Hobart: The little city that could and did

By Judy Skatssoon

The capital of Tasmania may have been given a terrific boost by the Museum of Old and New but Hobart has picked up the tourism challenge and run with it, writes Judy Skatssoon.

Museum of Old and New Art (MONA). Photo / Tourism Tasmania & Rob Burnett
Museum of Old and New Art (MONA). Photo / Tourism Tasmania & Rob Burnett

Once considered something of a bogan backwater, Hobart is now a hip and happening destination where you can, all in one day, enjoy edgy modern art, eat deconstructed pavlova and visit whisky bars staffed by bartenders with bushranger beards and sleeve tattoos.

Cascades Female Factory, Hobart, Tasmania.
Photo / Tourism Tasmania & Jonathan Wherrett
Cascades Female Factory, Hobart, Tasmania. Photo / Tourism Tasmania & Jonathan Wherrett

Anthea Pritchard is one of many Tasmanian tourism insiders who credit Hobart's Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) with the city's recent image makeover and an uptick in visitors to the state.

"It's been an incredible drawcard for Hobart," says Pritchard, general manager of the Salamanca Wharf Hotel, which opened three years ago and is a perfect base for exploring the city.

The sun's out but it's chilly when I arrive at beautiful Salamanca Place by Hobart's harbour. They say the air's clean in Tassie and it hits my lungs with a blast as we walk to Pritchard's hotel.

On the way she points out the red Antarctic icebreaker Aurora Australis and its French counterpart Astrolabe, both moored in the harbour for winter, and the new Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, which has helped give Hobart the highest concentration of Southern Ocean scientists in the world.

From the Salamanca Wharf Hotel it's a short brisk walk to the Brooke St Pier, where I board a ferry to MONA. The trip on this charmingly retro ferry is an experience in itself as I sit on a "sheep" bench and take in the scenery.

MONA lives up to everything I've heard. It combines an amazing architectural space - a veritable Escher's staircase of underground exhibition spaces - with contemporary art, including a "poo machine" installation that produces actual excrement, and walls featuring rows of vagina plaster casts.

Give yourself at least half a day to explore the museum (you can do it with the help of a guided audio tour) and you'll be ready for a change of pace with a tour of Hobart's foodie highlights.

Mary McNeil has been operating walking Gourmania tours of Hobart for five years. She traces her ancestry to the Second Fleet and knows the town's ins and outs like no one else.

Today's tour includes a gin tasting at a pop-up cellar door at the Brooke St Pier hosted by Louise Radman, owner of Domaine Simha wine, and a visit to the Wursthaus, a gourmet deli showcasing some of the state's best produce and owned for the past 15 years by Peter Trioli.

Frank Restaurant, Hobart, Tasmania.
 Photo / Tourism Tasmania and Andrew Wilson
Frank Restaurant, Hobart, Tasmania. Photo / Tourism Tasmania and Andrew Wilson

"We support local industry," Trioli says. "That's why we exist and that's probably why we do pretty well," he says modestly.

Next McNeil and I hit the Lark Distillery for herb-infused gin and tonics, then it's Blackman Bay oysters at Frank on the waterfront and a sumptuous dinner at Peacock and Jones Restaurant and Wine Bar.

The following day we spend exploring the Coal River Valley, which is home to Pooley Wines and the Frogmore Creek Winery.

I have just long enough before the flight back to Sydney to pop into the Coal River Farm to sample artisan cheeses and chocolates and have a quick meet-and-greet with Daniel Leesong, who started the operation just over 12 months ago.

The food on offer in Tasmania is as good as you'll find anywhere and Kit Wilkinson, from Pooley Wines, says it's a "common thread" in Hobart's attraction as a visitor destination.

If you've overdone Hobart's wine, whisky, cheese, chocolate and fine food, there's always a 12km run to the top of Mt Wellington, part of the annual Point to Pinnacle course held each November, to set you right. And don't forget to enjoy the view while you're there.

FROM THE HIP TO THE HISTORIC

Tasmania has a rich convict past and is home to the heritage-listed Female Factory, the last remaining relic of Australia's female convict history.

When you visit the site, near the Cascade Brewery, you can sense the ghosts of its former inhabitants.

They include the young woman who was forced to give birth alone on a toilet. Her baby was found dead at the bottom of the latrine and despite insisting her child had fallen in, the woman was sentenced and hanged.

The story of the young convict mother is one of the worst but by no means the only tale of unimaginable cruelty that we're told during a tour of the jail.

The women were often preyed upon by guards and fell pregnant, but instead of being provided with care they were punished and sent into solitary confinement.

At six weeks of age, the children were removed from them and sent to an orphanage.

Later the factory established its own nursery but it's unknown how may babies died in the harsh, cold conditions as records were never kept.

Cascades Female Factory. Photo / Tourism Tasmania & Jonathan Wherrett
Cascades Female Factory. Photo / Tourism Tasmania & Jonathan Wherrett

CHECKLIST

Getting there: Qantas flies from Auckland to Hobart, via Melbourne or Sydney.

Hobart International Airport is about a 20-minute drive from the city centre. Have your camera ready for the stunning view of the Tasman Bridge and Mt Wellington as you approach the River Derwent.

Hobart is a city you can conquer on foot, with most major attractions within walking distance of one another in the CBD.

Staying there: The Salamanca Wharf Hotel is situated only a few metres from Hobart's waterfront, fronting Castray Esplanade and backing on to the historic and famous Salamanca Place.

- AAP

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