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Tasmania, the southern tip of Australian territory, is an island separated from the mainland by the Bass Strait. It is a place of wild and beautiful landscapes and friendly, relaxed people, with a temperate climate, rich history and a deliciously slow pace of life. There is no hustle and bustle here, even in the cities. No traffic jams and no smog. Encircled by the Southern Ocean, Tasman Sea and Bass Strait, the air is clean, the water pure and the soil fertile. More than one third of Tasmania is preserved in a network of national parks and the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area.
Although best known for its sublime landscapes and the many opportunities for bushwalking, kayaking, cycling and rafting, Tasmania - or 'Tassie' as it is affectionately known - is also celebrated for its gourmet food and wine, and some lovely arts and crafts, and the island now boasts sufficient urban sophistication to ensure a comfortable and culturally-rich visit. The island's European heritage goes back to the early 1800s, but Aboriginals first reached it about 40,000 years ago. This mixed heritage is reflected in Tasmania's culture and the locals tend to be fiercely proud and self-sufficient.
In the far south of Tasmania, on the Tasman Peninsula, is Port Arthur, which in the early 1800s was originally a timber station. In 1833 it became a prison settlement for male convicts, and quickly established a reputation as being 'hell on earth'. Today Port Arthur lies among 40 hectares of English Oaks and magnificent gardens as a memorial to Australia's convict past. The Port Arthur historic site offers an inclusive all day ticket, which includes a guided historical walking tour of the ruins and restored buildings, a harbour cruise and access to the visitor centre and interpretation gallery. One of the more popular features of a visit to Port Arthur is the Historic Ghost Tour run at night. Port Arthur is located 65 miles (100km) southeast of Hobart. Allow about an hour and a half to enjoy the scenic drive along the Tasman and Arthur highways.
Visitors in Hobart can't help but notice that the city's skyline is dominated by the majestic Mount Wellington, which towers over the city at 4,170 feet (1,271m). Travellers can enjoy the incredible panoramic views from atop the mountain by taking a bus to Fern Tree and walking a steep zig-zag track to the top. It is frequently snow-capped, even during the summer months from time to time, and the lower slopes are thickly forested. Those who choose to rent a car can even enjoy a scenic drive to the summit. Mountain biking is also a popular sport in Wellington Park, so enthusiasts can look into hiring a bike and some gear to enjoy the wonderful single trails on offer.
Hobart's premier tourist attraction, Louisa's Walk is a 'live history show', that tells the heart-breaking story of an Irish woman, Louisa Regan, who was sent to Australia in 1841 as a convict, on a seven-year sentence for stealing a loaf of bread. This piece of strolling theatre - thoroughly researched, appropriately narrated, and well-acted - takes the audience through the historic areas of Hobart, before ending up at the climactic location of the Cascade Female Factory, an infamous prison workhouse. The purpose of the show is to fascinate, inform and challenge audiences, to allow them to experience, through the medium of theatre, the chilling origins of Australia's settler history. Referred to time and again as the one thing everybody should experience while in Hobart, Louisa's Walk is an educational experience that holds the affective power of theatre, and should not be missed.
Hobart enjoys a mild and temperate oceanic climate with four distinct seasons. The city is not hot or sunny by Australian standards, receiving an average of just under six hours of sunshine per day. Snow is not common during the winter months, but it is normal to see adjacent Mount Wellington with a snowcap. In winter, between June and August, temperatures average between 40°F (4°C) and 55° (13°C); and in summer, between December and February, temperatures average between 51°F (10°C) and 71°F (21°C). Rainfall is fairly evenly distributed throughout the year, with about 10 to 15 rainy days every month. The peak summer months of January and February are the warmest and driest months and the best time to visit.
Tasmania's climate is described as temperate maritime, being surrounded by sea, and rarely experiences extremes of temperature. The prevailing weather pattern is from west to east and as a result the west coast is the wettest, while the east coast is almost always warmer and milder than the rest of the state. Summer brings warm days and mild evenings from December to February, while winter can be stormy with snow on the mountain peaks between July and August. Rainfall occurs throughout the year. The weather is most stable from the end of summer to autumn (February to April).
The climate, fertile soils and unpolluted waters of Tasmania ensure that the island cultivates some wonderful fresh produce, including plenty of fruit (it's not called the 'Apple Isle' for nothing) and vegetables, but also exciting things like honey, black truffles, saffron, wasabi, olive oil and cheese. The fresh seafood is also superb, especially the Atlantic Salmon which is farmed in Tasmanian waters. Of course, Tasmania is also celebrated for its wine, producing cool climate wines such as sparkling wine, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and so forth. Some of the vineyards are just beyond Hobart.
For a long while Tasmania's culinary character was more British than anything else, with firmly colonial staples, but in recent years the island has embraced the Modern Australian (Mod Oz) trend and has quickly established itself as a wonderful foodie destination.
Those wanting to try their hand at Tasmanian cuisine should book a cooking class at Rodney Dunn's The Agrarian Kitchen, but such is the popularity of the school that it may be necessary to book a few months in advance.
Located in North Hobart's multicultural dining strip, Annapurna Indian Cuisine certainly delivers when it comes to good Indian food. Heavily spiced dishes and generous portions keep diners coming back time and time again to this great value for money eatery. Brave diners should try the Beef Tindaloo, diced beef cooked with mushrooms in a chef's special dynamite sauce which is hotter than vindaloo, while more timid diners can enjoy the more subtle and aromatic flavours of Butter Chicken. Open for lunch and dinner from Monday to Friday. Bookings recommended.
Located in MONA (Museum of Old and New Art), within Moorilla, Australia's most awarded vineyard, the Source serves some of the finest gourmet cuisine in a contemporary setting with some of Australia's finest wines. Try the lobster, herb and zest cous cous, almond milk and perfumed tomato to start, followed by the Roasted duck, Belgian endive, salted caramelised apple and coffee sauce for mains. The extensive wine list boasts not only local but international wines too, coming from as far afield as France and New Zealand. Open for breakfast and lunch every day but Tuesday, and for dinner on Friday and Saturday nights.
Located in Hobart's historic centre of Salamanca Place, the Ball and Chain Grill serves some of the best steaks in the city in a relaxed and casual atmosphere. Boasting one of the most extensive wine lists in Australia, diners at the Ball and Chain will have no problem finding that full-bodied red to compliment their choice of steak. Try the pepper steak rolled in crushed peppercorns, or the Australian classic, the Carpetbag steak stuffed with oyster meat. Non-carnivorous guests can enjoy dishes like the grilled Tasmanian rainbow trout served with herb butter or char grilled quail with plum and ginger sauce. Bookings recommended.
One of Hobart's iconic restaurants, the Drunken Admiral was established in 1979 and has been feeding hungry landlubbers the best delights of the sea in a nautically themed dining room where couples can enjoy cosy corners for a more intimate dining experience. Try the seafood platter, the juicy King Prawns or the Marrakech market Tagine baked salmon with chickpea curry, tomato and coriander. Open daily for dinner from 6pm. Reservations recommended.
The second oldest city in Australia, Hobart is indeed a fascinating place to visit. Dating back to 1804 when it grew out of the penal settlement on the island, Hobart boasts many beautiful historical buildings and areas, all beneath the majestic backdrop of the often snow-capped Mount Wellington.
There are many rewarding ways to spend your time in Hobart. Take a stroll along the riverfront and admire the Georgian and Victorian architecture, then visit Battery Point to see buildings made out of Hobart's golden sandstone, which gives parts of the city a warm, golden glow. On a Saturday, visit Salamanca Place where the sandstone warehouses date back to the 1830s and stalls line the maze of streets selling everything under the sun, while the surrounding art galleries, theatres and cafés will cater to your every entertainment need.
Check out the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery to see the stuffed Tasmanian Devil and the extinct Tasmanian Tiger, or head to the Maritime Museum of Tasmania to learn about the whaling industry, see early Aboriginal boats and even shipwrecks. Hobart's wine industry has exploded in recent years and a day out in the Coal River Wine Region and D'Entrecasteaux Channel, sampling some of the region's wines and gourmet cuisine at Moorilla, one of Australia's most awarded vineyards, is not to be missed.
Travellers should look into buying the See Tasmania Card which grants access to about 35 attractions across Tasmania, as well as tours and other discounts.
Hobart is small and compact - easy to explore on foot or by bicycle. There is an efficient local bus service, the Metro, for which day passes are available. Ferries run between Franklin Wharf and tourist spots around the harbour.
One of Tasmania's most popular attractions is the Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park, placed on the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1982. Landscapes include ancient rainforest and alpine heath lands, interspersed with button grass and stands of deciduous beech trees. Trails winding through forests of King Billy pines around the mountain offer superb day treks, and the 50-mile (82km) trek from Cradle Mountain in the north to Lake St Clair in the south is Australia's most famous bushwalk. The Park is equipped with mountain huts that offer accommodation for long treks, and Cradle Mountain Lodge offers log cabins in a tranquil setting. Lake St Clair, a narrow 10-mile (15km) long waterway in the south of the park, is Australia's deepest natural freshwater lake.
Tasmania's third largest city, Devonport is the gateway to the island state, situated as it is in the centre of the north coast, at the mouth of the Mersey River. It is the point of arrival for car ferries from the mainland and it also welcomes visitors at its modern airport. The city is three hours by road from Hobart on the Midlands Highway. The city has a number of attractions for visitors, including aboriginal rock engravings, a maritime museum and a cycling/walking track which extends around the picturesque foreshore, past the Olympic Swimming Pool, to the historic Don River Railway, which operates vintage and steam trains. The city's central location makes it an ideal base for discovering the wilderness experiences of northwest Tasmania, especially the Mt Cradle National Park.
'Something special is taking place in the heart of Tasmania, and you are invited to witness its creation' - these are the words that greet you on the official website of The Wall in the Wilderness, and by all accounts, the sense of excitement they communicate is well earned. An ambitious project, Australian sculptor Greg Duncan aims to create a massive frieze, carved from gorgeous Huon Pine, depicting the best and worst of Tasmania's history from pre-colonial times, to trailblazing European foresters, to the extinction of the Tasmanian tiger, and the advent of hydro-electric power in the region. The sheer scale of the undertaking is mind-blowing - Duncan aims to use 50 panels, each one metre long and three metres high, carved front and back, giving a grand total of 300 square metres of realistic engravings. Duncan says he hopes that viewing the Wall will be 'an educational as well as an artistic experience', an important reminder of both the successes and mistakes that characterise Australia's history as a nation. The work is ongoing but the carvings are already very extensive.
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