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Eight Days to Discover New Tasmania

View from Mount Wellington
View from Mount Wellington

A $175 million private museum opened in Hobart in January. The Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) has been described as a subversive adult Disneyland.

From antiquities to concept art, everything about subterranean MONA is intensely exciting and from New York and London to Bonn, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Tokyo there will be art professionals, keen amateurs and the just plain curious who read about MONA and book a trip to Tasmania.

The museum is part of a riverside estate that includes a vineyard, a fine-dining restaurant, a boutique brewery and an informal cafe. When the sun is out people take their glasses of wine and food from the cafe and lounge in bean bags on a sprawling lawn that offers views over the nearby Derwent River.

You could easily spend an afternoon at MONA. Consider it a leisurely introduction to a new Tasmania. For on this island, food, art and wine now feature as much as renowned wilderness and compelling heritage.

The following is an eight-day tour. After Mona only 7½ days remain. We better get cracking.

By Greg Clarke

DAY ONE – Hobart

Despite Mona and Hobart’s appeal we’re still going to have to sleep at some stage.

Where to Stay: The Old Woolstore is a few minutes’ walk from the city centre and near the city’s waterfront. Apartments are fully self-contained, with both kitchen and laundry facilities.

Clydesdale Manor has won romantic getaway awards for consecutive years – the French doors in the spa suites open onto private verandas. The hot breakfast options (Asparagus tart with tenderly poached free range eggs) are a sign of its individuality.

There are views over the Hobart waterfront from the Henry Jones Art Hotel. But if we stay here our focus may remain inside the rooms. The hotel is in a converted Georgian-era sandstone warehouse and cleverly fuses contemporary and historical design. The service is exemplary. So are the credentials of the executive chef of the in-house restaurant. There are a variety of rooms and suites.

DAY TWO – Port Arthur

Port Arthur
Port Arthur Historic Site is Tasmania’s most popular attraction © Michael Walters

In 2010 eleven Australian convict sites were added to the UNESCO World Heritage List. Five of these sites are in Tasmania. World Heritage Listed Port Arthur, one of the 11 sites, is about a 1½ drive from Hobart.

Port Arthur is not readily described as handsome or beautiful. Yet it t might easily be both. It is set by a tranquil harbour and surrounded by hills of dense native forest. There are boulevards of towering oaks and English elms, expanses of verdant lawns and meticulously reinstated convict gardens at Port Arthur.

Such beauty belies a stark reality. This was a place of much brutality. Lieutenant-Governor Arthur envisaged that Port Arthur would be ‘a place of terror’, a terrifying combination of hard labour and unremitting surveillance.

Archaeology and conservation and cleverly refined ways of story-telling will allow us soak up the fascinating and brilliantly varied themes of Port Arthur. This site has some 30 historic buildings and ruins. Unlike the convicts who sometimes ingeniously tried to escape, we won’t be in any rush to leave.

Tasmanian Devil Conservation Park – The park has recently undergone a major makeover and is one place (there are nine wildlife parks in Tasmania) to have a close encounter with the most famous of Tasmanians – the Tasmanian devil is the world’s largest carnivorous marsupial. The people at the park have been successful in breeding Tasmanian devils in most years since it opened in 1979.

Elsewhere on the Tasman Peninsula are sea cliffs and secretive coves and bays that rival anywhere else in Tassie for beauty. Boat cruises (with Tasman Island Cruises and Seal Life Experience) of this extraordinary coast leave from Pirates Bay: but we’ll need to spend another day on the Tasman to fit in one of them.

Where to Stay: Cascades Colonial Accommodation is at Koonya, on the north of Tasman Peninsula. The wonderful and deceivingly named Rotten Row has one double room and another room with two single beds. It’s self-contained and great for families. There are other rooms including those in the converted colonial officers’ quarters.

There is a good variety of studios and cabins (40 in total) at Stewarts Bay Lodge, a family friendly resort within walking distance of Port Arthur.  The on-site Taylor’s restaurant is a highly recommended place to eat.

The family owned and operated Fox & Hounds Inn is a Tudor style property by a waterfront setting just one minute drive from the renowned Port Arthur Historic Site. The inn has ensuite-motel rooms and self-contained villas along with a licensed restaurant.


Wineglass Bay in Freycinet National Park
Wineglass Bay in Freycinet National Park

It’s a short drive — about an hour — from the Tasman to the east coast. Here national parks, deserted beaches, vineyards and places of good food are readily found. A wildlife cruise combines some of the coast’s finest features.

East Coast Cruises depart from Triabunna. One three-hour cruise takes in an island that is home to a seal colony. The company also provides a ferry service to acclaimed Maria Island. Wombats and kangaroos are easily seen on the island and free-range around some of the remnants of the island’s colonial heritage.

Wineglass Bay Cruises depart from Coles Bay. On this cruise we’ll get to the extraordinary Wineglass Bay without breaking sweat – the only other way to get there is a two hour-hour hike. Cruise boat skipper Duncan Sinclair keeps a record of wildlife sightings. He has logged encounters with dolphins, seals, little penguins and humpback whales and southern right whales. During the four-hour cruise Duncan and his crew also serve up local oysters, sparkling wine and cheese.

Some of Tasmania’s finest wineries will help us re-discover our land legs. Spring Vale, Milton, and Freycinet vineyards are places to get a taste for some of the island’s finest cool-climate wines.

Bicheno Penguins – Sea-side Bicheno is a little Tassie gem. An evening penguin tour operates on a private nature reserve. On most nights visitors will see from 30-100 birds. They’ll walk right by us on their way from the water to their burrows.

Where to Stay: English-born novelist Arabella Edge and her artist partner Nick run Bicheno Hideaway. The place is ideal for families. Echidnas, wallabies and birds are fond of the sea-side and natural bush as well.

Windows on Bicheno consists of two stylish suites. The owner is a food lover and cooks up fabulous breakfasts. The views are as memorable as the large spa baths.


St Helens on Tasmania's north-east coast © Holger Leue
St Helens on Tasmania’s north-east coast © Holger Leue

We point the car north. Toward the fishing port of St Helens. When nearly there we’ll detour to Eureka Farm (there are signs near Scamander off the main coast road (the A3): their ice creams, jams, sauces and chutneys are some of the finest in Tassie.

If we are to complete are tour of Tasmania in eight days there will, tragically, be time for just a brief tête à tête with Binalong Bay and the Bay of Fires. No matter how short our stay at The Bay of Fires, we’ll remember the white sand, the ochre coloured rocks and the inevitably deserted beach for eons (should we be fortunate enough to live that long).

The Trail of the Tin Dragon snakes its way from St Helens via Weldborough to Derby and Scottsdale. It has been reported that some 900 miners from China came to Tasmania in the late nineteenth century. The trail is the story of tin mining in the north-east as well as the redoubtable human spirit. The $2 million interpretative centre at Derby explores themes of life, universe and tin.

Barnbougle – An afternoon of golf anyone? Before you answer consider this: even if you’re not a golfer you might want to play a round at Barnbougle Dunes. It is one of the finest public-access golf courses in the world.

This links course weaves between dunes that rise from Bass Strait. The clubhouse perches on a dune between the 9th and 18th greens. Refreshingly, the course comes without the formality usually found at courses of this stature. A no less impressive sister course, the Lost Farm, opened in 2010. Spectacular Lost Farm is adjacent to the Barnbougle Dunes course. It features a quirky 20 holes. All are playable during a round.

Where to Stay: There are cabins by a fairway and close to the 19th hole (which also features a fine restaurant) at Barnbougle. Elegant rooms are available at Lost Farm.  If you’re interested in off-course options, sea-side Bridport is the closet village to the course.


Cataract Gorge, Launceston
Cataract Gorge, Launceston

The Tamar Valley wine region stretches from Pipers Brook, near Barnbougle, to Relbia, south of Launceston. This is the most productive wine country in Tasmania and almost 50 per cent of the island’s wine comes from this area.

The valley nurtures chardonnay, pinot noir, gewürtztraminer and riesling grapes. These cool-climate varieties also give the zeitgeist to some of Australia’s best bubbly (sparkling wines).

The Leaning Church, Goaty Hill, Moores Hill, Sharmans Wines, Jinglers Creek and Josef Chromy are cellar doors we’ll be glad to visit. Irving Fong owns and runs Jinglers Creek. The 70-something Mr Fong is impossible not-to-like. His joie de vivre will brighten any day.

Launceston is home to some of Tassie’s best restaurants. This evening before our thoughts turn to [more] food we’ll make time for a visit to the Design Centre. Here is Australia’s only museum collection of contemporary wood design. There are also exhibitions and tours.

Novaro’s restaurant is a Launceston institution. The warm, convivial atmosphere is a fine place to serve cuisine that highlights the tastes of fresh and clean food.

Hotel Charles – I stayed at this hotel soon after it opened in July 2010. An unexpectedly large second floor room was as fine as Beautiful Day by U2. Sleep came as easily as devouring the croissants from the nearby Tant Pour Tant patisserie.

The very smart TWOFOURTWO is also in Charles Street and near its cafes, restaurants, and delicatessen. Owners Alan and Kate Livermore get as much pleasure from meeting visitors as their guests take from these beautifully furnished units. The place is a gem.

Some of the impressively large rooms in the City Park Grand Hotel have two queen-size beds, two leather Chesterfields, a fire place, timber mantle piece, kitchenette and a bathroom with spa and bathrobes.


Table Cape, overlooking Bass Strait, west of Wynyard © Dennis Harding
Table Cape, overlooking Bass Strait, west of Wynyard © Dennis Harding

We’ll fortify ourselves for a long(ish) drive to Stanley, one of the finest hamlets in north-west Tasmania, with morning tea at Westbury. The Village Green remains a feature of the town. Get yakking to the locals and they’ll proudly tell you their town should be considered much like those vaunted and authentic colonials Ross and Richmond (closer to Hobart).

The Old Coast road from Ulverstone to Penguin and the tulip farms (near Wynyard), will be other memorable parts of this day. So will the stinkingly rich farmlands of Tasmania’s north-west. We’ll be on the look-out out for farm-gates selling produce straight from the fields. Turners Beach strawberries and Perfecta cherries (when in season) will be a fine addition to a picnic basket. We will leave room for wine from Barringwood Park Vineyard and handmade truffles from Anvers chocolates should we happen across them.

Time might be tight today but Water Wheel Creek, a timber heritage experience, at Mawbanna is very much worth a visit. John and Sonya who run this are a mighty example of the friendly locals encountered in Tassie.

Dinner tonight will be at the Old Cable Station in Stanley. Our hosts, Charlotte Brown and Michael Whatley, utilise local produce in spectacular fashion. Stanley crayfish and scallops, Blue Hills organic honey (sourced from the flowers of trees in the Tarkine) and King Island yoghurt are variously on the menu. We’ll need to book a table before we arrive.

Where to Stay: The two suites @VDL are in a stone building that, in 1843, belonged to one of the world’s largest pastoral company. Inside polished floorboards run to stone walls. Like much of charming Stanley, VDL is right by the water.

Stanley Sea View Inn is west of the centre of Stanley, just off the Stanley Highway. This friendly place has views over Stanley and a long expired volcano; an iconic local landmark known as The Nut. We could eat our farm-gate produce off the floors. The place is spotless.


Coles Beach overlooking Bass Strait, near Devonport © Devonport City Council
Coles Beach overlooking Bass Strait, near Devonport © Devonport City Council

Despite the ease with which it courts food and wine and art devotees, Tasmania’s foremost reputation is built on its staggering wilderness. That a whopping 20 percent of the island is listed as World Heritage Area (WHA) shores it up.

If we take the road to Arthur River and Corinna via the Western Explorer route from Stanley we’ll get a good taste of the island’s extraordinary wilds. Some of the road is gravel but it is one of the best drives on the island. It will take around five hours and we’ll stop for lunch at storied Corinna.

Seaplane Flight – Harbour-side Strahan is the western gatekeeper of the World Heritage Area. From the village we can cruise, sail, fly or paddle into the WHA. Can I suggest we take the 1.5-hour sea-plane flights from Strahan take-off from Macquarie Harbour.

We’ll fly over the harbour and up the Gordon River and the Franklin Valley to St Johns Falls. The flight is at a level low enough so we can see the reflections of the landscape in the river. The seaplane puts down some 48km up the Gordon River.

Ship That Never Was – After the flight catch Australia’s longest-running play. The Ship That Never Was recounts that tale of convict shipbuilders who steal a boat from the Sarah Island (within Macquarie Harbour) slip-yard and escape from their Macquarie Harbour prison.

Where to Stay: Risby Cove has absolute waterfront accommodation. The rooms are a mix of waterfront spa units and two bedroom suites. The restaurant is one of the best places to eat in Strahan.

The Hilltop Garden View rooms at Strahan Village have memorable views of the harbour and its wharf.


Forest in Tasmania
Forest in Tasmania

It’s a long drive to Hobart. This means we’ll not only sleep well on the plane but will wish, like a lot of people, that we had allowed more time to explore surprising Tasmania.

Still, we should have time to stop for lunch at the Derwent Bridge pub and for a visit to the Wall in the Wilderness. Greg Duncan is fashioning panels of rare Huon pine into near impossibly life-like sculptures which tell part of the history of the Tasmanian highlands.

It’s fitting that such artistic excellence should be found near the forests of Tasmania. For the island’s state-wide core of cultural experiences will ultimately become as renowned as Tasmania’s largely unreconstructed wilderness.


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