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Eden's earthly delights
We walk the grounds of Hawley House with Simon Houghton, talking and listening. I hang on every word.
Here is an articulate, charismatic and creative person who has developed his family property into a wondrous world of natural fascination.
''This was a dry paddock,'' says Mr Houghton, as he looks back over one of the lagoons that has become a refuge for native flora and fauna.
At the northern end, a stone hide has been built. It will eventually hold cameras to record the lagoon's many nocturnal goings on.
Guests at Hawley House will be able to sit inside a viewing room and watch the native yellow-bellied water rats perform their otter-like antics; watch the family of ducks that calls the wetlands home; watch the bandicoots and wombats stop in for a slurp.
Earlier this day, a visiting Israeli journalist has enthused to Mr Houghton that Hawley House is a ''museum inside and a Garden of Eden outside''.
The comparison pleases him.
So if he had to choose between the museum and the garden, where would he be?
Before we meet, Mr Houghton's daughter Melissa has greeted my wife Sallie and I.
She explains that her father is off somewhere, in his eccentric way, and will be along sooner or later.
In the meantime, Melissa offers a drink and shows us around.
The appearance of the family's three Alsatians heralds his return. Mr Houghton has been wading his wetlands.
There is a seamless transfer from hostess to host and Mr Houghton builds a couple of gin and tonics.
We sit and he praises the virtue of creativity. I finally think I have a question worthy of the man and ask what impresses him.
He thinks about it, offers a related anecdote, and arrives at his answer: intelligence.
At one end of the property there is a shrine to Buddha. Mr Houghton tells me he is a ''rabid Buddhist'' and checks to make sure I've understood the in-built contradiction.
We walk past the lagoon and he shows us where Tasmanian devils are fed and points out a ''refugee'' swamp gum, eucalyptus ovata, that is frequently cleared because it is considered unattractive.
The wetlands at Hawley Estate have been created to mirror the lagoons behind the dunes across the bay at Narawntapu National Park.
A huge ridge along the Hawley Esplanade holds the wetlands in. The ridge carries all manner of flora, including every variety of aloe that grows in Tasmania.
The gardens have gained international recognition with plants ranging from cool temperate to sub-tropical.
The wonders of Hawley House are not visible from the esplanade and one famous exception, an eagle sculpture, has been sawn off at the claws and stolen by vandals.
We visit All Creatures Church, a lovely structure with bats in the roof, if not the belfry.
It's late afternoon and the light is blazing through the back windows of the church. It's a beautiful sight, beatific even.
My previous visit to Hawley House was about a decade ago, when the Houghtons celebrated the arrival of the church with a blessing-of-the-animals ceremony.
As we walk the sense of this property as a refuge grows.
The bats are welcome to stay in the roof just as all animals are encouraged to make a home in the wetlands.
We ascend stairs to my favourite part of Hawley House _ a rooftop bath.
From the tub you can see the Asbestos Ranges across the bay with plumes of smoke rising from those early January fires.
We snoop in one of the rooms. Hawley House can sleep 40 people in a range of rooms with antique furnishings and original art work.
The room we see has a superb leadlight window that is full of afternoon sun.
The property is also a working vineyard with gold-medal winning wines to its credit.
The marvellous gardens and on-site church make it a popular wedding venue, and as we finish our tour a party is rehearsing for their big day.
We move on to the dining room, where Melissa serves and her sister Sophie cooks.
The estate has contracted external winemakers in the past but is building a winery.
Sophie, who holds a wine science degree, will be the new winemaker when Hawley's first on-site vintage is made this year.
We sit for the meal. Simon's son Marc is catering manager for Hawley House and its sister property, the Gingerbread House at East Devonport.
His menu is wonderful. We have entrees of scallop pancakes and smoked salmon and chive souffle, mains of grilled Atlantic salmon and lamb backstrap and share a wicked dessert of baked poppyseed cheesecake.
We sit by a window and sip chardonnay as twilight gives way to night, then gaze at paintings on the restaurant walls depicting idyllic vineyard and nautical scenes.
They have all graced labels of the estate's wines and they are all about Hawley: past, present, future.
The history of this place is just as fascinating as the present.
But that's another story.
ABOUT HAWLEY HOUSE