Tassie’s unique appeal and enduring charm
IT'S a part of Australia yet it's apart. A place steeped in history which relies on those foundations to look to the future.
Mention its name and most associate it with the sea … sailing in particular. Yet we were on a plane, a direct flight from Brisbane even though there are more flights available with stopovers at either Sydney or Melbourne.
Our destination? Hobart.
I had been there as a 14-year-old. All I can remember is the darkness and deathly silence of the solitary cell at the convict settlement at Port Arthur, the view of Hobart and the Derwent River from Mt Wellington and the milkshakes … double everything. Double milk, double flavour and cheaper than the mainland.
That's the thing about Tasmania. The different air … cleaner, crisper. The pace, not as hectic. Time is your friend, not your enemy.
Being part of a travel familiarisation visit to this southern-most capital city, there is a hire car to meet us. We share it with a fellow journalist from Newcastle and are whisked off to the Museum of Old and New Art. Our bags are taken straight to the hotel in the city.
There is no traffic jam on the expressway. Bellerive Oval is off to the left. The limousine glides along the highway beside the river before pulling up a curved drive and we are at the gallery.
MONA is the largest privately funded museum in Australia; created by Tasmanian David Walsh, a mathematician and art collector who made millions through gambling. Such is its fame that cruise ships now include Hobart on their itineraries.
MONA deliberately underwhelms you from the outside - chooks roam on the lawns, a tennis court is at the front, Hobart and Mt Wellington are reflected on an entry wall. Step inside and be confronted by one of the most controversial collections of art in the world.
Comparisons are immediately drawn with Queensland's Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane. They are similar but not the same.
MONA will seduce you, confront you, provoke you, inspire you. A circular lift or stairs descend through time. Visitors are given an iPod touch that uses GPS to work out which artwork they are standing in front of, then gives a running commentary. Open daily except Tuesday. entry to MONA is free for Tasmanians (proof of identify not required), $10 for non-Tasmanian concession cardholders and $20 for out-of-staters over 18. And you can stay at one of eight architect-designed luxury pavilions.
MONA's ferry departs six times a day from Brooke St terminal in Hobart. Meanwhile, Michelin-starred chef Philippe Leban blends wholesome Tasmanian ingredients and traditional French cuisine at The Source restaurant on the ground level.
The ferry trip back to the CBD is a wonderful transition. To truly see Hobart is to arrive by sea.
Standing on the docks, with tributes to Antarctic explorers, you realise how much of Hobart's history is bound up with the ocean.
Ships, ferries, yachts and fishing boats pull up in the city centre at Sullivans Cove. At the end of the Sydney-Hobart Yacht Race weary sailors make it to the safety of Constitution Dock in the heart of the city.
But you think back to the early settlers in Van Diemen's Land. Think of whalers and sealers who fished the southern ocean.
The docks open on to the streets; to the south is historic Salamanca Place with its sandstone warehouses converted into bars, coffee shops and restaurants as well as art galleries and theatres.
To the north is Victoria Dock and the Henry Jones Art Hotel that includes the IXL Atrium, once the factory for IXL Jams.
Hobart's proximity to the Antarctic and Southern Ocean has made it status a global centre of research and home to the CSIRO's Marine and Atmospheric Research Division.
You're in a city ... but you're not. Walk past quaint buildings that date back to 1804, past intriguing shops such as Tom, Dick and Harry's barber shop.
After checking in at Travelodge Hobart it's time for dinner.
Visitors can explore the blossoming food scene at edgy restaurants such as Garagistes, Ethos or Smolt. Then there are seafood places on the docks such as Mure's or The Drunken Admiral.
Battery Point is a world unto itself with tea rooms, bakeries and restaurants.
Ethos, at 100 Elizabeth St, is a blend of old and new … in the 193-year-old premises you are served distinctive food and wine and a whole lot of Hobart history. The produce has been grown, harvested and procured locally and offered as a set menu that changes daily. Ethos is open from Tuesday-Saturday with set menus for dinner at $70 and $90 per head for six and eight courses respectively.
And so we walk back to the hotel.
Tomorrow we set off for Richmond, which features the oldest large stone arch bridge in Australia. Then we take in three Coal River wineries, then go back to Hobart for a the Cascade Brewery tour and dinner at Salamanca Square.
The beauty of Tasmania is its size ... small enough to explore easily, large enough to be enthralled by its diversity.
IF YOU GO
Getting there: Jetstar and Virgin offer daily direct flights Brisbane-Hobart from $175.50 and $185 on average. Some deals from $79 and $139; more options with connecting flights at Sydney and Melbourne
Getting around: Good city bus system; many places of interest within walking distance
Staying there: Travelodge Hobart, 167 Macquarie St, 131 guest rooms, kitchenette with microwave (selected guest rooms). Tea and coffee making facilities. Flat screen television with Austar. Internet (fee applies). Iron and ironing board, hair dryer, clock radio, telephone and voicemail, work desk. Rates (Nov 19, 2013): Budget room queen/twin $119, budget room twin: $129, guest room queen/queen and single: $149