It would be criminal to come all the way to Hobart and not see anything of the countryside, and so on a bright April morning I joined Pennicott Wilderness Journeys for a minibus tour of Bruny Island. The trip took us down the coast and across a narrow channel on a ferry to the northern end of Bruny, which is in fact two islands joined by a dune-edged isthmus. My fellow travelers were a convivial bunch of Australian retirees who eagerly snapped up produce at each of our stops: artisanal fromages at Bruny Island Cheese; packets of fudge and truffles at Bruny Island Providore; and plump, freshly shucked Bruny Island oysters at a roadside oyster bar. After ogling some albino wallabies and stopping at the creek where Captain Cook filled up his water casks in 1777, we drove through the eucalypt forests of South Bruny to a lonely convict-built lighthouse. Climbing to its lantern room and stepping out on a wrought-iron balcony, we were greeted by a panorama of rugged, wave-lashed headlands that pointed toward an empty horizon. “Next stop, Antarctica, mates,” said our guide, Barry.
That evening, for yet another change of pace, I headed to the Theatre Royal for a night of opera. It was Handel’s Orlando, the headliner of the second edition of an annual music festival called Hobart Baroque. The building, first opened in 1837, is small but utterly charming; Noël Coward once called it “a dream of a theater.” And the performance, by a mostly American ensemble, was terrific, played to a full house on an ingeniously canted stage set. The audience was clearly thrilled to see their old playhouse put to such good use, and delivered a rousing ovation before filing out into the crisp Hobart night.
But let me leave the last word to Diljinder, the goateed Punjabi taxi driver who drove me to the airport early the next morning. Crossing the bridge over the Derwent in the golden, glowing sunlight of a new dawn, he told me he had moved here from Melbourne three years ago after visiting Hobart on a holiday. “Who wouldn’t fall in love with place?” he said, making it sound like the most natural thing in the world.
Qantas operates connecting flights to Tasmania’s state capital from Sydney and Melbourne, via its regional subsidiary Qantaslink.
Where to Stay
The 2004 opening of the Henry Jones Art Hotel (25 Hunter St.; 61-3/6210-7700; doubles from US$255) gave Hobart its first fashionable lodging; the former jam factory is now a 56-room hotel with rustic sandstone walls, exposed brickwork, and an extensive collection of artwork.
In South Hobart, the 11-room Islington (321 Davey St., Hobart; 61-3/6220-2123; doubles from US$370) is another heritage conversion, in this case occupying a Regency-era mansion filled with an impressive collection of art and antiques. But in the boutique stakes, Avalon City Retreat (152 Macquarie St.; 61-1300/361-136; doubles from US$638) trumps them all with just one two-bedroom penthouse and a remarkable setting above the streets of downtown Hobart. Services are limited, but guests have a fully stocked kitchen at their disposal and can ring a nearby restaurant for room service.
For families, a solid bet is The Old Woolstore (1 Macquarie St.; 61-3/6235-5355; doubles from US146), which offers both hotel rooms and spacious apartments within an easy walk of the harbor.
Where to Eat
For nautical-themed bonhomie, the wharf-side Drunken Admiral (17-19 Hunter St.; 61-3/6234-1903) is as loveable a seafood joint as you’re likely to find. On the other side of Sullivans Cove, the lines at Daci & Daci Bakers (9–11 Murray St.; 61-3/6224-9237) are worth enduring for the shop’s baguette sandwiches, pies, and pastries. Among the culinary highlights of the nearby Salamanca area are Smolt (2 Salamanca Square; 61-3/6224-2554) and the ever-cheerful Tricycle Café (77 Salamanca Pl.; 61-3/ 6223-7228).
The New Sydney Hotel (87 Bathurst St.; 61-3/6234-451) is the city’s best gastropub bar none, with crowds of regulars and a cosmopolitan menu featuring things like pan-fried gnocchi with prosciutto and garlic confit; and crispy goat shoulder with spring onions, feta, and pickled walnut. Three blocks up Elizabeth Street is Tasman Quartermasters (No. 132; 61-3/6236-9119), and one block southwest is Garagistes (103 Murray St.; 61-3/6231-0558), the acclaimed dinner-only restaurant by chef Luke Burgess.
What to Do
MONA (655 Main Rd., Berriedale; 61-3/6277-9900), the Museum of Old and New Art, is a must, and the fast-ferry ride up the Derwent makes for a nice excursion in its own right. Also well worth a few hours’ exploring is the recently expanded Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (Dunn Pl.; 61-3/6211 4134), the second oldest museum in Australia.
Pennicott Wilderness Journeys (61-3/ 6234-4270) offers a variety of tours and cruises around the coast, including its full-day Bruny Island Traveller program (adults, US$183). And if you’re in town on a Saturday morning, the lively Salamanca Market at Salamanca Place is the place to be.
This article originally appeared in the August/September 2014 print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Hobart, Hands Down”)