Hobart is humming – it’s Tasmania’s lively capital that retains an old town salty-air feel. This slower pace, once the chuckle of Australian city counterparts, has now become an endearing drawcard. Boutique hotels are filled to the brim and visitors are flocking to this harbour-side city in numbers not seen. What’s all the fuss? It’s probably because you can have early morning sand between your toes, wander city streets, head to a mountain summit and be back in time for cocktails on the waterfront. This compact capital is a liveable city. A vibrant city. A place where people still say hello – their relaxed pace now on trend in a busy world. We didn’t mention it began as a penal colony in 1804, but that’s another story.
Hobart is where the bulk of Tassie locals live. That’s good reason to make it your first port of call. It sits at the southern end of the island, on the edge of the River Derwent. It is a port town that dates back to early explorers and convicts sent here for stealing rams. Water runs deep – it’s the second deepest port in the world but also offers a myriad of waterways that please the sailor who has navigated a globe of oceans. Calm rivers, spinnakers of energetic colour across the Derwent and secret coves. It’s also home to the finish line of one of the world’s greatest blue water ocean races, The Rolex Sydney to Hobart. Folk still come by boat. They just arrive in fancier vessels. Image: Hobart Harbor
Don’t be tricked by the small scale of Hobart. There’s so much here for the curious visitor. If you like the sound of unearthing a new craft beer, delving into history that dates back to Australia’s earliest days and hopping on a ferry to MONA, a museum that’s reinvented what museums are all about, then Hobart is for you. Great live tunes, independent stores, mind-pausing art, and food so fresh you’ll be wiping the dirt off spuds the farmer plucked from the earth that morning. That’s if you’re cooking up your own feast. Alternatively, leave it to the first-class chefs that are descending on the island (or hurriedly returning), hungry to showcase the island’s produce.
Some people come to Hobart just for the food. They eat, and they drink, and they eat some more, and then they plan their next meal. Who knows what they do in between… But what they do know is that they can have their own Tasmanian whisky bottle put under lock and key at a waterfront bar, for their next visit. They also know that the produce is so fresh their oysters are literally still dripping with the salty waters they were plucked from that morning. Eating and drinking in Tasmania is about sitting in a vineyard in front of the vines and talking to the winemaker with a dog by their side. You won’t just meet the label’s name, you’ll meet their pet pup too. Look they don’t all have pups, but some have pet ducks. We’ve warned you. Thanks for the image Tourism Tasmania & Nigel Honey (Lunch at Hobart Harbor)
What makes adventure Hobart’s middle name, is that it hugs the city. Walk along a pathway connected to the city streets and within a short stroll you’ll feel the ever-present being and shadows cast by Kunanyi/Mount Wellington. Don’t be distracted if a platypus raises its head nearby to Cascade Brewery. Those seeking adrenaline-style adventure, take a bike tour and descend this 1271-meter Godfather that watches over the city. The thrills end back on the streets of Hobart where a well-deserved ale awaits.
But it’s not just the mountain. Adventure-seekers can set sail, literally hop on a former Sydney to Hobart yacht for an afternoon sojourn around Bruny Island by simply wandering out on a city pier. Image Credit: Peter Topliss (View of Hobart from Mt Wellington/Kunanyi Lookout)
Ah history. We have plenty of that. It’s history that goes back to the beginning of Aussie times. There’s stories of indigenous Tasmanians, explorers, mining, agriculture, lost husbands in world wars and piners seeking out famed Huon pine. Indigenous stories date back thousands of years and are evident in middens and the way our early Tasmanians touched the landscape lightly.
Our more modern history of European exploration and settlement is young in many respects. It’s a tiny patch of time. About 40 minutes from Hobart is the country’s first golf course set up by a Scottish fellow who wanted a taste of home. It happens to be very close to a whisky distillery.
Then there’s Port Arthur Historic Site. It’s the type of history that captivates crowds. Once looked upon as a dark blemish few spoke of, these days people are rather proud when they head to Port Arthur and come to find they have convict blood.
Don’t want to find out if you’re a descendant of a convict? Head to the Theatre Royal in town for a live show. It’s the oldest theatre in the country. Sink into those velvety seats and appreciate your great, great grandfather who was never sent to Tasmania. Image Credit: Rob Burnett (Shene Estate & Distillery)
We must admit shopping isn’t what Hobart has been about in the past. In fact, most locals used to scurry off to Melbourne to service their wardrobes. But shopping comes in all forms and what makes shopping here such a treat is the one-off designers and the independent stores tucked away across the city. Move through a few coat hangers in Liverpool Street, and don’t be surprised if the maker is out back on a sewing machine. There’s men with leather stores, hidden studios, and a jeweller who wears a suit when he’s presenting wedding rings to clients and a wetsuit when searching for rare gems in wild Tasmanian rivers. These are the type of shopping finds that only Tassie can fill your bag with. Image credit: Nick Osborne (Shopping in Hobart)
In Hobart you’re welcome to a four white-walled stay in a chain hotel. We have plenty of those. In fact, they seem plenty full. Delve a little deeper and there’s a place slipped away in the forested suburbs filled with hundreds of library books, the collection of a well-known writer. There’s hostels that are not for the average backpacker but instead offer a help-yourself veggie patch, views of the mountain and bikes for those with a penchant for riding to MONA. Go all out, and stay at the waterfront’s latest hotel, so close you can nearly cast a fishing line from the penthouse suite or settle for something in between. Then there’s the inner-city pillows and art hotel to rest your head. Take your pick.
• Come for Dark Mofo, held during mid-winter each year in Hobart. It’s reshaped how locals and visitors experience our winter. While some locals used to head to the sunny climes of Queensland, they now rug up and stay put for the mulled wine. And they’re rather amused that hundreds dive nude into the River Derwent to celebrate the winter solstice. Image credit: Adam Gibson (Dark Mofo)
• If you love wildlife there’s some excellent opportunities with wildlife parks on the outskirts of Hobart.
• Hobart kicks in to a new gear around Christmas and New Year. The Sydney to Hobart yachts are making their way in, pro musicians are strumming, the Taste Festival is buzzing and buskers fill street corners with all manner of tunes.
There’s plenty of ways to pop down to Hobart. Come by air to our ‘international airport’ but don’t expect there to be seventeen take offs in line when you land. Hobart International Airport is growing due to fierce demand but it’s not L.A. As with the joy of Tassie, only a 15 minute commute and you’ll be in the heart of Hobart. You can even post a letter at the GPO. There’s friendly bus drivers to deliver you to your accommodation and the cab fare to the city won’t break the bank for your trip to SalamancaMarket.
Alternatively, take the ferry from mainland Australia. The Spirit of Tasmania departs from Melbourne and arrives in Devonport. This little northwest town is well worth exploring. From there, head for Hobart via the Heritage Highway that will take just over 3 hours.