Words by Eddie Gray, photos by Sam Brumby
Tasmania: the island with impenetrable forests, bound by coastlines that go from pristine white beaches to rugged shores carved by rough seas and chilling gales.
It is the home of iconic wilderness, notoriously heavy surf breaks, award-winning organic produce and, of course, there’s the ‘Mona effect.’ Yet these trademarks have not always been revered: wilderness is still a contentious issue, the surf is fickle, and although the food scene is excellent, at most venues outside of Hobart people will still think you’re a dickhead if you order a long macchiato. Best listen to a local, and perhaps stick to the island’s impeccable beer, apple cider and wine.
Where to Stay
So, you’ve made it to Hobart… take it easy with the legends at the homely Alabama Hotel between eating, drinking and partying, because if you’re serious about seeing the rest of Tassie, you’d better get used to sleeping in a van or tent. This isn’t glamping in the Byron Bay hinterland; you’re going to have to harden up if you want to experience the best Tassie has to offer. Either that or be prepared to drop a bucketload of cash on boutique accommodation, because what lies between these polarising experiences isn’t pretty. If you can afford the high life, the pick of the spots for accommodation are Satellite Island in the south, Captains Rest just outside the wild west coastal fishing village of Strahan, the poorly named but incredible Thalia Haven on the state’s stunning east coast, and Pumphouse Point in the island’s eerie central highlands.
Where to Eat
Join the queue for Tasmania’s most sought-after Japanese. Geeveston is a small former logging town that is slowly being reclaimed and recreated. Located in Tassie’s thriving foodie destination, Huon Valley, you’ll drive through Geeveston if you’re lucky enough to score swell down at South Cape Bay. Every week, wooden sculptures of local heroes (present on street corners and carved with suspicious precision by chainsaw, naturally) are joined by (real) people lining up to visit Masaaki’s Sushi, a restaurant famous for having some of the best sushi in Australia.
Ever been to a dinner party that served up a feral cat consommé? Me neither. But a new multidisciplinary exhibition at Mona tackles the issue of introduced species and invites you to Eat The Problem. Think sweet and sour cane toad legs, fox tikka masala and gorse flower ice-cream. Kirsha Kaechele is the mastermind behind the project, which even the most righteous of foodies are bemused by.
For something more refined, head to Templo: an intimate neighbourhood restaurant in the back streets of Hobart, offering Italian-inspired food complimented by seasonal local produce, unique wines and communal dining. Staff are relaxed yet attentive and the menu is concise yet accommodating.
Lastly, never, ever, underestimate the Hobart Farmers Market and Launceston Farmers Harvest Market, or actually, any farmers market in the state for that matter–prepare for good yarns with local vendors, and produce so tasty it’ll expose Coles and Woolworth’s veggies for the crap they actually are.
Where (and What) to Drink
Until recently, drinking in Tassie was pretty straightforward: if you’re in the north, you’d drink Boags. If you’re in the south, you’d drink Cascade. If you were coeliac, you’d cautiously order an apple cider. Most pubs and bars in Tassie now have a plethora of local beverages on offer and you’d be silly not to try them. As soon as you get out of Hobart, it won’t be long before you realise there are so… many… vineyards. Tasmania was once the overlooked piece of the Australian wine puzzle, but now cellar doors abound (cheers global warming). Couple this with an established whiskey trail, a collection of artisanal gin distilleries, and a bunch of boutique breweries, and you have a variety of choices from an industry that built its reputation firmly on quality rather than quantity.
For the quintessential Tassie pub experience, visit Longley Hotel in the south and the Pub in the Paddock in the north. In Hobart, Grinners Dive Bar is the best of several new bars in the capital’s emerging midtown precinct, which forms unlikely neighbours to the Country Women’s Association. Tattoo and skate-inspired art adorn the walls, but it doesn’t matter at all if you don’t skate or have tattoos, because with super-chipper staff, you don’t have to. Like all good dive bars, almost anything goes. Expect excellent beers and crafty cocktails. Oh, and they serve the best tacos in town.
What to See
There has been a lot said about a renaissance of cultural life in Tassie. It’s true, pre-Mona the winter brought with it a silence that would blanket the island for months and induce a fragility that could make even the sound of your own breath deafening. But while Mona is amazing, it is also so audacious that it tends to overshadow the rest of the island’s cultural experiences. If you’re thinking of heading south this year, keep an eye out for a swathe of alternate galleries and attractions, including Hobiennale–a bespoke, bi-annual art festival which brings various artist-run initiatives from Australia and New Zealand together for ten days of exhibitions, workshops, parties, and performances. From karaoke in the forest to pot luck dinners and intimate soirées, the event provides local artists a more communal platform to get involved with between days working twenty-metres underground in a labyrinth of tunnels in the capital’s outer suburbs.
So, you’ve frolicked your way around Hobart, time now to get into the wilds. Numerous wilderness areas that were once reserved for diehard outdoor enthusiasts are now accessible and more exposed than ever. The takanya/Tarkine is one of these–go see it before it’s too late (cue Patagonia film). For a hot lap of Tassie’s best outdoor playgrounds, leave Hobart and travel west to get up to the Takanya Tarkine, before making your way east to the Bay of Fires via Cradle Mountain and the mountain biking town of Derby. Then head down the east coast past Wineglass Bay to the Tasman Peninsula, before finishing up back in Hobart.
Lastly, head on over to Bruny Island. If you are lazy as fuck or feeling a bit haggard from a few nights out in Hobart, at least get to the foothill of Kunanyi/Mount Wellington and stroll up the Fern Glade track for a bit. Lake Oberon and/or the Western Arthurs traverse is probably one of the best hikes in Australia if you’re really up for getting off the beaten track.
For live music: The Brisbane Hotel–dark, dingy, dependable. Tassie’s live music scene has ramped up in recent years, and The Bris has been integral to this by providing a stage for national and international acts to thrive, as well as offering local musos somewhere they can earn their stripes. It’s an institution that has managed to stay in a world of its own. There’s no glamour here, just a sticky floor and one of most accepting pubs in Hobart. It is also a major supporter of all things experimental, garage, alternative, and punk rock on the local scene. If this isn’t (yet) to your taste, a happy hour serving $2 pints should help get things going.
There are many incredible festivals popping up in Tassie: A Festival Called Panama showcases critically acclaimed musicians as well as late-night cabaret, spoken word, pop-up markets and delicious local food stalls. The festival is held each March in a forest setting straight out of an enchanted fairy tale book. Aquiva Surf Festival will be held for the first time this year and will transform an underground cinema in Hobart into a hive of surf, adventure, craftsmanship and conversation, with a curated selection of Australia’s finest shapers, filmmakers and musicians.
The aptly named Til the Wheels Fall Off festival is the brainchild of Luca Brasi members Tyler Richardson and Patrick Marshall, who bring their music mates from around Australia together in a rowdy celebration of Australian punk and rock music that takes place at The Launceston Workers Club over three days in November.