There’s a tablecloth of cloud spread across Mount Wellington the morning after I arrive in Hobart, Australia. The steep and craggy face that rises up behind the pretty little capital of Tasmania to form a perfect backdrop to a sparkling harbour scene.
Hobart is one of those cities with a close relationship to the sea – the residential suburbs stretch out and up around the arms of the water – in this case the Derwent River as it flows into the Tasman Sea. The maritime influence is to be felt everywhere.
Hobart’s architecture benefits hugely from an unhappy source – convict labour. A notoriously harsh British penal colony, Van Diemen’s Land saw transported prisoners in their thousands working on building projects throughout what would become Tasmania. The golden stone, roughly dressed by unskilled workers, is full of wonderful textures.
Salamanca Place in particular is a row of unspoiled 19th Century marine industrial architecture; buildings of practical dignity and pleasing symmetry. Ship’s chandlers, warehouses, waterfront pubs built to cater for the thriving sea traffic of Hobart, including the whaling trade.
But these are not museum pieces, they are as bustling today as they were a century ago, full of galleries, eateries, and bars. Master Mariners and shipwrights have been replaced by sophisticated cafe-goers and people shopping for amazing organic produce at Hobart’s famous Salamanca Market.
I climbed up Kelly Steps and wandered around the historic district of Battery Point, where colonial Georgian houses cluster up the hill from the waterfront. The first residents here were settlers whose business was with the sea and who had their business down on Salamanca Place.
Some of the houses are tiny, especially around the pretty Arthur’s Circus. The Mariners Church dominates the hillside, with its impressive portico and doric columns. There’s a great little cafe come bakery called Jackman & McRoss.
Further up the Derwent River, the £100 million Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) has been open over a year now and poker millionaire David Walsh’s private museum has been a raving success. Described as a ‘subversive adult Disneyland’, MONA is definitely worth a visit. The architecture is inspiring and the exhibits stimulating. Make sure you get there early as the queues to get in are quite long and slow.
My favourite was the Wim Wenders collection, including some incredible sculptures… as well as the faintly disturbing live tattoo art on the back of “Tim”. Apparently the model has been paid a fairly significant amount of money but has agreed to give his skin to the artist after he dies (a bit creepy if you ask me).
A new attraction is the MoMa (or MONA Market), set on the roof of MONA every Saturday afternoon and featuring locally grown, organic, and sustainable produce from the Derwent Valley and beyond, as well as craft and art installations.
Back on Mount Wellington the views from the top across the city, the river and the Tasman peninsular are spectacular if you can brave the cold and wind. There are plenty of walking opportunities on and around the mountain.
It is a wonderful little city with loads of personality; and it’s the perfect jumping off point for Tasmania’s many adventures and delights. From the sparkling beaches of the east coast to the wild wilderness of Cradle Mountain, Tasmania remains one of my favourite places in Australia.
By Natasha von Geldern
Have you been to Hobart? What did you think?