People often forget about that dreamy island that hangs below mainland Australia. You know, that one that’s filled with jaw-dropping geographical landscapes, relaxed and friendly locals, oh-so beautiful vineyards and their oh-so tasty wines, toothy and screechy (but totally cute) marsupials, and a rich (but slightly shocking) convict history. How it gets overlooked, we’re not so sure, but we’ve put together a sweet two-day roadie for you to get the most out of a spare weekend in Tassie.
Everything is a pretty accessible drive away in Tasmania, so there’s no doubt that you could get from one corner of the island to another in one day if you needed to. But where’s the fun in that? As much as human nature is about getting from one place to the other as quickly as possible (ain’t nobody got time for dawdling), the most magic can be found in the moments along the way that make you stop in your tracks and enjoy the bliss of slow living. This weekender itinerary could be perfectly matched with a curiosity for history, a taste for gastronomy and a hankering for adventure. And perhaps a Pinot Noir or two.
Relaxed, sustainable and oh-so aesthetically inspiring, Born In Brunswick is brunching the way it should be brunched. Think white, plant-filled spaces with all the colours of the rainbow on the plate in front of you, paired with coffee that will heal your soul. There’s nothing even close to basic about their food, a list of meals so luscious it makes the totally affordable prices beside them look like daylight robbery. One look at the menu and you’ll understand what we mean. Located inside the beak of a huge (painted) parrot, this place is friendly from the outset and will make you feel as if you’re having a cosy breakfast at home. If your home-cooked breakfast would include meals such as cured wallaby with garlic chive scramble, horseradish pesto, tomato & pepperberry relish and sourdough, that is.
The best way to burn off that brekkie is by getting out amongst Hobart’s fresh air, and there is no more sense-tingling way to do this than a trip up kunanyi / Mount Wellington. Standing proudly to the west of the city, kunanyi is a haven for adventurists and view-seekers, probably due to the the many walking and cycling tracks that navigate the mountain, not to mention the sealed road going all the way to its summit. That’s right, you don’t even have to sweat a drop to see the unbroken panorama of Hobart and surrounding areas, which is, for many, an absolute gamechanger. But because you’re saving energy on the drive up there, why not spend some time exploring the other trails, so you can see just how well kunanyi / Mount Wellington shows off nature’s creativity.
Cross the impossibly narrow strip of land connecting the Tasman Peninsula to the rest of Tasmania, which also acts as a bridge to an area of rich natural and historical allure. The isthmus was once guarded by a chain of ferocious dogs, preventing the escape of convicts from the nearby Port Arthur prison settlement, but it is now a much friendlier place, welcoming visitors to what lies beyond. And what does lie beyond is pretty damn epic, including the bizarrely cool Tessellated Pavement, a strange type of natural erosion which looks totally man-made, the Tasman Arch, a freakish natural bridge and cavern, and Devil’s Kitchen, a thundering cauldron of swell and rocks. Quite the impressive little spot, we reckon. And all of this rugged coastal wonder is easily accessed by car and a few short walks. How could it get better?
On your way to the Port Arthur Historic Site, stop off for lunch at a spot which is about so much more than the food. Set on 18 hectares of stunning lavender fields, rainforest and lakes, Port Arthur Lavender is a sweet-smelling café experience with a whole lot else to it, such as touring the lavender farming and distilling process, browsing the many handmade products and gifts, and indulging in lavender-infused treats like ice cream and fudges. If all that lavender isn’t quite enough then order the pancakes for lunch, which will bless you with lavender-infused compote, lavender ice cream and whipped lavender cream. The flowers are in peak bloom (and most beautiful) between December and February, but the café serves up treats year-round. But don’t worry, non-lavender lovers! There are plenty of options that don’t include floral flavouring. Although your visit may be a little bit unexciting if you’re not partial to the scent of this yummy purple flower.
A place which perfectly captures the sombre and significant legacy of the Australia convict era, Port Arthur Historic Site is a haunting visit, not just on account of its ghost tours. This place was reserved for the worst of the worst of the transported convicts, and by that we’re talking crimes of stealing shirts, highway robbery and being ‘drunk and disorderly.’ Harsh times, huh? These notorious prisoners were put to hard labour building colonial Australia, often being worked to death or, at the very least, insanity. Heavy stuff. Your visit will show you the austerity of the lives of the imprisoned and isolated, as well as the devastating story of the 1996 massacre which tragically occurred at the site. The dark and tumultuous history of Port Arthur contrasts poignantly with the natural beauty of the place, a peaceful harbour setting at the southern tip of the Tasman Peninsula, dotted with ruined architectural sites and the sense of a history which is well and truly alive.
On your way up the dazzling East Coast, take a break at Triabunna, a small town with a rich colonial history. Founded way back in the 1820s as a whaling station and supply post for the Maria Island penal colony, Triabunna is a charming get-out-and-stretch-your-legs stopover. This area is an absolute fishing haven, so a wander among the boats of the marina (and maybe a battered fish of the day or two) are definitely in order. You could also get information from the visitor centre to take yourself on a self-guided walk through the preserved convict-era buildings, galleries and shops if you’re keen for a little more discovery. Triabunna is also the gateway to the magic of Maria Island, so if you want to stretch out your Tassie roadie by a day or two then hop on the 30 minute ferry and explore the natural, historical and coastal wonder of the offshore sanctuary.
Now for a little luxury. The Homestead Restaurant at Piermont Retreat, just south of Swansea, is as beautiful in aesthetics as it is in its menu, so much so that we can’t decide which we like best. Described as a collaboration between the chef and local farmers and winemakers, the Homestead menu celebrates the flavours and fresh ingredients of the region with a selection of meals so good they make the stunning view of the coastline look boring. The food is prepared with French techniques, infused with a touch of the chef’s Argentinian heritage, and combined with the peaceful design of the restaurant it makes for a totally wonderful dining experience. We recommend trying two or three courses for their very reasonable pricing, or, if you can, the full degustation with matched wines is one for the ages.
For those not spending the night at Piermont Retreat, head a bit further north to reach the Swansea Beach Chalets, a collection of everything-you-need accommodation right on the beachfront at Swansea. Fully-contained and ranging in price from most standard chalets to those with picture-perfect ocean views, this place will make you feel right at home. It’s a little oasis of calm and comfort. The best part? In the morning, your only priority is stumbling down the beach and dipping your toes in the water… Or your whole body if that’s your style (you may need a full-body steamer in the winter though!). This is beachside living at its best.
The next day, after your morning dip, head back south for a hot minute to fuel up on breakfast goodies at the iconic Kate’s Berry Farm. An idyllic farm with rows and rows of delicious cool climate berries, with a quaint wooden cafe and shop and view of Great Oyster Bay to boot. This place has mostly berry-oriented menu options, from scones to waffles to fruit pies with ice cream (it’s never too early), so it’s best for those sweet-toothed road trippers out there. But if you’re more into to a savory meal first thing in the morning, one of Kate’s hot meat, fish or veggie pies in a pot is a must. Either way, Kate’s will leave you wishing you could also ditch your hometown and start up a berry farm in Tasmania with a view of the ocean. One can only dream. And don’t forget to stock up on homemade jams and chocolates when you leave. One for the road, right?
On your way back to Hobart along the Heritage Highway, stop off at Ross to appreciate its historic bridge, the centrepiece of the town. Completed in 1836 after five years of construction by convict labourers, this bridge has truly stood the test of time, and is still a pretty incredible feat of engineering to this day. Three sandstone arches cross the river, complete with 186 intricate carvings decorating the stones, built mostly by two convicts over the latter 13 months of the bridge’s construction timeline, who were pardoned for their crimes upon completion. It’s the third oldest bridge that’s still in use in Australia, so those two lawbreakers must have known what they were doing.
Continuing with the historic theme, rather than zooming straight through the small town of Oatlands, stop and have a wander through the largest collection of sandstone Georgian houses in the country. Many of these were built by convict labour in the early 1800s, acting nowadays as a life-size exhibition of early colonial architecture and heritage in Australia. One of the most iconic of these buildings is the Callington Mill, which was built in 1836 and operated until 1892. The mill was restored to its former glory in 2010 and is now the only working example of its type in the Southern Hemisphere, producing quality flour for days. Almost every building in Oatlands now has a story to tell about its former days, so a wander around the streets is never lost time, especially thanks to a number of informative signs that mean you don’t have to use too much of your imagination. But then again, a little imagination never hurt.
The best kinds of lunch always involve a drink or two, so pull off the highway at the Old Kempton Distillery to make the most of your midday eats stop. Kempton is an early colonial settlement which seems to have effortlessly preserved its historic charm, making it a great spot to explore 19th century Tasmanian village life. Located in Dysart House (built in 1842 by convict embezzler-turned-innkeeper, William Ellis - pretty iconic!), the Old Kempton Distillery’s cellar door and café embraces its historic surroundings with style, with all the distilling taking place out in the convict brick stables. Try a few of their handcrafted whiskies, vodkas or liqueurs while you snack on an antipasto platter from their country-style kitchen. A delicious lunch of Tasmanian produce matched with Tasmanian spirits, just what you need mid-road trip. Just make sure you have a responsible designated driver, because you’re not done on the road just yet.
You’ve seen all of Tassie’s best nature and history, now get friendly with all its wonderful creatures at Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary. Just on the outskirts of Hobart, Bonorong is a sanctuary for all the wild and vulnerable, run by a group of people with a passion for protecting Australia’s and Tasmania’s animals. The roos wander around freely and all the other animals, from sugar gliders to potoroos to Tasmanian devils, are in spacious enclosures just waiting for you to interact with them. Cruise around the sanctuary on your own time, or join in with one of the afternoon tours (which are free with entry) to meet (and cuddle) the wombats, devils and koalas. And you get a free bag of kangaroo food with your entry ticket, which means close and personal encounters with our favourite hopping friends to your heart’s content.
Tasmania is renowned for producing beautiful cool-climate wines, as a result of its cool summers and long autumns. We’re quite the fan. The only problem with this growing international reputation is how hard it makes it to choose which vineyard’s wines to taste if you only have time for one. Our pick for this trip is Stefano Lubiana Wines, Tasmania’s first and only certified biodynamic vineyard, meaning their wine is not only delicious, but also ethically and ecologically happy. Take a journey through their wine-growing and making practices with a tasting in their gorgeous Italian-style cellar door and restaurant farmhouse. Even if you’re not fussed on the wine (but, trust us, you will be), the beautiful building and scenery will make up for it.
It’s hard to sum up MONA in one short paragraph, because there’s so much more to it than can be neatly condensed. Opened by the eccentric Hobart millionaire David Walsh in 2011, MONA is described by Walsh as being some sort of "subversive adult Disneyland.” And that pretty much explains the gist of it, as the almost completely underground gallery is a treasure chest of the weird and the wacky. The infamous ‘Poo Machine’ that gets fed twice a day and defecates daily at 2pm is just one of the many bizarre installations that both confuse and inspire visitors. And although MONA is one of the top tourist destinations in Tasmania, you won’t find crowds of people in front of every art piece, snapping photos of every nook and cranny. Its popularity has not yet meant the compromise of its incredibly unique atmosphere. And long may that last.
End your action-packed roadie off on a high, at Hobart’s grooviest and grittiest bar/eatery. Bringing the boldness and coolness of Caribbean culture to Tasmania, Rude Boy is a haven of passion, atmosphere and, of course, rum. It’s like a slice of Havana, but chock full of Aussie accents and Tasmanian ingredients. The perfect combination, in our opinion. Get yourself a taste of Rude Boy’s funk with a few cocktails and plates to share, with their ‘Feed Me’ menu option being the best way to try a bit of everything without having to go through the gruelling task of deciding what to order. One mention to the waiter that you’re ravenous and your table will be blessed with jerk chicken, beef brisket, and a whole lot of smaller goodies. And as for that cocktail list, all you can do is try to narrow it done to one choice. Or two. Or three. Or even better, opt for a ‘Rum Flight’ and taste a selection of four different types of their best rums. Good thing there’s no more driving to be done, this could be a long night.
Banner Photo Credit: Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary