Taste for Adventure... in Tasmania

| November 12, 2018

Unearthing an intriuging mix of cutting-edge culture, pristine wilderness and local gourmet delights, The Daily Telegraph travel writer Helen Ochyra discovers a mania for Tasmania.

Sunrise at Wineglass Bay © Daniel Tran/Tourism Tasmania

I am standing on the bow of the boat holding a crayfish by its haunches in each hand and grinning like a loon. Behind me Kate is cooking up abalone, freshly hauled from the sea that laps around us, and several hungry fellow travellers are slurping oysters and sipping sparkling wine. Fantastic food brings visitors to Tasmania in their droves. This verdant island state is Australia’s southernmost – and therefore coolest – corner, and home to a larder of fresh produce that is well worth the short flight over from Melbourne to seek out.

I am only just downriver from the capital, Hobart, on my tour and already the Southern Ocean has been generous in sharing its bounty: those oysters from Get Shucked oyster farm; that abalone the result of a quick dive by our crew, and accompanied by sea urchins freshly plucked from the waters. Those crayfish are the centrepiece of it all – southern rock lobster that is sweet, succulent and about as good as any I’ve ever tasted (and I’m lucky enough to have tasted a lot).

Fresh oysters

Fresh oysters

On our cruise along the River Derwent and D’Entrecasteaux Channel we have been distracted from the view by the gourmet treats handed to us. Finally, hunger sated, I start to look up, and find myself staring out at Bruny Island, its unspoiled shores rimmed by bleach-white beaches and washed by water so clear it’s impossible to guess its depth. As I soak up the sun’s rays and feel the breeze tug at my hair, a fellow passenger lets out a squeal of delight. Not this time for a plump oyster or glass of local fizz, but for something beneath the boat. I look down and see the unmistakable glistening grey back of a dolphin – actually, two – playfully slicing through the water in our slipstream.

There truly is nowhere quite like Tasmania. The bulk of Australia may be just 300-odd miles away but it feels like a different continent altogether. Weather-wise Tasmania feels closer to Scotland than Sydney, and with a cultural and dining scene that is firmly ensconced on the hipster radar, Hobart can rival Melbourne or even London in the gourmet stakes.

Tasmanian Seafood Seduction © Tourism Tasmania & Poon Wai Nang

Tasmanian Seafood Seduction © Tourism Tasmania & Poon Wai Nang

It all started with Mona, Hobart’s Museum of Old and New Art – and a contentious museum if ever I’ve seen one. This is no government-funded collection of highbrow ancient artworks, but a deliberately – some would say provocatively – irreverent museum opened by a local multimillionaire and professional gambler. The $200 million David Walsh invested in founding Mona in 2011 could be said to be his greatest ever gamble. It does, after all, feature a poo machine. Yes, really. Wim Delvoye’s Cloaca mimics the human digestive process, being fed food and producing waste product. It is both amazing and repulsive – and it tends to attract the largest crowd. People, it seems, will always be attracted to what is contentious.

Mona is certainly that and there is no telling what will be on display for your visit. The collection ranges from “dubious moral genesis” to “stuff David bought when he was drunk” and its meaning, or lack thereof, is conveyed to you via a handheld device called O. On this you can listen to interviews with the artists, as well as tap to say if you love or hate the piece in question. That piece could be a sculpture of the female form, a bicycle suspended from the ceiling or a staircase leading nowhere. This is no ordinary museum visit, but like I said, there truly is nowhere quite like Tasmania.

The MONA, Hobart

The Mona, Hobart

The same is true of the landscape. Here you will find secluded bays ringed with white sand beaches, toothy mountains formed by glaciers and rainforests that date back over 60 million years. About 40% of the island is protected by either national park or reserve status, and the half a million or so people who live in Tasmania are mostly gathered in Hobart and second city Launceston, leaving the rest of this unspoiled island as pure, pristine wilderness.

The best way to experience it is to get out and walk it. Tasmania is home to five of Australia’s so-called ‘Great Walks’, the newest of which is the Three Capes Lodge Walk, which launched in September 2018 and takes you along the Tasman Peninsula. This tract of bush juts out into the Southern Ocean and is home not only to Port Arthur – Tasmania’s original penal settlement (and the state’s top attraction until Mona came along) – but also to the magnificent Tasman National Park.

Three Capes Track

Three Capes Track © Jesse Desjardins

Join the fully guided, four-day Three Capes Lodge Walk and you’ll stay in the national park each night, settling in at exclusive lodges designed to fit in with the landscape as well as offer every comfort to the weary walker. The route begins with a boat trip from Port Arthur to land at Denman’s Cove. You’ll then head south, climbing Arthur’s Peak to spot white-bellied sea eagles soaring in the thermals and descending through atmospheric silver gum forests towards the cliffs at the very edge of Tasmania – the highest in the southern hemisphere. There’s nothing between you and Antarctica here and there are seabirds aplenty, from albatrosses to gannets.

If you’d rather take it easy, Tasmania has plenty of luxury hotels set cleverly into the dramatic landscape. Take Freycinet Lodge, where rooms overlook the sparkling blue waters of Great Oyster Bay and are backed by the Hazards, a mountain range cast in blushing pink granite. There is so much on your doorstep here, with Freycinet National Park’s idyllic beaches reached by easy walking tracks through the bush. I struggled, though, to leave my room, a Coastal Pavilion with an outdoor bathtub and glass walls that brought the trees practically into bed with me. I found myself unable to move come sunset: legs satisfyingly aching and body heavy with soporific bliss as the sun dipped in the sky and tinged the mountains with an orange glow. Birds sang out the day and darkness added texture to the forest, its shadows lengthening across my private wooden deck.

The Coastal Pavilion at Freycinet Lodge

The Coastal Pavilion at Freycinet Lodge © Supplied Courtesy of RACT Destinations

Evenings at the lodge are spent devouring more local seafood. The Bay Restaurant serves up delicious local Melshell oysters with a squeeze of lemon and seared Tasmanian scallops, before wowing me with a generous paella, the sort you spend the evening exploring, digging out mussels and clams and prawns with your fork and staining everything you touch with the hot red oil of delicious chorizo. I sink back in my chair and lose myself in the view, swirling my glass of crisp riesling from Freycinet Vineyard, just up the road in Apslawn. Once again, I am grinning like a loon and trying not to gush.

And then I think – why? Tasmania deserves my gushing praise. So here it is: this place is a paradise. The rest of Australia may still occasionally point and laugh at the island they say is at least two decades behind them, but really the joke is on them. Because on my next trip down under, I’ll be flying right over their heads. To the state that can confidently claim to have the best food and the most pristine landscapes in Australia, as well as by far one of the most original museums I have ever visited.

Melshell Oysters

Melshell Oysters © Rob Burnett

Recommended C&K tour: Tasmania Self-Drive Explorer 14 Days & 13 Nights

Beginning in Hobart, visit the city and coastal islands before driving north to the stunning Wineglass Bay and up to Beauty Point, near the island’s north coast. Continue west through the Tasmanian interior, via Cradle Mountain National Park, before returning back to Hobart via beautiful Lake St Clair.

Alternatively, if you are interested in a tailor-made tour, please either call one of our specialist travel consultants or complete our tailor-made request form and one of our experts will get back to you to help you plan an itinerary.

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