Accommodation. What to do other than visiting MONA. The best restaurants to eat at. What the weather is like. How to fall in love. Prepare to lose your heart and find so much more in the southern capital with this guide to everything you need to know about visiting Hobart.
It’s not MONA’s infamous wall of female genitalia sculptures that makes me blush. Please. Instead, I’m standing in Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s Pulse Room – hundreds of suspended light bulbs triggered by a sensor to flash in time with your heartbeat – preparing to be exposed. My boyfriend is beside me waiting to compare his pulse (steady and strong) to mine. Four months after our first date I know what the artwork will reveal: the lights sparkle.
I fell in love in Hobart. Twice, if you count falling for the city itself. And while it’s not my first time (in love or in the Tasmanian capital), both feel different now. Just like new romance, a weekend spent rediscovering a city offers giddy pleasure.
“Hobart doesn’t get as cold as people think,” my boyfriend says.
“Oh, yeah?” I answer, piling on the layers. “The winters are actually remarkably mild because of relatively consistent ocean temperatures,” he explains to ears deaf with disbelief and a beanie.
Outside the Henry Jones Art Hotel he beams in the sunshine as we wander along the waterfront looking for the seal that mooches around Constitution Dock. The water glitters, seagulls squawk with the metallic clinking of yacht rigging and I quietly stuff my beanie into my bag.
At Salamanca Market, opposite the hotel on the harbourside, he asks whether I’ve tried a famous Hobart scallop pie and is incredulous I haven’t. “Let’s get one!”
We’re on our way to breakfast and in the excitement of passing whisky and gin stalls, every type of apple for sale, handcrafted Huon pine chopping boards, woolly
socks that defy the mild winter claim, peanut-butter merchants, cheesemongers and tables loaded with bric-a-brac, we forget the pie.
We crisscross the city on foot, heading to or from a meal with never enough distance to digest (our hire car stays parked at the hotel until check-out). Without towering office buildings the streets breathe and we can navigate by heading for a certain church spire or use a glimpse of the harbour between sandstone state buildings, modernist blocks and narrow shopfronts to gain our bearings. Rising behind the city, kunanyi/Mount Wellington acts as an ancient bulwark against south-westerly weather fronts. “I could move here,” he says. “Me, too,” I answer, in what I hope is a casual tone.
On the ferry that motors through the Derwent River spray to MONA, David Walsh’s incomparable contribution to art and tourism, Posh Pit tickets guarantee us snacks and sparkling. If this town held a mirror up to the greedy, we’d be reflected with mouths full.
“You’re both wearing Blundstones!”
Our Tassie boots are the talk of the line for The Divine Comedy, Alfredo Jaar’s hyper-sensory installation that imagines Dante’s purgatory, heaven and hell. We spend a few hours roving the subterranean galleries, draw bicycles from memory (him well, me terribly), gaze upon Whiteleys and stand, shoulders pressed together, listening to live experimental jazz. The heartbeat lightshow is inevitable. As is, it seems, late lunch at MONA’s Faro – a soaring glass-and-concrete space that juts out over the river but perversely obscures views with a huge spherical James Turrell sculpture. After plates of empañadas, grilled prawns, seared wallaby and a cocktail served over seashells with a caviar-filled straw, the line between heaven and hell blurs.
Back on the boat, I stare out the window at stretches of pristine bush, industrial sites and the return to sprawling suburbia as we pass under the Tasman Bridge, which connects the city’s east and west.
Before dinner and drinks comes a very necessary nap. Inside adjoining 19th-century waterfront properties, all sandstone blocks and timber beams, the Henry Jones Art Hotel was once home and headquarters to the IXL Jams magnate it’s named for. Now it’s plum with luxury contemporary comforts, art you can buy off the walls and a restaurant, Peacock and Jones, that fills with as many locals as guests. And they say the place still sometimes smells of jam.
“Hungry?” asks Sonny’s sommelier Alister Robertson, pouring a surprise natural wine from a chalkboard list he changes most days. Twenty minutes after waking up we’re wobbling on stools at the living room-sized wine bar by popular restaurant Templo. “Oh, God, we haven’t stopped eating!” and “Yeah!” we reply together. Robertson spins soul records from a crate of vinyl he packed into his car when he moved from Adelaide and I help finish every dish off the small menu of toasts, charcuterie and handmade pasta.
Slowed by too much of everything except sleep, the next morning we trudge across the road to Macq 01 Hotel and revive with coffee before joining the property’s Hidden Hobart history walk. Our guide tells stories of convicts, corruption, explorers and outlaws as we peer through retro View-Masters at slides that show the city as it was. We ooooh and ahhhhh in concert with an older American couple wearing sensible puffy layers. The guide’s more modern tale of a whale recently spotted lolling in the harbour draws all eyes like a magnet. “The winters here are surprisingly mild because of the consistent ocean temps,” she adds as we watch the water, the morning sun warm on our backs. He squeezes my hand.
About an hour later we say our goodbyes in St David’s Park, where I thrill at the frilly blossom trees and the magnolia flowers until we’re unable to resist the lure of lunch.
We sit at a table by the window at The Glass House on Franklin Wharf, distracted by its absolute water frontage and the faint hope of spotting that whale. He adds oysters to the three-course set menu while I’m scrolling through local real-estate listings on my phone. “There’s a town called Snug!” I blurt out, delighted.
“That one! Or that one!” The game of “Which house would you buy?” continues on the drive up kunanyi. As the city grew after settlement in 1804, suburbs fanned out and across the harbour in a hotchpotch of Colonial, Victorian and Federation homes, mid-century weatherboards, Art Deco beauties and vast contemporary constructions with glass anywhere you might glimpse water. “That one!” I turn to hide my pleasure that we both want a rambling garden with a fruit tree.
Navigating hairpin bends, we pass dogged cyclists on their lowest gear and see snatches of our steady climb through the trees. On nipaluna country, kunanyi is sacred to local Indigenous people, who believe their spirits ascend the mountain after death. The summit is rocky and rugged, whipped by wind and is 10 degrees colder than down by the water; it’s late afternoon when we arrive and the car park is almost empty.
Cutting it fine before our flight home, we agree to come back, maybe go camping for a few days, check out Bruny and Maria islands and definitely get a scallop pie. Looking beyond Hobart to rolling ranges and water gleaming like spilled mercury in the sun, snow flurries begin to fall. “This is magic,” he says.
Three other things to do in Hobart
For hikers: Cape Hauy
The 90-minute drive from the city is worth it to tick one of the Three Capes Track walks off your list. While tackling all three would take days, start at Fortescue Bay campground and you can get to Cape Hauy and back in about four hours. The trail winds through heathland, along the coast above sheer escarpments and rewards those who make it with spectacular views of the sea-stack formation known as The Candlestick.
For wildlife: Maria Island
Western Australia may have Rottnest Island and its quokkas but to see wombats in the wild, spend a day on Maria Island. A couple of hours by car and ferry from Hobart, the entire island is a national park and a haven for pademelons, potoroos, flocks of bird life and the state’s infamous locals, the Tasmanian devil. There are biking and hiking trails, historic convict ruins to explore and campsites for the more adventurous.
For kids: Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens
Stretch little legs at this 14-hectare green space just outside the CBD. Play chasey on the lawns, trolls at the bridge in the Japanese garden and when everyone’s had enough of hide-and-seek, stop for scones with jam and cream on the deck at the restaurant, Succulent.
Image credits: Chris Crerar, Adam Gibson, Kathryn Leahy, Julia Smith, Alastair Bett, Rob Burnett, Jarrad Seng, Luke Tscharke