Not long ago, Hobart was an end-of-the-world sort of town that seemed achingly far from anywhere – and particularly far from culture. It was not the kind of place where you would find people queuing for a museum, out dancing on a Friday night, dining on imaginative, cosmopolitan food or quaffing top-notch local wines. Hobart was rather stolidly staid: a nice place to visit for its gorgeous natural setting, but not the place for much creativity or culture.
But today, Tasmania's capital is downright cool. Think of a city with one of the world’s best museums of modern art, eclectic festivals of arts and music, and bountiful art house cinema and theatre. Think of a place that is a smorgasbord for discerning epicureans with home-grown fine wines. Think also of hip places to stay: a dockside art hotel that was once a jam factory or a colonial mansion gone contemporary.
Australia’s eclectic museum
MONA, the new and daring Museum of Old and New Art, has had perhaps the most influence on Hobart’s new hipster image. The eclectic museum housed in an avant-garde edifice on the banks of the River Derwent has been wowing the international art world since its opening in 2011. Exhibiting the collection of gambling millionaire David Walsh, this is the largest private collection in Australia and contains both big and unknown names. MONA is in no way about art snobbery: it is raw, sometimes shocking and unpretentiously cool. With top restaurant The Source, which gets creative with the best of local produce, as well as the onsite MooBrew microbrewery and Moorilla winery, MONA is a whole hip world unto itself. To completely immerse yourself, stay at the architecturally fabulous and art-saturated MONA Pavilions, located on the edge of the River Derwent.
A city of makers
MONA is in some ways emblematic of many things Hobart has become. Still proud of its working-class roots, Hobart is creative, unselfconscious, down-to-earth, large “G” Green and small “l” liberal. Community is important here, and if you have a good idea, the city is small enough to make a mark. All this means that Hobart’s new cool is all about making – making art, music or food that is one off, unique, perhaps organic and definitely handcraftedly-hip.
Hobart’s colonial sandstone warehouse strip, Salamanca, and the city-side docks are a great place to experience this creativity in concentration. At the huge Saturday market, you can browse through an eclectic mix of handmade offerings. Buy some Summer Kitchen organic sourdough bread made in the village of Ranelagh, south of Hobart, to devour with some famous Bruny Island cheese (try the especially delicious one-day-old olive oil marinated cow’s cheese). Then among the convict-hewn sandstone, search for handmade treasures in shops like The Maker (unique clothes and jewellery), Norman & Dann (handcrafted chocolates), ending with an off-beat exhibition at the Salamanca Arts Centre. If you are in Salamanca in the evening, meet local music makers at Rektango, a Hobart institution of music – funk, reggae, soul, blues, rock – dancing and convivial vibes in a rock-hewn courtyard just behind Salamanca Place.
Down at the dockside (where fast catamarans will take you 16km upriver to MONA), it is all waterside dining with views over the working fishing port, Antarctic icebreakers and tall ships. Stroll through here to the artsy precinct of Hunter Street, home to the Henry Jones Art Hotel, set in historic industrial buildings that were once a jam factory. As well as being downtown’s coolest place to stay, the Henry Jones is also an extensive exhibition space for Tasmanian art. There is more Tassy creativity on display at the nearby waterfront Tasmanian School of Art, where the Plimsoll Gallery showcases innovative local, national and international contemporary art and design.
Hobart’s city centre was long a little dull, and while it can still feel like a ghost town after dark, a fantastic selection of funky shops, restaurant and cafes make it worth exploring.
Dive into Tasmania’s best bookshop, Fullers on Collins Street, for your holiday reading, then indulge in macaroons and tea in their cafe with its perfect panorama of 1,271m-high Mount Wellington looming over the city.
Love & Clutter on Murray Street is one of those stores where you want to browse for hours and buy everything. They sell a wonderful mix of unique clothes, jewellery, bags and toys – effortlessly offbeat treasures for both little people and big.