Around 10 years ago, there were two places your parents or grandparents would go for a holiday, either a wine tour in South Australia or an RV trip around Tasmania, in true ‘grey nomad’ style.
Fast forward to 2018, and travel to Tasmania is booming. What was once a state that only came alive in summer with the finish of the iconic Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race, now boasts a year-round calendar of broad ranging events, attracting everyone from hipsters, backpackers, foodies and anyone else who feels left out at dinner parties because they haven’t been to MONA.
This is the term locals use to explain the explosion of interest in the island state. In fact, the founder of the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) David Walsh, a long-haired arts patron from the working-class northern suburbs of Hobart, is often referred to as Tasmania’s unofficial leader.
MONA is responsible for the summer festival MONA FOMA curated by Violent Femmes guitarist Brian Ritchie. Using his industry contacts, a state that once struggled to lure any big-name acts can now boast the likes of The Flaming Lips, Gotye, Phillip Glass and Nick Cave among past line-ups. Subscribe to the site so, you don’t miss tickets.
While once Tasmanians hibernated during the bitterly cold and long winter another brainchild of Walsh, Dark MOFO has lured them out of their homes alongside thousands of interstate and international visitors celebrating the Southern Hemisphere’s winter solstice with musical acts, art installations, food, artisan beers and spirits. The festival wraps up with a nude swim, where shrinkage is guaranteed as the temperature struggles to get into double figures in the early morning.
And Walsh hasn’t stopped there, stay tuned for his hotel and casino, HoMo.
If you want to escape the crowds, but still love getting amongst the vibe, get yourself to Golconda in the state’s remote northeast. For two nights and three days in March, the 50-acre private property opens its gates for the Panama Festival. Don’t be fooled by the location, you won’t find a bush band banging a Mendoza on the main stage. This year’s line-up included Sampa the Great, a spoken word poet, songwriter, producer and rapper from Zambia.
Nearby, but later in the year, the North East Rivers Festival kicks off, an event that started with a single river race 40 years ago. If you don’t mind getting wet and covered in flour bombs, enter a homemade raft or boat in the Derby River Derby and tackle the rapids of the Ringarooma River. The festival is now so popular it’s expanded from that race to two full weekends of action.
And if you are traveling to Golconda from Hobart make sure you stop at Elephant Pass and enjoy a stack of pancakes overlooking the Tasman Sea.
Tasmanians are fiercely loyal, so it’s often a surprise to visitors that people in the north are not huge fans of the south and vice versa. Whether you are from Hobart or Launceston, the state’s two biggest cities, each argue the best thing about the respective cities is the view in the rear vision mirror as you drive away.
The rivalry even extends to which beer you drink. Take a tour of James Boags Brewery in Launceston but don’t mention the ‘c’ word. Cascade is the beer brewed in the south of the state. While both breweries are rich in history an ol’ bloke at pub in Hobart would never order a beer brewed in Launceston. You be the judge.
If beer is not your thing, visit Willie Smith's Apple Shed in the Huon, south of Hobart, for a cider. It ticks all the boxes, it’s organic, served in a rustic barn with Sunday sessions and quality produce. The nearby museum tells the story behind the orchard industry’s comeback in the region, helping the state reclaim the title of the ‘Apple Isle’.
Further south in the Huon, the tiny town of Geeveston is where you’ll find the best sushi in the state at Masaaki’s Sushi. But you need to be quick, chef Masaaki Koyoma only opens on weekends, is sold out by mid-afternoon and closes early Sunday to go surfing.
While in Geeveston, you can explore the Hartz Mountains, Huon and Picton Rivers, Hastings Caves and relax in the thermal springs.
When you get back to Huonville, return to Hobart via Cygnet. It’s popular among people desiring an alternative lifestyle and is full of art studios and galleries. It’s also where renowned former Sydney Morning Herald restaurant critic Mathew Evans first lived when he moved to Tasmania. His story is documented in the TV series Gourmet Farmer which has been credited with luring people to Tassie from around the world looking for a ‘food change’. This area of Tasmania has attracted a lot of TV and film interest with the acclaimed Kettering Incident shot here as well as the comedy show Rosehaven.
Fun fact: the pub at Kettering used to serve your first beer free. I think subsequent owners cottoned on that it didn’t make good business sense.
In Hobart, the State Cinema is the place to go. It screens arthouse and foreign movies alongside blockbusters. Find out what is being screened in cinema five or eight and you will enjoy an intimate experience with just a few leather couches surrounded by sandstone walls. Make sure you grab a glass of Tassie red. The cinema is at the top of the restaurant strip in North Hobart.
The art-deco Star Theatre in Launceston is another independent cinema screening fewer mainstream films. Like the State Cinema, it has a bar and café with relaxed seating options.