DISPATCHES FROM EXOTIC LANDS
Tassie on Travel Trend
The end of last year saw the Tasmanian Tourism Awards descend on Hobart in a shower of glitz and glamour. Topping the heady heights of the international tourism market is a relatively new phenomenon for Tasmania. It does, after all, have a fair amount of stiff competition worldwide and even domestically it has traditionally sat in the shadow of trendy Melbourne, exotic Queensland and the show pony of sparkling Sydney. But times are changing…
Latest figures from Tourism Research Australia showed the number of Tasmania’s international tourists increased by 22% last year, translating to an extra 197,000 visitors pumping 42% more money into the economy. To put that into perspective, its growth is double that of Victoria’s
Even the locals are a little stunned:
“The scale of the increase is a little bit surprising — it’s quite an extraordinary number…The opportunity is to really go to another level and to crack through a bit of a ceiling” says Tasmania’s Tourism Industry Council chief executive Luke Martin (source: abc)
Clearly people are beginning to recognise and appreciate this little island’s beauty, its untamed wilderness, its emerging arts scene and its tantalising food and wine. Tasmania is gaining status. Tas-MANIA is upon us.
But why? What is it about this lesser-known corner of Australia that has so captured the world’s attention? Following a trip there last year, I’ve rounded up ten of my own personal Tasmanian favourites to try to explain…
The Museum of Old and New Art in Hobart. WOW! Where to begin? Cut into the rock of a sheer cliff face it is a plunging vortex of engineering genius showcasing some of the world’s most controversial and thought provoking artwork. In total darkness, with spotlights illuminating hundreds of works, it is all-enveloping, slightly terrifying, potentially claustrophobic but frankly, phenomenal. The touch screen audio guide is simple to use and well narrated, guiding you seamlessly through the somewhat Escher-like system of staircases and mezzanines and helping to explain some of the more ‘unexplainable’ pieces.
Blinking into the daylight again, some people around me hated it, others, like me, loved it but love or hate everyone was talking about it. They were captivated. The point to take from this is that these people were captivated not by the Tate, or the Guggenheim, or the Louvre, but by MONA – a world-class gallery, sitting quite confidently amongst its glamour-puss peers – in little old Tasmania.
2. COUNTRY GRANDUER
Tucked away in the valleys and thickets of Tasmania’s rural landscape are an unexpected collection of grand, historic homes. The early Tasmanian settlers were a hardy, progressive and aspirational bunch who built elaborate Georgian and Victorian mansions and created a sort of antipodean, grandiose England.
Today there’s a strong dedication to the preservation of this architectural heritage so there are still plenty to see – try Woolmers Estate and Entally Estate, both near Launceston. A stay at the historic Quamby Estate, now a prestigious hotel, comes highly recommended – there’s nothing quite like playing lord of the manor, strolling through your mature oak woodlands and surveying your lakes and lawns before returning to a crackling log fire for a wee dram.
A broad one but Hobart just oozes atmosphere. It is cozy and inviting with pretty cobbled streets strung with twinkling fairy lights and hidden courtyards where you can cup a mug of steaming mulled wine in your hands as you jig to a local band feeling the warmth of the open fire on your back. It is old fashioned in an utterly charming way and it has proper pubs which serve pints. It’s also home to the famous Salamanca Markets- a veritable waterfront bazaar where you can buy anything from locally made honey and lambswool blankets to second hand clothes, Moroccan lamps and Indian spices. It’s a beautiful little city with a thriving arts scene, a bustling summer season and an inviting winter warmth that’s tricky to find down here in the antipodes. Go!
4. PUMPHOUSE POINT
The correspondence from Pumphouse Point begins ‘greetings from the middle of the wilderness’ and what could be more special or more romantic or more idyllically serene than bed in the middle of Australia’s deepest glacial lake? There is no phone signal here, no traffic, no noise just peace, tranquility and beauty beyond belief. Sitting in the centre of Lake St Clair, a still, silent lake gauged into the rock by ancient glaciers, amidst towering mountains and a rugged, dramatic landscape, this converted 1930s hydroelectric Pumphouse has had new life breathed into its very core. It’s now a subtly modern, effortlessly stylish, achingly beautiful lodge, where big family meals are shared with other guests around long trestle tables, all the wine and whisky you can drink is on an honesty system and there is a larder in your room, chocked full with the best local produce just waiting to be taken adventuring. The entire National Park is yours by day whether you’re going for a gentle amble in the summer sunshine or you’ve come equipped with crampons and an ice axe! When you return, roaring fires and endless lake views are the backdrop to long evenings of wine drinking and scrabble and during the summer, white wooden row boats idyllically bob on the water as the sun sets on this watery paradise.
Read the reviews and believe the hype about this place. Don’t hold back on the high hopes – they will be exceeded.
Of course you can’t talk Tasmanian wildlife without the Tasmanian Devil being the centre of attention. Despite their ferocious reputation they’re actually quite endearing up close, and even more so when you consider their plight at the hands of the devastating Facial Tumour Disease which is decimating the population.
Happily, many of the introduced threats causing mayhem on the mainland haven’t made it to Tassie so native fauna flourishes here and pademelons, quolls, bettongs, wombats and duckbilled platypuses are all thriving. Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary is well worth a visit. It’s the only organisation on the island that offers a 24/7 wildlife rescue service and its emphasis is wholly on wildlife conservation and rehabilitation – it is by no means a zoo. There is a constant transition of animals so there are always new faces to meet and plenty of new information to learn. It makes for a fascinating and engaging morning for adults and children alike – well worth some support!
6. GHOSTIES AND GOULIES
Tasmania has a lot of history so there are plenty of old buildings and heritage sights to visit. Perhaps the most famous, and rightly so, is Port Arthur. Visit it, admire the view, learn about the lives of the convicts here and make sure you stay for the ghost tour. It’s terrifying and exhilarating and it still gives me goosebumps thinking about it now..!
7. FOOD GLORIOUS FOOD
Tasmania is fiercely proud of its local produce and rising ‘foodie’ scene and once you get there, you’ll understand why. The green pastures, clean air and temperate climate all come together to create the perfect conditions for delicious, wholesome goodness. Try the following: The small batch mozzarella made by Andy at Red Cow Dairies with help his prizewinning Aussie Reds; the freshest oysters you’ll ever taste at Get Shucked on Bruny Island; Ziggy Pyka’s hand-raised, hand-smoked baby salmon at 41° South near Deloraine; the cloth-bound cheddar by the Bennet family at Ashgrove Cheese; baked deliciousness from Hobart’s Pigeon Whole Bakers; and as much charcuterie, honey, berries, organic veg and crusty bread as you can fit in your picnic basket from Hobart Farm Gate Market, Harvest Launceston and Cradle Coast Famer’s market.
For something really special take Rob Pennicott’s ‘Seafood Seduction’ eco tour on the Derwent River. Pootling along these pretty waters you’ll savour oysters, abalone, lobster and even sea urchin plucked straight from the crystal clean, pure water. You’re welcome!
8. MOUNTAINS, MOUNTAINS, MOUNTAINS
The mountains are the main draw card for many of Tasmania’s more adventurous visitors and they easily rival anything New Zealand has to offer. For something leg-friendly try bombing down Mount Wellington on a mountain bike! For hikers, the Overland Track, situated in the Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park (home of Pumphouse Point), is perhaps the most famous trek of all – 82 km of sheer rock, temperate rainforest, wild rivers and alpine plains. You can take several side tracks to conquer the summits of Cradle Mountain and Mount Ossa, and dip your toes in the icy clear waters of The Labyrinth and Lake St Clair. Stunning.
If you think the food scene is good, hold fire for the local grog! Known as The Apple Isle (it was once the world’s major apple producer) Tasmania isn’t short of a cider or two with producers such as The Apple Shed and Red Sails Cider both offering a tasty tipple in the Huon Valley. Beer is a big deal here too with Cascades in Hobart and Boags in Launceston still arguing over who has the purest water and therefore the best brew. Meanwhile smaller producers such as Two Metre Tall in the Derwent Valley and Seven Sheds Brewery in Railton are worth a visit and I must also mention MooBrew, a very special beer produced in a small brewery that’s part of MONA (as if that art gallery couldn’t get any better!).
Of course there are plenty of vineyards here too and a cracking whisky scene thanks to the peaty soil, pure water, Scottish influence and inherent belief that fine craftsmanship and faultless quality beat quantity hands down. Whilst in Hobart be sure to check out the Lark Distillery, licensed since 1839, and have a look at The Tasmanian Whisky Trail for all the most up to date information.
10. BEACHES, ISLANDS, BAYS
Being an island, there’s plenty of these and they’re stunning, unspoilt, pristine wildernesses – a far cry from the backpackers and the glitterati of the mainland’s pumping east coast. Wineglass Bay, a crescent of white sand set against dusky pink mountains, is arguably the best beach on the continent. Pademelons hop by curiously, dolphins play in the waves and just the other side of the peninsula on Richardson’s Beach you’ll find burnt shells and middens – evidence of the area’s rich Aboriginal history.
Another must-see is the Bay of Fires – a series of scalloped, powder white beaches studded with huge, orange boulders which glow in the evening light. Behind, several lagoons and a series of inlets brim with birdlife and boast water so translucent that you can snorkel to discover sponges, weedy sea dragons, rock lobsters and abalone. One of the best ways to see this stunning stretch of coastline is to undertake the four day Bay of Fires Lodge Walk – an immersive, revitalising and mind-cleansing experience which will make you feel utterly human again.
So there you have it…
…my personal top ten. Of course this barely scratches the surface. There is so much to see and do here it’s difficult to know where to begin! In a way I’m reluctant to share this. The thing I love most about Tasmania is its remote wildness. There aren’t hordes of tourists here, no coach parks, no neon signage, no concrete paths shepherding the throngs through ‘wildlife parks’. This is real, raw, wild nature at her most stunningly beautiful. Go and be among the few who witness this great, untouched wilderness. It will not disappoint.