A world-traveller, but a first-timer to Tasmania.
That’s me. It’s embarrassing as an Australian to admit that you have flown half-way around the world to Italy seven times in your thirty-four years but you’ve never set foot on the island state of Tasmania, a mere fifty-five minute flight away from Melbourne. Fortunately, a recent travel conference in Tasmania’s capital city, Hobart, provided a wonderful excuse to enjoy a little glimpse of what this beautiful island has to offer.
Hobart is Australia’s second oldest city (after Sydney). Founded in 1804 as a penal colony, the city sits on the estuary of the Derwent River and under the shadow of Mount Wellington. Now with a population of just over 200,000 people, the original 19th century cottages and the sandstone warehouses stand side-by-side with more modern buildings, creating a lovely mixture of old and new.
Hobart ticks all of the boxes for me. Great food? Check. Creamy fresh oysters, delectable seafood, amazing steaks, delicate chocolate and gateaus, crisp, sweet fruit… the culinary delights on offer in this region is incredible. The quality and freshness of the produce coupled with the reputation of the chefs and restaurants means you would find plenty of wonderful opportunities to [over]indulge.
Great wine? Check. From light sparkling whites to luscious, warm Pinot Noirs, to the new wine of the moment – dry Reislings – the thirty-odd Hobart vineyards and winemakers do it very, very well. I took it as my personal mission to ascertain exactly how well they did it and so took myself off on a Boutique Winery Tour to sample a selection from three wineries just outside of city. Stunning views across beautiful bays; Australian bush settings with convict-build stone cottages and vintage cars; quaint dam-side picnic spots and resident ducks wandering by – these locations provided a wonderful outlook while I learned about what makes Tasmanian wines so unique.
Great scenery? Check. The rugged mountains and rolling hills, crystal clear waters and sweeping harbours, original Colonial buildings and heritage architecture make Hobart and its surrounds a truly beautiful area to enjoy.
Great activities? Check. While I tested the wines and made sure that the oysters and cheeses were really as good as reported, colleagues of mine raced maxi-yachts, cycled down mountains, relaxed with games of boulle and a decadent High Tea at a villa, enjoyed heritage walks around the city, kayaked in the harbour and wandered around the weekly Salamanca Markets.
Great accommodation? Absolutely. My top three hotels are the Grand Chancellor Hotel Hobart, The Henry Jones Art Hotel and the Islington. I love the sweeping views across the marina from the Grand Chancellor; the Henry Jones’s individual rooms and exposed timber frame work makes it interesting, historical and unique; while the Islington’s intimate yet modern decor has a slightly eclectic edge to it.
The highlight of our brief stay was a visit to the Museum of Old and New Art, known as MONA. The gallery is an amazing three-story structure built into the cliffs overlooking Berriedale Bay. It opened in 2011 and is described as a “subversive adult Disneyland”. The artwork, artefacts and installations are certainly not for everyone, but in my opinion that is the point. It’s meant to challenge you, to make you uncomfortable at times, to ask questions, evoke curiosity and to push the boundaries. It is not for those who are extremely conservative or easily offended. However if you are prepared to be open-minded then there is indeed something here for everyone – it may be the stunning architecture, the beautiful natural setting on the cliffs, the installations such as the news headlines being sprayed out by water jets or the foam bubble pumps, the series of sexually graphic watercolours, or the enormous “Snake” piece by Sidney Nolan that occupies the entire central space of the gallery. Whatever it is, there is something here – and no doubt it is the kind of place that you could visit time and time again and discover new hidden treasures each time.
So have I seen Hobart? Not on your life. Would I come back again? Absolutely – in a heart beat if I could, and I would bring the family with me and try and get a taste of the rest of what the beautiful island state of Tasmania has to offer.
Oh, by the way, if you make it to MONA… if you’re downstairs and need to go to the bathroom, only use the third toilet on the right-hand side if you’re feeling brave and don’t mind a good laugh (and a bit of a shock)!