main street on Lymington Road along the waterfront. This large space has finished products on display (for purchase) but also lots of pieces that Ian is in the middle of working on. You can also do classes here.
And to really get hands-on and make something yourself, the best option is to join David Rauenbusch at his Phoenix Creations workshop where he carves spoons. The warm space, heated by a fireplace and filled with tools, is such a soothing place to spend a few hours learning how to make a wooden spoon yourself (and David’s wife, Michelle, makes amazing cookies too!).
Wander along the main street of Cygnet and you’ll find a wonderful range of food shops, from grocers, to wholefoods and even a ’24-hour emergency butcher’, as the meat store styles itself. The Huon Valley is famous for its local produce, so you’ll find some gems here.
But for visitors, it’s probably the boutique clothes stores and artisan product shops that will be of most interest. A little bit of shopping (or just window shopping) is one of the best things to do in Cygnet, so give yourself time for a wander.
For clothes, have a look at Three Twigs in the old bank building.
For handicrafts, pop into Near and Far which, as the name suggests, has local and global products.
A cute little store called Econiche has a good range of sustainable homewares products.
And there are quite a few more – with antique stores, second-hand clothing, and more. Finding some of these for yourself is half the fun, right?
Aside from the regular shops, Cygnet has a special market every two weeks which is famous in the region and sees people travel from Hobart just to visit it.
The Cygnet Market is held on the first and third Sunday of the month all year round (unlike some other markets, which are seasonal). It runs from 10am until 2pm.
One of the reasons the Cygnet Market is so popular is because of the range of things that are sold here. There are the arts and crafts from the local region (and you make recognise some of the stallholders from their workshops and studios), but also other products made locally including clothing, jewellery, and cosmetics.
Some of the market stalls are in the town hall, but it also spills out into the car park across the road. Here you’ll find food stalls serving hot meals. The local food produce for sale depends on the season because most of it comes from nearby farms, so some weeks are busier than other.
The main industry around Cygnet in the early days was timber, along with shipbuilding (with the timber) to a certain extent. As the work here grew, the town grew properly on the edge of the water during the 1840s and 1850s. The post office open on 1 January, 1854.
You’ll still find some heritage from these days, including the post office (now an antique store) and other original buildings on the main street. An old church has been converted into the Cygnet Living History Museum.
The museum is a great way to learn more about the heritage of Cygnet, with regularly-changed displays telling the stories of things like settlement, local families, the convict era, and the timber industry.
There are other little pockets of heritage throughout the region, including the Port Cygnet Cannery – an old apple canning factory that is now an excellent dining and function centre (more on that shortly). And there’s also the Heritage Pickers Hut Village built in the 1920s at Hartzview Vineyard.
Astounding nature abounds in the region and exploring it is one of the best things to do in Cygnet. You don’t need to go far and you don’t even need to head to any of the famous spots in the Huon Valley to get a taste of the beautiful landscapes.
In Cygnet itself, head down to Burtons Reserve which has some viewing platforms from where you can look out across the water and the tidal flats to see all the birds that congregate here.
On the western side of the park, you’ll find the start of a walking track that will take you a little way along the coast through the eucalyptus and past small bays with the moored boats.
If you’re looking for a drive, take the road along the eastern side of Port Cygnet, where there a lots of places to stop for incredible views, including Gardners Bay, Tranquil Point, and Minnie Point.
And, of course, Cygnet is not too far away from some of Tasmania’s best natural sights, so you could even do day trips to places like Bruny Island, the Hartz Mountains, or out onto the water on the Huon River.