If you’re looking for something different, you’ll find it at the Huon Valley Mid-Winter Festival – Australia’s quirkiest food festival. From the burning of Big Willie to imaginary circuses and a Blundstone Costume competition, this festival has it all along with seriously good food. Surrender to the spirit of winter and head to the Huon Valley for music, dance and delicious local food. It’s all about celebrating apple picking and the age old tradition of scaring evil spirits from the orchard to guarantee a bumper crop. The fun runs from Friday July 14 to 15.
Huon Valley Mid-Winter Festival
Based on pagan rites, the Huon Valley Mid-Winter Festival involves much wassailing, pan-banging and cider consumption. It is a great way to celebrate the season. On Friday night, they fire up Big Willie, a giant wooden man-shaped statue, with a flaming arrow launched by an archer. Saturday sees the crowd coursing through the orchards singing to the apple trees to guarantee abundance in the coming harvest.
What happens at the festival, stays at the festival
This is a popular celebration in the local community, and many took the opportunity to dress for the occasion. There were olde English hats decorated with tall feathers aplenty. Maidens were adorned with flower-filled headdresses, and revelry was high. If you’d like to join into the spirit of the occasion, book a session with Eye Am Hair (via the festival website) for braids.
Other quirky offerings include a hot tub bath with eight of your best mates, where you’ll be served with Hot Apple Tea. Bring your swimwear and do remember the temperature is very cold. There’s also a long table feasting lunch and dinner with barrel-aged cider.
Delicious Tasmanian food
When I attended the Huon Valley Mid-Winter Festival, the choice was amazing. The appropriate food for such an occasion is hearty. Expect rolls filled with shredded pork belly, basted with unctuous juices, certainly captured my taste buds. They were not ransomed until I dug into bintes (potatoes) and char-grilled cauliflower covered with oozing grilled Heidi Farm raclette and pickles from Ramonas. What I didn’t get to try were the Alfred Gough pies from Hobart Butcher Alfred Gough, who has been making pies since 1942. Unfortunately, with only one stomach and so many foods to try, treats such as Lady Hester’s Persian-inspired warm doughnuts and Deep End Farm’s steamed buns will have to wait for the return visit. I also didn’t try the barbecued chook and pumpkin, but I give full marks to whoever invented the Hills Hoist rotisserie.
Although there was cider aplenty at the Huon Valley Mid-Winter Festival, our drink of choice was a glass of warm mulled wine, available in both red and white. It was a cold night. Cold enough to do dragon breath after drinking the mulled wine, we headed to the stage for the important part of the night. It took a lot of interpretive dance, fire twirling and declamations from a storyteller, but eventually, the evil spirits were defeated by a young maiden. Freed from the grip of winter, the sun rose again, and an archer set Big Willie on fire with three flaming arrows.
Practice your wassailing
On Saturday night, the wassailing get underway. Here are the words in case you want to practice.
Old Apple tree, we’ll wassail thee,
And hoping thou wilt bear.
The Lord does know where we shall be
To be merry another year.
To blow well and to bear well,
And so merry let us be.
Let every man drink up his cup
And health to the old apple tree.
Huon Valley Mid-Winter Festival – need to know
The Huon Valley Mid-Winter Festival has an impressive performance line that includes top Tasmanians and a few blow-ins from the mainland. Events start at 5 pm on Friday night. On Saturday, the festival is open from 10 am to 12 am. Buy tickets, which include a bus to the festival grounds, online.
Where is Huon Valley?
The Huon Valley is one of Tasmania’s best drives, and it starts just 30 minutes from Hobart at Huonville, where the highway meets the Huon River. You can do it as a day trip or overnight at one of the small towns along the way. Stay at Salamanca Wharf Hotel in Hobart, and take the shuttle bus from Hobart Brewing Co. This takes around 40 minutes. Here’s a list of more of Tasmania’s top stays.
Disclaimer: EdbK travelled with the assistance of Tourism Tasmania and stayed as a guest of Salamanca Wharf Hotel.