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 centre 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 centre 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-organised 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.
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 Jam Factory.
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 (MONA), 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 centre, you should be okay.
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).
ATMs are positioned near the cruise pier, tourist office and Salamanca Place and Square. The local currency is Australian dollars.
English is spoken with varied Australian accents, as some residents are natives and others settlers.
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 a.m. to 9.p.m.)
The Upper Deck, the more expensive wait-served restaurant, offers good views of the harbour 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 7 a.m. to 9.p.m.)
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 6 am. to 6 p.m.)
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 harbourfront have even more choices. You're in luck if you arrive on a Saturday, as the market there is fabulous.