It’s a sign of the times when you get to the airport at 5.45am to find total crowded chaos – thousands of frustrated sleep deprived people snaking and pooling around the domestic terminal for ridiculously slow security and, worse, dozens of cancelled flights. Welcome to travel mid 2022.
Thankfully, our early morning Jetstar flight to Hobart wasn’t affected – for some reason, Jetstar seems to be immune from this ongoing strife, leaving Virgin and Qantas passengers floundering and fuming. Oh, and the other tip we’d gleaned from recent airport horror stories. Don’t check in baggage as you’ll not only be facing lengthy queues to drop off but you’ll be lucky to see your bags at the other end! Nope, travel light. Walk on and walk off hassle free.
Leaving rain-sodden Sydney behind we headed south, arriving in a sunny but cold Hobart, a thousand kilometres away and a world of calm and emptiness. Bliss.
Hobart is the least populated state capital city in Australia and home to 50% of the island’s population of just over 526,300, so plenty of room to explore here with wild untamed wilderness right on your doorstep. Tasmania is bigger than you think at 68,401 km2. Three times the size of Wales, larger than Sri Lanka, 66% larger than Switzerland, 59% larger than Denmark… and with 45% of forests protected as reserve and 1.4 million hectares making up the Tasmania Wilderness UNESCO World Heritage area, Tassie certainly has space.
Wilderness is ever present even in Hobart, with the imposing Mount Wellington or kunanyi (its indigenous name) towering over the city at 1,271 metres. It’s often snow-capped throughout winter and even in summer and is a wild windy place at its summit, which is easily reached by car, bicycle or even foot from the town below. Being up there is always awe-inspiring with incredible, seemingly plane-high views over the whole region, Hobart glittering below and the western wilderness area in the far distance. The clouds swirl around you when you’re up here, with a biting wind that comes straight off the Southern Ocean, so no surprise then that wind gusts of 200 km per hour have been recorded.
What better place to mooch on a cool sunny Saturday morning than Salamanca Markets. We’re always here when in town and pretty much drawn to the same things… wooden chopping boards, fruit bowls and pepper grinders crafted from native woods, woollen flat caps, scarves and gloves, jars of preserves and wild honey, sausage sizzles, scallops-on-a-stick… but these days, every other stand seems to be selling craft beers, gins, rums and vodkas from local artisanal distilleries and breweries (interesting to learn then that there are over 57 distilleries in operation across Tasmania). But it’s the iconic Cascade Brewery set in the foothills of Mouth Wellington that’s home to the oldest operating brewery in Australia (1824) and perhaps its most famous brand.
The bucolic small colonial town of Richmond is a short drive out of Hobart, gorgeously nestled in the Coal River Valley. The village is packed with heritage settlers buildings dating back to the 1820s all lovingly restored and seemingly untouched, a convict-built bridge, an imposing stone church and rectory, but it’s the spooky Richmond Gaol that makes its presence known. It’s Australia’s oldest and best-preserved convict gaol with its tiny cramped solitary confinement cells, chain gang holding rooms and flogging yard and privy. It’s a cold, restless kind of place that doesn’t want you to stick around, despite the signs encouraging you to step inside the dark bare cells and close the door. Nope, not for me.
What makes this place so terrifyingly real is the stark bareness of it all. The scuffed broken stone floors, the rusted iron bars, the desperate hand scratched markings and even personal names clumsily carved into a wooden shutter. No wonder then that it’s purported to be one of Tasmania’s most haunted places.