By Jenny Hewett
Jul 12, 2021
OVER RECENT YEARS, Tasmania has been setting the bar high for quirky, cool and less mainstream stays and experiences. Want to brush a Highland cow in the Huon Valley, or glamp in a geodome among vineyards? Farm stay Highland Getaway and the Tamar Valley’s Domescapes will, respectively, see your weird wishes come true.
The island state, Australia’s southernmost, is also a strong advocate for climate change and earlier this year announced plans to become a carbon neutral destination by 2025. Though something we should all be pushing, it especially makes sense considering that Tasmania is one of the country’s major producers and exporters of agriculture. (Indeed, many call it the Apple Isle, based on its produce history—William Bligh first planted apple seedlings on Bruny Island in 1788.)
With its epic seafood, cheese, wine, nature and foodie experiences, and edgy cultural offerings such as the billionaire-owned mind-bending private museum MONA and Dark Mofo festival (which sees hundreds of people jump nude into the freezing Derwent River), it had been on my wish list for sometime. With just 541,000 residents, its population density is so low you can sometimes find yourself the only car on main highways.
And so, when Tassie finally re-opened its borders to New South Wales earlier this year, I jumped at the chance to journey “overseas”—in search of a true exploration and things that would make me feel anywhere but home.
Here’s what I found.
Landing in Tassie will trick you into thinking you’re in another country
I’ve just stepped off the plane in Hobart and despite only flying domestically, I’ve almost managed to convince myself that I’m actually going through customs internationally. That’s because in a country with already strict biosecurity, the incoming passenger rules in Tassie are even more stringent because they protect the industries on which the state so heavily relies. Saving that banana or apple for later? Think twice; they’re prohibited to bring from the mainland, as too are all fruits, flowers and seafood.
On top of that are the new Covid entry requirements, which together add up to a long line snaking out the arrivals terminal as airport staff and health officials check temperatures and documents. I then make my way to the queue at the car hire counter, where I wait in another line for the next two hours. Sheesh.
This is not the best start, but it sure feels foreign! In a nutshell, hire car companies in Tassie, like many around the world, sold off around half their fleet during border closures last year—making road trips more difficult in many places. But, as a countermeasure, the Tasmanian government is now offering grants to residents who hire out their private vehicles to tourists on hire share platforms Car Next Door and Evee (for the electrically minded) to help ease the shortage.
Hobart is one of Australia’s coolest cities
I often judge the caliber of a city by whether I would want to live there, and the moment I step out in Tasmania’s port capital, I’m already devising a plan. I’m drawn to the convict-era sandstone and heritage Art Deco architecture, the chatty puffer-jacket-wearing locals and small-town-big-heart feel.
Wandering upmarket Battery Point, I meet self-taught jeweler Luke at his boutique Earth Fire Jewellery. “Hobart is a country town with a pulse,” he says, showing me designs from opals he cuts himself. He’s right. There’s a subtle undercurrent of innovation here. And you can find it in everything, from the whiskey tasting flights at Lark Distillery to the historic Henry Jones Art Hotel, where visitors can chat with a different local artist each month as they create a new work in the lobby.
Tasmania is the master of the moveable feast
Courtesy of Tasmanian Wild Seafood Adventures (3)
I think if I’m going to understand Tasmania, I need to start from the bottom up.
Bubbles appear on the surface as abalone diver Shane Wilson forages in the deep of this protected bay in which we’re bobbing. He’s soon back aboard the Tasmanian Wild Seafood Adventures catamaran with a bag full of fresh sea urchins and periwinkles. As we cruise up the coastline, Shane cooks up another course in this “deep to dish” live degustation, featuring fresh wild-caught seafood, some of which has been collected before our very eyes. No underwater critter is safe here, with crayfish, salmon sashimi, stir-fried abalone, sea urchin, periwinkles and oysters, all being enjoyed, alongside Tasmanian wine.
tasmanianwildseafoodadventures.com.au; A$525 per person.
The freedom of the open road here means something else entirely
With its relatively small population and easy, uncrowded roads and country trails, Tasmania is to road-tripping what Croatia is to sailing. I set off from Hobart just after lunch and head north on the Great Eastern Drive, which traces Tasmania’s east coast and takes in seaside villages, hinterland towns, vineyards and the raw wilderness of the surrounding national parks.
Bushland gives way to a milky aquamarine coastline that’s roaring in some parts and flat as glass in others, especially the bay of Cosy Corner outside St Helens in the northeast. Driving has a meditative effect on me and each time I pass a campervan, I wish I were staying for months. Unshackled on the open road, it becomes painfully obvious why we need to protect beauty as pure as this. With its ambitions to become a sustainable destination by 2025, Tasmania is leading by example. Now, I think, it’s up to the rest to follow.
You can rent a traditional floating Finnish sauna on a lake…
Derby was originally an old mining town, but is now better known as one of the world’s best mountain-biking destinations. But there’s also a more relaxing, and very European, reason to visit. This new Finnish-style Floating Sauna, complete with a large window for viewing the lake, has already garnered plenty of attention, and it’s booked out when I visit.
Nevertheless, I stop to take a peek on my way past and it looks every bit the type of place you’d find in the Nordic countries, sitting still on the glassy waters. Combining hot and cold therapies with a little help from nature, the wood-fired floating sauna can be reserved privately in hourly slots, and occupants jump in the lake when its time to cool off.
floatingsauna.com.au; from A$225 for a private session.
… and hide out in a Scottish castle in the middle of nowhere.
A 4½-hour drive from Hobart on Tasmania’s absurdly photogenic northeast coast, the Bay of Fires area is known for its flame-like lichen-covered boulders, quiet beach towns and dolphins, whales and seals frolicking in its pretty waters. But I’m heading inland to new luxury stay The Keep. It’s a one-bedroom, Scottish-style medieval castle perched high up on a pinnacle and surrounded by nothing but wilderness. Cloaked in fog and glowing an eerie blue as night dims the day, the Keep looks terrifyingly isolated and yet at the same time inviting.
Courtesy of The Keep (2)
With the fireplace dancing inside, I pour myself a glass of red and find comfort in the feast before me, prepared by acclaimed chef Doug Herring and his partner Tammie of Kitchen 7216, a hyperlocal (7216 is the area’s postcode) dining concept in nearby St Helens. They offer high-end private catering and bespoke dining experiences and my beautifully presented dinner hamper showcasing the region’s tastiest local produce is a godsend after a long day. Think plump Pacific Ocean oysters from Lease 65, house-made dukkah and olive bread, cured meats, Coal River Farm triple cream brie and Scottsdale pink gin and tonic.
Courtesy of Kitchen 7216 (2)
I wake up in the clouds that morning to a molten sunrise before taking a bath outside in the stone tub as the wind ripples through the trees in the valley below. It’s the closest thing to perfection I’ve experienced.