I first sighted Hobart, the small capital city of Australia’s tiny island State, Tasmania when I was 16. My bus, travelling from the State’s north, turned a highway corner and there was Hobart, on a perfect summer’s day, nestled around the foothills of the majestic Mount Wellington. The Derwent river was a tranquil sight, winding its way through the city, like a rhythmic gymnastics ribbon fluttering through the landscape.
That first sight of Hobart took my breath away, and more than 50 years later, it remains indelibly imprinted on my mind. It was my first trip from Launceston, 200 kilometres to the north, where I was born and raised. The two cities had a cantankerous relationship – the kind of regional rivalry you find in many places. Growing up, I rarely heard positive things about Hobart. ”You wouldn’t want to go there,” advised an Aunt. ”It’s an awful place.”
I was put on that bus in the late 1960’s by my Dad. I wanted to be a Journalist, seemingly out of my reach in times when few women were given cadetships and there were no university Journalism courses in Australia. When a Hobart radio station advertised for a copywriter, I applied. It would be writing, after-all. Unfortunately, they wanted an experienced writer, and, at 16, I didn’t even get an interview. But the Station Manager wrote in my rejection letter that if I was ever in Hobart, drop in and say hello. I’m sure he didn’t mean it, but Dad saw it as an opportunity, and sent me on the bus to Hobart the next day!
Was the Station Manager impressed or simply shocked at the sudden appearance of this skinny little bespectacled teenager? In shock, I think, because within a week he created a traineeship and within a fortnight I was back in Hobart to take up the job. It turned out to be a stepping stone two years later to a Journalism career in Television and Radio News with the Government’s national Australian Broadcasting Commission. I earned a good salary as a Journalist, enough to achieve my other dream – travelling the world. It helped that as a shift worker, I had six weeks paid holiday time every year. By 19, I was visiting London and Paris for the first time!
Hobart turned out to be my nirvana. A place of ’perfect happiness’ where I realised childhood dreams, and met invaluable mentors and life long friends, and got into bushwalking/trekking – a member of the Hobart Bushwalking Club for over six years.
Hobart was a journey of self discovery, and I lived in this beautiful city for a decade. It remains my favourite small city in the world.
Where else could you finish work at midday, switch into bushwalking gear, and be trekking a beautiful mountain track within half an hour. Or, in winter, driving from the harbour in the central city to reach mountain snow in 15 minutes.
Mount Wellington also is now officially known by its indigenous name of kunanyi. It offers an array of wonderful hiking trails – from easy to hard – and some seriously challenging rock climbing routes on what is known as ‘the organ pipes’ – impressive columns of dolerite, soaring up to 120m towards the summit.
I once spent a weekend camping and walking with the Hobart Bushwalking Club on Mount Wellington, and enjoying a campfire lunch by a pristine stream. We were in wilderness. It seemed very remote. Yet we were only 8 kilometres in a direct line from the main post office in the heart of Hobart!
The road to the top of the mountain is winding and not for the faint hearted. It’s often very cold at the top. And it can be very windy. My fear is that I will meet a tourist bus along the route. Squeeze, sweeze! And don’t look down!
So my tip is to only go as far as ‘the Springs’. From here you can get a wonderful view of Hobart. There’s also a cabin where, on cold days, rangers often light a wood fire for visitors.
You’ll also often find open here a shipping container, doubling as a coffee shop! Jokingly named The Lost Freight, it serves a variety of coffees and teas, along with pies, quiches, noodles, toasties and cakes. Be sure you find the short path out from the cabin to the viewing area to overlook Hobart.
A lovely easy trek to do on the Mount Wellington is the Silver Falls walk from the small foothills town of Ferntree through to the Springs. En route there is an enchanting little waterfall. I like doing this walk in winter, when dozens of icicles often hang from the ferns and trees like Christmas decorations. Magical. But ensure you wear warm clothes!
The main harbour for Hobart is surrounded by the Central Business District, its main streets ambling down to the river waterfront. Every summer, hundreds of sailing boats aim to reach here in the famous Sydney to Hobart International yacht race. It’s a wonderful time to be in Hobart, with many festivities held to welcome the yachts.
Research ships bound for the Antarctic leave from here. The Australian Antarctic Division has had its headquarters in Hobart for more than 40 years.
Close to the Harbour is a replica of MAWSON’S HUT, used in the Antarctic by Australia’s greatest Polar explorer Douglas Mawson. He led two major expeditions to the Antarctic early last century, and his legacy includes Australia’s territorial claim to 42 per cent of Antarctica. The Australian Antarctic Division which operates three scientific and research bases on the continent and one on Macquarie Island. Field training for today’s expeditioners is held in Tasmania’s rugged terrains, with an emphasis on survival skills.
There is an entry fee to go into Mawson’s hut, but it’s well worth it.
The Australian icebreaker Aurora Australis was a regular visitor to central Hobart before competing its last voyage for the Australian Antarctic Division in 2020. Fondly known as the Orange Roughy, she served for 30 years in the Antarctic.
Massive cruise ships also regularly call into Hobart. I remember in the 1970’s, it was also a base for visiting Japanese Southern ocean tuna fishing boats. There is lots to see for visitors from world class cutting edge museums, to galleries, to markets, endless restaurants, wineries, river cruises – just about anything you could wish for. Not forgetting for the beer lovers, tours and tastings at Cascades – the oldest operating brewery in Australia opened back in 1824.
Hobart is also a great base to explore other areas in the south of Tasmania such as the english style village of Richmond. It is authentic, built in the convict era, very quaint, and only a short drive from Hobart.
Since that first journey to Hobart, the main highway has been realigned and my first view of the city no longer remains. But Hobart still leaves me breathless with its beauty. Hobart then was a quiet little place. Today, visitors arrive from around the world to embrace its sights and experiences, including a smorgasbord of fresh local produce from crayfish, abalone and fresh water trout to wasabi, berries, apples, mushrooms and truffles.
And, of course, there is wine – Tasmania is famous for it, along with its whiskey! Tasmania has been making whiskey since the early 1800’s, and its product is now is seriously good, with over 30 distilleries. Hobart’s LARK distillery was one of four distillers nominated for Worldwide Whisky Producer of the Year at the 2020 International Wine & Spirit Competition.
The renowned Japanese born, Sydney based chef Tetsuya Wakuda is a regular visitor and says “As a food lover with a passion for natural flavours, I knew I had found a paradise”
Hobart was established by the British in 1804 as a prison colony, with convicts being shipped there from England. My 16 year old great great grandmother was amongst them in the mid 1800’s, sent from London for petty theft. We arrived in Hobart at the same time – she as a chained convict and me chasing my dreams of becoming a news Journalist.
My ancestor spent time in the women’s prison at the foot of Mount Wellington. It was a horrendous place for women convicts. The prison was called ‘the Cascades Female Factory’, and today you can tour it and hear of its history. It is a World Heritage site.
Tasmania’s 1800’s convict history was dark, though for some prisoners, transportation to Tasmania changed their lives for good. Convicts who were illiterate were taught to read and write, and were equipped with trade skills. They emerged from their prison terms with a basic education and job skills. Some went on to establish new businesses and industries in the fledgling State, and became model citizens.
The convicts, both men and women, were put to work in the fledgling english colony. Some on farms, some as staff for settlers, and some on construction sites.
Hobart is Australia’s second oldest capital city after Sydney. It is rich in Australian history, with many of the convict built homes, offices and warehouses still being used – the past mixing effortlessly with the present in a city buzzing with a trendy, modern vibe. Hobart is Australia’s least-populated State capital city, and nearly half of all Tasmanians live there. No visit to Australia would be complete without going there.
Marriage eventually took me to live on the other side of Australia, but I regularly return to Hobart for visits. Simply put, Hobart is where my heart is.