Tasmania March 2017 – Part 1, Panama Festival

This blog was written many months after the events described

1-TAS_2909Why Tassie?

Almost a year prior a chance meeting in a bar in Brisbane inspired us to eventually explore Tasmania. Jenni and I were in the Black Bear Lodge attending a small concert and whilst exiting bumped into Sarah, a friend of Maddy’s, who Jenni hadn’t seen for a while, and who, during the whole, “So what are you up to now?” section interestingly informed us she is currently working for a festival called Panama in Tasmania. Following that encounter and a some effort on Google we discovered this….

A festival called PANAMA is an intimate two-day, three-night festival held at Lone Star Valley in North East Tasmania. Staged on a secluded 50 acre property and small-batch cider brewery, PANAMA showcases a tightly curated line-up of critically acclaimed acts as well as late night cabaret, spoken word, on point DJs, pop up markets and delicious local food stalls.

We also discovered that it was a boutique festival in the middle of a forest issuing only 1400 tickets and that its ecological philosophy was impressive. It called upon all 1400 of it’s attendants to leave nothing behind and to use only biodegradable products while showering. Now I know showering at a festival is a novel idea but we admired their vision. The decision was made, website registration resulted in tickets purchased and  holidays booked.

And for me Tasmania was, and in all ways still is, a mystical place. What did I know? The song, “Come to Tasmania, T-T-Tasmania”, sang it at every opportunity on our trip. Cider. Tassie is famous for cider. I like cider. Quite a lot as a matter of fact. There are 12 cider makers in Tassie, probably more, I had plans to drink in all 12, or maybe half of them, It didn’t turn out that way but hey! Was a good plan. Tasmania is the size of Ireland, I come from Ireland, it’s small enough to explore and interesting enough to make you want to, And Tasmania is cold, so what? All of this I gleaned from all the people I talked about while we were planning the trip. The common theme is, all through the planning, was, Tasmania is beautiful, you must see it. So we planned to do just that.

We had quickly built a rough itinerary around Panama requiring 3 weeks off work. Plans expanded to include Becky and Maddy and also Danny and Nan, two of Jenni’s friends who owned a chook farm in Mole Creek. Became my friends too as it turned out and that’s a later part of this blog.

The Tassie Plan

As our Tassie Plan grew we became more and more excited. We wanted to share our experience with Maddy and Becky so organsied for them to come see us after the festival, Maddy would see us in Hobart and Becky would come to Hobart and stay with us as we drove to Launceston. There would be a 2 day cross over when both of them were with us. It was a glorious plan.

For accommodation we didn’t want to stay in hotels but looked for more off grid places, hopefully ecologically sound and interesting. We spent many hours on Airbnb searching for interesting places that fitted that remit and that time was well spent.

Britz the Camper Van

For the first part we wanted a camper van for the festival as we didn’t fancy camping and anyway, had no gear nor transport. A campervan fitted both requirements. We picked one up from Britz campers in Hobart and headed to the festival in Golconda via an overnight stay in  Dragonfly Cottage in Deviot in the Tamar Valley, an Airbnb just north of Launceston.


As we neared the cottage along the roadside I spied a familiar plant, blackberries. The last time I saw these delicious fruits was in Northern Ireland where they grow like weeds along the hedgerows. We ate them as snacks while we worked in the fields on the farm when I was a child. But that was 10,904 miles away! Blackberries are spread by animals eating the berries and excreting the seeds back onto the ground wrapped in their own little fertilizer package to help get the new growth started. Now, I’m no David Bellamy but I’m pretty sure I’d have been aware of a fruit eating animal that migrates between Tasmania and Northern Ireland on a regular basis. Logic would therefore that suggest some human polluted the Tasmanian ecosystem many years ago. And to that human I say thank you. They thrived here that’s for sure. As Jenni hadn’t seen them before she was quite intrigued as I screeched to a halt, jumped out of the campervan and started to pick and eat the unusual fruits. Blackberries are simultaneously delicious and dangerous. The ripe berries are squishy and are surrounded by sharp thorns and don’t give up too easily when picked. When picking them they hang onto the stalk for just long enough and hard enough for your hand to jerk back when they eventually release, usually, if you are lucky, impaling you on a thorn, if you are unlucky ripping a canyon out of your flesh. It is usually the case that the most ripe and juicy berries are to be found in the heart of the bush surrounded by the thickest, longest, sharpest thorns. One slip picking them results in pints of blood loss, which probably also seeps into the soil and feeds the plants, maybe another survival trait. (Blackberries / black pudding?) We filled some containers full of the ripest berries, luckily only losing a pint of blood between us, and headed to Dragonfly Cottage.

We picked Dragonfly Cottage from Airbnb as our first night in Tassie mostly because of the name but also because of the reviews. Our host was a delightful lady who provided us with home made produce including biscuits and jams. She had a friendly German Shepherd which loved playing ball, several chooks and a well stocked garden.  The cottage was very comfortable and the views were pretty good too, all in all a great start to the holiday.

The next morning we steered campy the van to Panama Festival a short drive away where this sign greeted us.


9 Kilometers later down a narrow undulating  dirt road (lined with blackberry bushes), across a couple of creeks, though a thick forest we joined a queue of similar campervans, VW Combis, 4×4’s and cars and eventually entered a clearing and there was the festival grounds. Beautiful, secluded and exciting. I had read they have been brewing their own special festival cider on the grounds of the festival for months in preparation, for me coming of course. I know its all usually about the music but special brew festival cider was one going to be one of my Tassie educations.

Jenni at Panama

We had arrived a the day before the festival proper started and they were still setting up the main stage. There were 3 stages and they had acts on the smaller two. It was a beautiful night, sitting under the stars and listening to music played live in an intimate venue.


Panama was a lovely experience, a festival truly like no other. Last year they showed a picture of 5 or 6 small pieces of rubbish. This was all the rubbish that was left after 1400 people attended a festival for 3 days. But what of the cider I hear you cry? Putting “Festival” in the name of a brew usually denotes its low alcohol content, presumably so you can drink it all day. The first day I had my first cider at 11am, by 12:30pm after 3 more I was asleep, broken neck in a chair. Transpires that Festival Cider in Tasmania is 9% proof. Worked out eventually that the ratio of 2 beers then 1 cider was the way to stay alive at Panama. As happens at these things where you travel miles to a venue you’ve never been to before we almost immediately upon arriving bumped into someone we knew. Adam, husband of Briony, Jenni’s great and long time friend. A few months later a plan was hatched for all of us to return to Panama this year. All of us being the Walligans, Briony, Adam and their 2 babies. This will definitely be a future blog. Panama 2017 summarised, the music was great, the company was fabulous, the venue spectacular and the experience memorable. Apart, of course, from a small section during the cider episode.

Part 2 next


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