“Ok, wait… Why are we going to Tasmania?”
Our flight from Adelaide to Hobart had barely levelled at cruising altitude when I turned to Taylor with the question. He looked across the aisle at Kate and Jonny, who were already slumped over their tray tables, sleeping off the night before.
He laughed, “I have no idea.”
We may not have been sure why we’d decided on Tasmania, but after six months of studying abroad down under, we started running out of places to explore. Intrigued by Tasmania’s dodgy history (the island housed some of the largest and harshest penal colonies in Australia), reputation for being the backwards Australian state (forever the butt of mainland jokes), and its collection of oddly named towns and landmarks (Snug, Nowhere, Break-Me-Neck and Bust-Me-Gall Hill), the four of us booked tickets and headed as far south as we might ever go.
The cool breeze we encountered on the tarmac of Hobart’s tiny airport was a shock compared to the heat we’d left in Adelaide; it was the first time I’d needed a jacket in months. We picked up a rental car and drove towards Hobart, Tasmania’s capital and Australia’s second oldest settlement. Hobart sits nestled between the base of Mt. Wellington and the slate-gray Derwent River, which opens out to the Tasman Sea. The city is small but attractive, with plenty of Victorian architecture and a refreshing lack of concrete and high-rises.
Following directions to a friend of a friend’s house to borrow camping gear, we found ourselves climbing up the slope towards Mt. Wellington. The views from the summit of Hobart over the Derwent estuary, and the World Heritage Area to the west were spectacular, and the air, while chilly, lived up to its title of the “cleanest air in the world.”
After a failed attempt at digging a tent and sleeping bags from the friend’s backyard shed, we headed to Salamanca Place, a waterfront terrace of 19th century renovated sandstone warehouses that date back to Hobart’s whaling days. The area is also the site of the Saturday morning Salamanca Market, where local artists, farmers, and shop owners set up outdoor stalls to sell organic vegetables, wood work, ceramics, cut flowers, and other crafts and foods. For dinner, we stopped in at Irish Murphy’s for a few pints of Moo Brew (a local Tasmanian beer), pots of hearty Irish stew, and beer-battered fish and chips.
After stuffing ourselves we chased the sun to Dover, a small town about an hour south of Hobart. As we drove, it became clear that Tasmania was very unlike the “North Island.” Australia on the whole is dry and sun-parched, and while there are rain forests and other lush plant life in some areas, nothing we’d seen so far compared to the intense green of Tasmania. It also seemed that everywhere we drove, a body of water – be it an ocean, river, or lake – was not far away.