We love a place with mojo – which Tasmania certainly showed me during my recent visit there. It may be the smallest state of Australia but the idyllic landscapes as well as burgeoning culinary, wine and art scene have made it a dream destination for travellers across the world. Situated about 250 kilometres south of Australia’s mainland, Tasmania offers as much charm, energy and excitement as the other states – if not more – and one thing you shouldn’t do: be fooled by the size of the island state.
First Stop: Hobart
Hobart, Tasmania’s picturesque capital city, unfolds between the Derwent River and Mount Wellington. With a population of just over 200,000, Hobart punches well above its weight in terms of attractions while maintaining its friendliness and accessibility. Its compact size and charming blend of heritage, culture, scenery and produce make it a city that locals cherish and visitors relish.
We started the day with a hearty breakfast at Maylands Lodge, an urban lodge which operates in a 132-year-old building. Following a stroll along the nearby streets, we went on a short drive that soon revealed plenty of the quirky stores and charming buildings with plaques proudly hung on the façades explaining their history.
Hobart’s cultural claim to fame is MONA, the Museum of Old and New Art. The dazzling architectural marvel houses some of the most innovative and consistently enduring contemporary artworks ever produced. No first-time trip to Hobart is complete without a stopover at the enigmatic museum. It has changed Hobart the same way Frank Ghery’s Guggenheim Museum has done to Bilbao, Spain.
The locals know of its titillating backstory: David Walsh, a millionaire who made his fortune at casinos and on horse races and other gambling ventures built the museum with the intention to stir outrage. You turn one way and see Roman or Egyptian antiquities; you turn the other and see a piece of kitsch or an endless row of porcelain casts of genitalia. The gallery space was huge, so we fell back on the crutch of an iPod audio guide that could sense our location in the museum and describe what we were looking at. You could spend a whole day here but two or three hours will give you a sense of the best bits. The best way to get to MONA is via water on one of the camouflaged ferries. Sailing from Brooke Street Pier (Hobart waterfront) to MONA, it takes approximately 25 minutes one-way.
If you’re a history buff, take a trip down the peninsula and visit the gut-wrenching World Heritage prison site of Port Arthur. It looks like a Scottish castle grounds, with imposing sandstone façades surrounded by lush lawns and rosebushes. Though it’s home of many past horrors, including the Separate Prison, a chamber of solitary confinement in which convicts weren’t allowed to speak and were forced to wear masks. The goal was to break down the mind as well as the body (perhaps one of the reasons those freed would later fare so well in the wilderness).
Offshore, things got more fun. Di, our tour guide sent us off on Rob Pennicott’s boat tour along the Tasman Peninsula. 15 years ago, the entrepreneur founded Pennicott Wilderness Journey, a tour company that offers thrill rides that can bash through the Tasman sea to get to the otherwise unreachable stretches of the coastline. They offer a variety of tours but for a real treat, try the Tasmanian Seafood Seduction which combines a tour with an all-day feast of oysters, abalone and rock lobster. Our captain, Kate even dived into the sea herself to catch fresh seafood for us for lunch, which we had with delicious gourmet spread of fresh local breads, salads and artisanal cheese that we washed down with Tasmanian wines, ciders and juices. Eating oysters taken straight out from the sea? Check!
This city offers a variety of accommodations options to suit budget travellers and five-star luxury seekers. We stayed at MACq 01 for two nights; an excellent base in Hobart. Located on the city’s waterfront and Hunter Street on the old Hunter Island – one of the earliest sites of European settlement in Tasmania, it is the first storytelling hotel in the world. If you’re looking for up-market dig in Hobart, we recommend the Islington Hotel. Set in a restored 1846 house with a large garden and spectacular views of Mount Wellington, this luxury hotel has only 11 rooms and suites with custom beds, and decorated with fine arts and antique decors.
Hobart’s culinary credentials are on the rise with many reasonable-priced eateries, ranging from cool cafes to upscale restaurants. Personally, I wouldn’t have mind spending a whole day just eating my way around the city, with multi-course tasting menus paired with Tasmanian wines for between AUD 50 to AUD 100, and then roll myself back to the hotel. Try The Lounge by Frogmore Creek on the waterfront where they serve delicious international flavours with Tasmanian produce – including wallaby meat. Fun fact: Tasmania is the only place in the world where it is legal to harvest wallabies for meat.
Second Stop: Freycinet National Park
While Hobart is undergoing an artistic renaissance, the real draw is Tasmania’s breathtaking, rugged wilderness. A two-and-a-half-hour drive northeast of Hobart, we set upon our next adventure to Freycinet National Park – a place of stories, encounters and treasures – which did not struggle to deliver.
The Freycinet Peninsula is on Tasmania’s east coast. Its dramatic granite peaks, dazzling white sandy beaches and pristine water make it one of the most popular of the state’s 19 national parks. If you’re looking for blow-your-mind beautiful, Freycinet is a must-visit.
Look around Freycinet National Park, which covers the peninsula’s southern tip and most of its east coast. Although Freycinet is one of Tasmania’s most popular national parks – visited by more than 200,000 people a year – only a few see beyond the perfect curve of Wineglass Bay, the jewel in the crown of the park that’s overshadowed everything else here ever since colonial times. For the record, Wineglass Bay is one of Tasmania’s most photographed views, and deservedly so as we hiked to witness the scenery ourselves. After 30 minutes into it, unforgiving, rugged beauty greeted us at The Wineglass Bay lookout. You can view Wineglass Bay from several vantage points but we recommend either the Mount Amos or Wineglass Bay lookout: Mount Amos is generally reserved for more experienced bushwalkers while the Wineglass Bay lookout walk is shorter and easily accessible to walkers of varying abilities.
Just stick to the designated path and watch out for venomous snakes slithering in the heathlands and the thick scrub. This is Australia, after all. The sun was setting – a blaze of orange, reds and purple peeked out through the gaps in the dense forest as dusk started to take over – as we made our way down to Freycinet Lodge to stay for the night. Tucked away in the coastal scrub of the national park, its newly renovated pavilions provide the ideal base for those looking to explore the park by day and retreat to some luxurious seclusion by night. The space is beautifully utilitarian, warm and well kitted out. And the best part? All of them have outdoor bathtub. After a day on the track, we couldn’t think of anything better than a quiet little soak with a glass of wine.
You know you’re in for a great day when you wake up to a colourful sunrise and an ocean as still as millpond. We headed out early to Freycinet Air to experience the scenic flight because there was no better perspective to appreciate the mountainous Freycinet Peninsular than from the air. The 30-minute flight took us over Wineglass Bay and the Hazards and continued down south of the Peninsula where we landed on Maria Islands.
Maria is accessible only by ferry (and small planes) and contains the most intact examples of a convict probation station in all of Australia. Famous as Tasmania’s only island national park, this island is originally inhabited by the indigenous tyreddeme people and as there are no vehicles on the island (which is probably one reason why the furry locals are so laid back here), visitors have the option to walk or cycle their way on the eucalypt forest tracks, passing historic ruins and rugged cliffs and mountains. Keep an eye out for the abundant wildlife along the way, especially wombats, kangaroos and pademelons.
Third Stop: Launceston
Many kilometres later, we were back on the road again to Tasmania’s northern city called Launceston. Life is good at this small town: the pace is slow, the fresh produce is glorious, the locals are friendly and the adventures are numerous. There’s a spectacular scenic gorge to walk, food trails to follow and vineyards boasting premium local wine and gourmet menus all within minutes from the heart of the city.
We made our first stop at Cataract Gorge, an astonishing urban reserve of bushland and cliffs by the Esk River. Just 15 minutes from the centre of Launceston, this park is famous for its walking and hiking trails, the world’s longest single span chairlift and a free open swimming pool. Here you can wander the gardens full of peacocks, enjoy a meal in a restaurant or just sit quietly and take in this tiny slice of wilderness in the heart of the city.
Next, we visited the Harvest Farmers’ Market. This is the most famous market in town. Held every Saturday morning, you’ll be able to savour a cup of locally roasted coffee and cool-climate wines and taste your way through cheeses, homemade preserves, premium produce and artisanal breads. A changing roster of street musicians entertains the weekend crowd.
After which, we headed on to Josef Chromy Wines. Wine’s like lifeblood here, so it only makes sense to turn this trip into a more appreciative wine-cation. A formidable, gleaming trophy was the first thing to greet us at this slick cellar door in Relbia, just a 10-minute drive south of Launceston. This award-winning brand boasts 91-hectar vineyard and is home to some of the state’s best drops. After a tasting session of their best, we were treated to a sumptuous lunch paired with wines.
If you’re in town, you can’t miss Stillwater for dinner. Situated in a converted 1830s flourmill, this restaurant sits right on the banks of the Tamar River and has a beautiful outlook. With a strong focus on seasonal local produce, it’s a firm local favourite as well as a national award winner. The food (and the service) was marvellous, but the stars of the meal were the dozen local oysters presented to us in five ways as a starter and the Nichols chicken served with garlic and black sesame dressing, pickled cucumber and Korean chilli sauce – each a mouthful to tell your grandchildren about.
It isn’t a trip to Australia without going on a hot air balloon ride. The adventure started with an early morning pick up from our hotel by Liberty Balloon Flights staff before we travelled out to the launch pad area to hop aboard the hot air balloon. After 30 minutes of inflating the balloon, we started the day drifting 300 metres above farmyards, mansion and pretty town. Everyone got a spectacular view of the sun rising in the east and the pink tones and long shadows hitting the countryside below. On our flight, we travelled around 17 kilometres in a northeasterly direction from Carrick to the pretty agriculture town of Hagley. What a great way to end to our last day in Tasmania. After all, charm is what Tasmania does best.
I judge my travels by the density of the memories they create. The more distinctly I can recall the days, the more satisfied I feel. By the standard of sheer unforgettability, the six days I spent in Tasmania were as rewarding as any trip I have ever made – and fortunately, the recollections are all pleasant. Few months later, I can clearly think of a dozen different chapters. In fact, there is just one thing I can’t remember about Tasmania: why did I have to Ieave after only six days?
How to Get There
If you haven’t explored Tasmania, you should really start planning. Singapore Airlines has the flights you need. They fly to Melbourne and change to its partner Virgins Australia flight to Hobart.