Nestled in near Feng Shui perfection (mountain behind, water in front), is one of the prettiest cities in Australia. And one of the oldest. Guess where I am?
Yes, Hobart, the capital of Tasmania. Wandering the docks on a wintery day, I was struck by how much Hobart resembles English harbour towns like Yorkshire’s Whitby and Cornwall’s Penzance.
When seaspray-lashed Sydney to Hobart yacht crews finally reach safe harbour after their voyage across Bass Strait, what a sight for salty sore eyes Constitution Dock must be. Not to mention this welcoming city of Hobart.
Off Macquarie Wharf, there’s a parade of handsome 17th century sandstone buildings (one of them was originally home to the Southern Hemisphere’s biggest jam factory). Overhead, gulls wheel. Fishing trawlers bob in the marina. The sting of brine is in the air. Surely, this is the perfect haunt for ghosts of whiskered sea captains and creaking tall ships?
Past and present day adventurers
In fact, Hobart has hosted a parade of significant seafarers – from early French and English explorers, like Captain William Bligh; to Roald Amundsen, Norwegian leader of the first expedition to reach the South Pole; and Charles Darwin who dropped in during his voyage of scientific discovery aboard the ‘Beagle’.
Present-day adventurers can sign up for their own sea-based expeditions, many of which leave from the historic waterfront. Jump on board the ferry to MONA – the fast catamaran service that whisks you up river to Hobart’s controversial home of modern art.
The lower deck, appropriately named the Posh Pit, includes full bar service and a gourmet tasting plate – while upstairs in standard class, passengers perch on seats whimsically fashioned to resemble merino sheep. After a pleasant 30 minute cruise, you disembark at MONA.
Set high on a headland, the museum’s main building is a bunker-like installation overlooking the river and surrounding vineyard. Whether you love or hate the contemporary exhibits held deep within its dark heart (and, be warned: there are some confronting works), you won’t remain unmoved by the experience.
I recovered with a cheerful meal and cuppa in the gallery cafe. Those in need of something stronger will find a winery and cellar door on site.
If your sense of adventure leans more towards the outdoors, then multi-award-winning Pennicott Wilderness Tours offers some memorable experiences, leaving from Hobart’s Franklin Wharf.
One that’s particularly popular is a full day excursion to Bruny Island which lies off Tassie’s south-east coast, about 45 minutes’ drive from the capital. At the harbour town of Kettering, the tour bus joins a vehicle ferry across to the island and continues south.
Bruny Island’s scenery feels grand, wind-swept and remote – and you may catch a glimpse (or even an evidentiary snap) of the unusual white wallabies that live in and around the seaside town of Adventure Bay.
From here, we embark on the highlight of the journey – an ocean cruise along the island’s craggy south-eastern coast. Before boarding Pennicott’s customised Naiad vessel, we’re issued with bright orange, full-length waterproof jackets to ward off the cold and spray. I feel a little like a North Sea fisherman – all that’s missing is a perky sou’wester.
But the awkward costume is quickly forgotten, thanks to gob-smacking scenery – soaring cliffs, pirate caves, erupting blow-holes, roiling seas and rugged rocky outcrops bearded by lashings of kelp.
The residents (and we’re not talking people)
But it’s the residents of this isolated seascape that get the cameras whirring: albatross coasting above like huge kites; dolphins skipping the waves; and seals by the dozens – New Zealand fur seals and their Australian counterparts on this particular adventure.
As the boat circles metres from the colony, our skipper tells us these are all male seals. They’ll laze here on the rocky outcrop until breeding season, when they’ll abandon their blokes’ bastion and glide at speed, like underwater missiles, to the females’ colony in the south.
Amour, Bruny Island style.
(Ps – Jetstar and Virgin Australia fly direct from Brisbane to Hobart daily).