When you mention to people in Sydney that you’re going to Tasmania, or Tassie, you get one of two responses; either they love it, say it’s beautiful and are excited you are going, or they scrunch up their noses and imply that it may be … a bit dodgy. Mostly, it was the latter. I think that mainland Australians view Tassie as a Northerner in the U.S. views the South; a bit rough and a little behind the times. That may be true, about both Tassie and the South, but I think that it’s more of a compliment than the slight it’s meant to be. Tasmania may feel a little slower paced than the mainland, but how is that a bad thing? Hobart, the state capital, has a small-town feel – especially coming from Sydney – and is charming as hell. If you have a few days, there’s plenty to explore, so where to get started? Here are my top pics for long weekend and it begins with three words: Tasmanian Freaking Devils.
The island’s namesake mammal is a huge big tourist draw, but unless you plan on camping out for your stay, you’re unlikely to see one in the wild. A horrible transmittable cancer has decimated their population over the past twenty years, threatening the species, but there’s hope for the future. Conservation efforts have sprung up all over the state, along with breeding programs, to try and keep the disease-free population healthy and reproducing. Parks like Bonorong Wildlife Center take in injured but disease-free devils, and rehabilitate them along with maintaining a fruitful breeding program. It’s a fantastic little park; the animals look well cared for, and heavy emphasis is placed on education and awareness. They have devils (so cute they made even my cold little heart beat faster), wombats, echidnas, koalas, and kangaroos, of course. It’s well worth a visit for a morning or afternoon, and the visitor fee goes to support these threatened little beasties. As with most parks like this, get there as close to dusk or dawn as you can – that’s when the animals are most active. Check their website for special tours and feedings.
Next up is the surprise highlight of the trip and an absolute must for anyone visiting Hobart: the MONA. I say surprise because, well, it’s just a museum right? It’s not that I don’t like them; I love the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, the Met in NYC, the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, and the totally fantastically oddball Ho Chi Minh Museum in Hanoi. But I wouldn’t say museums are a passion for me. The Museum of Old and New Art though, put simply, is fucking great, and is my new favorite. It’s weird – I mean, you take a giant camouflage catamaran just to get there from downtown Hobart – and it’s been described as a “subversive adult Disneyland” by the museum’s benefactor and founder, David Walsh.
And it really feels that way.
It’s mostly underground, and the exhibits range from unsettling with a vaguely dangerous feel, to comedic and self-aware, to uncomfortably sexy. It’s also possible to buy a lifetime membership there which includes the option of being cremated and having your remains kept on the island, because circle of life, so you know what to do if you really love it. Plan on spending a at least half a day there; you won’t regret it.
Bruny Island is about an hour outside of Hobart, via a ferry that the rental car company probably doesn’t want you taking. On paper it looks like you can drive from one end to the other in a few hours, and technically you probably could. In a rented econobox car with half-bald tires, however, things go a little slower. Big stretches of road are unpaved (tick another box off of the rental car ‘not to do list’), narrow, and windy. There’s a small vineyard, beer and cheese restaurant, the requisite lighthouse, and what’s probably the most photographed place on Tasmania – the Neck. It’s a narrow isthmus that connects the island to the rest of itself, and it’s home to a rookery (bonus points for that word, it’s a joy to say) and a colony of penguins. We were there during the day, when the water birds were out hunting, so we missed them (as I have this entire trip). If you want a chance to see them, book ahead and plan on staying overnight. If you don’t make the last ferry back, and haven’t booked a place, you’re sleeping in your car.
If the weather is clear, drive up to the top of Mt. Wellington, about 40 minutes outside of the city. Those who brave the nausea-inducing serpentine ride to the top are rewarded with stunning views. There’s a parking lot at the very top and a few viewing points.
Tasmania may not have the cosmopolitan feel that Sydney does, but it’s worth a trip for the MONA alone. That it’s surrounded by beautiful mountains, like Mt. Wellington, and filled with lovely people, is just icing on the cake. Tomorrow, because I’m a glutton for punishment and adventure, we leave on a redeye flight to Perth.
How I got there: Flight from $155 on Jetstar from Sydney
Where I stayed: Airbnb just a few minutes walk from the harbor in north Hobart
What I did:
The MONA– Charmingly bizarre and pleasantly provocative, it’s not to be missed. If you take the ferry over, which you should – it’s fast and flat (like my first high school girlfriend heeeyyooooo) – make sure you upgrade to the Posh Pit: it’s like a premium cabin, which comes with food and free booze. I managed four glasses of champagne, because if I’m going to be on the water, I’m not going to be sober.
Salamanca Market – Every Saturday morning until 3:00 or so. Come hungry and ready to buy stuff, because it’s a huge and sprawling market. Get your souvenirs here.
Mt. Wellington – Worth the drive to the top for great views of Hobart, but skip it on a cloudy day.
Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary – Lots of ways to interact with the animals. Really well done park.