Tasmania: 'This place nurtures you'

By Mark Webber

Formula One driver Mark Webber drives internationally but keeps returning to Tasmania.

Massive gorges, fast-flowing rivers and long stretches of untouched forest and coastline are among the highlights of Tasmania's scenery. Photos / Tourism Tasmania, Gene Goldberg
Massive gorges, fast-flowing rivers and long stretches of untouched forest and coastline are among the highlights of Tasmania's scenery. Photos / Tourism Tasmania, Gene Goldberg

My relationship with Tasmania began a decade or so ago, when I was over in Britain talking to some friends about what we could do outside the gym that would get us fitter - something that would be challenging, exciting and spirit-enhancing - and also raise funds for charities we believed in.

To most people, a 1000km race including running, kayaking and cycling wouldn't have appealed, but as soon as I suggested doing an event like that in Tasmania my friends warmed to the idea.

Not many of them had been there, so it was a little bit different. It was an island, so there would be plenty of coastline to run along. There would be hills for us to tackle on mountain bikes, and rivers to conquer by kayak. It was a place that would provide adventure on all levels.

Although I was born in Australia, I didn't go to Tasmania until I was 17, inevitably for a car race. At that age, when my mind was on motorbikes and cars, the Georgian architecture didn't impress me. What did blow me away was the wilderness, the astonishing coastline and the island's remoteness.

It's quite hard to explain the sheer scale of Tasmania. There are huge gorges, fast-flowing rivers and long stretches of untouched forest and coastline. More than 40 per cent of it is protected in national parks and World Heritage Areas.

Its coastal waters are among the clearest of all temperate seas, with forests of 30m kelp. Some of the inland caves contain Aboriginal rock art dating back 12,000 years.

To me, there could be nowhere better for our race.

It's great to see how visitors react to Tasmania. Ten years ago, the island was an unknown quantity as far as tourism was concerned.

If you went to Australia, you did the Sydney Opera House, the Great Barrier Reef and Uluru. But the reactions of people I've brought to Tasmania recently have been incredible.

It is the sort of place that just nurtures you. The air and water are so pure, the wilderness so vast, the sea so clean. You are also surrounded, day after day, by intense beauty and the chance to engage with nature properly. You get to see all kinds of animals, from wallabies outside your bedroom to black cockatoos flying through the forest canopy.

When you're out canoeing you might pass offshore islands that are havens for wildlife, and birds soaring above fluted cliffs that tower 3000m above the sea.

I'm making Tasmania sound pretty rugged - and it is - but there are plenty of places for self-indulgence. I love The Henry Jones Art Hotel in Hobart, the capital, and I've been lucky enough to stay at the Saffire Freycinet luxury resort, which combines wilderness with modern architecture and has amazing food and wine.

Photos / Tourism Tasmania, Gene Goldberg
Photos / Tourism Tasmania, Gene Goldberg

In fact, the food on most of the island is wonderful. After decades in the shadow of Sydney and Melbourne, Hobart has come into its own and now has a successful Taste Festival. Talented young chefs are using fresh, locally sourced produce such as paua, oysters, ocean trout, berries and organic vegetables to create a distinctive Taswegian cuisine. Friends rave about Monty's on Montpelier, Me Wah, Smolt and the new gourmet sensation, Garagistes, which serves unusual things such as smoked eels and fried pig's ears. You can even get a good English-style pint at Preachers, which is just up the hill from Salamanca Place.

Tasmania has its fair share of culture and sport as well. Among the highlights are MONA, a world-class private art gallery in Hobart, and a magical golf links called Barnbougle Dunes, near Bridport. Also worth seeing are some of the oldest convict ruins at Port Arthur.

Everyone loves Hobart, particularly Salamanca Place with its cobbles, pavement cafes, and old harbour. I know the West Coast, Cradle Mountain and Freycinet better than I do Hobart.

Ultimately, what Tasmania offers is an antidote to my life on the motor-racing circuit. Usually I'm performing against the clock from the moment I get out of bed in the morning. Here, I can be totally alone and surrounded by nature. I have the time and mental space to take it all in.


GETTING THERE: Qantas flies daily from Auckland, with connections to Tasmania via east coast airports.
ONLINE: discovertasmania.com.au

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