There was a time when I couldn’t wait to get out of Hobart.
The capital of Tasmania (an island state in Australia’s south) wasn’t the most exciting place when I was growing up. Shops closed for the weekend at noon on Saturday; ‘doing a blockie’ (a.k.a. driving around the block) was a popular pastime; and the theatre scene consisted of masterpieces like “The Three Little Pigs”. (Which I was in. And was nominated for Best Supporting Actor in the Hobart Theatre Society awards for my rousing performance as ‘Little Pig Number 1’ …)
As soon as I finished school I was outta there, moving to Melbourne and vowing never to look back.
Well, both Hobart and I are all grown up now, and as it turns out, Hobart has aged much better. I’ve been amazed to see the city transform as I’ve returned for fleeting family visits over the years. It’s become cool, confident, and yes, even exciting.
What’s made the transformation all the more fascinating is that it’s largely down to one man, David Walsh. The eccentric millionaire, who infamously made his fortune gambling, founded Hobart’s Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) in 2011. At the time, the unconventional gallery was light years away from anything Tasmania – or even Australia – had ever seen. Similar to how the Guggenheim turned around the fortunes of Bilbao in Spain, MONA’s architecture and eclectic art quickly caught the world’s eye. And more importantly, it shone a spotlight on what Hobart and the rest of Tasmania had to offer.
Tassie (that’s Australian for Tasmania) suddenly wasn’t the butt of mainland Australia’s jokes anymore (think in-breeding. Ha. Ha.). This (relatively) cold corner of the country had become one of Australia’s hottest destinations.
The small island packs in stunning scenery, white-sand beaches and fantastic food and wine. But if you’re short on time, a weekend in Hobart is the perfect way to get a taste of Tasmania. Here are my suggestions for how to spend a weekend filled with yummy food, beautiful scenery and some eye-popping art.
Start your Tassie sojourn at Willing Bros Wine Merchants (384-390 Elizabeth Street, North Hobart), a relaxed yet stylish neighbourhood wine bar with a varied selection of wines from across the world—and knowledgeable staff to guide you through them. It’s a good spot to become acquainted with Tasmanian wine, which, after being somewhat overlooked for years in favour of its mainland peers, is well and truly back in fashion.
When you’ve had your fill, head to dinner at Bar Wa Izakaya (216-218 Elizabeth Street, Hobart). It’s a hip, laid-back Japanese gastropub that would feel right at home in Melbourne or London. The food is a fusion of Japanese classics and fresh Tasmanian produce. The wagyu tataki was a stand-out – Tasmanian wagyu beef, sliced thinly and served with zesty ponzu; as was the ocean trout and salmon sashimi, cut thick and melting in the mouth. There’s also more Japanese beers than I’ve even seen (note to self, must go to Japan), and an impressive range of sake. If you can’t decide, try the sake tasting flight.
Grab breakfast on the go at Pidgeon Hole Bakers (32 Argyle Street, Hobart). It’s little more than a hole in the wall, but the pastries are delicious, particularly the herbed breakfast brioche.
From there, take some time exploring the heart of Hobart – its picturesque waterfront area. The boat-filled harbour is a mix of working docks where the morning’s catch is unloaded, historic buildings, and galleries and museums.
The waterfront stretches to Salamanca Place, a handsome boulevard of Georgian sandstone warehouses, which today house restaurants, bars and galleries. It’s here that you’ll find Salamanca Market, a popular street market with a large range of locally-made products, produce and food. If you’re in the market for woodwork crafted from Tasmania’s prized timber, this is the place to go. (The market takes place every Saturday from 8:30am-3:00pm.)
From Salamanca, walk across to Brook Street Pier to catch a catamaran to MONA (you can find the timetable here). A standard ticket for the 20-minute ride costs AUD$22 return, but for AUD$55 return, you can upgrade to the mischievously titled ‘Posh Pit’. This gives you access to a private lounge and deck area, and complimentary drinks and canapés. It’s excessive – but if you’d buy a couple of drinks on the ferry anyway, it’s worth the extra money.
A trip to MONA is compulsory for every first-time visitor to Hobart, and it’s easy to see why. Sitting on a small peninsula jutting out into the Derwent river, the rust-coloured structure is an architectural marvel. Standing before it, you don’t really appreciate the scale of the place. It’s not until you descend into the bowels of the building that you comprehend its magnitude. The gallery has been carved into the sandstone cliffs of the peninsula, extending some 12m underground. Its windowless, cavernous interior purposely disorientates, with many dark, discrete corners unveiling a new piece of eye-opening art.
With its emphasis on sex and death, the collection won’t be for everyone—but I can promise you’ll leave with a strong opinion either way. (There is a room dedicated to Madonna’s Immaculate Collection which, of course, everyone will love.) If it does get a bit much, don’t fret. MONA is adjacent to the Morilla Estates winery, which provides a respectable escape if you do find yourself feeling squeamish…
When I was growing up, a nice dinner out for our family was a trip to the Hobart casino buffet restaurant. Thankfully, the dining options have come a long way since then. Today, there’s an ever-increasing number of fine-dining restaurants in the city.
My pick would be Fico (151A Macquarie St, Hobart), a stylish, modern Italian restaurant in the city centre with a small menu focused on that day’s fresh ingredients. There’s a set menu for AUD$75 a head, or you can order al a carte. I had the delicate kingfish with soy, wasabi and coriander, followed by squid ink spaghetti with sea urchins, the handmade pasta perfectly cooked in the traditional Italian al dente style.
If you’re in the mood for drinks after dinner, head back to Salamanca Place, which becomes a lively backdrop to many a reveller’s evening on the weekends. Try The Den (63 Salamanca Place, Hobart), with an interior that resembles a Swiss Chalet on steroids. Or the Salamanca Whisky Bar (Shop 3G, 63 Woobys Lane, Salamanca), where you can try some of Tasmania’s excellent whiskeys.
Head to the North Hobart end of Elizabeth Street for brunch. Twenty years ago, this was where I’d come for a kebab after school, or chicken and chips from the unfortunately named Legs ‘n Breasts. Today, however, it’s teeming with cool cafes and bars, and Legs ‘n Breasts is now the more politically-correct ‘LnB’.
You can take your pick from a number of popular brunch spots here. My favourite is Berta (323A Elizabeth St, North Hobart), where brunch classics sit alongside more creative, Asian-inspired dishes, like the delicious spring onion pancake with fried egg, sticky pork belly and chilli caramel.
Nearby, Room for a Pony (323A Elizabeth St, North Hobart) is also a popular choice. The menu here is simpler (although also has a number of Asian-inspired choices), but what sets it apart is its large outdoor seating area. It’s a great suntrap when the weather plays nice.
Or try Born in Brunswick, (410 Elizabeth Street, North Hobart) an all-day brunch spot that successfully recreates the vibe of Melbourne, the brunch capital of the world. Normally a ‘curry scramble’ wouldn’t be my idea of a good time. However my waiter strongly recommended the butter poached crab with curry scramble on a house made crumpet. He wasn’t wrong. It was subtle (to my relief), and delicious.
Tasmania is home to some of the most rugged wilderness in Australia. While it’s hard to really experience it in 48 hours, you can get a taste for what lies just beyond Hobart’s borders by heading to the top of Mount Wellington for views of the stunning landscape.
You can hike up the mountain, but when you’re on a schedule it’s best to drive (it takes around 20 minutes from the centre of Hobart). Stop in for a surprisingly good coffee at the Lost Freight Café at The Springs, which is about half way up the mountain. If you don’t have a car, Hobart Shuttle Bus operates tours to the top of the mountain.
Before flying out, head to the Coal Valley wine region for a late lunch and/or cheeky wine tasting. Given the Valley is literally a ten-minute drive from the airport, it’s an easy pit stop. (And trust me, you want to spend as little time at the airport as possible). If you don’t have a car, its close enough to Hobart that taxis are a viable option.
There are a few wineries to choose from here, but my recommendation is Frogmore Creek (20 Denholms Road, Cambridge). The wine and food are fantastic, and can be enjoyed from a terrace overlooking the vines and rolling hills of the valley below. The perfect end to a weekend in Hobart.
Quick tips when visiting Hobart
If you’re looking for more on Australia, try my posts on brunch in Melbourne, or the Red Hill wine region.