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Hobart, capital city of Tasmania, Australia's smallest state, has come a long way. Once a remote, sleepy place, it's now a major tourist attraction for overseas visitors and Australians looking for a temperate climate and natural beauty.
Located at the mouth of the navigable Derwent River, the port city of Hobart is fringed by hills and the presence of Mt. Wellington, which looms at 4,176 feet.
Half of Tasmania's 500,000 inhabitants live in the region, evidenced by the suburban sprawl that extends for miles, especially in the Derwent Valley and along the coast to the south. Halifax, Nova Scotia, would be an apt parallel, as both cities are largely built of solid stone construction in Georgian and Federation styles. Their waterfronts are a delight to visit on foot. The big difference comes that unlike Halifax and many North American cities of this size, Hobart has a thriving commercial center a few blocks inland from the now mostly recreational port. The urban shops and services are designed for Hobartians, and while visitors may also find the city center useful, they tend to gravitate to the waterfront and a block or two inland.
You wouldn't know that Hobart was established in part by English convicts who then subsequently built much of Tasmania's early infrastructure. Hobart's economy was then based on servicing the mining, forestry and agricultural industries, both financially and as an export port.
The stroller off a cruise ship does not have far to go to find intriguing places to eat and shop, often housed in handsome former 19th-century port and manufacturing buildings. The waterfront's small basins and marinas are populated by historic sailing ships and excursion boats, steam yachts, modern-day pleasure craft and local fishing industry vessels. Their catch is quickly swept up by the nearby restaurants and floating seafood stalls, which offer some of the country's best eating.
Arts and crafts shops, housed in former warehouses, abound in Salamanca Place and Salamanca Square, and the Battery Point residential district shows off the best of the city's 19th-century residential architecture.
Hobart is also well situated for several out-of-town excursions by local transit bus or cruise line-organized shore excursions. They'll take you up into the surrounding mountains, along the lovely Derwent River Valley or out onto the Tasman Peninsula. Attractions include a rail transport museum, a renowned collection of modern art and the remains of one of the country's most notorious penal colonies.
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Tasmanian merino wool makes very soft and attractive sweaters, and Australian Aboriginal designs are found in paintings, ceramics and glass. Items and knickknacks made with Huon pine are also popular. The shops immediately inland from the cruise piers are a good place to start, and Salamanca Place and Square at the opposite end of the harborfront have even more choices. You're in real luck if you arrive on a Saturday, as the market there is fabulous.
English is spoken with varied Australian accents, as some residents are natives and others settlers. Enjoy picking up some of the local slang, such as chigger, which translates to "low-life." If he or she is from Back of Bourke, that's a very long way away. A barbie is not a doll, but a barbecue. A boomer is a large male kangaroo (and you don't want to hit one of those when driving). A Taswegian is a derogatory term for a person from Tasmania. To whinge is to complain, and most people get tired of whingers after a while.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
ATM's are positioned near the cruise pier, tourist office and Salamanca Place and Square. The largest coin denominations are the tiny, gold-color two-dollar pieces and larger, gold-color one-dollar pieces. (We know that seems backwards, so pay extra attention when counting your change.) For current currency conversion figures, visit XE.com. Also, you should know that Australia no longer uses pennies, so all prices are rounded to the nearest five-cent increment.
Where You're Docked
Macquarie Wharf is well situated for visiting the city on foot. There are three berths; Pier 1 is the closest to the action, and Pier 3 is the most distant, but it's still walkable. The immediate area, which includes Constitution and Victoria Docks, was once the heart of Hobart's shipping industry in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Volunteer greeters meet the ships, answer questions and point the way.
The Constitution and Victoria Docks area offers creative shopping for art, crafts, clothing and souvenirs; light snacks and food; fishing boats; a yacht basin; and the maritime museum. Much of the offerings are housed in the buildings of the former Henry Jones IXL (I excel) Jam Factory.
On foot is the best way, and many destinations are very close to the pier, while Salamanca Square and the main downtown shopping precincts are not more than 15 minutes. Taxis are available at the pier for farther-out touring, and while there are some bus services, most are more useful to the local commuters than to visitors. Some specific routes that the tourist might use are included below (see Don't Miss and Been There, Done That).
Watch Out For
If going ashore independently and planning a trip out of Hobart to Mt. Wellington, Cascades Female Factory, Cascades Brewery, Museum for Old and New Art, or Richmond, be sure to carefully check the return schedules as some transit routes have infrequent departures. However, if the service is sponsored by the local tourist center, you should be okay.
Visit the Tasmania Travel & Tourism Centre tourist office at the corner of Davey and Elizabeth Streets, three blocks from Macquarie Wharf, and pick up a map that shows points of interest. You'll also find a self-guided walking route that includes Franklin Square, Parliament House and Square, St. David's Park, Battery Point historic residential neighborhood and Kelly's Steps to Salamanca Square.
The Maritime Museum of Tasmania offers a good survey of the city's connection to the sea and outside world through paintings, photographs, maps and ship models of early sailing vessels, steam merchant ships, whalers, naval and fishing vessels, and the shipbuilding industry. (Open daily, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; admission charge; corner of Davey and Argyle Streets.)
Tasmanian Museum & Art Gallery, housed partly in the city's oldest existing building, features aboriginal art and artifacts, colonial era landscape paintings, Huon pine furniture and views of the frozen wilderness continent of Antarctica. (Hobart is a base for Antarctic exploration and studies.) (Open daily, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; 5 Argyle Street; free admission.) Note: The museum is temporarily closed for renovation. It will reopen March 15, 2013.
After a short walk along the harbor front, you'll find shops selling creative Tasmanian arts and crafts made of wood, ceramic and glass, some with off-island aboriginal designs at Salamanca Place and Salamanca Arts Centre. One block inland is Salamanca Square, where indoor and outdoor breakfast, lunch and dinner places abound in former sandstone port warehouse buildings. Just up the hill, walk the charming and prized residential neighborhood of Battery Point for a peek at the one- and two-story wrought-iron-fronted row houses and near mansions, as well as examples of more traditional Victorian architecture.
Mt. Wellington tops off at 4,176 feet and gives an outstanding view of Hobart, its harbor, the Tasman Peninsula and Derwent Valley. It may seem enshrouded in clouds from the city, though it is not always possible to tell from down below whether the view is worth the drive up. Even if it looks iffy, there are views at lower levels, plus you pass through attractive leafy neighborhoods and scenic forests. The Mt. Wellington Express operates a shuttle bus from the information center in the morning and afternoon, allowing 40 minutes of sightseeing at the top.
MONA, the Museum for New and Old Art, is considered by some to be a repository of blasphemous exhibits that are openly antireligious or explicitly sexual and don't deserve to be classified as art; others think it's a place of most intriguing installations. It's a three-level underground stone setting that exhibits a waterfall, window displays to peer into, videos on the ceiling to watch while lying on billowing cushions, bas reliefs, statuary and even some traditional art, such a small collection of ancient Egyptian statuettes. The Morilla Estate on which it stands is located about eight miles north of Hobart and occupies a headland peninsula that also offers a microbrewery, a winery, the Source (a top French restaurant), cafe and attractive grounds with a view of the Derwent Valley. Onsite parking is extremely limited, so it is advisable to take the Mona Roma Fast Ferry, a 30-minute ride with six departures a day from the Brooke Street ferry terminal in Hobart. (03 6223 6064; open Wednesday through Monday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; 655 Main Road, Berridale.)
Been There, Done That
Cascades Female Factory is a historic site just outside Hobart where up to 1,000 English and Irish women, and in some cases their children, were imprisoned and forced to do hard manual labor. The site, still under archeological study, includes a guided tour with costumed actors who bring alive what life was like within the confines of the buildings. From Hobart, take bus 43, 44, 46 or 49 to stop 16. (Open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; admission; reservations needed; 16 Degraves Street.)
The Cascades Brewery, just a stroll further up the road, is Australia's oldest, established in 1832 and still operating. Cascades Premium is the best-known label, but the brewery also produces soft drinks. Tours last two hours, with the machinery working on weekdays but not weekends. From Hobart, take buses 43, 44, 46 or 49 to stop 18. (Open for daily tours, offered several times a day; 140 Cascade Road.)
Richmond, just 20 minutes northeast from Hobart, is a former military post and convict station en route to Port Arthur. It's also a repository of early- to mid-19th-century buildings, which run along its main street. They include the Richmond Goal (1825), Courthouse (1825), Old Post Office (1826), St. Luke's Church of England (1834) and the country's oldest Catholic church, St. John's (1836). When walking north along main street, pass over the oldest (1823) bridge in Australia, a solid stone arch structure that spans the Coal River and was built by convicts. A model of Hobart in the1820's is on display, having been built from the original plans. (Open daily, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; admission charge; 21a Bridge Street.) Hobart Shuttle Bus Company provides transfers in the morning and afternoon from the Hobart Information Centre.
The waters around Tasmania are rich in seafood, so menu items include oysters, mussels, char-grilled salmon, chili salt squid, seafood risotto with roasted fennel, fish salads with calamari, smoked salmon and brie, and fresh flathead and trevalla, plus an abundance of lamb dishes and Italian food that came with post-WWII Italian immigration.
Mures is a family seafood business that operates two restaurants (open continuously from mid-morning until evening) in the same building on Victoria Dock. The moderately-priced Lower Deck has the catch of the day displayed in cases at the counter. Order there, and it will be brought to your table when it's ready. Enjoy fresh raw oysters, scallops, prawns and squid prepared in breadcrumbs, battered or crumbed blue-eyed trevalla. Finish off with a large selection of ice creams at a separate counter. (03 6231 2121; open daily from 7:00 a.m. to 10:00.p.m.)
The Upper Deck, the more expensive wait-served restaurant, offers good views of the harbor to patrons while they enjoy Spring Bay mussels with a tomato, chili, garlic lemon sauce; or char-grilled blue eye or salmon with stir-fried rice noodles, vegetables and bean sprouts with a tamarind line dressing. (03 6231 1999; open daily from noon to 10:00.p.m.)
Blue Skies is located directly on the waterfront on the Murray Street Pier. Start with oysters Kilpatrick, an Aussie favorite (fresh oysters with bacon and Worcestershire Sauce). Then move on to mussels in a white wine and tomato sauce or Indian seafood curry and rice. Or splurge with a seafood platter for two, which includes smoked salmon, steamed mussels, fresh fish (of the day), calamari, octopus and oysters accompanied by chips and a garden salad.
For simpler fare, try Banjos in Salamanca Square for a pepper steak, curried chicken or a variety of meat pies, quiches, vegetable rolls and pizzas. (03 6224 3747; open daily except Sunday from 11:30 a.m.)
Staying in Touch
Some cafes near the cruise terminal and in Salamanca Square have free Wi-Fi with the purchase of food or drinks. Look for the free Wi-Fi notice in the window.
Best for a Good Overview: Hobart Vistas & Botanical Gardens is a four-hour drive with a couple of stops that takes in Salamanca Place, Battery Point historical residential district and Cascade Brewery en route to the top of 4,176-foot Mt. Wellington with its 60-mile view (weather permitting). Then next stops are Wrest Point Casino and the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania at Sandy Bay with a visit to the Royal Botanical Gardens, which overlook the Derwent River. Cross over the Tasman Bridge to have a city and harbor view from Rosny Point Lookout. Then return to Hobart with important historic buildings pointed out.
Best for History-Lovers: Colonials & Convicts is an eight-hour tour by coach that travels via the historic town of Richmond to see Australia's oldest Catholic church (St. John's), its early 19th-century Bridge Street and convict-built stone bridge. There's a pub stop for lunch en route to Port Arthur and its 242-acre prison facilities, the most extensive and intact in all of Australia. Learn about the physical punishments and psychological terror imposed on the prisoners. The Government Gardens show something attractive outside the prison, and a 30-minute boat trip gives perspective from the water.
Best for Wildlive-Viewing: Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary, established a short distance northeast of Hobart to take care of injured and orphaned animals, is a 2.5-hour tour that allows visitors to see some of Australia's strange creatures -- such as Tasmanian devils, emus, echidnas, wombats, wallabies, quolls, kangaroos and koalas -- up-close. With the aid of park rangers, you can hold and feed some of the animals and have photographs taken.
For More Information
On the Web: Hobart Travel Centre and Discover Tasmania
Cruise Critic Message Boards: Australia & New Zealand
Independent Traveler Forums: New Zealand
--by Theodore W. Scull, Cruise Critic Contributor