Maybe I've seen one too many James Bond movies, but on first glance at Pumphouse Point, which sits on stunning Lake St. Clair in the ancient heart of Tasmania's World Heritage Area, I half expect it to suddenly be blown to smithereens, as 007's Aston Martin races to safety along the flume with seconds to spare. The temple-like structure rises from the lake like some super-villain's lair, which could just as quickly disappear into the misty depths at the touch of a button - after a prolonged fight scene in which Bond prevails of course.
Thankfully it would take more than a fanciful movie plot to shift Pumphouse Point from its foundations. But the transformation of the 1940s hydro station into a breathtaking boutique hotel and wilderness retreat is an intriguing saga in itself.
Developer Simon Currant had his own Bond fantasies when he first envisioned a future for the derelict Pumphouse, which was decommissioned in 1995 and for a long time housed nothing more sinister than starlings. The hotel's marketing manager, Tom Wootton explains Currant originally planned a 7-star resort with 'flume buggies' transporting guests across the lake into the bowels of the building. The global financial crisis proved more resilient than any Bond villain and Currant scaled back his plans, but it still took nearly 20 years and three tender processes to secure the site, which includes the old lakeside substation (now known as the Shorehouse.)
It was "not easy", Wootton says with some understatement, but the developer had the "foresight that one day it would be used." The Neo-classical design of the Pumphouse was "such overkill for what was required" to pump water from the lake, but lends itself beautifully to its new role. Once the go-ahead was finally given, Currant wasted no more time in bringing his (re)vision to life. Builders removed asbestos and replaced the roof of the Pumphouse, but kept the concrete shell and the original pump intact as a reminder of its utilitarian past. The "real-life Tetris game" became a 12-room hotel over three levels, with oversized panes in the large bay windows of each room providing the framework for the new brief; to bring the outside in. The Shorehouse was also converted into six hotel rooms and a communal dining space for guests.
"The focus now is not what's inside but outside", Wootton explains. "It's boutique comfort but not lavish luxury; the connection is to what's outside". What's inside is still pretty impressive. The rooms are lined in smooth Tasmanian oak, with king beds, heated bathroom floors and views across the lake or landscape. No art graces the walls; the design and palette are kept simple but not too loud. There's Internet and TV in each room so guests don't feel too cut off, "but I don't think they get a lot of use", laughs Wootton. There are two lounges in the Pumphouse; the mezzanine level houses a lounge/ conference room for business bonding sessions with a big plasma on the wall ("a bay window is impractical for distractions") and well-stocked honesty bars service both buildings.
Dining is a family affair in an intimate setting. Guests work up an appetite on the 245-metre trek across the flume to the Shorehouse to enjoy platters of meat, seafood and vegetables, prepared in Hobart then vacuum-sealed and trucked in to the wilderness retreat. The group dining tables are dressed in Hale Mercantile Co table linen. "The linen look fits beautifully with the comfortably rustic, worn feel" says Wootton. "We like it crumpled on the tables. You don't want to walk in and feel like you're in a restaurant. We want you to feel like you're coming into our home".
If group dining is not your thing, you can raid the individual larders in your hotel room, filled with Tasmanian goodies and fresh-baked bread. Or if you must venture out, the Derwent Bridge Hotel is five minutes up the road. But really, why would you want to leave?
So who comes to this beacon in the wilderness, roughly two and a half hours from Tasmania's three main hubs? Nature lovers and twitchers are everywhere. From "sand shoe tourists looking for soft adventure" to seasoned bushwalkers undertaking the six-day Overland Track, Pumphouse Point welcomes everyone. "They can rock up with the clothes on their back and they'd be very comfortable" says Wootton. There have been "lots of proposals and lots of honeymoons" set against the dense, wraparound rainforest which ensures both Pumphouse Point and the Shorehouse are full for four months out. The lake's moody mystery was used to great effect by BMW in a corporate launch, with cars piercing the ghostly mist which clings to the flume in a scene worthy of any spy movie.
Prices range from $240 to $480 per night including breakfast and outdoor activities such as kayaking, fishing, mountain biking and evening bush walks. Just don't leave your wilderness escape to the last moment. Even Bond needs a booking at Pumphouse Point.