Tasmania, you say? Where? Tasmania is the little island below mainland Australia, known to many of us by the Warner Brothers cartoon Tasmanian Devil. It is also known as a vacation land for Australians and the source of beautiful coastline, mountains, and great wine, cheese, dairy, and gourmet food. (In Singapore, all our food is imported, and “made in Australia” means it is not from China, therefore much safer to eat – we love Australian food!)
In Tasmania, we stayed in Hobart, the capital, which was also the location of the Sydney-to-Hobart yacht race and the Taste of Tasmania Food and Wine Festival. There were street performers, fireworks, and kids activities all week long. Our first few days we enjoyed the cool weather and festival activities and basked in the humidity-free coastal air.
Australia was founded as a place for England to dump its convicts, and nowhere is the convict history more alive than in Hobart (Hobart was the second Australian city founded after Sydney, so some of the oldest sites in Australia are in Tasmania). We took a tour of the Female Factory, a place where women prisoners were sent to do slave labor in the late 1800s. The tour, called Louisa’s Walk, was led by two actors who portrayed the life of Louisa, the true story of a woman who was arrested in London for stealing a loaf of bread and sent to Australia in one of the convict ships. The two-hour tour was so powerful and well-acted, Mia and Andie were tricked into learning a lot of history without any whining! Click here for an interesting video talking about the walk.
The tour left from the Cascade Brewery, a Hobart landmark nestled into the mountains and surrounded by incredibly beautiful woodlands. Being at a brewery was a little like being home in Milwaukee, though the Tasmanian preference for light-brewed lagers was not to our liking. Fortunately, Tasmania is also known for sparkling wine, pinot noir, and sauvignon blanc.
Hobart also has one of the world’s most interesting art museums, MONA — the Museum of Old and New Art. Mona was founded by David Walsh, a fascinating person who made enough money gambling to open a multi-million dollar museum full of cutting-edge art including vats full of poop, Egyptian mummies, fat cars, and people singing Madonna songs. (Milwaukee connection: Brian Ritchie, former bass player from the Violent Femmes and Milwaukee native, is the music curator at MONA.) The museum is carved out of rock at the edge of a peninsula and definitely worth a visit.
One area we wanted to visit was Freycinet National Park, where we had a kayak trip arranged for us. After driving two and a half hours to get there (this Tasmanian “highway” was a curvy, two-lane road), our trip was canceled due to the wind. So we turned around and drove back. Bummer. But I am a much better left-side driver now!
The next few days we relaxed and explored Hobart and the surrounding area. On Saturday we went to the famous Salamanca Market, an open-air farmer’s market and craft fair where we bought hats (the sun really IS a lot stronger down under!) and delicious local cherries. We also drove up to the top of Mount Wellington, where we were hoping to find a little bit of snow but no such luck. We went on a short hike and explored the peak.
The highlight of the kids’ week was a private tour of the Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary. Bob, our friendly naturalist guide, let us feed and/or pet at least ten kinds of animals, including kangaroos, koalas, wombats, and sugar gliders. We were not permitted to feed the Tasmanian devil, as they are such nasty, mean little creatures they will bite your finger off for no reason at all. Bob fed them chicken legs and dead baby chicks, and their powerful jaws ate them, bones and all. They really are little devils, but no they do not travel in a tornado.
The sanctuary helps sick and injured animals all across Tasmania and Australia, it only keeps the animals that are not fit to return to the wild. Bonorong was such a great place and we were able to learn about so many animals we don’t see anywhere outside of zoos in the United States.
We wrapped up our last day in Tasmania with a visit to the fantastic Tasmanian Museum, which had excellent exhibits on aboriginal history and conflict and Antarctic exploration. Hobart is the main research center for Antarctic science, and we were reminded just how far south we were. Not only did we get to visit the Southern Hemisphere, but we were probably as close to Antarctica as we would ever be.
We left Tasmania with a great appreciation of this tiny island’s history and culture, excellent wine, beer and whiskey, world-class art, historic sites, and incredible food. It may be remote, but if you can get there Tasmania has a lot to offer.
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