That little island at the bottom of Australia, Tasmania, has been much overlooked over the years, but it’s great to see it is gaining some well-deserved attention!
With a history of convicts, wild animals, a modern-day mass shooting and questionable weather, it would be easy to write off this small piece of land 250 kilometres off the coast of southern Australia as not worth the effort. However, despite only being the size of Scotland, West Virginia or Hokkaido, it has a lot going for it, encompassing glorious coastal, mountain and urban scenery, organic produce, elegant wines, aboriginal and convict history, beautiful architecture, fine art and a cultural calendar that attracts devotees from around the world.
I must admit it took me over 40 years to get to Tassie, but I’m glad I made the effort. I’ve only managed to see the east coast, but, like a reformed smoker, I can’t stop talking about it in the effort to convince anyone prepared to listen, to follow my lead. For those who haven’t yet made the trip across the Tasman, here are my Top 10 East Coast Tassie Treats:
- Hobart – The capital city of Tasmania boasts beautiful convict-era sandstone buildings ringing a wind-swept harbour, which comes into its own each New Year as the yachts roll in from the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race. You either want to join in the revelling at the local pubs, or just gaze at the flotilla of boats from every corner of the earth. There are some great restaurants – Ethos Eat Drink, Franklin and Smolt – to name a few, and a wonderful Tastes of Tasmania festival in early January which showcases all the amazing food and wine Tassie has to offer. The Salamanca Markets are held every Saturday and feature an eclectic array of artisan products. Stay at The Henry Jones Art Hotel, housed in the original IXL jam factory, which is in easy reach of everything you will want to experience. Don’t miss sampling the breakfast treats at the historic Jackman and McRoss bakery at Battery Point or Pigeon Hole, in West Hobart, touted to bake the best bread in the city. The bars are equally as tempting, with Nant Whisky Cellar & Bar and the IXL Long Bar at the Henry Jones Art Hotel being my favourites!
- MONA – No trip to Hobart would be complete without visiting the world-renowned Museum of Old and New Art (MONA). Built and operated by the eccentric, multi-millionaire gambler David Walsh to house his burgeoning collection, the building itself is an architectural delight. The experience begins when you board the MONA fast ferry from Hobart (make sure you buy tickets to the Posh Pit, which includes nibbles and drinks in the private lounge for the 30 minute journey down the Derwent River). Allow an entire day to take in the exhibitions, which can be both confronting and enlightening, visit the Moorilla Winery on the same site, and eat in either the superb The Source restaurant or at the new café. There are also two wine bars, accommodation in the MONA pavilions, a cinema and live music. You could plan your trip to coincide with one of two music and art festivals a year –MOFO in January and Dark MOFO in June. If it all sounds too much to absorb in one day, prepare in advance by reading David Walsh’s autobiography, ‘A Bone of Fact’. MONA has put Tasmania firmly on the world map, but most people are unsure of whether to canonise or demonise its enigmatic founder! Whatever your stance….don’t miss the experience!
- Port Arthur – Located 100 kms southeast of Hobart, the drive to this eerie yet strangely beautiful former convict jail is a journey in itself. The coastal scenery is rugged and serene, with a few café stops on the way to keep you going. Take the tour at the jail, including the boat trip around the peninsular for a comprehensive overview of what life was like for those who often were transported for the minor crime of stealing a loaf of bread.
- The Agrarian Kitchen – There are some experiences in life which change your way of thinking forever, and The Agrarian Kitchen is one of these. Operated by former food critic and chef Rodney and his wife Severine, this day-long cooking school in a converted school-house 40 minutes’ drive from Hobart, is a true paddock-to-plate experience. Start the day by milking the goat and picking the fruit and vegetables from the organic garden, then move inside to prepare anything from stoneground bread, to goats milk and lavender ice-cream, to mussels in brodo and zucchini flowers stuffed with ricotta. Of course, the day includes eating this manna from heaven, all washed down with some outstanding Tassie wines.
- Maria Island Walk – If you enjoy feeling as though you are on the edge of the earth, walking in the wilderness, and experiencing beach to forest to mountain terrain, you will love Maria Island. Originally named after Van Dieman’s wife, Maria, with its pronunciation changing to “Mar-eye-a”, reputedly after the British prison vans (the slang term for which was Black Marias), this is a truly diverse experience. There is aboriginal, agricultural and convict history, amazing scenery, beach camps as well as traditional house accommodation, and of course gourmet food and wine. Part of the Great Walks of Australia collection.
- Bay of Fires Lodge Walk – Also part of the Great Walks of Australia, but different from Maria Island, in that it is mostly beach trekking, the Bay of Fires Walk is all about the scenery. Impossibly long, white sandy beaches, edged with boulders covered in lightening orange fungi (hence the name “Bay of Fires”), spilling into a blue/green sea. As with Maria Island, the walk includes beach camping for two nights, with the third spent in the spectacular Bay of Fires Lodge, which juts over the ocean to take in stunning sun drenched and star-sprinkled skies. With just the right amount of luxury and eco-friendly touches, the remoteness yet homeliness of the lodge is a once-in-a-lifetime indulgence.
- Heritage Highway – Imagine the Cotswolds without the crowds and you have the delightful picture-book thread of quaint towns which hug the Heritage Highway – the main route between Hobart in the south and Launceston in the north. Villages such as Longford, Ross, Oatlands, Evandale, Perth, Kempton and Richmond are living treasures of Georgian sandstone architecture, featuring many buildings constructed by convicts. Visit the many heritage-listed mansions, admire the landscapes which inspired painters such as Tom Roberts and John Glover, browse antique shops and boutiques selling locally made woollen garments, and explore the convict history including the Ross Female Convict prison.
- Wine regions – Tasmania’s cold winters and mild summers mirror some of the best European wine growing regions, contributing to the island becoming renowned for cool climate wines such as pinot noir and sparkling whites. Along the east coast, you have the choice of visiting three superb wine regions – the Tamar Valley in the north around Launceston, the East Coast around the Freycinet Peninsula and the South Coast surrounding Hobart. There is also a North West Region around Devonport, slightly off this east coast itinerary. The choices of which cellar doors to visit are endless and you won’t cover them all in one trip. My advice is to pick a few in each region and start planning your next holiday! My favourites are Bay of Fires, Goaty Hill, Josef Chromy and Pipers Brook in the Tamar Valley; Freycinet Vineyard and Springvale Vineyards in the East; and Frogmore Creek, Puddleduck Vineyard, Stefano Lubiana and Pooleys Wines in the South.
- Freycinet Peninsula – No doubt you have seen the amazing images of Wineglass Bay on the Freycinet Peninsula, and when you go there, you will see for yourself that it’s for real! The most perfect arch of white sandy beach, like the cup of a wine glass, cradling the azure waters of the bay. There are plenty of walks to help you explore the region, which also includes Coles Bay, Honeymoon Bay and the Friendly Beaches Reserve, and wildlife to spot. If your budget allows, stay at the iconic Saffire Freycinet, part of the Luxury Lodges of Australia, for a truly indulgent experience. As with the rest of Tasmania, it is an “all weather” type of place, so go prepared for everything from sun, to rain to wind and everything else in between!
- Launceston – The second largest city in Tasmania, Launceston is full of history and charm, with some interesting things to see and do, such as the Cataract Gorge walk, a boat trip on the Tamar River, a visit to the Boag brewery or a stroll around the Design Centre of Tasmania. Dining at The Black Cow Bistro and Stillwater, the latter in an old flour mill, is as good as you will find in any city in Australia. Of course Launceston is also the launching pad for the Tamar Valley wine region…say no more.
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