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Hobart, Tasmania

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Hobart is Tasmania's capital, and a major stop off point for trans-Australian cruise itineraries. It's a small city, full of elegant stone cottages and cozy pubs with a thriving restaurant culture and a lively entertainment scene. It has warmth that's often missing from bigger settlements, and is also one of the cleanest places you'll ever see – Hobarters take real pride in their town.

If your cruise has taken you to other Australian cities you might notice that Hobart seems much more traditional and British - but the sound of a kookaburra calling from a eucalyptus, the Aussie accent or that Antarctic icebreaker moored in the harbor will quickly remind you that from here there's nothing until you reach the frozen south.

If you're lucky enough to be here over the festive period you might catch the spectacular finish to the Sydney-Hobart Yacht Race. Starting in Sydney the day after Christmas, the race ends in Hobart a few days later the victor sails triumphantly up the Derwent to the sound of tumultuous cheers and popping champagne corks from the docks and quayside.

You'll wish you had more time to spend in Hobart and the rest of Tasmania, there's so much to see and explore. Unbelievably picturesque, blessed with beautiful and awesome wildlife this pristine paradise also comes with all the modern conveniences you could want: wilderness with washbasins, wasabi and wine! But this was once a place of horror. The arrival of Europeans brought pain, suffering and, ultimately, extinction to Tasmania's Aboriginal population. Things are a little more relaxed these days, but the islanders remain properly aware of their dark history.

The best way to take in some of Hobart's rich historical heritage is a walking tour. For a guided tour the Hobart Historical Walk is a good all-round option. For a colorful trip through Tasmania's early history you might prefer the Hobart Historic Pub Tour. You can learn about Bengal rum, bartering, smuggling and illegal brewing - and enjoy a drink in each bar! If this gives you a thirst for more the Cascade Brewery, which produces classic beer with the Tasmanian tiger emblem, offers guided tours and tastings.

The Salamanca Markets are a living legend. As well as a staggering array of fresh produce there are scores of stores selling jewelry, wooden boxes, scarves, trinkets and all manner of other goods. Hobart also boasts some good antique shops - look out for Antarctic memorabilia: old lantern slides, and frost-gnawed boots. You might even find a pair of boots gnawed by a human being when the provisions ran out.

If at all possible take an excursion to Port Arthur, Australia's most famous penal colony. As if shipping convicts halfway across the world wasn't enough, the Brits shipped them across the storm tossed waters from mainland Australia to this early Alcatraz from which there was no escape. There's only one way out by land - along a narrow strip of land called Eaglehawk Neck which was heavily guarded by soldiers and vicious dogs. Attempting to escape by sea meant certain death from hypothermia in the icy waters or falling prey to the sharks. The convicts worked hard - the bridges, roads, cottages and courthouses all over Tasmania were erected by men in chains, many of them deported for trivial crimes like stealing a sheep.

Most visitors to Tasmania will want to explore the natural environment. Wellington Park is the nearest wild country to Hobart and home to the famous Tasmanian devils. There are plenty of tracks to the summit of Mount Wellington as well as loops round the lower slopes. Mountain bikers can take the Mount Wellington Downhill Tour - a bus takes you to the summit before the adrenaline rush of a headlong descent through forested glades. Full and half-day sea kayak tours let you explore the docks and Derwent River. Diving, snorkeling and surfing are excellent - the waters are some of the clearest in the world and the waves breaking here have come all the way from South America - but you'll need a warm wetsuit as the water's pretty chilly. Finally, there are plenty of places to go fishing whether you're an expert or looking for your first lesson. Trout is the big freshwater catch.

The chance to work with some of Australia's finest fresh ingredients - Tassie cheeses and seafood are particularly prized - has lured some top-class innovative chefs to Hobart, so take advantage of the locals' friendliness and pride in their city and ask someone to recommend you their favorite haunt.

As you stroll through the parks and along the harbor, you'll be counting up the things you didn't have time to do and wondering to how to explain to the folks back home that you're thinking of emigrating to a small heart-shaped island in the Southern Ocean.

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