Down Under Down Under
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
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.