Hobart on the hop
Tango, tea and tantalising tales in Tasmania’s capital city
1. Party people: Bohemia comes to Hobart every Friday evening in Salamanca Square as Rektango, a kind of impromptu block party, kicks up its heels behind the Peacock Theatre from 5.30pm to 7.30pm. The weekly j am and dance session is no secret among music-loving locals (it’s always packed) but visitors often miss the city’s best night out.
Tania Bosak formed the eclectic band Rektango in 2000 and they kicked off their Salamanca slam the same year; and since then the band’s exuberant music — a delirious mash-up of gypsy and swing, Croatian folk and tangos — has been a favourite way to farewell each working week.
Festivities are fuelled by freeflowing beer, with gluhwein and fires in winter. Entry is open to everyone — old, young, children, pets — and dancing is de rigueur. A great way to kick off a weekend away and meet the locals. And best of all, entry to the party is free. 2. Water course: Above the suburbs of Hobart a historic track traces a path through bushland and fern gullies, past reminders of the ingenuity of city founders. The Pipeline Track hugs the flank of Mt Wellington for 3km between the hamlet of Fern Tree and the Waterworks Reservoir, Hobart’s fresh water supply.
As well as offering striking bird’s-eye views of the city, the path reveals unexpected surprises. From Fern Tree the track slopes down into green gullies and a gorgeous miniature aqueduct in sandstone that spans the bubbling Longhill Creek. Its stone arches and the masonry troughs date from 1881.
Elegant plumbing aside, there is much to admire along the pipeline’s route, including orchids and sassafras, swamp gums and stringybarks. Hikers, bikers and j oggers can occasionally be encountered along the route, as can pink robins, brown tree frogs and echidnas. In spring, daffodils flower on the clearing where McDermott’s Farm once stood. The unmarried recluse Bill McDermott lived here with his dog, Brandy Shamrock McShane, until 1967, when he was gored to death by one of his bulls.
Further along lie Gentle Annie Falls (so gentle that they no longer flow) and, at the end of a steep and rocky path below, the reservoir itself, which is an ideal picnic spot. More: hobartcity.com.au. 3. Captive’s audience: Louisa Regan, dressed in simple grey smock, floral scarf and white bonnet, meets our group across the road from the Cascade Brewery. ‘‘Today I will be taking you back to the 19th century, into the heart and the soul and the spirit of my story,’’ she says. ‘‘I hope I will make you laugh, and at times I might even make you cry.’’
Louisa’s Walk is a strolling theatre performance through the Cascade Gardens and the World Heritage-listed site of the Female Factory, Hobart’s infamous women’s prison. Judith Cornish plays the role of Irishwoman Louisa, transported to the colonies on a seven-year sentence for nicking a loaf of bread in London in 1840.
The self-conscious might flinch at the prospect of being bit-players in such a public drama but Cornish and husband Chris play their roles so convincingly, their audi- ence soon empathises with the injustices of life in Van Diemen’s Land. Guests are drawn gently into the performance (Cornish’s character has an incredible memory for names and weaves them into the narrative) and children especially enjoy the experience. And, like all the best stories, there’s a happy ending. More: livehistoryhobart.com.au. 4. River highs: The most romantic way to discover the Derwent River is aboard the Lady Nelson, a faithful re-creation of the 1799 square rigger sent to the antipodes to map the coastline (and eventually dispatched by pirates j ust north of Timor in 1825). Built for the Bicentenary project, the Lady Nelson Mark II is operated by the Tasmanian Sail Training Association, a volunteer group that runs pleasure cruises to raise funds.
Passengers can try their hand at tall-ship sailing if they wish, or simply sit back and admire the handsome celery-top pine deck, sturdy douglas fir masts and the fanfare of sails unfurled overhead. The 90-minute excursions are also a good opportunity to try out a new vocabulary of gaskets, jibs and halyards, or test your skill with ratlines and sheepshanks.
Once clear of Constitution Dock and under full sail, the ship glides placidly, capturing picturesque city views. And if the crew encounters a run of fish in the harbour, they will drop a line, haul in the catch, clean it and then raffle it to passengers to raise funds for the Lady’s upkeep. The sailing trips depart from Constitution Dock at weekends. More: ladynelson.org.au. 5. Sunday lunch: Just shy of its first birthday, Garagistes, a selfdescribed wine bar that happens to also serve phenomenal food, has been anointed one of Australia’s hottest tables by The Weekend Australian Magazine (among others), so getting a table here is a rare test of a Hobart diner’s patience. Beat the queues by reserving a seat at Sunday lunch, the one day of the week when bookings are accepted. The fourcourse set menu costs a reasonable $65 and Luke Burgess’s locally focused but globally influenced fare might run to seared venison with glazed beetroot, nettle puree and new-season’s truffle, or a jerusalem artichoke and goat’s curd ice cream with cider pears.
The vibe is communal — share plates among friends, share tables with strangers — beneath a soaring ceiling in a suave industrial space that was once a Holden assembly plant. Burgess’s partner Katrina Birchmeier is the brains behind the assembly of 130-plus small-vineyard and organic, sustainable or biodynamic wines, many with a pronounced French accent. More: garagistes.com.au. 6. Written in stone: Next time you’re trawling the stalls of woodwork, woollen socks and harvest produce at the popular Salamanca Market, duck into St David’s Park for a glimpse into the lives (and deaths) of Hobart Town’s pioneering settlers. This modest cemetery features sandstone memorial walls set with the headstones of the founders of Australia’s second-oldest city.
Among the buried are hardy souls who arrived in 1788 with Captain Arthur Phillip aboard the First Fleet, such as ‘‘courageous wife and mother’’ Alice Stanfield. ‘‘As a founder of our nation, she bore the trials and suffering with great strength and character and purpose,’’ her epitaph reads. Some headstones bear just the simplest of details while others include snippets of intriguing stories, such as that of poor Richard Hames, ‘‘whowas unfortunately killed by a horse, March 30, 1833’’.
Notable early Tasmanians such as city surveyor Thomas Browne, who died after a long illness ‘‘which he bore with Christian fortitude’’, and James Ebenezer Bicheno Esq, registrar of records of Van Diemen’s Land, are remembered alongside more poignant departures, such as those of brother and sister James and Anna Holwell, aged five years and 18 months — ‘‘These lovely buds so fresh and fair’’ — who died within weeks of each other in the winter of 1853. 7. Tea break: When Violent Femmes bass player Brian Ritchie and his academic wife Varuni Kulasekera moved to Hobart from Manhattan in 2008, there was, understandably, a lot of excitement about this sudden boost to the city’s cultural cred. Three years on, the pair has definitely made an impression — Ritchie as organiser of the annual MONA FOMA music festival and champion of the new ArtBikes cyclesharing program, and Kulasekera as the city’s favourite tea lady.
Chado — The Way of Tea is a double-storey teahouse on Elizabeth Street; its walls are stacked with exotic leaves such as the revered silver needle from Fujian and organic turmeric tea from Sri Lanka (it’s said to do wonders for hangovers). Each is prepared precisely and with suitable ceremony for guests. The 22-page tea selection is complemented by a simple menu that runs to bento box lunches and rice-based donburis.
Ritchie is often in residence, serenading tea-drinkers on the shakuhachi bamboo flute. More: (03) 6231 6411. Kendall Hill was a guest of Tourism Tasmania.
Hobart’s glittering foreshores, with mountainous bushland providing a backdrop for this island capital on the Derwent River
The Lady Nelson is a re-creation of a 1799 square rigger
Louisa’s Walk performances dramatically revisit the past
Intriguing tales can be found on St David’s Park memorial walls