Hobart, Port Arthur & surrounds

It didn’t take long for us to realise things are a bit different in Tassie… More One-Way streets than a race-track; an accentuated Aussie accent; and the general relaxed feeling that basically no one is around, ever. Turns out we stand out in Hobart just as much as we did as giants in Beijing, six years ago… When checking-out for our pre-Christmas food stock-up, the cashier immediately asked, “Are you from the mainland?”, like we were total foreigners; as out of place as a Trump presidency. Not entirely sure what the giveaway was, maybe our ‘mainland accent’ or being always seemingly in a hurry…?

Finding fresh fish in Hobart is not for the feint-hearted. We searched high and low, sadly missing Salamanca Markets (and Princess Mary) by a slither of time, and eventually resorted to Woolies, much to our own disappointment at the time. Thankfully they’ve lifted their game and the food was fine.

Speaking of seafood… Loz was busy Googling where to buy fresh fish in Tassie, and somehow came across a headline, highlighting that hire cars aren’t allowed on Bruny Island (where we had 3 nights booked between Christmas and NY). Forget the fact that their SEO/SEM is totally off – why the hell can’t you take a hire car to Bruny, and what the hell are we going to do?! I immediately called our hire car company (Europcar) to investigate, and they said we’re all good… but… their company policy states that we would not be covered, and be fully liable for any damages caused on the Bruny Ferry. When I prodded to understand why, the poor man on the other end simply came to the conclusion that most hire car companies have this policy, “in case it sinks”. Seriously, how stable is this boat?

The peninsula

We had the hot tip to stop at Dunalley Waterfront Cafe & Gallery on the way through, for a coffee and cake with a view. Unfortunately they were closed over the Christmas period, so we pushed on for a coffee fix and stop/s.

There’s plenty to see in the peninsula en-route to Port Arthur, including:

Tessellated Pavement

An impressive slippery dance-floor on the ocean’s-edge, formed into beautiful looking natural pavers over the last 200 million years or so. From there you also get a ripping view of Pirate Bay (the beach, not the torrent one), arrrrrr.

Tasman Arch & Devils Kitchen

These surprisingly impressive gorges are nestled on the southern end of Pirate Bay. Tasman Arch is essentially a giant hole with a bunch of water below it, with a grand cave entrance. It formed when the roof collapsed – it’s entirely possible there was a rave there sometime over the past Millenia featuring Flux Pavillion who literally brought the roof down. And Devils Kitchen is a super-steep, straight cliff leading to the ocean. Both worth a visit.

Blowhole

More like Nohole! What a disappointment, literally just a bit of water with no force, or blow. I’ve seen more energy from Liv eating vegetables than I have from this ‘landmark’.

Port Arthur

We knew very little of Port Arthur’s history. Having grown up in the 90s we only knew it as the place of Australia’s worst massacre in history, and the event that changed gun laws in Australia forever. Unsurprisingly, the folks at Port Arthur don’t like to celebrate that fact, but they do recognise it and encourage visitors to pay their respects to those who were subject to the horrors in 1996.

Port Arthur’s rich history comes from the 1830s and 40s, where it stood as a prison for repeat offenders from all over Oz. Set on 100 beautiful acres of lush, green, isolated land, there are no walls to keep prisoners in – the natural surroundings of ocean, forest, and a thin (Eaglehawk) neck form enough boundary to limit any chance of escape. A short boat-ride to the south-east lie Point Puer (boys prison, ages 7-18) and Isle of the Dead, where Port Arthur’s inhabitants are laid to rest.

Most disturbing was the building where ‘naughty prisoners’ were sent and held for long periods. Basic rules: solitary confinement in tiny rooms; no sound whatsoever (including singing, talking, whistling, humming); 23 hours per-day inside, with 1 hour per-day outside, still isolated, wearing a mask so as not to engage other prisoners, still no noise. Those who broke these rules were moved to the worst part of ‘Hell on Earth’, where they faced days, weeks, months in a completely dark room, no exposure to light, and no noise. This drove so many soldiers to insanity that they had to build an adjoining insane asylum. Pretty heavy stuff.

Apart from the grim history, there’s a strange beauty and calmness to Port Arthur. Definitely worth a visit.

On our way out Loz’s creative juices started flowing as she experimented with our new(ish) camera…

Christmas

Santa managed to find his way to Hobart, much to Liv’s delight. With a year of travel ahead he found it difficult to find suitable gifts that she’ll love that don’t weigh us down or take up too much space in the Wombatmobile. Nailed it… our little wombat loves her arts and crafts more than chocolate (almost), and Santa delivered in spades. However, we found it hilarious when she opened her first gift and shouted, “this one’s for you, daddy!”, as she ripped the paper off a tube of art glue, haha. Gifts could only get better from there.

We substituted not being around family with oodles of quality food, including the freshest oysters, prawns, and salmon, accompanying the best summer fruit, chocolate and plum pudding. And no Christmas is complete without ham on toast for dinner 🙂

For the arvo we drove to the summit of Mount Wellington, which was busy given it’s about the only thing open on Christmas, apart from my shorts top button and belt. There we explored and were lucky enough to snag a nice day, giving us infinite views. Most impressive was the ‘pipe-organ’ rocks, not dissimilar to those of the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland, and (apparently) Mount Kaputar near Narrabri.

When you travel or holiday, your mind looks for stimulation. On our drive down from Mount Wellington, my mind went to the size of the trees, growing, as we descended… not sure of the actual science behind it, but we came to the conclusion that it’s to do with the wind and natural evolution. The strongest trees are the shortest, so are more likely to survive in higher altitude, where they have greater wind exposure – hence short trees at the top and tall trees at the bottom…?

It can be hard not being around family on Christmas, and we absolutely did notice and miss it this year, despite a wonderful and memorable day.

Boxing Day / MONA

The first thing everyone recommends when you’re heading to Hobart is MONA, the Museum of Old and New Art. It’s relatively new and was setup by David Walsh, a Tasmanian who made a killing in gambling, and wanted to give something back to the community. The second thing people recommend about Hobart is getting the ferry to MONA. We’ve never been museum fiends, but we new MONA is a bit different to others – teetering on the fringe of appropriateness and pushing societies boundaries, so we obliged and took the MR-1 (ferry) to MONA on Boxing Day.

We expected weird and MONA turned it up a notch, exceeding our expectations on every level. From the sheep seats on the ferry, to the poo simulator (a machine that is fed real food and water, and simulates human digestion to a point where it shits daily), vulva wall (a wall of scores of vulva moulds), and skeletons doing the wild thing, this incredible museum gets you thinking, and keep thinking well after you’ve left. There’s also a cool waterfall thingy that spells words as the water drops, somehow; Tattoo Tim, who sits in silence the entire day while you check out his tatts (which he has already sold for hundreds of thousands of $$$ when he dies); and the Madonna Room, where 30 tv screens blast out a bunch of amateurs banging out an entire Madonna album, terribly.

Once you’ve had all your boundaries crossed and you feel slightly violated, you walk out onto a green, to the smell of a smokehouse smashing out suculent meats, where you plant yourself on beanbags under a brolly, with the sound of local artists warming up for an arvo set – just perfect. And there we sat for the next 90 minutes or so, just taking in the sunshine, atmosphere, smells, and sporadic sounds of the roaming roosters crowing. A truly memorable experience.

Hobart itself isn’t the most exciting place, but with plenty of awesome surrounds and things to do, we’d happily return.