Hobart, and Tasmania in general, seem to be misunderstood by Australians residing on the mainland. Let's face it - Tasmania's the bit of Australia that lots of people forget about - ask ten people from mainland Australia to sketch a map of the country, and see how many forget to include Tasmania - I'd bet it'd be close to half of them.
In the great tradition of mocking that which you don't understand (and we're not just talking Australians here), Tasmania has always been the butt of jokes in Australia. Tasmanians have scars on their necks - that's where the extra head was removed. They're all inbred hicks, monobrowed yokels with additional digits to the accepted norm, and a tendency to talk a little....slow....
For the first time in my life, I've had the opportunity to visit Tasmania, and have spent the last few days in Hobart. For the first time in my life, I'm realising how badly the rest of the country maligns this place. I guess you put it down to talking a place down that you've never been to, the fact that it's easy to fabricate stories which make yourself appear more sophisticated, more urban, than those island dwelling people at the arse end of the country. Walking around this city the last few days, I've been struck by how, well, normal Hobart is. Following those thoughts, I was struck with how incredibly beautiful it is. Then how amazingly good the food it. And it continues. It's become apparent that everything I've ever heard about the place was perpetuated by those who have never visited before, and likely never will. Because I don't think that anyone who ever leaves would possibly have a bad thing to say. It's that type of place.
Achromatic's writeup above gives you all the facts regarding Hobart - what I hope to do is colour the picture that he's drawn above. Firstly - and I can't emphasise this enough - this place can get really, really cold. If you get a chance, check out a map of the globe. Find Australia - the small island at the bottom of the map is Tasmania. Hobart sits towards the bottom of that island, probably 2/3 of the way down. Now have a look below that island. The next landmass you'll come across is Antarctica. That should give you a bit of an idea as to why Tasmania's weather can be unpredictable. When you're visiting, you're best advised to pack for every season, regardless of what time of the year your visit is taking place.
Mount Wellington sits just outside of Hobart - it's difficult to express just how much it dominates the skyline from certain vantagepoints. I'm sitting in my hotel room right now, and I have a fantastic view of this mountain. It rises far above the city, and for much of the day - although the weather has been fine, sunny and warm - it has been shrouded in cloud. It almost seemed today, that the mountain was so large and high, that it was capable of creating its own weather systems. From the Hobart side of the mountain, sheer cliffs are visible towards the top. It's not uncommon for the mountain top to be covered in snow - this is not something that's limited to winter, at the moment there is evidence of a hint of snow on the summit, as we head towards the last month of Australia's Spring.
Hobart is a city where high rise construction appears to have been kept to a minimum. The city centre has a limited number of tall buildings, however they are only tall in the context of the rest of the city, most places would consider them medium in height at best. As you move away from the city, construction is on the whole two, maybe three levels at the most. Houses dominate, Hobart has not been overrun by apartment complexes. The terrain is one of rolling hills, and it seems from my vantagepoint that very little of the city is constructed on level ground. From a distance, it seems that just about everyone has a house with a view. As Australia's second oldest city - only Sydney being older - there are many historic buildings, both working buildings, and private dwellings. Magnificent stone buildings sit amongst their modern contemporaries. Houses sit on the edge of the Derwent River, overlooking its blue waters, and it appears they have not been touched since their construction in Hobart's early days, perhaps with the exception of a garage. Historically, Hobart has much to offer, from its stone buildings, to the wharves poking into the river.
So, what is there to do in Hobart? It's all well and good to look at old buildings, and admire spectacular scenery, but am I going to be able to find somewhere to eat? Somewhere to enjoy a drink? Let me assure you, before I came to Hobart, I had these thoughts. Hearing stories about how everything practically shut down come the setting of the sun, about how you didn't want to head out looking for something to eat after about 8pm, because everything would be closed. I'm pleased to say that this also seems to be nothing more than another story based more on fiction than fact, bandied around the mainland. Because let me tell you, if you want to eat and drink, you've come to the right place.
The truth of the matter is, I've been on the road with work for the past 5 weeks. Hobart is the 7th city I've visited in that time, and I've not eaten better than I have these last few days. To top it all off, I have enjoyed the best steak I have ever eaten while here.
Now, some of you may not appreciate what a big call that is. Australia is a country that prides itself on producing top quality meat. Good meat has become more expensive in recent years, however most of us can't imagine the prices charged for a good cut of meat in many countries. The point of it all is, there are a lot of restaurants in Australia serving really good quality steak. It's somewhat of a claim to fame over here - you get a name for good steak, and people will come. People will tell their friends, they'll come back a second time, and business will be looking good. All because you serve good meat. So the claim of 'best steak I've ever had' is not made without competition. The Ball and Chain restaurant in Hobart however, currently has a claim on that mantle. It's going to take some time before any other place can wrestle it away too. The other places I've eaten have been fantastic too. Prices are good, service is great - eating in Hobart is a pleasure.
I believe that some of the reason for this quality, may be Tasmania’s remoteness. Restaurateurs need to source fresh food, and the freshest they can get is locally produced. Tasmania's not a large island, so it's never going to be a major operation to freight produce around the place. So diners are able to eat the freshest food available - and you can taste it.
If you feel the need to wet your whistle, Hobart will not disappoint. Home to a couple of the finest brewerys in the country, the local beer is superb. The Cascade brewery, located in Hobart, and the Boags brewery, located in Launceston, brew beer of incredible quality. Both are of a smaller scale than your mainstream producer - they're never going to be the beer you find on tap in every pub you enter around Australia. They do produce beers that have a flavour distinct to the label however. Rather than brewing generic, inoffensive beer, they brew beer which has a signature all of its own. The great thing is, pubs in Hobart have both Cascade and Boags beers on tap. You will not be able to taste the beer any fresher than this, so I believe it's important to take advantage of the opportunity!
All in all however, the lasting impression I have of Hobart, and what Tasmania I have seen outside of Hobart, is that its people are just like those of any Australian city. I'm starting to see that the stories those from the mainland spread regarding Tasmanians, are simply based on ignorance. I didn't doubt that this was the case really, however now that I've seen the reality of this place for myself, the normal stereotypes perpetuated regarding Tasmanians seem completely absurd. It's like a game of Chinese whispers, where the message is distorted the further it gets from the source. The eventual messenger is likely one of those who'd forget to include Tasmania on the map, in any case.
I hope that more Australians will get the opportunity to visit Hobart, and Tasmania. Of everywhere I've seen over my last 5 weeks of travel, this is by far the most beautiful, most varied and most pleasant city I've seen. Now that I think about it, maybe it's not the mainlanders who perpetuate the myths regarding Tasmania. God knows if I lived here, I'd be trying to keep everyone else out.