Hobart is Tasmania’s harbour capital, located in the south-east of the state at the foot of majestic Mount Wellington and on the River Derwent. It is Australia’s smallest and second oldest state capital in close proximity to beautiful natural surrounds, and one of the gateways to the Antarctic.
The city was settled in 1804 by Lieutenant Governor Collins and grew rapidly as the clearing house for British and Irish convicts. Its place on the Derwent River became the perfect protected deepwater harbour, and now every December and January it welcomes weary and exultant contenders from the Rolex Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race. Today it is a provocative mix of historic and contemporary art and culture, and some of the best restaurants in the country.
MONA, the Museum of Old and New Art, is located on a winery just outside Hobart (see more details below) owned by Hobartian David Walsh who has one of the largest and most eclectic private collections of art and antiquities in the world. When it opened in 2011 it blew the socks off the world's art community, put Hobart on the map, wowed Australians, made Tasmanians even more proud to be Tasmanian, and has continued to create shock and awe ever since.
Hobart is less than an hour’s plane journey from Melbourne, slightly more from Sydney, and a three hour drive from Launceston. It is a superb hub for exploring the south of the state and many of Tasmania’s most popular attractions and activities can be undertaken within an easy journey of the city.
In Salamanca Place on Hobart’s historic waterfront you will find 19th-century waterfront warehouses dating back to the 1830s whaling days. Today, they house shops, bars, cafes, restaurants, galleries and art studios, and many hours can be spent browsing, wandering, enjoying the maritime heritage and fantastic alfresco dining. Hobart is a city of warm sandstone, bright spinnakers on the water, fish punts at the docks and coffee under the sun umbrellas of Salamanca where the famous Salamanca Market is held Saturday – an unmissable fifty year old attraction and a real opportunity to mix with the locals, try Tasmanian food and drink, lose yourelf among the craft stalls, find authentic mementoes to take home, and soak up the vibe and entertainment.
One of Hobart’s oldest and most historic areas, pretty Battery Point is literally a step back in time. Buildings made of sandstone have stood since very near the community’s founding. It is famed as one of the more exclusive areas and has a number of large, well built homes, and historical cottages. Connected to Salamanca by Kelly’s Steps, constructed back in the 1830s out of massive sandstone blocks, Battery Point is on of those places that invites you to explore on foot to really get a good feel for the place. Visiting Battery Point would not be complete without seeing Arthur’s Circus, which represents the “village” green that the entire suburb is built around. The Colonial Museum, Narranya, also is a stop to not overlook, with its displays of things from yesteryear. There are also some excellent pubs (try Shippies and the Prince of Wales), cafes, excellent restaurants and small shops selling treats that range from baked goods to coffee and candies and chocolates.
The murals, underfoot granite and alumninum letters of North Hobart all point to the development of what was once a run down area that now buzzes with shops, cafes, restaurants and clubs that mix modern day urbanism with the heritage of a bygone era.
The lifeblood of Hobart’s daily routine, Mount Wellington towers above Hobart at 1300 metres and is the playground for Hobartians at weekends and during the summer. Often capped by snow and with miles of walking and mountain biking trails, it proffers breathtaking views over Southern Tasmania and the thrill of a downhill descent by bike is a fantastic way to spend a morning or afternoon, and perfect for anyone of any age who is happy to hop on a bike and let the wind blow in your hair. When you reach the bottom after an exhilarating ride down, you won't want to dismount!
Launceston is Tasmania’s second largest city and has redefined itself as a cultural hub with vibrant cafes, museums and open parkland. It is rather an elegant city in contrast to Hobart’s buzzing and cosmopolitan social scene, with magnificent Victorian buildings. It is also the gateway to the cool-climate wineries of the Tamar Valley. This small compact city is easy to explore. You can walk the elegant streetscapes and through century-old parks, which sit beside revitalised areas such as Launceston Seaport, with its waterfront eateries. A boardwalk links the Seaport to Inveresk, where you can visit one of Australia's best regional galleries, the Queen Victoria Musuem at Inveresk. Launceston sits at the junction of the North and South Esk rivers. From here, the broad Tamar River valley opens north to Bass Strait, 36 miles away. Launceston is an ideal base from which to explore northern Tasmania, with the great icons of Cradle Mountain and the Freyinet National Park both within a two and a half hour drive. With a population of 68,000, the city has a strong sense of identity. Melbourne is just 45 minutes by air, and Hobart a mere three hour drive south.
Just a few minutes from the city centre lies Cataract Gorge, a vast place of mystical beauty. Its steep, rugged cliffs and wild areas attract rock climbers and the longest single span chairlift in the world allows all to enjoy the panoramic views with Wallabies grazing nearby. As a waterway it is also amazing in its displays of the power of nature; the normally placid 'basin' can become a torrent and whirlpool filled spectacle, appealing to kayakers and white water rafters depending on the state of the river.
Launceston and the surrounding villages are perfect for winelovers wanting to visit the acclaimed vineyards of the Tamar Valley, almost without question Austraila's prettiest wine route where, to quote Jancis Robinson of the Financial Times commented, "If an ordinary Tasmanian wine exists, I have yet to find it." Try Velo Wines, run by former Tour de France cyclist Micheal and his lovely wife Linda. Or Tamar Ridge, where some award winning Pinots, Sauvignons and Rieslings are made (and to our good fortunate, exported to the UK). Or Jansz, regarded as one of the best sparkling wines to come out of Australia (a French journalist of some repute informed me that in his opinion, Tasmanian sparklings are as good as French Champagne - high praise indeed). Here, where many of the boutique wineries offer Cellar Doors, it is possible to sample some of Tasmania’s, indeed the world’s finest cool-climate wines and enjoy a spot of shopping and mouthwatering dining in idylllic settings.
Hollybanks Treetops Canopy Ride is a 20 minute drive away, and there is alpine adventure 34 miles drive from the city centre where the craggy mountain region of Ben Lomond National Park provides untold opportunities for rock climbers, bushwalkers, mountain bikers and even skiers. Further east lie the incredible beaches of the Bay of Fires and the Mount William National Park, and to the north is the ‘Serengeti of Tasmania’ – the Narawntapu National Park, with abundant wildlife, and Rushy Lagoon, where mobs of Forester Kangaoos are clearly visible from the roadside and wombats amble along without a care in the world.
It is easy to get involved in Hobart’s busy arts scene. Visitors can become immersed in art, craft, music and theatre at the Salamanca Arts Centre and the surrounding warehouses, and as a start point for a visit to Tasmania there is no better place to learn about the Island and the city's history and contemporary life at the recently reopened Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery on Macquarie Street. A drink at Australia’s only dedicated arts hotel, The Henry Jones, is a must. The already world famous MONA has redefined both art and 'museuming', and is just 15 minutes from downtown. Drive in, take the ‘Mona Roma’ bus, or cruise upriver for a unique experience. Hire an Art Bike and use the online SmartMap to navigate your way around, or book a ticket for the small but perfectly formed Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra.
When MONA opened in January 2011 it simultaneously sent shock waves through the global art world and put Hobart on the world map. Never before has art been so confrontational, irreverent, bizarre or enjoyable. MONA is owned by local Hobartian David Walsh, a professional gambler who has made millions from his gift of beating the horses, and who has spent his amassed fortunes on collecting one of the world’s largest and most eclectic private art and ancient antiquity collections. Once he had more art than he could manage to store in his warehouses, he decided to simply build a museum in which to house it. Not any normal museum, mind you. He hired architects to create an subversive adult Disneyland (his words) dug out of the Triassic sandstone cliffs on the banks of the river Derwent just outside Hobart. MONA, the combined value of art and architecture is some in the hundreds of millions of dollars, also happens to be located on one of Tasmania’s oldest wineries, Moorilla, so the first thing you will do when you descend into the bowels (appropriately, as one shortly discovers) of the building is have a glass of wine. This is just as well, because you will need it, and almost certainly another by the time you have negotiated your way around MONA – with the help of your O device (no tidy little interpretation panels on white walls to be found here). MONA also has its own microbrewery, Moo Brew, and an excellent restaurant, Source. Those wishing to stay in the midst of the world’s most bonkers cultural attraction can do so by booking one of the surprisingly good value and no less funky MONA Pavilions.
The Sunday Times commented shortly after its opening that MONA is the most important addition to Australia’s cultural landscape since the Sydney Opera House. If MONA had opened in Sydney, the art world would have fallen on its knees with joy. The fact that it opened in Hobart, for so long mocked by mainlanders as the backwater of Australia, and is the creation of a local Tasmanian, makes it all the more fantastic.
Art of Nature, a three day journey
Nowhere does art and nature go hand in hand so sublimely than in Tasmania. Two of Tassie's most iconic experiences, MONA (the Museum of Old and New Art) and the Freycinet Experience (see Walking) have teamed up with the legendary ocean-facing sculpture garden by Peter Adams, Windgrove, on the Tasman Peninsula to create a sensational itinerary every month between November and April. The trip takes you from your own private visit to MONA, dinner at Source restaurant and accommodation in the Mona Pavilions to the serenity of the art and antique-filled solar-powered Friendly Beaches Lodge on the Freycinet Peninsula. The next day you journey down to Windgrove for a guided Peace Walk by PEter Adams himself. All transfers, meals and Departures go on 29/10, 5/11, 17/12, 11/2/14, 11/3/14 and 8/4/2014.
Almost as surprising as MONA, if on a smaller scale, and the creation solely of another of Tasmania’s gifted locals, the Wall in the Wilderness as Derwent Bridge in Tasmania’s Central Highlands is an essential inclusion in your itinerary heading west. Artist Greg Duncan has dedicated his life to single-handedly creating a 100 metre long, three metre high wooden sculpture that tells the story of the Tasmania’s history in the region. From the presumed extinction of the Tasmanian Tiger to the plight of the Wedge-tailed Eagle and the history of the hydro-electric workers and much more, the history of the Central Highlands is laid bare in Greg’s work and it is rapidly becoming an attraction of global significance. Just off the main touring route from Hobart to Strahan, make sure the Wall in the Wilderness gets more than a quick look-in.