Tasmania, Australia’s smallest state, was named after Dutch explorer Abel Tasman. Its capital city, Hobart, was founded as a penal colony for hundreds of convicts who were relocated here by the British Empire in the 18th and 19th centuries. Today, residents of Hobart celebrate the many hardships these people endured to give their community a strong start. Our guide expressed a sense of pride and gratitude for the solid foundation these earliest settlers established for what is a charming city today. It touched us that people still recognize and truly appreciate the role these marginalized citizens played in their history. In fact, our guide shared that through years of genealogical research, her son finally discovered their “ancestral convict.” It happens that she was a 12 year old girl who was found guilty of stealing hair ribbons. For this, she was sentenced to 7 years and relocated from her home and family to this strange new land. While her story had a happy ending (she married the son of the people with whom she lived) some of the convicts ended up incarcerated in a penal colony in nearby Port Arthur. Today this is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, an open air museum chronicling this dark time in history.
We started our day with a map and walking shoes, and ended up logging in over 20,000 steps! The City of Hobart has a remarkable blend of well-preserved architecture ranging from charming neighborhood cottages to imposing Art Deco, Georgian, and Victorian public buildings. And everywhere the people were warm and inviting, offering to provide directions, historical details, and recommendations.
Lots of public parks are tucked in among the buildings, offering plenty of green space and more history. Princes Park with its beautiful fountains sits across from the imposing Treasury Building. We were particularly enchanted by St. David’s Park, where we spent considerable time enjoying the lush grounds and beautiful monuments. Built in 1802 as Tasmania’s first cemetery, it was closed in 1872. In 1926, it was re-opened as a public park, and most of the old headstones were fashioned into rows of walls and terraces.
After all that walking, it was time for a break. We made our way to Salamanca Place for a snack. The historic sandstone buildings, formerly warehouses for the port of Hobart, have been converted into an outdoor collection of trendy boutiques, galleries, public art, and cafes. In the mid 1990s, a public square was added with a centerpiece fountain and playgrounds, making it a popular meeting place for young and old. Here we had our first taste of Australia’s famous Vegemite. A popular sandwich ingredient among Aussies, it is a thick dark brown vegan food spread made from leftover brewers’ yeast extract with various vegetable and spice additives. Yummy?! We opted for a Vegemite scroll, which we enjoyed, but the tune of the Men at Work song “Down Under,” with its reference to a Vegemite sandwich, kept going through Denise’s head for the rest of the day. The bronze statues of “Paparazzi Dog and Marilyn Rabbit” caught our eye. We learned that they are the work of global public artists Gillie and Marc, whose website states “Through collaboration with both individuals and organizations, we work to create art that makes a difference and affects change. Whether it be for humans, animals or the environment, our art evokes the need for love and protection of all. We call on everyone to join us in this effort to create meaningful change.” We think they’ve succeeded here!
Next stop was St. David’s Cathedral, a place of Anglican worship for over 200 years. Our timing was perfect, as today starts their annual Bloomfest, where every part of the cathedral is decorated with beautiful floral displays. The cathedral’s stained glass windows are truly spectacular.
Later in the day we made our way through the Tasmanian countryside to Cambridge and the Barilla Bay Oyster Farm. Here new methods of growing these tasty mollusks have been developed in the bay’s cold, clean tidal waters. We viewed the oyster beds, and learned about how they’re grown from tiny spats into various sizes of oysters. Our affable guide then demonstrated the fine points of shucking. Also on site is Gillespie’s Ginger Beer factory, which makes traditionally brewed ginger beer using a secret family recipe handed down from three generations. Finally, we got to sample some delicious oysters, and washed them down with the ginger beer…a great combination! Barilla Bay is also home to Candy Abalone, and we learned all about how this delicacy is caught, dried, and packaged.
Tasmania is also home to a vibrant wine industry, so on we went to the family-owned Puddleduck Winery in the Coal River Valley. This boutique family owned and operated vineyard was established in 1997, and produces premium Tasmanian wines from grapes grown at their single site vineyard. All of their wines are processed within an hour of picking in the energy neutral, organic winery. Guiena fowl are the only method of pest control, and they added to our entertainment as we watched them patrol the vineyard chattering away all the time. Apparently, they’re great at controlling ticks, insects, small snakes, and rodents (useful knowledge for future reference!) We sampled 5 of their delicious wines along with some tasty local cheese, and then had some time to stroll around the beautiful grounds. What a lovely way to end our day in Tasmania!