Ahh Tasmania. The bottom bit of Australia. The ‘Island to the side of New Zealand’. The ever quirky euphimism for…well, you get it.
For those who are still struggling to place it, Tasmania is the little sticky-outy bit at the bottom of Down Under:
With a population of just over 500,000, and all the rolling green and fresh sea air a gal could wish for, Tasmania has been making a name for itself with visitors to Australia. As their website will proudly tell you, Tasmania is the ‘curious island at the end of the world’. Their produce is world class and the locals seem to take personal pride in trying out the new and wonderful. Who wouldn’t want to go and explore there?
Yes, it’s just this beautiful
With two of my best friends as willing guides (it’s convenient to know a local), and the rest of the bookclub in tow, we set out to see just how much of Tasmania you can consume in four days. There was fresh air. There were walks on the (chilly) beach. There were food tastings, whiskey drinking, and somewhat disturbingly- a poo machine. Somehow I even managed to witness two sunrises and lived to tell the tale. While there is a lot to recommend Tasmania, here’s the shortlist of the things you should definitely hunt down on your first trip there.
As a newbie Australian, I could be wrong about this but I’m reasonably certain that MONA is the thing to do in Tasmania. I’m not quite sure what I was expecting from a privately owned museum set up in the basement of a high-roller, but MONA is a must-see.
As they say themselves:
Mona: a museum, or something. In Tasmania, or somewhere. Catch the ferry. Drink beer. Eat cheese. Talk crap about art. You’ll love it. Mona has art, bejesus. Some that’s good, some that’s old, and some that’s neither. There are paintings and also new-fangled stuff –’conceptual’ it’s called, …
The range is eclectic, confusing, and occasionally questionable (I imagine the poor gallery attendants get more than their fair share of outraged punters from time to time). Items can be grouped by artist, theme, or sometimes apparently at the whim of the curator. Some are permanently housed in custom-built rooms- the poo machine gets one of it’s own- while others apparently rotate on a regular basis.
Right from the beginning, MONA is a bit…different from your average museum
Modern art has never been my thing, but believe me when I say there is something at MONA for everyone. I was so excited when I saw the exhibition based on Tim’s Vermeer that I nearly cried (overreaction? Don’t know what you’re talking about). I also sat and giggled on the purring couch for a solid five minutes, while my friend was completely entranced with the detailed taxidermy of Tessa Farmer. If you want to get a feel for the chaos and irreverence of MONA, check out their website. Trust me, it’s all just as bizarre as it seems.
MONA aside, it is apparently incredibly frowned upon to leave Tasmania without visiting the official Top Tourist Attraction – the historic town and former convict settlement of Port Arthur. Given that modern Australia was basically founded on scurvy dogs and rapscallions (fact), it makes sense that one of its oldest post-colonial relics is a prison. Guards (and their families) lived shoulder-to-shoulder, so wandering around Port Arthur is a strange experience in luxurious historical living and the cutting-edge ‘single prison system’ that Port Arthur was famous for at the time. Much effort has been put into preserving and presenting the history of the area- I don’t think we even managed to make it around everything! Special mention to the cruise of the bay that is included in the entry fee, it’s a must-do.
Completely unknown to me prior to my Tasmania travels, Huon Pine is apparently the wood of the Gods (if the locals are to be believed). It’s perfect for boat building- resistant to insects and completely waterproof. It also smells like heaven – I’m still kicking myself for not laying hands on a Huon Pine candle when I had the chance.
Very shortly after discovering this magical wood, the early settlers discovered that it come with a rather huge downside- these trees are old. Old as balls. They don’t even think about reproducing until they’re 600-800 years old, which doesn’t make them the most sustainable resource. Felling of the Huon Pines was stopped in the 70s and the forest now serves as a tourist destination.
Tahune is 90 minute drive from Hobart so you’ll need to set aside some time for the trip (or let someone else do all the planning, pay no attention to the travel time and then moan that you’re NEVER going to get there a la me)
As you get closer to the skywalk, you can spot markers left after felling to record growth and it’s a little boggling. Those teeny tiny saplings out the car window? They’re older than I am. When you get to the actual skywalk, it all starts to make sense. These are the tallest trees I’ve ever seen. They make the reasonably height-advantaged ladies of my bookclub look like toddlers playing in the park. The skywalk takes you up to 50m (160ft for you yanks) about the forest floor, and even then you’re not even close to the canopy. It’s breathtaking,
All of that walking can leave a soul thirsty.
I’m not going to lie, when we added the Apple Museum to our list for the day, the expectation wasn’t high. An apple museum? Seriously??
Ladies and gentlemen, we stand corrected. Not only was the apple museum pretty gosh darned interesting (did you know that Tasmania was the home of the Granny Smith apple?) it was also delicious. With the evening setting in, we enjoyed mulled cider in tin mugs and apple pie the way it should be made- served with a big scoop of ice cream on top.
The shed also seems like a bit of a cultural hub, with book launches, music events, and a midwinter wassailing that we just missed out on. Willie Smiths will definitely be the top of the to-do list when we head back to Tasmania – we may even have to stop by twice.
We visited the Salamance Markets on our final day in town – we got there nice and early and it was freezing. Elsa levels of freezing, I think I lost contact with my fingers. Looking back, this was probably a blessing in disguise because it was tricky to linger too long at any one stall and there was so much I could have sunk money into. Huon Pine souvenirs made of rescued wood are around every turn, as well as local produce, various local flora, and and a Somehow I still managed to make time for a stick of candyfloss bigger than my head, which gave me the strength to keep going long enough to find the famous Oliebollen stall. These delicious dutch doughnuts had been described to me as the stuff that dreams are made of, and I wasn’t disappointed. Make sure you track them down after snaffling out the best Huon Pine bargain!
Tassie travel tips
- Sort out your transport before you go. While small, Tasmania is sprawling- you’re going to want to hire a car to make the most of your trip
- Be prepared for the weather. As one of the closest points to the Antarctic, Tasmania can get cold in winter. Stick to natural fibres, and make sure you have plenty of layers. Better to have brought too much than too little
- Don’t be afraid to explore! Tasmania has a thriving culture, it seems like every laneway has a little hole in the wall to discover.
- Relax, slow down, and enjoy your trip!