The Keep - Goulds Country, Tasmania, Australia
Fumbling for my iPhone, I curse myself for not printing the instructions or downloading the file offline from my email before we lost signal. The road sign we’re parked under stipulates that the gravel road should only be accessed by residents and Google Maps is hinting that we still have 28 mins of driving to go.
“Relax”, my husband says in an exasperated tone. “I left the file open on my phone before we left St Helen’s this morning.”
I exhale noisily, my relief palpable. My husband flicks on his right indicator and we pull onto the gravel road. Having found the PDF instructions, I scan the text quickly. We’re on a slight detour given we’re driving from Pyengana Dairy Farm instead of St Helen’s but the unsealed road seems manageable for our Kia Selto.
Soon it’s just the crunch of the tyres and sunlight flashing through the trees. We wind the windows down, turn off the radio and listen for the birdsong and the wind. I catch blurry glimpses of purple flowers scattered along the edge of the road, making me think of the famous wild lupin fields in New Zealand.
The drive continues and there’s not a soul in sight. It becomes apparent that this is logging country so the well-worn road must be used by trucks most of the time. Eventually, we reach Richards Road and this is the first turn off. The gravel road dissipates to be replaced by a few more rocks, but thankfully, it’s nothing that the Kia Selto can’t handle. Spying The Keep logos pinned on interspersed trees has us confident we’re on the right treasure trail.
Soon, we arrive at the boom gate. If you didn’t know otherwise, you’d have to wonder what on earth could be beyond this gate with a sign titled “The Keep”. My excitement levels rise as we cross the threshold, taking care to slow down to 40 km/hour.
I don’t know if my eyes are playing tricks on me or if it’s simply the time of day. Out here, the sunlight appears to make nature’s colours shine more vividly. Some of the tree tops glow amber and gold like we’ve caught the very end of autumn so perhaps summer has arrived late in Tasmania.
The Kia approaches a particularly steep hill with a patch of grey rubble. I silently pray that we don’t bust a tyre. I clench my jaw and grip the door handle tightly as the SUV edges further upwards. The tyres struggle to maintain momentum over the rocks and I concentrate on staying silent to not aggravate the tension permeating from my husband in the driver’s seat.
“They certainly don’t make it easy to get to the middle of nowhere,” I think to myself.
One more push and I let out another breath of relief as the Kia pulses forward over the crest. A few hundred metres further and two grey columns materialise signalling the final frontier to our destination. An unexpected soldier greets us here, staring down haughtily as we approach.
The protector of The Keep is a majestic eagle constructed of corten steel, perched atop a boulder and tasked with assessing the wanderers who have ventured up to these parts.
The car engine revs up the final paved driveway and what else can I do except drop my jaw, absolutely stupefied at the sight before me.
The name “The Keep” aptly encapsulates this building and its surroundings. Undoubtedly, it is also dubbed a ‘fortress’, ‘a castle on the hill’ and a ‘sanctuary’. Even without having entered the inner sanctum, I know that this place is special.
Perhaps it’s a combination of the quest-like journey along the unsealed roads, the boom gate and 5 kilometre driveway, the remoteness and the eagle which have all added a mysterious flair. The anticipation in my gut feels somewhat different to any other AirBnB I’ve visited before.
Inside, the property is decked out with polished wooden floors across all three levels. Symmetrical, rectangular windows offer 360 degree views and allow plenty of natural light to filter inwards, showcasing unique, handmade artefacts from Tasmanian craftspeople and artists.
Our jaws are fixed in a permanent ‘O’ shape for the next several minutes as we admire each design element, the bespoke drinks cabinet and the view that awaits us from the top level through the floor to ceiling windows.
Despite the modern trinkets and comforts, the secluded location and intention of “The Keep” is to protect human connection and once we’ve snapped several pictures, we purposefully put the electronics down to focus on resting and rejuvenating.
Late afternoon, we wander down the driveway to pay a visit to the Myrtle before meandering through the Ferns. As we nosy down towards the (unofficially) largest myrtle tree in Tasmania, I spy lichen covered tree trunks, stripped of branches and leaves. They leave me wondering how long they have stood here and the stories they could tell. A low brick wall at the bottom of the hill exudes fairytale and folklore vibes. The thicket of weedy-looking bushes that sprout relatively evenly across this small plain makes me wish my plant knowledge was better than it is, given that I can’t tell if the plants will flower in season or if they’re non-natives left to grow wild.
We reach the edge of the rainforest. This is where moss and lichen rule, spreading a carpet of green across fallen logs and trees that appear to stretch endlessly skyward. I’m thankful for the orange markers tied to several branches as we navigate over roots, debris and branches, testing the ground for any soft spots or unseen stumps. When we think we have lost the path of orange ties, a flash catches my eye and it’s the plaque pitched at the base of the giant Myrtle that shows us that we’ve reached our designated spot.
Judging by the size of its berth, this Myrtle has stood here in the rainforest for several decades. Smaller trees have fallen across its roots at the mercy of Mother Nature yet as we crane our necks towards the sky, there’s no way we can see the top. Fortunately, man nor nature has not felled this beauty and the Myrtle has remained sturdy and strong, providing shelter for the inhabitants of the forest, much like its relatively new neighbour up on the hill, becoming a sanctuary for the two-legged animals that seek solitude in this natural environment.
The path that traces through the Ferns is thankfully flatter and we’re guided by sandy bricks underneath the foliage. We pause every few steps to listen for the rustling of a passing echidna and the melodies composed by the birds, whilst the lightest of breezes tickles our ears.
Deciding to skip the Creek walk, we will our legs up the driveway, eager to turn on the hot water for the outdoor granite bath between the boulders. The few clouds that dawdled mid-afternoon seem to have cleared as I turn the hot water tap on and drop the heart shaped bath bomb with a satisfying plonk in the rising water.
As we wait for the bath to fill, I begin to make an indent on our cheese provisions in the kitchen. From the upper level, my eyes trace mountain peaks to my left as the sea mist green melds into hues of cornflower, sapphire and midnight blue. After our last few days exploring the east coast of Tasmania, taking these few hours to slow down amidst the solitude and serenity is eagerly welcomed.
Excitedly, I slip into one of the plush black robes and scurry down to the boulders. The wind has whipped up again as the sun slowly sinks behind the tree tops. Disrobing, I hurriedly immerse myself in the bath. The hot water has an immediate relaxation effect on my tight muscles as I close my eyes, inhale deeply and exhale slowly.
A ribbon of starburst orange has appeared on the horizon, and as the steam blows off the bath water, I lean back to literally soak up the view. My husband soon joins me and we revel in our outdoor nakedness whilst marvelling at the expanse in front of us, already knowing that this very moment will be a highlight of our Tasmanian honeymoon.
Eventually, our pruney fingers and grumbling bellies propel us inside for dinner. After our meal, we switch off all the lights and lay the cushions on the floor. Our eyes adjust to the darkness as we peer outside for a glimpse of a velvet sky pin pricked with jewels. Our ears strain to seek out the smallest of noises. We only spot a few gems in the sky and we gather that it’s a cloudy night.
Soon, we are falling onto the deliciously comfortable king bed and we deliberately keep the window shades drawn with a vague notion of rising with the sun. Sleep comes swiftly but it seems fleeting as I awake groggily in the middle of the night. Momentarily, I’m disorientated before realising that the moon is beaming in on me. I hear no sirens, no shouts nor any calls. My eyelids refuse to open yet I don’t feel my safety is compromised, so I roll over to my side and let sleep consume me once more.
The next morning, I pad upstairs to fix the morning coffees. Through the windows, the trees stand stagnant. The soft, morning sun is accentuating the colours of the forest canopy; the dull yellows become golden and the ambers convert to fiery reds on the tips of the trees.
I glance to my right and now the cloud obscures the view. I pause and I watch as the cloud drifts slowly towards me, the wind gently pushing the white wisps to glide over the treetops, like a ballerina sweeping across a stage. It moves at a steady pace and I think to myself that if this truly were a king’s fortress, the sentries would certainly have a hard time keeping watch for invading enemies.
The birds seem unperturbed and continue their morning tunes, serenading the open air. I turn my back, only for an instant, and when I turn around to face the world again, the cloud has enveloped the trees. A thick wall of white stretches beyond me so now, up here in the castle on the hill, I must be hidden from the outside world.
I sit momentarily, absorbing the silence. Gradually, the outline of a tree emerges from the white thicket. As steadily as it appears before me, it now disappears as the cloud continues to move across my line of vision. I swear my pulse quickens as it eerily feels that I’ve become the unwanted protagonist in a horror movie. I wait a few minutes more, expecting the tree to reveal itself again, to ensure that my eyes aren’t playing tricks on me, but it shyly remains cloaked in white.
My husband joins me on the upper level in search of coffee. We’ve allowed ourselves a little sleep-in so we missed the sunrise but letting our bodies wake naturally, rather than to the sounds of traffic or a shrill alarm, is a luxury we’re glad to have afforded ourselves during our short stay.
All too soon, it’s time to depart from this secluded getaway. Like those who have stayed before us, I wish we had more time to while the hours away.
I keep my eyes on the side mirror and turn my head for one last look at The Keep before the cloud shrouds the refuge in the wilderness. This is one of the few times where I wish that modern technology couldn’t share this wondrous place with the world, because though I can no longer see it, I know that it’s there. I know that this place is the secret we’d like to keep.