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
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.
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.
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