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August 28, 2018

Mad about Tasmania

Often thought to be a rather sedate choice of travel destination, the opposite is actually true of the island, as Chen Jinyao discovers

Chen Jinyao

TASMANIA has a reputation for its splendid isolation — not only is the island tucked to the south of the Australian mainland, the only thing that stands between it and Antarctica is a vast expanse of ocean.

Many people equate that isolation with peace and quiet. But the smallest state in Australia is anything but sedate.

Take its capital Hobart, which is fast becoming the capital of cool. Hip boutique hotels have opened, such as The Henry Jones Art Hotel (www.thehenryjones.com), the country’s first art hotel that is housed in an old jam factory; and its sister hotel, the sleek Macq 01 (www.macq01.com.au) clad in cypress and glass for views of the waterfront.

Artistic appeal

Every June, the city rocks with music, lights, arts performances and a food festival, thanks to the annual winter festival Dark Mofo, presented by the Museum of Old & New Art, or Mona (mona.net.au).

Many Tasmanians credit Hobart’s development to the opening of this museum, which has many superlatives tagged to it.

Not only is it Australia’s largest private museum, it is one of Tasmania’s biggest tourist draws and has one of the world’s most controversial private collections of modern art.

Love it or hate it, the museum, owned by Tasmanian billionaire David Walsh, certainly has an irreverent attitude towards art.

While other museums group their works according to genre, period or artist, Mona’s website categorises its art under “annoys our female curators”, “stuff David bought when he was drunk” and “has its own digestive system”.

One of the works in the latter category is the museum’s most contentious piece — Cloaca Professional by Wim Delvoye.

It is a machine that mimics the human digestive process, producing excrement at the end. (This work stinks. Literally.) 

Fortunately, for the faint of heart, there are also milder displays of art and interactive installation pieces. My son’s favourite is an outdoor trampoline with huge bells attached to its base that ring whenever someone jumps on the contraption.

If the quirkiness of Mona overwhelms, counter it with something more mainstream, like the iconic and much-loved Salamanca Market.

This sprawling open-air market has more than 300 stalls selling anything from fresh produce and cooked food to second-hand books, clothes and accessories.

As it only opens on Saturday, we stayed up from late morning till it closed at 3pm.

We also explored the rest of the historic Salamanca Place, now home to a vibrant cultural scene with cafés, bars, art galleries and boutiques housed in warehouses.

The call of nature

For a quick jaunt into nature, we drove 30 minutes to Mount Wellington, which overlooks Hobart. The 1,271m-tall mountain is criss-crossed with hiking trails and topped with a gorgeous lookout point at its summit.

Beware the strong winds.

The moment I opened the car door at the summit, it slammed back shut on me because of the gale-force winds.

We struggled out of the car and fought the mighty winds to make our way to the observation deck. And then we forgot how cold we were because a view such as the one of Hobart all spread out beneath our feet tends to make one forget niggling irritations.

Still, if the winds do get to you, hide in the glass-walled shelter, where the view is still decent. And there is free Wi-Fi.

For those who want to be immersed in nature, Cradle Mountain, at the northern end of Tasmania, is a must-visit.

The mountain is famous for the glacial blue Dove Lake at its foot, but its surrounding area is also home to many walking trails that range from gentle strolls on boardwalks to epic days-long treks across the national park.

We skipped the 6km hike that runs around Dove Lake and went for the popular Enchanted Walk, an easy 20-minute circuit with scenery that explains its name.

The easy boardwalk-covered trail goes past a moss-covered rainforest with still, reflective ponds that look like mirrors, along the lush banks of a gushing stream, before ending at a waterfall.

We also went on the 30-minute Pencil Pine Falls and Knyvet Falls Walk, which led to two bigger waterfalls via a lively river.

Wildlife encounters

Spot wild animals such as wombats, pademelons, wallabies and possums that roam the Cradle Mountain area known for its lush abundance of wildlife in the vegetated areas.

Just keep the noise level low so as not to scare them off.

You are not likely to spot the Tasmanian Devil in the wild though; not only is it notoriously shy, it is also nocturnal and its black coat of fur camouflages it.

But a trip to the Devils@Cradle Tasmanian Devil Sanctuary (devilsatcradle.com) will make up for that.

The centre, which runs a number of conservation programmes, holds guided tours to see its resident devils. The night tour includes a feeding session, during which we watched the lively creatures wrestle one another for food.

So gear up for some rollicking good fun in Tasmania, where the last thing you would imagine is a placid place with nothing to do.

GUIDELINES

■ We flew on Qantas from Singapore to Tasmania, transiting at Melbourne.

■ The fun way to visit Mona is by the ferry MR-1, which has sculptures of sheep for seats. Board at the Brooke Street Pier.

■ The Enchanted Walk starts from the Peppers Cradle Mountain Lodge, which is a short distance from the Cradle Mountain Visitor Centre.

Non-hotel guests can access this walk too.

■ The Pencil Pine Falls and Knyvet Falls Walk starts opposite the Peppers Cradle Mountain Lodge shop.

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