Lots of cities are great on paper (and in magazines and movies) and yet disappoint in person. Rome, Berlin and London spring to mind for me, but it’s different for everyone. Then there are cities that don’t warrant their own bible-sized guidebook, yet seep under your skin and wriggle their way into your heart. Hobart, the state capital of Australia’s “Apple Isle”, is one of those cities for me.
Last weekend, my boyfriend and I spent the weekend in Hobart. It was our second trip to Tasmania’s tiny state capital, which meant we had the luxury of already having experienced the city’s two “must-do” activities – visiting the infamous Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) and shopping the Salamanca Markets. Hobart’s other “must do” is eating and drinking your body weight in delicious salmon, cider and wine, which we happily repeated. We spent Saturday road-tripping along the scenic coastal routes just outside Hobart and on Sunday we spent a lazy day wandering around different parts of the city.
I noticed that as the weekend wore on, we mentioned work less and less. By the time we were sitting in the departures lounge at Hobart airport, we were more relaxed than we’d been in months and were already planning a return trip to Tasmania.
The often-overlooked island state is blanketed in vast wilderness areas and is sparsely populated, with a population of only about 500,000 people on an island roughly the size of Ireland. Nearly half of Tasmanians live in Hobart. As you can imagine, Tasmanians are a little different to “mainlanders” – and proud of it. Many Melburnians turn up their nose at Tassie, but take this with a grain of salt: being a bit snobby about anywhere outside Melbourne is a popular Melbourne past time. You’ll get used to it.
I’ve been gushing about Hobart to pretty much anyone who will listen, and I was surprised by how many Melburnians haven’t taken the 55-minute flight down south.
It’s easy to ignore the beautiful places right under your nose in favour of more exotic destinations. I should know – I grew up in Brisbane but didn’t make it to the Great Barrier Reef until a last-minute trip before I moved interstate.
Whether you live in Australia or are just passing through, make time for Hobart.
1. A tantalizing taste of the quiet life – on the edge of the world.
I love living in Melbourne but getting out of town every now and then is essential for my sanity. Swapping the buzzing city of three million for a sleepy town of 200,000 is just what I needed last weekend. We stayed in an over-the-water loft apartment at Somerset on the Pier, which was the perfect place to relax between exploring the city.
There’s not a skyscraper in sight and I didn’t hear a single car horn all weekend. It’s big enough that there are great bars and restaurants to go to, but you get the feeling that the bartender knows most of the customers. The perfect balance of big and small.
Hobart is refreshingly unpretentious. I was surprised how happy it made me to see people wearing hoodies and jeans at T42 bar on a Friday night – and that despite only bringing one pair of shoes with me, I didn’t feel underdressed once.
2. Fantastic food, without the fuss.
Tasmania has the cleanest air and waterways in the world, resulting in spectacular produce. Salmon, oysters, apples and cheese are the stars of Hobart’s food scene, but it’s hard to go wrong no matter what you order.
Leading restaurants like Franklin, Aloft and Glasshouse have lured even the biggest city snobs across the Bass Strait but there are plenty of relaxed dining options in Hobart – BarCelona and Jack Greene are some of my favourites.
I love small town bakeries and Hobart doesn’t disappoint – Daci & Daci in the city and Jackman + Ross in Battery Point are both Hobart institutions that are worth a detour.
3. No need to choose your poison – it’s all quality drops in Hobart.
Even the bottled water down here comes with an impressive pedigree. When I ordered a bottle of water at Daci & Daci, I was expecting a standard Mt Franklin. Instead, I got a glass bottle of Cape Grim, which as I soon found out, is the purest bottled water in the world. This isn’t marketing guff either – the CSIRO identified Cape Grim in Tasmania as having the cleanest air on earth, which makes for the purest rainwater. It tastes perfect – the things I would have done for some Cape Grim, while I choked down the hard tap water in New York!
I just wrote an entire paragraph about a bottle of water. Tasmania is just that kind of place.
Do you know what else ridiculously pure water is good for?
Distilling some of the world’s best whisky and gin.
Lark Distillery is the leader of the Australian whisky industry and has been recognised internationally for its single malt whiskies. Founder Bill Lark was inducted into the Whisky Hall of Fame in 2015 for his contributions to the industry and has mentored at least nine other new Tasmanian distillers. On our first trip to Hobart, we visited Lark’s cellar door near the waterfront. My boyfriend had a whisky flight and I was a bit of a spoilsport, sipping on local Frank cider instead. On the weekend, I tried Lark’s Forty Spotted Gin, at a new bar on the Hobart waterfront, Post Street Social. Deeeeeeeelish!
On our first visit to Hobart, we stumbled upon Moorilla Winery’s cellar door behind MONA, which was hands down the best way to pass an hour while waiting for the return ferry to Hobart.
On the weekend, I drank local wines at proud bars all over town and wasn’t disappointed once. The stand out was Milton’s Laura sparkling rose – I need to get my hands on a bottle! Next time, I want to have lunch at the stunning Frogmore Estate Cellar Door, which we drove past on our way to Richmond.
On our most recent trip, we did a half-day trip to the Huon Valley, Tasmania’s apple and pear heartland. We drove past a number of orchards but made time to stop at Willie Smith’s cellar door. We started with a cider flight of four pots for just $12, ordered a glass each of our favourite cider and shared an epic cheeseboard. Day. Made.
When we went to Waterman’s Beer Market, a bar in Salamanca Place that exclusively stocks Tasmanian beers, my boyfriend chose a beer that was brewed by the bartender’s dad! The beer is only available in Hobart and surrounds because the brewer is happy working on a small scale.
Is it any wonder the couple sitting beside us in the Hobart departures lounge were completely cooked? Temptation is everywhere in Hobart!
4. It’s a charming waterfront city in a spectacular natural setting.
Wedged between the staggering Mt Wellington and the wide blue Derwent River, Hobart is in a spectacular location. The small, colourful houses dot the landscape, working their way up the edge of the mountains and running right down to the water’s edge. The Derwent River, which runs through the middle of Hobart, looks more like the blue Sydney Harbour than the brown Yarra River in Melbourne or the Brisbane River.
5. A historic city with serious cultural capital
Hobart is the second-oldest city in Australia, after Sydney. Unlike Sydney, Hobart has preserved a majority of its historic buildings and neighbourhoods. Without the clutter of skyscrapers, the historic buildings in the centre of town still rule the roost, and you can go for entire blocks without walking past a building from this century.
It may not be Melbourne, but Hobart still has a handful of museums and galleries to keep culture vultures entertained. At the top of the list is MONA, a weird and wonderful museum opened by professional gambler-turned-art curator David Walsh in 2011.
The midwinter Dark MOFO Festival, curated by Violet Femmes bass player Brian Ritchie, celebrates the dark through public art, film, food, music and light. We must have missed the City of Hobart Dark Mofo Winter Feast and Nude Solstice swim last year when we were in town during the festival because apart from one public light show we couldn’t find much going on. As it turns out, a lot of the events are ticketed or held in venues throughout the city. We were starting to think the locals were punking us when they told us to go to Dark Mofo each night.
6. It’s the gateway to beautiful southern Tasmania – and Antarctica!
Despite being Australia’s smallest state, Tasmania has more than its fair share of natural beauty. Hobart is a great base for exploring southern and eastern Tasmania. On our last trip, we only scratched the surface, staying within about an hour and a half of the city. Even just around Hobart, I still want to return for Bruny Island, Wineglass Bay in Freycinent National Park and Port Arthur.
Hobart is also becoming a maritime exploration and marine science hub, thanks to its proximity to Antarctica. Australia’s leading scientific organisation, the CSIRO, has a significant presence here, along with an increasing number of research institutions.