Tantalising Tassie

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The land down under comes out tops for Australian family holidays, writes Travel Editor Susie Boswell.

HOBART, January 2010 – This is one happening town! From my heritage hotel overlooking Constitution Dock I’ve waved farewell to the last of the returning Sydney-Hobart yacht fleet. And I’ve inspected the navy-hulled $25m three-masted luxury vessel berthed nearby (with grand piano in the salon!) belonging to an Italian multimillionaire, his crew awaiting his next nautical whim. She sits rather conspicuously alongside hundreds of tour cruisers and working fishing and cray boats tied up at this bustling port – that make for an entertaining stroll around the waterfront.

I flew in to town along with Australia’s cricketers and the Pakistani Test team bound for Bellerive Oval, just across the Derwent from the docks. Jelena Dokic, fresh from the Hobart International, flew out to the Open in Melbourne. And Kevin Rudd dropped in to dine at our restaurant here in the Henry Jones Hotel, winner of “best hotel” Australian and international tourism awards.

Rudd declared Tassie a “tiger” economy. (Hopefully not a Tasmanian “tiger” economy, as Tassie tigers are extinct!). He’s been here twice in four days, talking up Tassie, aiming to boost Labor for the March State election.

The PM made a big deal of the fact that he chose to holiday with his family in the Apple Isle this new year. And in this aspect, at least, he was up there with the avant-garde: Tasmania is enjoying renewed popularity as a truly fantastic family holiday destination.
My tour of southern Tassie has been a delight not least because of the agreeable summer temperatures the region enjoys while the rest of Australia swelters. I’ve feasted on delectable Tassie oysters and other seafood at smart restaurants like Smolt, on Salamanca Place, and on budget fresh fish and chips from eateries here at the docks. At Tasmanian Salmon’s – Tassal’s – HQ, next to Smolt, I enjoyed complimentary tastings of delectable marinated salmon chunks prepared by a visiting chef giving free cooking demonstrations, one of many drawcards of the famous Saturday Salamanca Markets. Darwin’s Parap and Mindil Beach markets aside, Salamanca’s are some of the best around … although I feel they’ve declined a little in the fresh food department in recent years. I bought mostly turned wooden souvenirs and gifts, purportedly from timber from Tassie’s great forests (although who can tell if it’s Tassie or Taiwan these days?).

Central Hobart offers wonderful historic sights to occupy a full day’s walking, but it was the forests and the southern State’s other natural and historic attractions that really had me spellbound. I can’t think of an easier, more arresting, visually satisfying, destination anywhere in Australia. And it was a delight to see children revelling in nature: not a DSi, no duelling texts, anywhere in sight! Kids actually totally absorbed in forests, animals, and heritage sites.

The architecture of the Henry Jones Art Hotel makes it one of the most agreeably laid-back hotels anywhere. It’s the converted sandstone warehouse of Henry Jones’s IXL Jams factory and as a result offers spaciousness and a relaxed, homey ambience that purpose-built hotels never achieve. My premium room was superb and put me at ease like few other guest rooms I’ve experienced. (The laid-back vibe extends to pretty much everything in Tassie: don’t expect things to happen at the pace of mainland capitals).

Björk concert at Sydney Harbor

Ruins at Port Arthur

This easy-going attitude extends to the roadways in the State’s deep south: they’re a pleasure to drive and tempt the motorist to stop off frequently to take in a variety of lovely views and attractions. There are magnificent vistas of mountains and waterways. There’s the Tassie Devil sanctuary, quaint shops and produce stalls, sandy beaches and striking blowholes, apple farms, berry farms, oyster farms, cheese makers and vineyards. Best of all there are B&Bs at every turn: I suggest a driving foray out of Hobart, stopping off as the mood dictates in the southern countryside in affordable family accommodation.

PORT ARTHUR: A truly stunning complex of restored ruins that captivates young and old alike. I recommend seeing the convict settlement over two days (tickets valid for two days), staying locally. There’s a lot of walking involved and plenty to occupy two visits of, say, five hours or more each. (Complimentary golf buggy service for elderly, disabled). Definitely take the audio tour.

HUON VALLEY: A magnificent skywalk and swinging-bridges walk in deepest southern Tassie – under 90 minutes’ drive from Hobart – high among 65m stringybarks and re-emerging Huon pines, over the top of the raging Huon River. A beautiful drive into the fern-laden rainforest and plenty of exploring to do for two or three days.

BRUNY ISLAND: Head into the boiling Southern Ocean and make like a Navy Seal in a 48ft rigid inflatable vessel that can do tricks on water and yet is so comfortable and safe. Visit real seal colonies cavorting just metres from the boat, marvel at rock formations more fascinating than Uluru, wave to dolphin outriders (and occasional whales) and feast on fresh farm produce, picking up berries, oysters, cheese and wine en route.
MORE: www.discovertasmania.com
Photos: Susie Boswell & Tourism Tasmania & O’Neill Coldwater Classic. Susie Boswell was a guest of Tourism Tasmania.

Story by Susie Boswell.

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