It might be the smallest state in Australia, but what it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in incredible scenery, rich history, great food and friendly people. We spent two weeks travelling across Tasmania and feel like we barely scratched the surface of this diverse and stunning state. Our trip started in Hobart, and we used that as a base for some fantastic day trips. Here's what we got up to.
Taste of Tasmania, Hobart
The food and wine festival runs in early January every year down at the wharf where temporary stalls are set up in the exhibition hall. As tourists, it was so convenient for us, and allowed us to eat lunch and dinner almost every day for a reasonable price, as well as giving us the chance to try endless different types of foods.
The festival has pretty much every food you can think of from many different countries, but using local Tassie produce. Some of our absolute favourites included Bavarian flame cakes, local tempura mushrooms, Ethiopian curries and Mexican nachos baked in a pie.
We also tried a few decent wines, including our new favourite Pinot Noir from Frogmore Creek. It's $8 to buy a customised Taste of Tassie plastic wine glass and then we just carried it around with us (and gave people money to keep putting more wine in it). Desserts were well covered too, with berries galore, crepes and an award-winning brownie (seriously the best I've ever had. Anywhere).
The atmosphere at Taste is really relaxed, with both indoor and outdoor seating at shared tables, which encourages striking up a chat with the locals. There's also heaps of entertainment and cooking demonstrations. And just a note to Taste of Perth: Taste of Tasmania has free entry.
MONA, Museum of Old and New Art
We got the ferry from the Brooke Street pier over to the museum (it's on a peninsular). Since it was my birthday, we paid for the Posh Pit ($50), which included VIP seating at the front of the ferry, sparkling wine and an individual cheese platter. It was a great way to start the day, however you have to drink up as the ride is only 20 minutes (not a problem for me!)
MONA is the brainchild of entrepreneur David Walsh, and by all accounts it was no easy task to get it built and up and running. The entire site is stunning and features the museum, a wine bar, a restaurant, a winery, a library, and a concert area as well as a tennis court and trampoline.
As part of the Posh Pit ticket, we were given a tour of the Moorilla winery, which also included tastings. We were quite a fan of the Pinot Noir, which is certainly one of Tassie's fortes.
The entry to the museum is through a mirror box, which leads you to the galleries below.
One wall of the museum is limestone cliff face, which gives the whole place a cavernous, earthy feel. There's a bar on the bottom level for pre and post museum drinks (you can't take them in with you). On the way in to the gallery, you're handed an audio guide which includes some info on the art works, as well as interviews with some of the artists.
The exhibitions themselves are everything and nothing like what we expected. They represent everything art is: thought provoking, interesting, disgusting, dark, challenging and a thousand other adjectives, but I don't feel like it's something I should explain. It's something everyone just has to experience for themselves and make their own judgements. The only advice I would give is this: just go.
After the museum, we had planned to have a cheese platter and drink at the wine bar, but unfortunately the kitchen was closed, so we headed up to the Source restaurant. The views from the restaurant are lovely, and our dinner started off well when the waiter brought over an entire cart of cheese, which in my view is pretty much the greatest way to start anything. However, when the chef flatly refused to make any of the mains vegetarian (despite the fact I had emailed them days before to warn them I didn't eat meat), things went decidedly downhill, and we left and went back to Taste of Tasmania instead!
State Cinema, North Hobart
The State Cinema (formerly called the State Theatre) is a beautiful building and a Hobart icon. The building was built about 100 years or so ago, and has undergone a stunning renovation, which perfectly blends old and new.
The top level has lovely views over Hobart, and was my favourite place to sit, have a wine, read a book, eat and chill out.
Oh, and we also managed to squeeze in a movie! There's eight screens as well as a rooftop cinema, and they screen everything from blockbusters to arthouse. And did I mention they have a bar?
We spent our first two nights in Ferntree, at the base of Mount Wellington. We decided New Year's Eve would be a good occasion to trek up to a spot called Sphinx rock (with a backpack full of wine and cheese of course!) The start of the walk was pretty steep and had me worried that I'd seriously overestimated my hiking abilities, but it eventually flattened out.
It took us just over an hour and once we got there, we were glad we didn't bother pushing on to the top. Sphinx rock gave stunning views over Hobart, out to Port Arthur and Bruny Island.
And because it was NYE, we were also treated to a fireworks display. Trekking down in the dark was easy enough, if a little spooky, but you wouldn't want to try it without a torch.
Because we spent most of our time at the Taste festival, we didn't end up eating at many restaurants in Hobart, but the other factor was the distinct lack of vegetarian options. Bucking that trend was the Mill on Morrison, which is in a beautiful historical building opposite the Brooke Street Pier. The semolina gnocchi was delicious!
Coffee: to be honest, we struggled to find good coffee in Hobart. But we hit the jackpot at Atlas coffee on Elizabeth street. Not only was the coffee good, but the homemade food was awesome and the staff were lovely.
Red cafe, also on Elizabeth street but in North Hobart, also did a really good coffee and equally good breakfast. And Bright Eyes at Brooke Street Pier also did great coffee, with the world's second best brownie (see above for details on world's best).
We did a day tour out to Port Arthur with Experience Tasmania. The tour guide was very entertaining and gave us a running commentary of the history of the area as we were driving through. There was a couple of stops on the way, which gave us some breathtaking views.
Port Arthur itself was fascinating, and much bigger than I expected, with more than 30 historic buildings as well as ruins and extensive gardens. We started with an interactive display, where we were each given the name of a prisoner and had to follow that person's journey through their life at Port Arthur. It was a really interesting way of making the people and their stories come alive.
Next, we took a guided tour of the site where we learned all about the prisoners and free settlers who lived there over 150 years ago. When the tour finished, we were able to roam freely among the ruins of the old penitentiary, church and the asylum, as well as the beautiful old homes of the settlers.
We also took a short boat trip from the main site, out past the island where the Point Puer Boys' Prison once housed prisoners as young as seven. We also went past the Isle of the Dead, where the bodies of free settlers and prisoners were buried (on separate parts of the island of course).
There's also a beautiful, understated monument at Port Arthur to commemorate the lives lost in the massacre 20 years ago. Part of the cafe where some of the shooting happened is still standing, and it was quite a haunting experience to walk through it.
Bruny Island Safaris took us to Bruny Island for the day, which is less than an hour's drive from Hobart. The ferry ride across was smooth and grey and quiet. Apparently you can see seals and even orcas in the sound, but the most we saw was a seagull!
Our first stop was the Bruny Island cheese co, which is a beautiful little timber building surrounded by bush. The outdoor decking is gorgeous, with tables, stools and beanbags spread around so you can sit back and enjoy some good cheese and products that cheese goes with, like wood fired pizzas (and hopefully wine).
Next stop was the berry farm, which is a stone's throw from the scenic Adventure Bay in South Bruny. They grow every berry you can think of: strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, boysenberries, and even jostberries (apparently a cross between a black currant and gooseberry). Then they make them into delicious pies, cakes and muffins.
We continued to head down to the southern tip of the island and then hiked up to the Cape Bruny Lighthouse, which was built in 1838. The views from the top were stunning but to be honest, the lighthouse tour guide was a little less than inspiring, so you might consider saving your money and just walk around the lighthouse instead!
The tour also took us to the local pub for what turned out to be a spectacular lunch with views over to Satellite Island (which apparently you can hire and have all to yourself).
After lunch, we did some more sightseeing around the island, including taking in some stunning views at 'The Neck'.
We finished off the tour with a visit to the Bruny Island House of Whisky.
Frogmore Creek winery, Coal River Valley
Unfortunately, our stop at Frogmore Creek was all too brief, but what we saw, we loved. It's $5 to do a wine tasting, which seemed to be pretty standard among the wineries in Tasmania. Frogmore Creek has a cellar door, winery, vineyards, restaurant, shop and function rooms all on the one property less than half an hour's drive from Hobart.
As I mentioned, their Pinot Noir is our new favourite wine in the whole world, and we would've loved to sit in the restaurant with a glass (or few) and stare out over the vineyards, but unfortunately we were pressed for time. We did sit and have a coffee though, and it really is a beautiful venue; light and airy and surrounded by glass so we could look out over the property. It will definitely be first on our list of places to go on our next visit to Tassie.
Historic towns aren't necessarily something that really excites me, but I really enjoyed wandering through the little town of Richmond. It's about a half hour drive from Hobart, with plenty of lovely scenery (and wineries) on the way. The buildings are beautiful and in excellent condition, and there's a historic bridge that was...um...a bridge.
We found ourselves in the Old Hobart Town model village, which the owner informed us took about three years to build. The village is a scale model of what Hobart would have looked like in the 1820s when it was first settled.
The detail in the model village is quite extraordinary, with model people going about daily tasks, hanging washing on the line, shopping, drinking, playing and arguing in the streets and riding horses.
One of our other stops in Richmond was the Clemens Hill cafe, which is surrounded by charming gardens. The historic building doubles as the cellar door for the main winery, which is a couple of k's up the road. We were pretty impressed with the Sav Blanc, and bought a bottle to take with us.
After our stop at Richmond, we pressed on north towards Cradle Mountain and then onto Launceston. These places deserve a whole blog post to themselves, so part two and three of this blog will be on their way soon!
We visited Tasmania in the Christmas holiday, which of course is peak season. Hotels and car hire were hard to find and prices were high, so it pays to book ahead (which of course, I didn't). The weather is mild in summer, from December to March, with temperatures in the low to high 20's.
From Perth, we flew via Melbourne. You can also take the ferry from Melbourne on the Spirit of Tasmania.
For more info, see: www.discovertasmania.com.au