A full day in Tasmania

THE mountain is normally crowded with tourists but we wanted it to ourselves. If that meant getting up before dawn and rugging up against the bone-numbing cold, then so be it.

Mount Wellington is only a 20 minute drive from the centre of Hobart so it wasn’t exactly a grand mission, but we felt pleased with ourselves as we made the quiet drive up the mountain. We met no other car, although a few brave joggers were out on this early Sunday morning slogging their tough way uphill.

At its peak Mount Wellington stands 1271 metres overlooking the city. We arrived at the summit to an empty car park and with the sun rising pinkly. With no other person around, the majesty of the mountain belonged just to us. Zipping up jackets and snuggling into scarves, we stood on the lookout taking in the span of Hobart unfurling silently to the far horizon and it was all we (me actually) could do to stop shouting: “I’m king of the world.”

Our time in Tasmania was limited but we were determined to pack in as much in as possible. It was the beginning of December and the weather, which could go any way at that time of year, was behaving. It might have been just one degree up on top of Mount Wellington but the day was shaping up to a warm one as we descended the mountain and drove towards the Huon Valley.

One of the many agreeable things about Tasmania (and the list is endless) is the almost-always empty roads. You could drive for hours in the countryside without seeing another car. We liked that very much, and appreciated it on that beautiful Sunday morning as we drove through serene countryside surrounded by rolling paddocks, pretty farm houses and satisfied cows. Each tiny town we passed through was a picture of flowered prettiness.

Through Margate, Kettering, Woodbridge to Peppermint Bay we drove in a circuit that would take us back to Hobart in an hour. But we’d discovered driving anywhere in Tasmania takes a lot longer than anticipated – the compulsion to constantly stop, you see. There is just so much beauty in this small state that demands your time. A thundering blow hole, a sparkling sweep of clean ocean, a tiny bay filled with bobbing yachts – who could not pull over, get out of the car and snap off a dozen photos?

Then there are the quaint tea houses and bakeries along the way. Inside these delightfully traditional places you’ll find old-fashioned indulgences: iced vo vos and icing-topped thick pastry custard things we used to call (forgive the vulgarity) snot blocks. Tasmania abounds in culinary contrasts. The day before at the modern Jackman & McRoss bakery in Battery Point in Hobart we had eaten an indescribably good pork belly and pea custard tart with salted toffee apple. The Aussie pie’s contemporary counterpart.

Our drive in Huon Valley took us inland through the pretty town of Cygnet where we stopped for coffee at The Red Velvet Lounge, a country restaurant serving city-sophisticated food, and where chef/owner Steve Cumper had a sign in the window asking surrounding farmers to bring him their produce. You have to love his commitment to the locals. .

Back in Hobart with still plenty of day stretching before us, we drove through the city’s struggling northern suburbs to Berriedale where the ambitious project, MONA (Museum of Old and New Art) in the Moorilla Estate, was almost completed and ready to open.

This is without doubt, extraordinary. Within the estate’s grounds, owner David Walsh has constructed a $75 million subterranean building to house one of the world’s most eclectic, private art collections. He calls MONA ‘a subversive Disneyland.’

We stood on the museum’s flat roof, awed to think that below us in 6,000 square metres of space, one man would display his own collection valued at $100 million. David Walsh, a professional gambler who used his mathematical genius to devise a gambling system that could beat the house, has now opened the museum (on January 22), with free entry so everyone can enjoy his breathtaking (and often confronting) collection which includes Roman coin collections, Egyptian statues and works by Australian artists such as Arthur Boyd, Sidney Nolan, Charles Blackman and Brett Whiteley.

Moorilla Estate itself is overwhelming with its own concert stage, winery, cellar door, function room, restaurant, luxury pavilions (each with a million dollars worth of art on its walls) – even a mini brewery. Jaw-dropping stuff.

With still plenty of daylight ahead of us, we drove back to Hobart to stroll around Constitution Wharf admiring the sandstone buildings, the yachts and the people lining up at Flippers, a floating fish-shaped takeaway cafe, for a feed of flake and chips.

The day before we’d done Salamanca Markets as you must do on a Hobart visit, browsing the 300 stalls offering everything from freshly picked herbs to hand-blown glass.

We finished our day with dinner at The Drunken Admiral, a Hobart institution where exhausted yachties pile in at the end of the Sydney to Hobart Race to sit amongst the nautical memorabilia and eat thick chowder made the same way since the restaurant opened in 1979.

It was a big day in Tasmania and left us wanting more. Much more.

Ann Rickard was assisted by Tourism Tasmania.

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