If you can't decide between an island getaway, mountain stay or city break, don't worry — in Tasmania, you can have them all within a few hours' drive, discovers Dani Wright
If you've ever toured mainland Australia, you'll know the boredom of driving long (very long) stretches of road without a change of scenery. Head to Tasmania though, and you can get a holiday with the lot — gorgeous white sand beaches, mountain retreats, city shopping and art, with plenty of fabulous food and wine around every corner.
Wine and dine in Launceston
Slicing the "Apple Isle" down the middle, I'm touring with my children (Henry, 11 and Georgie, 8) from Launceston in the north to Hobart in the south, via Cradle Mountain and Bruny Island. But, first stop is Josef Chromy's cellar door, where every wine in the $5 tasting is a standout and oil-painting views of vines on rolling hills is welcome relief after the bumpy flight.
With every new drop of wine, we're told of Josef's story — one of incredible hardship, perseverance and ambition following a shrewd escape from his war-torn Czech village — which had become a Nazi headquarters — and his eventual arrival in Tasmania in 1950.
A master butcher, Josef built up a smallgoods business which, 30 years later, was floated on the stock exchange for $75 million.
Like any self-respecting, newly-coined millionaire should, he swiftly went into the wine business with just as much success.
Over a platter of nuts, fruit, extra-large lavosh and the most decadent local cheeses, we build up much respect for Josef's hard work. Later, checking in at Mantra Charles Hotel, we learn the man we were toasting now lives upstairs on the top two floors of the old hospital he bought and leased to Mantra.
More good food and wine are in order just a quick stroll down the hill at Geronimo Aperitivo Bar and Restaurant, with its dim lighting and exquisite decor — there's everything from handmade Israeli ceramics to Belgian wallpaper made with sheet music from an 18th century maestro.'
There's a relaxed opulence at Geronimo and the waiters look the part in striped shirts, bow-ties and jeans, as the eclectic mix of clientele helps keep the feel of the restaurant special, not stuffy, with a paddock to plate concept menu full of flavour.
It's a special place, lovingly curated by owner Jeremy Kode, in a town where great food and wine are matched with historic architecture, hiking in the Gorge less than 2km from the CBD and a city park filled with monkeys. It all adds up to a memorable city break without the crowds.
Digital detox at Cradle Mountain
My first taste at digital detox comes early when my phone runs out of power an hour before arrival at Peppers Cradle Mountain Lodge. Earlier, I had smugly told the Avis car hire lady, "No, no, I won't need a GPS, I've got Google Maps!"
After locals point us on our way, we arrive at the alpine-style lodge — to be greeted by a Tasmanian devil fossicking around outside reception. In our cabin, a gas fireplace is burning bright and we pull out board games, sipping on bottles of sparkling rainwater from the minibar, forgetting completely about the earlier stress.
Later, we walk on wooden tracks cutting through thick bush to the lodge for hearty soup and games of pool. Other lodge guests huddle around hotspots trying in vain to find a Wi-Fi connection.
"You could always just unplug and smile," says the waiter, who knows better than I that unplugging will become a huge part of the pleasure of the visit. For now, though, Henry is wondering (a bit too loudly) why on earth they wouldn't just put a huge television right where the giant mirror sits over the fireplace.
We're up early the next morning for a walk around the romantically-named Dove Lake in the world-heritage listed Lake St Clair National Park, where we dodge the crowded selfie spots and rush ahead on the single tracks, stopping at times to be swallowed up by the quiet and beauty surrounding us.
We walk up and down stairs, under and over tree roots and branches in areas with trees covered in green moss — looking as an enchanted forest might look, water lapping its edges and a distant waterfall gushing. It's everything we hope it will be.
A taste of Bruny Island
The ferry to Bruny Island is under an hour's drive from Hobart, then it's a short trip across the water and you're on your way to another Tassie taste sensation.
Start with a taster plate of oysters from Get Shucked, overlooking the oyster beds and even offering drive-through.
Next along the road is The Bruny Island Cheese Company (brunyislandcheese.com.au) for artisan cheeses, beer from the onsite brewery and sourdough bread from the bakery. A cheese tasting flight for $5 offers bite-sized samples of cheeses. The standouts are the Raw Milk C2, which keeps tingling in your mouth long after it's eaten, and Owen, a strong cheese washed in pinot noir before being wrapped in vine leaves to mature. If you like stinky, complex cheeses, you will be in heaven.
More delights are on offer all around the island from locally-made honey to whiskey, wine and even apple juice from a "Bootique" - basically the boot of a car attached to a shed.
We make quick stops but head onwards to the windswept lighthouse at Cape Bruny, perched high on the hill overlooking incredible coastal scenery and authentic keeper's cottage. If you collect all your foodie finds along the route, it's the perfect spot for an island picnic to end your day-trip.
Our last port of call is Sullivans Cove Apartments in Hunter St, the birthplace of Hobart. The building was once considered the finest in the colony, back in the day when the docks hosted ships unloading tea from China and spices from the East Indies. It's a stunning view each morning watching the harbour city awake.
A short walk from the apartment, past Constitution Dock, home of the Sydney to Hobart racing yachts is Saturday's famous Salamanca Market.
The market is layered with row upon row of interesting stalls selling goods from hand-knitted tea cosies to locally-distilled gin.
Afterwards, take Kelly's Steps on Salamanca Place to Battery Point, one of the oldest suburbs in Hobart. Its winding roads, colonial architecture and house-proud residents make it a delightful detour. Stay awhile in Arthur's Circus, a little playground set in the middle of a circle of quaint houses, and watch the neighbourhood rush by.
As Australia's sunniest and second-driest capital city, Hobart is separated from the mainland by the 240km of Bass Strait and there's fresh seafood at every turn, but our favourite is a humble fish shop in hilly North Hobart called The Fish Bar. The owner, an Indian woman who didn't want her name in lights, told me her greatest compliment was having fourth generation fishermen tell her the Fish Bar is the best kept secret in Hobart, which I'm happy to reveal — the famous scallop pie has to be the best in the country with its delicate spice mix, crumbly pastry and flavoursome fleshy scallops.
After a week touring Tasmania, my only question is why I never came to the island state earlier — put off in the past by its bad weather reputation.
But, as Coral at a local Cherry Shed said when asked why people should visit Tassie: "It's nice and quiet, everything's close and you can always put on another jumper if you're cold. You can't keep taking clothes off in the heat they get in some other states!"
Pack your woolly jumpers and head on over.
IF YOU GO
flies from Auckland to Hobart, via Sydney.
Further information: See discovertasmania.com.au