On the Waterfront
Founded at Sullivan’s Cove in 1804, Hobart is Australia’s second oldest capital (after Sydney). A good way to start your stay is with a walk along the harbour.
After taking in the views, the nearby Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery is a great place to spend a couple of hours. It includes Aboriginal displays, a collection of colonial and contemporary art, geology and zoology sections, as well as temporary exhibitions. Don’t miss the Islands to Ice exhibition on Antarctica (permanent exhibitions, Argyle Galleries, Level 2). Entry is free. There is also a nice café in the courtyard.
Some would argue that no visit to Hobart is complete without a visit to the Mona – the Museum of Old and New Art. It’s not for everyone and although I’m not into modern art (which seemed to make up the majority of the exhibits) and some of the pieces are more than a little disturbing, I’d still say it’s a worth a visit, for the architecture of the museum itself alone. At times it feels like you are wandering through cave-like labyrinth as the three lower levels are built into the side of the surrounding cliffs. The exhibition starts on the lowest level and you work your way up, along the windowless passage ways, back up to the light, getting lost along the way. You get an ipod like gadget to guide you through the museum which allows you to save your own virtual tour and then email it to yourself.
You can get there by ferry, leaving from the Brooke Street Pier Terminal in about half an hour.
There are also some options by bus, more information here. Entry costs 20 AUD (including the ferry trip) and is free for Tasmanians.
Salamanca and Battery Point
If you are in Hobart at a weekend, make sure you head to the Salamanca Markets on Saturday, where you can easily spend several hours. They open early and run until around 3pm. Browse local artwork, knitwear, souvenirs as you listen to street musicians and munch on a wallaby burrito.
It’s also worth going to Salamanca Place when the market is not on, to visit the Salamanca Arts Centre, Hobart’s creative arts hub which includes galleries, a theatre, numerous shops selling artwork, jewellery, clothes and more. There are also plenty of bars, cafés and restaurants.
From there, head up Kelly’s steps to reach Battery Point, one of the oldest parts of Hobart.
The area gets its name from the battery of guns that were established here in 1818 as part of the town’s coastal defence. It was also in this part of Hobart that Hollywood legend Errol Flynn was born. There are some cafés and restaurants along Hamden Road and if you’re looking for a light snack and somewhere to relax, I recommend the Pollen Tea Room at 56 Hamden Road. They have a little courtyard at the back where you can sit on a fine day enjoying a pot of tea.
Street art, dinner and a movie: North Hobart
Most of the restaurants in Hobart are located along Elizabeth street and this part is also much less touristy than the centre. If you want a little afternoon pick-me-up, Sweet Envy is the place to go with desserts as beautiful as they are delicious,
A little further up Elizabeth Street, is the more than 100 year old State Cinema, which if the weather is nice even includes a rooftop cinema. I was keen to see an Australian film so I went to see Last Cab to Darwin while I was there (although not on the roof top). A funny and moving road movie, unfortunately there don’t seem to be any plans to release it in Europe yet.
This part of Hobart is also nice for wandering around and admiring the murals on some of the laneways …
Obviously if you have come all the way to Tasmania, you’re going to want to see a Tasmanian devil, right? A good place to do this is the Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary, a half hour drive from Hobart city centre.
The Sanctuary takes care of injured animals, many of them which cannot be found outside of Tasmania, with the aim of releasing them back into the wild. It also operates Tasmania’s only 24 hour rescue service which is funded entirely by the entry fees to the sanctuary. Entry includes a bag of kangaroo food and participation in a wildlife tour (organised twice a day, so make sure you are there either around 11:30am or 2pm) in which a keeper will introduce you to some of the current residents and tell their stories.
While I was there we met Tina, a six-month-old wombat, who had survived in her mother’s pouch after she was hit by a car.
Then there was Burt the koala….
a family of lizards ….
and of course, Tasmanian devils…
I would recommend spending a morning or afternoon at Bonorong during a stay in Hobart and supporting a business which is making a real contribution to preserving the unique Tasmanian wildlife, rather than simply showcasing it.
Top of the World
For spectacular views of Hobart and the Derwent river – if you’re lucky enough to get up there on a clear day – head to the summit of Mount Wellington. Be prepared for the fact that it’ll be roughly ten degrees Celsius colder than at the base and EXTREMELY windy. Walking around the pinnacle area you have lunar-like landscapes, truly making you feel like you are on another planet…
It felt like a ghost town as I walked around, although perhaps this was because I was there on a Sunday morning.
Richmond is about 25km north east of Hobart and is home to Australia’s oldest bridge (built in 1825)…
… oldest Roman Catholic church, St John’s (built in 1836)
… and oldest colonial gaol (built in 1825, it pre-dates the penal facility at Port Arthur by 5 years).
From here I headed on to the Tasman Peninsula and Port Arthur.
The former penal colony of Port Arthur is now a UNESCO world heritage site and an open air museum. It was selected for its location, connected to the mainland by a 30 metre wide stretch of land known as Eaglehawk Neck, making it a natural prison. The “Neck” was guarded by a row of dogs who stood behind a bank of shells and the surrounding waters were rumoured to be shark-infested.
Nevertheless, there were some escape attempts, including one successful one (although they were eventually re-captured). My personal favourite is the story of Billy Hunt, who disguised himself as a kangaroo to try and hop his way to freedom. However, he had to give himself up when the guards decided to shoot at him. More stories here and here.
Despite the beautiful sunny day and the scenic surroundings there was an undeniable feeling of melancholy to this place as I walked through the grounds and entered some of the buildings.
Nowhere is the sense of despair more palpable than when visiting the “separate prison“. Prisoners who were sent here were kept in complete isolation, forced to wear a hood when they left their cell so that they never saw another person and with the guards under instructions not to speak to them.
As I entered, a recording of a man’s voice read the regulations as they were read to each man who was imprisoned here. A copy of these rules hang in the individual cells which you can visit.
Included in the grounds of the separate prison is a Chapel, in which prisoners attended the service in individual booths, again restricting their contact to others. A recording of a male choir was playing when I entered. Apparently some of the prisoners would insert their own words during the hymn singing in order to communicate with each other.
Back out in the sunlight, I took a harbour cruise around the Isle of the Dead, the final resting place of over 1000 people, both convicts and officers who passed away during their time at Port Arthur.
This tour is included in the entrance price but if you want to get off the boat for a tour of the island itself you will need to book this separately. More information here.
I would recommend spending at least one full day at Port Arthur (the entrance ticket is valid for two consecutive days). Tours of the grounds are organised (free of charge) several times during the day. They start close to the entrance of the grounds after you get your ticket. There are also ghost tours which explore the site’s troubled past for the brave…
On the way back to Hobart, I stopped at Devil’s Kitchen and the Tasman Arch. Standing at the top of these unusual rock formations, listening to the ocean crashing down below. Another one of these experiences which is difficult to capture in a photo…
Guess you had to be there…
Missed my post on dancing tango in Hobart? You can read it here