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Discover a dark, damp realm where winter lovers feast and fascinating fungi flourish.

In the cool arch of an old railway tunnel, burrowed into a bushy hillside east of Hobart, grow rows of exotic mushrooms – shiitake, oyster, lion’s mane and king – destined for some of the city’s top restaurants. Presiding over each stage of their growth is Tunnel Hill Mushrooms owner Dean Smith.

“There’s a certain charm about the tunnel,” Smith says. “It's a challenging grow space. But it's a constant environment … it traps the humidity and it has a natural draw of air as well, which is really important for mushroom growing.”

A man wearing a dark t-shirt that reads 'just a guy with a tunnel' on the back, walks towards a tunnel entrance.

Built in 1891, the tunnel was part of a short-lived railway line, decommissioned in the 1920s, which connected Bellerive on Hobart’s eastern shore with the regional town of Sorell.

This Off Season (May-Aug), visitors can take a sneak peek inside the historical tunnel on a guided tour and tasting. So what can they expect to find?

It's going to be cold; it's going to be wet, but it's going to be mysterious. It's going to be unique.

At these wintry events, Smith shares his expertise on the art and science of mushroom cultivation, along with stories of the tunnel’s colourful history and its transformation into the fungi-filled space it is today. Guests then pick moreish mushrooms, which Smith prepares and fries up for tastings on his novel wood-fired train barbecue.

This unpretentious cooking style heroes the fungi’s flavours and is Smith’s preferred method.

“You just let them steam,” he says. “Get the moisture out of them and, when the sugars start to come out, they start to naturally caramelise. Then you can hit them with your fat, your butter, salt, lemon juice … just for a couple of minutes.

“I'm a very simple man – I like to keep it simple.”

For those keen to get their hands dirty, Smith also hosts workshops where guests mix their own mushroom-growing bags to take home, for harvesting and enjoying later.

Oyster mushrooms placed into cardboard boxes,
Jasper Da Seymour
A man picks mushrooms out of their planters using a small curved knife to cut them at the white stalks.
Picking mushrooms
Jasper Da Seymour

The call of the mushroom

Tunnel Hill Mushrooms came into being after a serendipitous knock at the door from a local mushroom industry guru, who prodded Smith into the unlikely field of mycology, or the study of fungi.

“Up until then, I had no interest in mushrooms,” Smith says. “I didn't even really like eating mushrooms!”

These days, Smith is a self-proclaimed mycology nut, spending his days in the lab, culturing and cloning these fascinating fungi.

It can be quite lonely sometimes, but I tend to talk to the mushrooms.

His success with the tunnel has required plenty of trial and error: “Over the years, I've just learned to pick the right strains of mushrooms that like this environment.”

Smith’s foray into growing fungi in the tunnel was entirely fortuitous, but it’s proven fruitful. Among his regular customers are renowned local restaurants such as Aloft, Peppina, Driftwood, the Tasman, Mr Minty’s and Port Arthur’s 1830 Restaurant and Bar. Smith can often be found plying his wares at Farm Gate Market and, in winter, he provides mushrooms for the decadent Dark Mofo Winter Feast. His trade is built upon relationships and the priority of provenance to his clients.

A man stands outside the entrance to a tunnel with two small cows.
Dean Smith at Tunnel Hill Mushrooms
Jasper Da Seymour
A man works in a long, dark tunnel, stacked with racks of mushrooms growing in bags.
Tunnel Hill Mushrooms
Jasper Da Seymour

Local temptations

In the cooler months, growth in the tunnel naturally slows as the temperature drops, but Smith stays busy in his lab. When he does get a moment to relax, a favourite local spot is the historical village of Richmond: “It's nice to sit down there at a vineyard and have a glass of red by the fire.”

For great atmosphere and “a bit of character”, he recommends Pooley Wines, on a hillside overlooking the vines of the Coal River Valley.

For anyone looking to indulge, there’s no lack of tasty Off Season experiences in Tasmania’s south this winter. Learn the art of bean to bar from a chocolatier at Richmond’s Federation Artisan Chocolate, forage for wild mushrooms in forest undergrowth with Sirocco South, or launch into a lazy winter lunch and blind wine tasting at Bangor Vineyard Shed in Dunalley. For a foray into fresh lobster, urchin, abalone and periwinkles, float with the winter breeze on an indulgent Deep-to-Dish Tasmanian Seafood Cruise.

You needn’t venture far from the comforts of your accommodation to satiate your hunger, either. At Hobart’s Tesoro, delight in a curated feast of produce from around the island during a stay at Mövenpick Hotel. Enjoy heritage charms at Lythgo’s Row Colonial Cottages in Pontville, while savouring a hamper of local chocolates and wine. Sip on hot toddies and drink in the views from the cosy lounge at historic Lenna of Hobart in Battery Point. Or head to the Huon Valley for a getaway at grand Clifton Homestead and tuck into a meal at nearby eatery the Kiln.

A cottage made from stone with a steel corrugated roof sits on a hill with views down a valley.
Pooley Wines
Nick Osborne

A true winter advocate

Further afield, Smith’s preferred Off Season getaway is Cradle Mountain.

“Even though it's cold, it’s still lovely to walk around [Dove] Lake and just immerse yourself in that sort of wintry environment,” he says.

You can't get a better experience in winter than Tassie, because it's just got that lovely sort of crisp, fresh feel about it.

To help preserve this World Heritage-listed natural landscape, Smith advocates “leaving only footprints”.

“Whatever you take in with you, you take out with you. Just be aware and be respectful.”

For Smith, the cooler weather is no issue. “I'm a winter person just by nature,” he says.

For anyone unconvinced, his advice is to get involved in all the different events and offerings available this Off Season.

“If you're going to visit during winter, just embrace the winter – it's a magical time of year.

“Don't let it stop you from doing what you’ve come here to do. Just enjoy it and appreciate it for what it is.”

A couple stand on a raised walking platform in bush land with a view of a rocky mountain in the distance partially covered by cloud.
Cradle Mountain
Dearna Bond

Southern Tasmania frequently asked questions

What are the top Tasmania food experiences?

Renowned for its fresh produce, plump seafood, mouth-watering cheeses, cool-climate wines and refined whisky (among other things), Tasmania is a must-visit destination for food lovers with a taste for the gourmet without the pretension. Across the island are tasting trails and farm experiences where visitors can meet the makers and have a true paddock-to-plate experience. Want more? Here’s a guide to eating and drinking in Tasmania.

Places to eat in Hobart

Tasmania’s capital city has a sizzling food scene, packed with cosy cafes, indulgent restaurants, chic wine bars and friendly pubs. Beyond the city centre, Hobart’s waterfront serves up crispy fish and chips, succulent oysters, share plates with seaside views and cocktails with a local twist. Further afield, head towards the Huon Valley for crisp cider and steaming apple pie, the Coal River Valley for vineyard views and cheese platters, or the Derwent Valley for locally grown seasonal fare. Here’s where to eat in Hobart.

Things to do in southern Tasmania

You’ve eaten your fill of mushrooms and explored Hobart’s highlights, what next? Tasmania’s south combines wild nature with fascinating history and fine produce. Wonder at towering seas cliffs and wander World Heritage convict sites on Turrakana / Tasman Peninsula; hike snow-splashed peaks or walk among the treetops in the far south; tackle gravity-focused mountain bike trails and feel the spray of waterfalls in the south west; stock up on cheese and oysters then picnic oceanside on Bruny Island; or hop between historical towns and distilleries in the Midlands. Whatever your preference, here are some top day trips from Hobart.

Stay in the know

A flurry of unmissable Off Season offers and events has blown in for the winter. Subscribe for curated Off Season updates and handy tips.

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