Visitors from more populous countries might consider Hobart, Australia population just over 200,000 little more than a village. But big isn't everything. The capital of the island state of Tasmania was established in 1803. What was hell for English convicts in the early 19th century is these days a heavenly place to be a compact, charming city with a beautiful harborfront, colonial architecture, a growing café society, fine restaurants and art galleries. The impressive backdrop of Mount Wellington heralds the fact that the city is also the gateway to Tasmania's stunning wilderness. Here are five things to put on your Hobart itinerary.
This is a maritime city so best get out on the water and take the half-day Peppermint Bay Cruise, tel: (61-3) 6231 5113, which departs from the Hobart Cruise Centre at Sullivan's Cove. Heading out into the estuary of the Derwent River can be hair-raising when the Southern Ocean is choppy, but it's bearable on a large, luxury, high-speed catamaran. Soon you enter the tranquil waters of the d'Entrecasteaux Channel named by early French explorers, who had friendly contact with local Aborigines before the British arrived and devastated the indigenous culture. While you lap up the historical commentary, you'll spot seals, dolphins and white-breasted sea eagles. Local produce is served bento-box-style onboard, or you can toddle ashore, past lobster fishermen unloading their catch, to dine at Peppermint Bay, adjacent the quaint hamlet of Woodbridge. Local treats include Bruny Island oysters, ocean trout, Tasmanian truffles, organic ice cream and fine Tasmanian wine.
Held every Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at Hobart's historic Salamanca Place, the Salamanca Market, www.salamanca.com.au, is one of the city's most established tourist attractions. Just five minutes' walk from the city center, it's a surprisingly orderly affair set between a line of graceful plane trees and the mellow sandstone façades of historic warehouses. You'll be entertained by all manner of buskers while you browse stalls selling local arts and crafts (hand-worked glass and Tasmanian timber feature strongly). Afterward, wander up the Kelly Steps, built in 1839 to connect Salamanca Place with nearby Battery Point, one of the city's oldest neighborhoods.
Henry Jones Art Hotel
Wandering the hallways at the Henry Jones Art Hotel, tel: (61-3) 6210 7700, you could be forgiven for thinking you had stumbled into an art gallery by mistake. That's the idea, actually. This boutique property, which opened in 2004, aims to promote Tasmanian art, culture and history, and has on staff an art curator and a history-liaison officer to brief guests. There are more than 350 works of art throughout the hotel, all for sale. This place is actually a combination of eight buildings, dating back to 1803, and is named after Henry Jones (1862-1926), who once owned the IXL jam factory on the harborfront. Visit the retro-chic IXL Long Bar and sign up for the Friday-evening art tour if you're not staying in-house.
The small flotilla of trawlers docked in the harbor by the Elizabeth Street Pier's Fish Frenzy restaurant, tel: (61-3) 6231 2134, bodes well for the freshness of the food. "Arguably the best fish and chips in Australia," according to the Sydney Morning Herald, and we agree. It's a bustling eatery where the fishy fare is served in cones of butcher's paper. A real treat is blue eye, or trevalla a deep-sea fish that is very much a local delicacy.
In winter, the icy blast of wind coming off the Southern Ocean reminds you that southward, the next stop is Antarctica. Indeed, when not exploring, Australia's Antarctic flagship an impressive research-and-resupply vessel named Aurora Australis is usually docked here. To familiarize yourself with Australia's (and Hobart's) involvement with the icy continent, visit the riveting "Islands to Ice" exhibit at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, tel: (61-3) 6211 4177. Don some funky glasses, watch a spectacular 3-D film that lets you wander across the ice, bracing against the katabatic winds while imagining how awful it must have been for the likes of Scott, Amundsen, Shackleton and Australian Antarctic explorer Sir Douglas Mawson. A friendly warning if you suffer from motion sickness: steer clear of the looped video shot from the bow of a ship plowing south through mountainous seas, or you could find yourself making haste for the exit.