By JAMILA RIZVI
I have a confession to make: I’ve never been a fan of the little island that hangs out around the base of mainland Australia. I had no real reason for my unease about the place, other than it tends to get a bad rap in general conversation. And as a shameless bandwagon jumper, I’ve done my fair share of Tasmania bashing in days past (which as someone born and bred in the most often criticised city in the nation, Canberra – is really rather rubbish of me).
But you know what? I am here, to take it ALL BACK. I’m sorry Tasmania. I was wrong.
Last weekend the kind folks at the Spirit of Tasmania made a delightful offer for me to travel to the Little Island That Could. With their help I have fast become, not only a Tasmania-convert but a full blown, in-your-face Tasmania advocate. In fact, I may knock on your door shortly, in a black suit, button up white shirt, name badge and with a range of pamphlets to help you see the light as well.
For those who don’t know, the Spirit of Tasmania is a ship – not just a description for the general vibe of Tasmania (although they are indeed, a spirited bunch). I’m generally a ‘get there as quick as possible’ traveler but the boat ride from Melbourne to Devonport was really enjoyable.
The ship is enormous and has all the amenities you could wish for, including a fantastic restaurant, movie cinema and most importantly, a bar. We quickly set up camp on the deck with a couple of glasses of wine and watched Melbourne disappear as we sailed away. The view was spectacular and the whole experience was very different to the rushed airport check-in and mind numbing flights that I’m used to.
Once my sea-faring companion, Jeremy and I got over the initial excitement of being on the ship (which included saying loudly to each other “We’re on a freaking BOAT!” every time we looked out a porthole window), the fact we were on the water mostly faded from consciousness. We had a fabulous three course dinner at the on-board restaurant, which included fresh Tasmanian seafood that I can’t recommend highly enough.
There was something quite calming and lovely about going to bed with the boat rocking you to sleep and when we pulled into the dock at 6am, I was surprised to find I’d slept soundly through the whole night. Many of our fellow passengers had driven their cars on board, so they could drive right off the ship at the other end. While we weren’t able to do this, it would be a great way to properly see Tasmania without forking out for the cost of a hire car.
Our buddies at EuropCar though, looked after us well and made the dreams of any man aged over 15 come true, by handing Jeremy the keys to an Audi something-or-other. I’m not a car person and still have no idea what it was but there was a similar sentiment to the ‘we’re on a freaking BOAT’ expressed about the car by Jez, for the remainder of the weekend. (And it freed me up to be the Chief Wine Taster, a position that I took extremely seriously.)
Our car was to take us from Devonport to Hobart but not before stopping off at Christmas Hills Raspberry Farm Cafe, which is just off the main road, about 30 minutes into the trip. If you like, you know, eating – Raspberry Farm is a must-do. Breakfast was absolutely delicious, the owners were particularly kind and exploring the property for a while was awfully quaint – but in a good way – I felt rather like I’d fallen into a Beatrix Potter book.
The drive was a scenic one and I wish we’d had more time to properly explore the Tasmania outside of major cities because the countryside was breathtaking. Once again the time flew, mostly thanks to my excellent DJ-ing skills and opening Jeremy’s eyes to the world of top 40 pop and the sort of music most grown-ups roll their eyes at (you’re welcome Jez). Once we arrived in Hobart we explored the Salamanca Markets, which were buzzing with activity and to quote the awful cliche, really do have something for everybody. (It’s true though, I bought fairy floss that was bigger than my head and Jeremy bought a rock. Don’t ask. It’s a nerd thing. Something for EVERYONE.)
Late lunch was at Meadowbank Estate, where the head chef Wayne Smith would have impressed the pants off me had I not been wearing a skirt. We did the wanky wine tasting thing for most of the afternoon – complete with swirling the liquid around in the glasses, sniffing with a twitchy nose and contemplative expressions on our faces.
We were also quietly asking each other things like ‘Do you know what a tannin is?’ Actually that might have given our lack of wine knowledge away… I could have spent days grazing on their delicious food and drinking them out of wine. And if there is any wine left, then you should definitely pick some up when you’re holidaying in Hobart because it was all delicious and I’m sure there were plenty of tannins.
As if we needed any more food, dinner was at Henry’s Restaurant at the Henry Jones Art Hotel. But they had a chef’s hat so we breathed hard and prepared to keep eating (we were like Olympic athletes, but dining and drinking for Australia). And I am so glad we did. Despite a weekend full of spectacular food, this was certainly the highlight and somehow we managed to get through three courses and clear the plates entirely (our mums would have been proud).
The Henry Jones Art Hotel is one of my favourite places to stay and I was excited to be back again. Built in an old jam factory, the surrounds are far more interesting than your standard fancy hotel. The architect has incorporated the old beams and supports into the modern rooms and decor and it’s quite a sight to behold. The artwork is also fabulous and it’s worth wandering the hallways for a few hours seeing what they have on display (it changes all the time because if you become so attached to the painting above your bed, you can buy it and take it home with you).
Our final day in Hobart was spent at MONA – the museum that is to thank for bringing thousands of new tourists to Tasmania. And once you’re there it really isn’t hard to see why.
MONA is simply fabulous and quite unlike any art gallery or museum I have visited before. There isn’t the usual telegraphing of ‘culture’ that you get in most galleries – the sort of physical and human intimidation that says to you (as if using a bright neon sign) YOU ARE ABOUT TO EXPERIENCE CULTURE. GET READY FOR CULTURE NOW PLEASE.
There aren’t the usual intrusions: no little plaques next to the artworks telling you what you’re supposed to think or even heralding the name of the artists (so that you don’t get sucked into assuming the art is ‘good’ just because you recognised the name next to it).
My little sister who studied art at university – and is a total fancy-pants art snob – says that I’m pathetic and only like ‘commercial’ or gimmicky interactive art. Well that’s true. And if that makes me low brow, so be it. But what it does tell you, is that there is something at MONA for everyone – from the snooty types who want to know the nature of the construction materials used in a piece and can pick the period based on the style of the paintbrush strokes and, well, me.
I’m not going to write about the actual artwork because that’s like giving away the plot of a wonderful film. And as MONA say on their website: “If you know what it’s going to be, what’s the point of making it?” (Balint Zsako).
When our weekend drew to a close, I was honestly a little sad because I could have spent a whole week filled with the fun we managed to pack into 2 days. Jeremy was also teary because he had to say goodbye to the car. (Boys…)
One week on, I feel a little bashful, kind of like I did in primary school when I drew on another girl’s face during nap time because one of the boys dared me. I knew it was wrong and I apologised when the teachers made me but it was only when she and I became friends down the track that I realised just how naughty I’d been.
Tasmania, I’m sorry for the merciless mocking and the relentless teasing of the past. Let’s put it behind us and be buddies because I would really, really like to be invited back.
The Spirit of Tasmania. It was pretty much as majestic as the Titanic. But without the unhappy ending.
Jamila traveled to Tasmania courtesy of the Spirit of Tasmania. She was provided with accommodation by the Henry Jones Hotel and transportation around Tasmania from EuropCar.
To check out Spirit of Tasmania’s current fares and offers and to book your next holiday escape to Tassie, visit spiritoftasmania.com.au/mamamia