Anticipation is a remarkable thing. Sometimes it’s rewarded. Sometimes it’s not. Like when I’d spent a lifetime (OK, half a lifetime) waiting to visit Stone Henge. When I did, I was underwhelmed. Totally. (I mean, it’s quite … well, small. Isn’t it?)
So it was that I approached our recent mini-break to Tasmania’s capital with a sense of restraint. If Hobart could live up to all its press (foodie capital, art mecca, whisky destination, brewery hub, heritage central), then there was plenty to be excited about. Surely it couldn’t be THAT good?
As I was soon to discover … YES, it could. Maybe even better.
Tassie has been on our must-do list for some time. We hope to get back there later in the year in our little campervan that could for some serious road touring, but for now we could manage a mid-week visit, which seems a great fit for the urban offerings of Hobart. We have cheap air tickets, three glorious days and three targets in our crosshairs: MONA (Museum of New and Old Art), Lark Distillery and Cascade Brewery.
This is how it unfolds. (Costings at the end for those who care.)
We (Mr P and I) arrive, early morning, at Hobart International Airport after an hour’s flight from Melbourne. Beyond the frenzy of Melbourne (Tullamarine) Airport, Hobart is a walk in the park … chilled, no-fuss, super-friendly.
We can’t miss spotting our transport … the Mona Roma bus.
We board and enjoy a thirty-minute drive into central Hobart where we’re given half an hour to wander around the famous harbour precinct before re-boarding for the twenty-minute trip to MONA.
We cloak our backpacks (our no-frills air tickets allow us 7kg each of carry-on luggage) and descend the three levels into the “belly of the beast” which is MONA. The gallery is almost entirely underground … a capacious, cavernous space carved into a cliffside. It’s like nothing we’ve ever seen. Artworks and artefacts are truly honoured in huge spaces. It’s busy (apparently it’s always busy) but the scale of the complex means it doesn’t feel crowded. Intimate, cosy spaces contrast with inexplicably big gallery rooms, all revealing surprising pieces ranging from ancient relics, to contemporary video art and, yes, that notorious wall of vaginas (seventy-seven of them).
A vertical sandstone wall towers several levels high (taller than Stone Henge). Man and machine have sliced through the natural stone to expose a rich, textural plane that’s an artwork in itself. We find a bar (The Void) thoughtfully dovetailed at one end of the sandstone monolith and elect to pause for a whisky (as you do), slipping into vintage chairs perfectly positioned for taking in the splendour of this human-crafted cliff-face.
We wind our way back up through the levels, marvelling at architecture enlivened with hefty rusted steel, concrete and glass. Everything is on a grand scale.
Hours later we emerge into the daylight and find our way to Moorilla Wine Bar (it’s on site) where we order the local vino (of course) and snacks, and relax within sight of the vine rows.
And we’ve barely sampled the catalogue of MONA experiences: The Source Restaurant, Wine Bar, Museum Cafe, Moorilla Winery + Tours + Tastings, Moo Brew Microbrewery + tours + tastings, Library (5,000 books on ancient and modern art, MONA Shop, The Pavilions (accommodation), CineMONA and Jam (live music performance, outdoors).
[MONA is a triumph of philanthropy; the story is worth discovering and serves to explain MONA’s unique culture and ethos. Seek it out.]
It’s hard to leave, but by 3pm we take the 99 steps down to the jetty and board the ferry that takes us back to central Hobart via the new Brooke Street Terminal.
Our hotel, Hadley’s Orient, is about ten minutes walk away. We settle in to our room and wander around the newly restored heritage style reception/foyer spaces.
The hotel staff give us the headsup on where to eat. We end up at Customs House Hotel, housed in a deliciously old, heritage-listed building with a sandstone wall of its own and a chilled-out charm distilled right through to exemplary service. (I still drool when I think about my meal that night: Porcini Mushroom & Ricotta Tortellini. Mr P had the Seafood Basket, and swears the elements were fresh-caught that day.)
We wander slowly back to our hotel, through streetscapes brimming with heritage architecture.
… begins with buffet breakfast in one of the hotel’s magnificent rooms. Glorious (the food and the architectural features).
We saunter into the nearby shopping district and poke around for an hour or so before heading over (on foot) to Salamanca Place, site of the famous Salamanca Markets (Saturdays only). We’re surrounded by character filled heritage streetscapes and we quietly amble through, taking in the specialty shops, cafes, eateries. We come upon the Nant Whisky Bar – a tiny space showcasing the golden drams of the Nant Distillery located about 40 minutes north of the city. Behind the bar is Liam who guides us beautifully through a shared tasting of three Nant drams.
It’s a delight. And we’d love to stay for more drams and info, but we must away.
We take the advice of a Taswegian friend (thanks Alex!) and climb Kelly’s Steps up to Battery Point, the oldest part of town where the buildings are even more fascinating. If that’s even possible.
There’s just enough time to hotfoot along to the Harbour Lights Cafe (on the waterfront) where Mr P orders a sumptuous Scallop Pie (a must-do Tassie tradition) while I work my way through the best-presented bowl of fruit salad and yoghurt I’ve ever devoured. (Foodie capital? Hell, yeah.)
We’re on a schedule. At 1.30pm we’re due at the Lark Distillery (less than ten minutes walk from our lunch spot) where we’ll join the half-day tour. This experience is such a treat, I’m giving it a blogpost all its own. (Watch this space.) Suffice to say, we had a splendid afternoon.
Some time after 6pm we mosey back to our hotel and opt for a nanna nap. We’re about done. Amazing what a mircrosleep can do – we rally and walk the fifteen minutes to The Fluke and Bruce where we hunker down on local beers and delectable dinners (Bean Burrito for me).
We take the long way back to our hotel, and swing by Joe’s Garage for a beer. It’s like your best mate’s man cave on steroids. So much fun.
Now we are REALLY done.
We dally over another excellent hotel buffet breakfast while we plan our final day in beautiful Hobart.
We’ve calculated we can catch the 12.10pm bus from the city to the Cascade Brewery (we’re booked for the 2.30pm tour), giving us 2-3 hours to explore the Maritime Museum of Tasmania this morning, which, like almost everything, is just a short walk away.
We drop into the Hobart Town Hall on the way and the receptionist invites us to take the stunning old staircase up to view the ballroom. We’re glad she did.
The maritime museum is a revelation of intriguing artefacts and fascinating stories well-told. We could spend hours more here, chatting to the generous-of-spirit volunteers and hearing more of those “old salty” tales.
But we must away.
The bus takes us south east of the city on a fifteen-minute journey that culminates in an around-the-corner reveal of the iconic Cascade Brewery building … you know, the one that appears on the beer cans. It’s nestled in a ferny bushland setting and looks brilliant, yet weirdly familiar.
We check in for our tour, collect our beer tasting tokens and find a cafe table in the expansive gardens of the visitor centre. It’s an inspiring environment and we busily taste our way through some house brews and to-die-for lunches (a giant angus beef burger for he; beetroot tart for me).
The copper tap pipes in the visitor centre bar are stunning, no?
The tour guide decks us out in high-vis vests and safety goggles before we join our party for an hour-and-half guided brewery tour. It’s a fully working plant, so we can’t get up close to the actual workings but the guide does share some interestign info. No photography allowed.
We’re pleased to get back to the bar and enjoy a brew or two with some fellow tourists we’ve befriended.
Just after 4pm, the bus and us start winding our way back to the city. We’ve organised the Airport Shuttle Bus to collect us from the hotel just after 6pm so we retire to the bar, order a local wine and some dinner snacks and settle in. Beside us, some old diggers are having a reunion and the soft tinklings of a piano player filter in from an adjacent room.
It’s quite lovely.
But it must come to an end.
We collect our backpacks from reception, bid farewell to the staff and clamber aboard our bus, then our aircraft. By 11pm, we’re back amidst the frenzy of Melbourne (Tullamarine) Airport’s long-term parking lot, stowing our bags into the boot and wondering whether the cat’s missed us.
It’s been a break brimming with all our favourite things, and more. Hobart is a gorgeous city that thrums with a personality all its own. We found the welcome and the service faultless, wherever we went. There’s a chilled-out vibe unexpectedly paired with a devotion to excellent product and service, whether that’s a story-filled tourism experience, a fabulous meal or a like-gold single malt whisky.
We’ll be back. And next time I’ll let my anticipation run wild.
The bucks (for those who care).
Flights (Jetstar MEL-HOB, HOB-MEL): $99 ea return (no checked baggage, 7kg carry-on, no frills)
Hadley’s Orient Hotel: $129 per night (for two, including welcome wine, continental buffet breakfasts)
Mona Roma Bus: Airport to MONA $20 ea
MONA admission: $20 ea (FREE for Tasmanians)
MONA Ferry (MONA to Hobart): $20 ea
Nant Whisky Tasting: $35 for three drams
Lark Distillery Tour: $75 ea for half-day tour + tastings
Cascade Brewery Tour: $25 ea including 3 x beer tastings
Maritime Museum of Tasmania: $9 ea