But there is more to Tasmania than just good food and wine; a wealth of natural parks, a burgeoning art scene and a generous selection of boutique wineries and distilleries are just a few more of the island’s attractions.
Five years ago when a close friend told me she would be travelling to Tasmania for three months, the only mental connections my brain could muster involved Tasmanian devils – and cartoon ones at that. Horrified by my ignorance, I made it my mission to make my own journey to Tassie to see what Australia’s only island state had to offer. Separated from mainland Australia by the Bass Strait, Tasmania makes the most of its isolation, and unspoilt natural beauty is one of its crowning jewels. I was also thrilled to discover a phenomenal gourmet food and drink scene as well as a flourishing hub of arts and culture, all wrapped within the confines of an island that has a haunting history to reveal.
Like mainland Australia, Tasmania has its own tragic historical tale to tell. Situated in Hobart, Port Arthur is a starting point for those who want to unravel the evocative story of the island’s colonial history. Stunning natural surroundings seem at odds with the grim site of the former prison, which comprises roughly 30 buildings and ruins that housed convicts from 1830 until 1877. For the 12,500 convicts that served sentences at Port Arthur, the walls that still stand today encased a living hell. My ticket included a guided walking tour, a cruise of the harbour and access to the convict study centre. If you have time, a cruise to the nearby Island of the Dead allows you to join a guided tour of Port Arthur’s burial ground.
To Market, To Market!
According to the Tassie Tourism Board, Salamanca Market in Hobart steals the crown as the island’s premier attraction. Hobart built its wealth on the whaling industry that flourished in the 19th century when the town was a bustling hive of trade and commerce. Nestled amid the iconic sandstone buildings of Salamanca Place, the market remains a buzzing hub of activity every Saturday morning and it’s a great place to go if you want to meet the people who are making all of the wares on offer. Everything from handcrafted glassware, ceramics and woodwork to organic fruit and veg are available at the island’s 300 or so stalls, all set to the upbeat soundtrack of local buskers that gravitate towards the market each week.
Made in Tassie
For a traveller that thinks with her stomach, encountering Tasmania’s budding food and beverages scene was a gastronomic delight. Premium produce including cheese, bread, seafood, nuts and honey provided some of the culinary highlights, all washed down by exquisite craft beers, whiskey and wine. Hobart’s Cascade Brewery and Launceston’s J.Boag & Sons Brewery are the largest beer producers on the island, and despite being Australia’s oldest brewery (Cascade was established in 1832!), the Gothic-inspired site still produces some fine brew. If your palate favours the richness that can only be found in a glass of red, Tasmania’s wine routes can be explored easily via car or on a guided tour. Vino hotspots include the Tamar Valley, the Derwent, Coal River and the Huon Valleys.
The Local Art Scene
In addition to its flourishing foodie attractions, Tasmania is also a thriving setting for local arts and culture. The island has long encapsulated a diverse community of creatives and is still home to an active community of artists, musicians, artisans and performers, evidence of which is splashed throughout Tassie’s formidable selection of contemporary art galleries and regular festivals. While Hobart’s Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery offers some intriguing exhibits, the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) offers visitors a true taste of the Tasmanian spirit. Each year, the museum hosts a varied programme of events, the most popular of which are summer’s MONA FOMA (music and arts) and the edgier Dark Mofo in winter.
Into the Wild
The allure of Tasmania’s untamed wild scenery is undeniable, and with 45 percent of the state comprised of national parks, reserves and World Heritage Sites, you would be a fool not to delve into the island’s wild side. If, like many travellers, you are in search of true island wilderness, head to the northwest, where the few quiet back roads will lead you to some enchanting places. More accessible than much of Tasmania’s forested interior, Cradle Mountain represents some of the island’s finest open space and is the starting point for the Great Overland Track, a popular hiking trail. If you decide to challenge yourself by setting off on the trail, keep your eyes peeled for wombats, platypus and wallabies. Eagle-eyed hikers may even catch a glimpse of the legendary Tasmanian devil.
- As well as providing a home for Tasmania’s most popular market, Salamanca also houses a blossoming arts community. Spread throughout seven warehouses, the Salamanca Arts Centre comprises over 75 arts organisations including boutiques, contemporary galleries and performing arts venues.
- If, like me, you are something of a chocoholic, try to coincide your visit to Tassie with the Chocolate Winterfest at Latrobe, just outside Devonport. This indulgent festival lavishes attention on all things chocolate, and is a great day to throw caution to the wind and let your sweet tooth take the driving seat.
- For a more wholesome gastronomic excursion, the Community Farmers’ Market in Launceton showcases a vivid display of fine local produce, from juicy olives grown on the slopes of Mt Direction to thick, golden honey. A great place to graze your morning away before stopping off for an early lunch, accompanied by a crisp glass of the locally brewed cider.
- Take advantage of the seas of Tassie by feasting on some of its most irresistible fruits – oysters. A trip to the Freycinet Marine Farm allows you to sample the oysters just as they are being harvested.
- If your travel aspirations tend towards wildlife watching more than decadent feasting, head for Maria Island, Tassie’s only island national park. Located a mere 6km from the main island, Maria Island is home to Tasmanian Devils, kangaroos and wombats, and is also one of the finest locations in the state for bird watching.