Immersed in the Tasmanian wilderness, a stay at Pumphouse Point is unlike any other. Repurposing a former hydro-electric pump station to an eighteen room boutique retreat, Pumphouse Point opened in 2015 and has quickly become a jewel in the Tasmanian tourism crown. Bringing together a stunning natural landscape, original heritage-listed architecture and an outstanding hospitality offering, Pumphouse Point exudes rugged simplicity and unpretentious luxury.
It’s a deliberate approach, and one that was pivotal in driving the design and redevelopment process. To learn more about the unique history of this property we spoke with the driving force behind the concept, developer and proprietor Simon Currant.
Describing Pumphouse Point as the centre of his universe, Currant’s passion for the unique experience of the retreat is infectious. It’s a passion that drove him to pursue the concept over almost twenty years, from first visiting the land in 1996 to opening doors in 2015.
Originally visiting the land as part of a panel that the Tasmanian State Government had put together to explore what opportunities there were on Crown Land for tourism ventures, Currant didn’t even have to step out on the lake to see the place’s potential. Resigning from the council, Currant put in an expression of interest for the lease, but when the government put the project out for tender, Currant didn’t win it. Over the next ten years, the project would go back to the government to tender four times and see three different developers involved, eventually seeing Currant take a different approach for a smaller-scale retreat. Taking inspiration from the high-end accommodation concept Saffire, another project Currant had been involved with, this revised offering used the two existing buildings and had just ten rooms. The design was complete, the paperwork finalised and the blessing from the government secured – and then the global financial crisis of 2008 hit.
“Everything evaporated; banks said no, investors said no” Currant remembers. “So I went back to the drawing board and said, in this environment, what can I get in the way of funding and what can I create? I changed the concept completely to what we have today, which worked commercially from a capital and return basis, and was able to attract investor partners at a level that they could participate.” The enormous effort finally paid off – over a decade from his first expression of interest, the redevelopment was confirmed. Unsurprisingly Currant didn’t waste a moment to get to work – the build took just six months from the first builder onsite to opening doors.
With the final concept utilising the two existing heritage-listed buildings as a backbone, the refit was heavily influenced by both the natural surrounds and the art deco elements of the original architecture. “It’s a place for outside, for providing a vehicle to experience what’s out there – the rawness out there” says Currant. “How it would reflect the landscape was a big thing for me, making people feel warm and safe inside yet be looking out, which is why the rooms are all orientated to the outside, to take it all in.” Currant brought on local architecture firm Cumulus Studio to design the retreat, bringing the guest suits, communal lounge areas and a shared dining area to life, utilising initial features of the pump house such as the pendant lamps and bay windows to add character and allude to the property’s history.
“The redevelopment attempts to build on the sense of arrival and place inherent in the unique location whilst alluding to the site’s history through material selection and construction detailing” said the architects. Their philosophy is echoed by Currant. “I didn’t want it to be a super sophisticated” he says. “It’s refined but there’s a rawness to it. It’s not at odds with its surroundings, it’s not bells and whistles, because of the natural space it inhabits and respects.”
Beyond its notable architecture, the team behind Pumphouse Point have worked hard to deliver an incredible experience, from the high standard of service to concepts that add to the uniqueness of the retreat’s offering, such as the nightly ‘Shared Table’ communal dinner. With the retreat’s remote location posing difficulties for an a la carte offering, the solution was to arrange the food to be brought up from Hobart, prepared as a fixed menu that can be paired with wines purchased at bottle shop prices. The experience of the guests convening over the shared dinner is one of Currant’s favourite features. “The best joy I get from Pumphouse is that every night in the dining room, people come together and there’s a bit of awkwardness ‘I don’t know these people’ but you get a buzz going in here and there are amazing interactions between people, the type you just don’t get at a table for two” he says.
As for activities, while Lake St. Clair offers incredible walks the retreat also provides boats and bikes for complimentary use. Fisherman will find plenty to occupy their time, while those of us who prefer to spend less time out in the elements have a roaring fire, welcoming couches and an honesty bar to keep cosy with a book or board game. Should you get peckish, the rooms each host a larder stocked with delicious local fare and hot bread is delivered as a free accompaniment on call. It’s these small touches, the thoughtfulness of each element of the experience that make Pumphouse Point memorable – beyond its world-class location and notable architecture, it’s an extremely well-executed hospitality concept.
The fact it exists at all is a privilege not lost on Currant, who reminds us that the pump was never used upon its initial opening, and the pumphouse itself features a number of elements perhaps more suited for a high-end accommodation concept than a working pump. “Why would anyone build a place that houses pumps and have bay windows on it, why would a view be needed?” he wonders aloud. Whether through intuition or irony, the result of years unused and years in limbo is a one of a kind experience, sure to cast the same spell on new guests as it did for Currant in years to come.