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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
Sidecar, just north of the city centre, is
one of Hobart’s newest and coolest hangouts, where the city’s beautiful people
come for an innovative menu of tapas for both lunch and dinner. Try the pan-fried
mushrooms with toasted pumpkin seeds from the Huon Valley in Tasmania’s south,
or scrumptious wagyu hotdogs from beef in the island’s northwest. There is also
a perfectly chosen international wine list as accompaniment.
Garagistes, just next door, is the hands-down
hippest restaurant in town. At shared tables in a trendy warehouse conversion,
head chef Luke Burgess (who had posts at Tetsuya’s in Sydney and Noma in Copenhagen) serves up a
surprising artistry of dishes: roast saddle of aged lamb with kunzea, fried
saltbush, grilled lettuce and milk curd or wood-grilled king tiger prawns with
eel dashi shiitake, puffed wild rice and basil. The creative food is accompanied by a globe-roaming natural wine list.
To round off
the tour of Hobart’s new cool, head to North Hobart, the city’s most eclectic
and most culturally diverse suburb where newfangled street art meets
working-class grunge, and just about anything goes. The
Republic Bar has long been an institution for drinks and live music on the main
Elizabeth Street strip, which is jam-packed with restaurants, from Thai to
Turkish. For eclectic art, visit the Bett Gallery, which exhibits and sells some of
the country’s finest young talent. And
do not miss the State Cinema. You could pop in just for a coffee
or to browse the bookshop, but better, take in an alternative or foreign film in
one of the six intimate cinemas at this classy art house spot.
For a city of
its size (population just 210,000) Hobart has a magnificent constellation of
festivals. The coolest of these has to be MONA
FOMA – MONA-led
alternative music performances (mostly free) held in converted warehouses by
the docks every January. It is a mix of classical, blues-grunge and
cutting-edge experimental, with past performers including Nick Cave and the Bad
Seeds, Grinderman and Philip Glass. The festival is curated by American Brian Ritchie
(of Violent Femmes fame) who now calls Hobart home.
with the four day Festival of Voices – held every July, the dead of
winter. Either listen to a wonderful variety of voices – from choral to jazz to
gospel – or sculpt your own voice at workshops and even add it to the festival
choir that crescendos around a vast bonfire into the darkest nights of the year.
If theatre is
what you are after, plan your trip for Ten
Days on the Island, a celebration of island culture that sees performers (from Tasmania to
Iceland to Hawaii) create theatre that is so perfectly alternative-creative and
effortlessly down-to-earth-cool that it has found its natural home in the new,