Travel

Tas­ma­nia’s pris­tine land­scape has cap­ti­vated many an ad­ven­ture trav­eller, but Kissa Cas­tañeda dis­cov­ers there is a lot more to this Aus­tralian is­land than its rugged al­lure

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There is a lot more to Tas­ma­nia than its rugged al­lure

ne glo­ri­ous af­ter­noon in June, I was wear­ing green waders, stand­ing waist-deep in wa­ter, hud­dled around a ta­ble in the mid­dle of the sea. It was a strange place to find my­self con­sid­er­ing it was the height of win­ter, which can get quite harsh in Tas­ma­nia as ev­ery Aus­tralian du­ti­fully warned me the minute I men­tioned that I was trav­el­ling to the coun­try’s south­ern­most state. Why was I so happy to trade sit­ting be­side a warm, crack­ling fire and be ex­posed to the el­e­ments? Sim­ply, I came for the oys­ters. I was at Fr­eycinet Marine Farm to savour pre­cious Pa­cific oys­ters—har­vested a few steps away, shucked on the spot, and washed down with fine Tas­ma­nian sparkling wine. This, hands down, is the best oys­ter bar I’ve ever been to, even though it tech­ni­cally isn’t a bar. It is ac­tu­ally a culi­nary ex­pe­ri­ence re­served solely for guests of Saf­fire Fr­eycinet, Tas­ma­nia’s fore­most ho­tel. Our group of four, led by our won­der­ful guide Nick, def­i­nitely made this ex­clu­sive ex­pe­ri­ence count: we had de­voured 74 oys­ters by the end of it. Like many places worth vis­it­ing, get­ting to this oys­ter farm—and Tas­ma­nia in gen­eral— re­quires go­ing the ex­tra mile. First, I took a seven-hour Qan­tas flight to Mel­bourne, and af­ter a seam­less con­nec­tion plus an hour-long hop, I ar­rived in the is­land’s cap­i­tal of Ho­bart. A two-and-a-half-hour drive north­east took me to Fr­eycinet Na­tional Park, an un­spoilt part of the world where both Saf­fire Fr­eycinet and Fr­eycinet Marine Farm have their roots. A few hol­i­day homes and a hand­ful of stores aside, there is very lit­tle de­vel­op­ment in this part of Tas­ma­nia. To build an ex­tremely mod­ern five-star ho­tel in this oth­er­wise de­serted area surely re­quired fore­sight. Given its amaz­ing lo­ca­tion—at the foot of the Coles Bay with its crys­tal-clear waters and di­rectly fac­ing the mes­meris­ing Haz­ards moun­tain range—per­haps helps one un­der­stand why some­one dared to em­brace a “build it and they will come” at­ti­tude. The care­ful way in which Saf­fire Fr­eycinet was con­ceived, con­structed and run ex­plains why the eight-year-old ho­tel alone is worth trav­el­ling to Tas­ma­nia for. Ev­ery de­tail of the prop­erty pays trib­ute to this breath­tak­ing des­ti­na­tion: ev­ery win­dow is po­si­tioned to per­fectly frame the panorama, ev­ery piece of fur­ni­ture is in­spired by sur­round­ing hues and tex­tures, and ev­ery dish hon­ours lo­cal Tas­ma­nian pro­duce. The thought­ful de­sign of award-win­ning Tas­ma­nian ar­chi­tect Robert Mor­ris Nunn leaves the faintest im­print on the land­scape, while the sin­cere, delightful ser­vice leaves an in­deli­ble mark on guests.

NAT­U­RAL SE­LEC­TION

Not so long ago, Tas­ma­nia, or Tassie as lo­cals call it, at­tracted mostly na­ture buffs and wildlife en­thu­si­asts and not the so­phis­ti­cated clien­tele who check into Saf­fire Fr­eycinet. In the last few years, how­ever, artists, vint­ners, cheese­mak­ers and en­trepreneurs of all stripes, seek­ing a fresh en­vi­ron­ment (lit­er­ally) as well as an al­ter­na­tive life­style, have made Tassie their home. The in­flux of cre­ative en­ergy and

en­tre­pre­neur­ial fervour has trans­formed the once con­ser­va­tive back­wa­ter, mak­ing now the time to cross the Bass Strait. Culi­nary tourism in par­tic­u­lar is on the rise. I am far from the only one trav­el­ling down un­der in­tend­ing to feast on its worl­drenowned seafood and pro­duce. A large num­ber of the 1.28 mil­lion in­ter­na­tional tourists who make their way to Tas­ma­nia are food lovers. They map out their gourmet ad­ven­tures with stops at winer­ies, whisky dis­til­leries and myr­iad farms. Af­ter all that eat­ing, the is­land of­fers plenty of op­tions to walk it off—there are over 880 walks through na­tional parks, re­serves and con­ser­va­tion ar­eas. Dur­ing my stay at Fr­eycinet, I went on the Wine­glass Bay Walk, a gen­tle hike through sculp­tural pink gran­ite for­ma­tions that ended at a view­ing point to take in the ma­jes­tic scenery. While the vista was the pin­na­cle of the walk, a per­sonal high­light was meet­ing and pet­ting two docile wal­la­bies on the way.

UN­BRI­DLED EX­PRES­SION

My stay in Tas­ma­nia was short—a mere five days, the min­i­mum length I would rec­om­mend—but the tim­ing was pitch per­fect. I had planned the trip around Dark Mofo, an an­nual arts and cul­ture fes­ti­val in Ho­bart that has gained a cult fol­low­ing and world­wide ac­claim. Na­ture and food aside, art has been the other fuel for Tas­ma­nia’s grow­ing ap­peal as a mul­ti­fac­eted des­ti­na­tion. To the unini­ti­ated, Ho­bart might be the last place on earth you would think of go­ing in the name of art but the es­tab­lish­ment of the Mu­seum of Old and New Art (Mona) changed it all. Since open­ing in 2011, the pri­vate mu­seum founded by mil­lion­aire gam­bler David Walsh has chal­lenged tra­di­tional per­cep­tions. From its sub­ur­ban lo­ca­tion (one must take the wacky Mona Roma ferry to get to it) to the provoca­tive mul­ti­mil­lion col­lec­tion of art and an­tiques (which in­cludes the famed Cloaca Pro­fes­sional aka “shit ma­chine” that repli­cates the di­ges­tive sys­tem), ev­ery as­pect of the mu­seum is un­con­ven­tional to say the least. Love it or hate it, Mona has un­leashed the “Bil­bao ef­fect”—it is one of pri­mary rea­sons why tourist ar­rivals have in­creased by 40 per cent since 2012.

As one of the two fes­ti­vals run by Mona, Dark Mofo fol­lows the same prin­ci­ples and has courted as much con­tro­versy as the mu­seum and its founder. This year, it erected in­verted crosses on the city’s water­front elic­it­ing de­nounce­ments from the Chris­tian com­mu­nity; it also buried 73-year-old artist Mike Parr alive un­der one of the city’s busiest roads. These head­line-grab­bing ini­tia­tives un­doubt­edly bring at­ten­tion to the fes­ti­val, and in turn Tas­ma­nia, el­e­vat­ing it from a na­ture-only des­ti­na­tion to a cul­tural hotspot. While some ac­tiv­i­ties are met with re­sis­tance, I won­der whether Tas­ma­nia’s iso­lated lo­ca­tion—it is, af­ter all, a base for Antarc­tic re­search—is what al­lows far out ideas to flour­ish. In a world where a po­lit­i­cally in­cor­rect tweet can get one fired, it is re­fresh­ing to see such coun­ter­vail­ing cul­ture thrive here. Win­ter sol­stice is usu­ally the sleepi­est time of the year in Tassie, but the whole of Ho­bart came alive and bathed in crim­son light for Dark Mofo. My base was the “sto­ry­telling ho­tel” MACQ 01, a new bou­tique prop­erty perched at the edge of the water­front. Its cen­tral lo­ca­tion means every­thing is within walk­ing dis­tance: I strolled to have din­ner at Win­ter Feast, Dark Mofo’s food fes­ti­val where de­li­cious grilled dishes could be en­joyed at a com­mu­nal ta­ble il­lu­mi­nated by neon crosses or out­doors sur­round­ing a bon­fire. Later that evening, I went to Dark Park, an event filled with installations and live per­for­mances, be­fore re­tir­ing to the ho­tel just a hun­dred steps away. The morn­ing af­ter, I woke up to a serene view of the ma­rina and took a leisurely walk to the his­toric Sala­manca Mar­ket, sur­vey­ing the dozens of mak­ers and ar­ti­sans sell­ing their wares out­doors. While my five days were filled to the brim, I know this was only a taster of Tas­ma­nia. Just like its juicy oys­ters, you can­not stop at one. On my next visit, I look for­ward to dis­cov­er­ing a dif­fer­ent part of the is­land but I hope that some things re­main the same—at the very least the clear, star-filled skies where one can see the Milky Way with the naked eye.

THE GREAT OUT­DOORS Part of the pres­ti­gious Lux­ury Lodges of Aus­tralia port­fo­lio, Saf­fire Fr­eycinet (left) proudly em­bod­ies every­thing Tas­ma­nian; each area in the prop­erty per­fectly frames the stun­ning Haz­ards moun­tain range (above)

STRANGER THINGS From left: the mod­ern MACQ 01 is the lead­ing de­sign ho­tel in Ho­bart; Yves Klein’s work, Pig­ment Pur (1957) on dis­play at the Mu­seum of Old and New Art’s new ex­hi­bi­tion, Zero; the en­tire city of Ho­bart comes alive with events and installations dur­ing Dark Mofo; Tas­ma­nia’s bur­geon­ing culi­nary scene re­flects the state’s un­par­al­leled pro­duce and wine

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