Hobart: A place of enduring charm
IT’S a part of Australia yet it’s apart. A place steeped in history that 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.
It’s co-ordinates: 42.8 degrees south, 147.3 degrees east.
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 of Australia, 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 – 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.
While GOMA is above ground and a celebration of the light and space of Queensland’s sub-tropical climate, MONA is cut deep into the sandstone – dark and confronting.
MONA will seduce 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.
MONA’s ferry departs six times a day from Brooke St terminal in Hobart.
And you can stay at one of eight architect-designed luxury pavillions.
The Source restaurant on the ground level is an experience in itself.
The focus is on seasonal local produce, shared plates and fresh, uncomplicated food with a lovely outlook of the grounds.
The wine list is exceptional with more than 10,000 bottles from all corners of the globe, crafted by winemakers and brewers both big and small.
A hint is leave plenty of time to enjoy the surrounds, there is so much to take in.
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 early explorers in their square-rigged sailing ships. How did they navigate through raging oceans from their ports in the northern hemisphere to the other side of the world … one step from Antarctica.
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 are 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 Smolt at Salamanca.
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.
Tomorrow we set off for Richmond, which features the oldest large stone arch bridge in Australia.
Then we take in three Coal River wineries and return to Hobart for 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.