Bronze sculptures on a circle of stone blocks - not what you might expect in an isolated patch of bush in Tasmania’s highlands. But there they are, with a historic homestead nearby. Both make for an interesting and probably unexpected stop for travellers on the high road across central Tasmania.
It's easy to drive past and barely notice the plain wooden sign saying "Steppes Sculptures". With just a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it gravel track disappearing into the bush, there is little to draw in passers by. On earlier trips I had driven past, but eventually curiosity drew me in.
On the Lake Highway 35km north of Bothwell, I drove up the short track to a small gravel parking area. My eyes beheld the odd but grand sight of twelve large stone plinths, each housing a bronze sculpture. Another large rock and sculpture sits in the centre of the circle.
Thoughts of Stonehenge sprang to mind, although the stones at Steppes bear little resemblance beyond being arranged in a ring. The main similarity was in my initial reaction: "Wow!" followed by "What is this circle of stones doing in the middle of nowhere?"
The sculptures are the gift of sculptor Stephen Walker, and are "dedicated to those who share in the love and care of the Highlands of Tasmania, from the past to the future." Walker also created the bronze sculptures on the Hobart waterfront, and the whale at Cockle Creek.
I’m not much of an art appreciator, but I was impressed by the sculptures ... depicting aspects of the wildlife and history of the central highlands. The isolated location seemed odd at first, but the peace and quiet of the unique highland bush eventually felt appropriate for the subject.
But there's more ... less than a kilometre north of the sculptures, beside the main road, is the Steppes Historic Site. Most people just drive there, but a walking track connects the two sites. With an altitude of around 900 metres the natural vegetation here differs from that in other parts of Tasmania, so a short walk is an opportunity to spot the differences.
The Steppes Homestead was built in 1863 when sheep grazing became popular in the highlands. Sheep were driven from lower land around Ouse and Bothwell up to the highlands in summer, a practice which still occurs. There were a number of accommodation paddocks for sheep and their caretakers to rest and feed overnight, including one at Steppes. Being near the junction with the Interlaken road made it a strategic location, and it became a focal point for life in the area.
Visitors can wander around the grounds of the homestead and outbuildings at any time. The homestead itself is locked, except on open days, but plenty can be seen without going inside. I spent a while sauntering among the buildings, imagining what it might have been like to live here.
In good weather it is a pleasant spot. Picnics can be enjoyed there, with the homestead and native bush providing a nice Tasmanian backdrop. The track to the sculptures and back could be an after-lunch stroll.
Bad weather is another story. The Tasmanian highlands are prone to intermittent snow in winter and spring - occasionally summer too - and the weather can be bleak at any time of year. Living at Steppes back in the 1800s would have had challenges and inconveniences ... such as a night visit to the toilet during a snowstorm. That's something I pondered while standing near the homestead's outdoor toilet.
Crossing the plateau in the Great Lake area is something I recommend to anyone wanting to see landscapes unlike the rest of Tasmania. Visiting the Steppes Sculptures or Homestead, or both, can easily fit into and enhance such a journey.
Both sites are on the Lakes Highway (A5), also known as the Highland Lakes Road, about 35km north of Bothwell and 27km south of Miena. The main turn-off to the Interlaken Road (C527) is a well signposted landmark to look for: the homestead is 100 metres north of it and the sculptures 600 metres south. There are no facilities of any kind at either site, other than some space to park.
The Interlaken Road connects the area to Oatlands and Tunbridge, and can be a pleasant drive in dry conditions. But be warned: this route is unsealed and can be slippery after damp weather, with some steep sections. Snow and slush can persist after it has melted elsewhere.