Falling in Love with Tasmania
The first time I visited Tasmania was in late 2010, when I attended a conference at Wrest Point, in Hobart. Arriving on the early morning flight from Sydney, I could almost taste the cool freshness of the Spring Tasmanian air.
Driving from the airport in the glittering morning sunshine, I approached the city from the freeway, and almost out of nowhere Mt. Wellington suddenly hove into view. It was so close I could almost touch it. Crossing the magnificent Tasman Bridge, the city presented itself, as if by magic, nestling cosily between the estuary and the vast, dark mountain. This was one of the most beautiful sights I had ever seen. This city is absolutely stunning.
‘I’m in love!’, I exclaimed into the telephone.
I could hear her knowing smile.
‘And who is it with this time…?’ she sighed.
‘She’s called Hobart!’ I replied, excitedly.
And so it was over the next few days the love affair developed and blossomed. My wife flew down from Sydney to join me, and as we travelled around Tasmania we quickly determined that just about everywhere you look in Tasmania you can see water, mountains, or both. The real turning point for us was when arrived at a beach intriguingly named ‘Bay of Fires’. We walked from the small lighthouse onto a beach that was breath-taking in its magnificence. Pure, white sand, folds of dunes that curved their way into the distance, a turquoise sea, clear, azure skies and… no people.
“Why are we not living here?”
Hobart has a refreshing lack of pretension, but this doesn’t imply any lack of sophistication. It is growing fast as a city of culture; the café society, its numerous food, wine and music festivals, a highly-regarded and vibrant orchestra, its cutting edge art, its pride in providing primary produce and excellent restaurants, all contribute to presenting Tasmania’s capital as an exciting and fascinating city to visit.
More like a large country town than an international city (it only has around 210,000 residents), Hobart has managed to maintain its charm, principally due to its low-level cityscape , with mountains and water as its spectacular backdrop. Georgian and Victorian architectures abound, and Hobart houses more than 90 buildings that are National Trust-classified. However, one does need to be kindly disposed towards the city to easily forgive it its architectural howlers, such as the up-turned half-brick which is the Maritime building, the sardine-can concert hall, and various lumps of concrete which pay homage to the lack of any sense of unity in the city planning.
What has most recently become the most famous museum in Australia, MONA (Museum of Old and New Art) is a testament to Hobart’s growing cultural sensitivity. Even those Tasmanians who wouldn’t go to an art gallery in a pink fit, let alone modern art, are proud to have MONA as their own. It is essentially a private art collection whose owner, local philanthropist David Walsh, wanted to create as a place where he could show off his private art collection. Built into a rock on the side of the Derwent, it is an architecturally magnificent creation in itself, and the art contained within is some of the most challenging and confronting in the world. People come from all around the world to visit it. Every Saturday during Summer there is a market on the lawns, a free concert providing the backdrop to a small market of primary products, wineries, arts and crafts of all types. It represents the new Hobart, a growing subculture that is bringing this quiet city into the forefront of alternative living.
The other side of Hobart life is the sleepy, laid-back attitude towards life and work that has the potential to drive you crazy if you’re used to the more cut-throat world of business and commerce. Getting good customer service is not always easy, attitudes to work and employment in some areas are still grounded in laziness rather than a sense of easy-living, and it can be very frustrating trying to change the status quo and mind-sets of those who are reluctant to change. There seems to be two different Hobarts, but both live side-by-side, rather than divide in the manner of an implied class system.
While it may lack the cat-walk elegance and spectacular, sophisticated charm of Sydney harbour, the Hobart waterfront is visually more rewarding in many ways than its mainland sister. Looking across the wide Derwent River to Bellerive presents views of rural, unspoilt landscapes and distant mountains, rather than residential and architectural statements of corporate power. The Tasman bridge is beautiful in its simplicity, arching like a diver’s back, stretches its way across the river, linking the city with the eastern suburbs.
Tasmania is one of the most mountainous islands in the world, and Mount Wellington, at 1270 metres, is the emotional core of Hobart. It serves as the central point for reference for every suburb, looming like a constant landmark and city guardian. It looks after and unites the people of Hobart. When the sun shines Mount Wellington stands dominant, like a benevolent King surveying its loyal subjects.
The broad perception of Tasmania among mainland Australians is that it’s cold in Tassie. For sure, it’s the southern-most state, the one that’s closest to Antarctica. But if you think that Barcelona and Venice are also close to the Arctic Circle, then you might have a point. Both those cities are at the same latitude as Hobart, 42o. Talking of degrees, the average temperatures taken across the whole year may be lower than elsewhere in Australia, but in Hobart it doesn’t reach the extremes of Canberra and most of inland NSW in either Winter or Summer, and in the height of Summer when Australia is experiencing ferocious heat, Tasmania is easily the most comfortable state to be in with temperatures generally in the mid-20’s. There are occasional exceptions, of course: During February we have experienced Hobart to be the hottest Australian city (hotter even than Darwin) one day, and the coldest Australian city the next.
I have a theory about feeling cold: in Sydney it doesn’t really get cold enough to justify central heating, so when you come indoors in Winter you’re still a bit cold, your hands are cold, it’s all just a bit uncomfortable. But in a climate that is generally colder, most houses are heated and better insulated, so what you get is a sense of cosiness indoors, rather than a constant low-grade discomfort.
Attracted by the easier lifestyle and natural beauty of Tasmania, Mike Smith and Sarah Dawson-Shepherd moved from Sydney to Hobart in February 2012.