Originally founded as a penal colony, Hobart, like Sydney, has shed the chains of its convict history. Today, the small Tasmanian island has some of the best restaurants, bars and cafés in all Australia – plus some cracking culture to boot.
With traditional industries enduring a sharp decline, tourism has risen up to take the slack and reinvigorate the island’s sluggish economy. In the past visitors trekked to Tasmania to enjoy its wilderness, including sweeping beaches, rainforests, thick bush-land and unique wildlife. That all changed in 2011 when multi-millionaire David Walsh opened the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA).
Once considered little more than your average backcountry town, Hobart is now decisively cool. In preparation for the city’s festival season, Time Out Hong Kong seeks out the best places to eat, drink and visit when in town.
What to see in Hobart
Hobart is Australia’s second oldest capital city after Sydney. As such, this is a place rich with history. Make a beeline for the bustling Saturday Salamanca Market (8.30am-3pm every Saturday). Held all year long, come rain or shine, at the historic Salamanca Place, more than 300 stalls offer fresh local produce and handicrafts. Wander between the cafés and the sandstone warehouses now restored as art galleries and listen to the live buskers entertain.
Afterwards, take a short stroll across the Salamanca Lawns to Constitution Dock, where fishermen haul in their daily catch. Pop into Mawson’s Huts Replica Museum (corner of Argyle and Morrison St, +61 3 1300 551 422; mawsons-huts-replica.org.au. Open 9am-6pm, Oct 1-Apr 30; 10am-5pm, May 1-Sep 30), which sits just off the dock. The replica hut is modelled on the 1911 to 1914 Australasian Antarctic Expedition to the South Polar region led by Douglas Mawson. The story of the men who went, how they lived (or in some cases died) and the struggles they endured is fascinating.
Just up the road sits Australia’s second oldest museum, the Tasmanian Museum & Art Gallery (Dunn Pl, +61 3 6165 7000; tmag.tas.gov.au. Open 10am-4pm, Tue-Sun), set in a historic building that has recently undergone a $185 million redevelopment. Particularly sobering are permanent exhibitions dedicated to the indigenous population, many of whom were wiped out by settlers in the brutal Black War of the 1820s-30s, and the now extinct Tasmanian tiger.
No visit to Hobart is complete without hopping on one of the outlandish camo-decaled catamarans that ferries visitors up the river to MONA (655 Main Rd, Berriedale, +61 3 6277 9900; mona.net.au. Open 10am-6pm, Oct 6-Apr 27; 10am-5pm, Apr 29-Nov 30). The brainchild of Hobart native David Walsh, who turned an aptitude for mathematics into a fortune through gambling, the museum revels in the wacky and the weird. Walsh invested more than $1.5 billion in MONA, terming it a ‘subversive adult Disneyland’, and making it the must-see museum in Australia. It contains a mix of confrontational contemporary art – including a suicide bomber cast in chocolate and 151 real vulvas sculpted in porcelain – and ancient artefacts.
Walsh is fascinated with death and has a collection of Egyptian and Roman mummies on display, including one in the so-called ‘Death Room’ which has a secret door leading to his home. To help you digest this, a beverage or two is recommended. Either book the Posh Pit for the ferry ride out, where champagne and canapés are served, enjoy a cocktail in MONA’s underground bar or taste some excellent pinot noir in Walsh’s onsite vineyard (Cellar Door; open 9.30am-5pm, Wed-Sun).
In June MONA holds its annual winter festival, Dark Mofo (their summer version, MOFO, takes place in January). Sip some local cider or whisky with the hipsters and lap up the quirky, offbeat live music next to the wharf. Just make sure to take a warm coat.
Where to drink
Hobart is now awash with great coffee shops and bars. Try Pilgrim Coffee (48 Argyle St, +61 3 6234 1999; fb.com/pilgrim.coffee) for artisanal beans served in hip industrial-chic surroundings and Tricycle Café and Bar (77 Salamanca Pl, +61 3 6223 7228; open 8.30am-4pm, Mon- Sat) for an old favourite. Tasmania is now not only famous for its red wines but for its whisky too. In 2014, the Tasmanian distillery Sullivans Cove saw its French oak cask named the World’s Best Single Malt. To sample some of the strong stuff in a cosy setting try Nant Whisky Bar (63 Wooby’s Ln, Salamanca Place, +61 3 6224 0747; nant.com.au/whisky-bars. Open midday-midnight, Sun-Fri; 10am-midnight Sat) or book a tour with Tasmanian Whisky Tours (tasmanianwhiskytours.com.au/ whisky-tours). Finally, pop into the Hope and Anchor Tavern (65 Macquarie St, +61 3 6236 9982; hopeandanchor.com.au), established in 1807, to have a schooner at Australia’s oldest continually licensed pub.
Where to eat
Hobart used to serve stodgy British-inspired cuisine. Today, chefs make full use of local produce, offering everything from cheap and cheerful fish ‘n’ chips around Constitution Dock to innovative fine-dining restaurants. Try The Source at MONA (655 Main Rd, Berriedale, +61 3 6277 9904; breakfast 7.30am-10am, lunch from midday, Wed-Mon, and dinner from 6pm, Wed-Sat), which has gorgeous views over the museum grounds and immaculate white- cloth service. It offers a three, five, seven or nine-course menu from $460. New kid on the block Franklin (28 Argyle St, +61 3 6234 3375; franklinhobart.com.au) is a more relaxed and funkier option. The restaurant has a stellar wine list and a giant open stove where local meat and fish are smoked and cooked in front of diners. Finally, Smolt (2 Salamanca Sq, +61 3 6224 2554; smolt.com.au. Open 8.30am to late daily) is great for a quick lunch or dinner with a large pizza and small plates menu.
If you rent a vehicle, don’t leave without venturing out to the surrounding countryside. Bruny Island is around half an hour’s drive from the city (with a further 25-minute ferry ride) and is famous not only for its wild beaches, rolling hills and wildlife (look out for the penguins) but also for its local produce, with shops offering oysters, hand-made farmhouse cheeses and even a smokehouse. If you want more time to explore, stay at Carrington Cottage (35 Nebraska Rd, Dennes Point; islandshacks.com), a quaint 1950s house opposite the beach with a much-needed wood fire.
History buffs will love the historic former convict settlement of Port Arthur (Arthur Highway, +61 3 6251 2310; portarthur.org.au). The World Heritage location was once a male prison in the early 19th century and more than 12,000 convicts lived and worked here. Now these grounds are eerily peaceful, but it remains a sombre, if compelling, destination.
If you don’t have your own car one of the best ways to see Port Arthur is to do a tour. Pennicott Wilderness Journeys (pennicottjourneys. com.au) offers a Tasman Island cruise that includes either a stop at Port Arthur or the Tasmanian Devil Park. The three-hour cruise is a wonderful way to end any trip to Hobart, where visitors can oggle colonies of seals, spot seabirds and marvel at the dramatic towering cliffs of the Tasmanian coast.
Travel & Accommodation
Where to stay
The best location in Hobart has to be near Salamanca Place where everything in the city is within walking distance. For a reasonably priced hotel, try the no frills Salamanca Inn (10 Gladstone St, +61 3 6223 3300; salamancainn. com.au. From $980 per night). A more upmarket option is the boutique Islington Hotel (321 Davey St, +61 3 6220 2123; islingtonhotel.com. From $2,400 per night), which has gorgeous views over Mount Wellington.
How to get there
Cathay Pacific (cathaypacific.com) offers flights from Hong Kong via either Melbourne or Sydney for around $9,228 (inc taxes). An airport shuttle bus takes travellers to the city centre for $110. If you plan to see other parts of Tasmania make sure to hire a car as public transport is almost nonexistent.