Tantalizing Tasmania (Part 1, the South)
Tasmania is where? Isn’t that a country somewhere near Australia? An island maybe…
That’s what a lot of people from other parts of the world seem to think (ok, I admit, while still in the States, I thought it was a country of its own, and maybe Tasmanians would prefer it that way). It’s actually a part of Australia, and a very beautiful part, where many mainland Aussie’s come to get away from the heat, go bushwalking, wine tasting, and enjoy all of the great artisan foods.
You can take the ferry across to Devonport, but it’s a 9 hour potentially rough ride which costs more than flying. Still, it’s a good option if you have a car or camper you want to bring along. Otherwise, you can fly in to Launceston in the north or Hobart in the south. I chose to fly to Hobart first and spend a few days in a great small city known for their arts and market scene.
My hostel was conveniently located a couple of blocks from the wharf, where fish & chips places abound, and you can watch the ships come in and out or the seagulls trying to steal bits of your dinner. It rained my first night, but that added to the mysterious atmosphere as I devoured my fish before the birds could get it, and then walked around, semi-dry under my umbrella, although the wind turned it inside out a couple of times.
With only 2 full days there, it was hard to decide what to do! But I knew from things people had told me, that as an artist I wanted to go to MONA, a wild and crazy art museum a little ways out of town, started by a very rich man who’d made his fortune gambling, liked art, and wanted to share it. You reach the museum by MONA boat or by bus (the boat is part of the fun, as you cruise up the river). MONA is full of ancient artifacts and contemporary pieces that are guaranteed to start some interesting conversations. Apparently the owner’s philosophy is something along the lines of, I don’t care if you love it or hate it, it’s art, so talk about it. Some of the pieces are fun, some disturbing and controversial, but all worth a look. I’ll post a few photos, but go to their website for more insight…
Near the wharf is Salamanca Place, old warehouse buildings turned into upscale shops, galleries and restaurants. They’re known for their fabulous Saturday market. Alas, I left on Friday so I missed it, but enjoyed giving the silversmith, bookshop, and craft shops a browse.
The next day, for a taste of Tasmania, I splurged on a tour of Bruny Island. Clare, my chef friend in Melbourne, had told me it was her favorite place here, and I was not disappointed. It was the best value for dollar tour I’ve been on, anywhere, ever!! Pennicott Wilderness Journeys are eco tours that win the top Tassie tour award every year, and I can see why. For the same price as the Great Ocean Road tour that I went on from Melbourne, which had included a lunch of a single piece of greasy fish and a few limp chips, this tour was a gourmet feast of stops at 6 artisan producers:
1) At Bruny Island Cheese Company, you taste 5 different cheeses and you can watch the cheesemaker at work in the back room
2) At Get Shucked Oyster Farm, enjoy an oyster feast (all you can eat in the time that you’re there, they start by giving you each 6, served with lemon or tabasco, but they’re best on their own, fresh out of the sea). You can watch the woman in the back shucking the oysters, a tough job if you ask me, and if you’re in a hurry, they even have a drive through!
3) The Bruny Island Berry Farm for morning tea – pillow-soft scones with cream & farm fresh berry jam served with tea or coffee, in a lovely setting with a view of the sea
4) At Bruny Island Premium Wines, you not only get to try several different varietals, including Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Sauvignon Blanc, you get a whole glass with your lunch, a choice of salmon, lamb steak or sausages, served with a fresh-off-the-farm salad
5) If you’re not full enough at this point, you might enjoy tasting 3 kinds of fudge at the island chocolatier. My favorite? The Persian, with figs, dates and orange!
6) And, to finish things off, how about a taste of a Tasmanian single malt cask whiskey? This was included, however if you are a real aficionado, you can pay an extra $30 for a taste a taste of Sullivan’s Cove French cask, selling for a $1000 a bottle, that won the World’s Best Single Malt Whisky award in London last year. A Tasmanian whiskey beat out the Scottish!! Otherwise, all of the food and drink are included, with transportation and tour, for $135 Australian (about $107 US), and it’s an all day, 10 hour trip from early morning until evening.
Lest you think that it’s only about food, let me share a few of the other places you stop and see…
Included is a short drive through a spot where the rare white wallabies hang out. You can hop off the van (yes, the tour is made up of relatively small groups, no giant tour bus of 75 here!) and take a few snaps of both the brown and white wallabies.
And the whole road is a rolling scene of ocean views. You get to stop for a beach walk where Captain Cook hung out and work off a few of those calories, so as to make room for the next stop.
The island, reached by car ferry, is actually almost 2 islands, stitched together in the middle by a very narrow strip of land called the Neck, where the fairy penguins lay their eggs. The vista that’s waiting for those who are willing to climb the 230 steps here is outstanding!!
At the end of the day, we had just enough time to grab a bag of sweet Tasmanian cherries from a roadside stand right next to the car ferry dock. All of the food mentioned in the list above was included, however you were welcome to purchase any of the artisan products you chose. There were hundreds of gourmet products available, including famous Tasmanian honey, at very reasonable prices, however there was absolutely no pressure to buy anything at all. The van had coolers if you wanted to buy any cheese or oysters or anything that needed to be kept cold.
And I have to mention our tour guide, Nicole, who was fabulous! With a degree in marine science and background in hospitality, she was amazing – informative, nice, friendly, just an all around fun person to spend the day with!! She had mentioned the Luminarium, a pop-up sculpture set up near Salamanca in conjunction with the upcoming music festival, and that it was a worthwhile stop. So after departing the tour, fat and happy, I thought I’d take a look…
On the outside, it looked like a giant bouncy castle, the kind kids jump around in for their birthdays. You had to shuck your shoes, and then you were free to wander through the multi-colored tunnels, and encouraged to find a small spot to sit and meditate to the new-agey music. Prone to migraines, I was a little concerned about entering a place full of music and lights, but it was actually very soothing, the kind of place you just wanted to hang out and not leave. And the photo opportunities for someone like me, who’s a little trigger happy with my iPhone, were abundant!
A little more wandering at sunset, up the hill to Battery Point, then down around the harbor, and it was time to go pack for my 5 hour bus ride the next day up to Devonport & Port Sorell, the next stop on my Tasmanian journey. Next blog post, Tassie in the north…