Too cool in Tasmania

Cradle Mountain

In the last decade Tasmania has shrugged off its dark convict past to become the epitome of cool – cool climate Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, cool wilderness, cool art and cool food.

Discovered by Dutchman Abel Tasman in 1642, who named it after the Governor General of the Dutch East Indies, it was overlooked for 160 years because of its inhospitable coastline. Ironically it was this remote, rugged isolation that encouraged the English to set it up as a penal colony in 1803 – about as far away from London’s mean streets as you could get.

While brutal tales of convict hangings and floggings, escapees cannibalising each other and white settlers massacring the Aboriginal owners still give the island a Gothic mood, the modern focus is on indulgence.

The wet harsh winters and cool, dry summers provide the perfect place to grow Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Riesling grapes, the most highly prized European varieties for premium sparkling and still wines.

The fertile valleys have also spawned an artisan farming movement producing everything from organic cheeses, beef and pork to exotic ingredients such as truffles and saffron. The state is also famous for its Atlantic salmon, oysters and lobster, which grow fat and succulent in the pristine sub-Antarctic waters.

Visitors to Tasmania certainly come for this exceptional gastronomic experience but if that’s not cool enough there’s bushwalking, hiking, camping and white water rafting in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area – or for the more ethereal, the internationally recognised Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), built by local-lad-made-good millionaire gambler David Walsh.

SIGNIFICANT STATS

WHERE: 42°S 147°E

MAJOR CITIES: Hobart, Launceston

HOW TO GET THERE: Direct flights from Melbourne, Canberra, Brisbane and Sydney to Hobart and Launceston. Overnight ferry from Melbourne to Launceston.

POPULATION: 514,700 (similar to Boston, USA; Sheffield UK; Lisbon, Portugal; Jincheng, Shanxi, China)

MUST WALK: Starting with the jagged outcrops of Cradle Mountain head off on a wondrous six-day alpine walk along the world famous Overland Track. Make sure you take your very best thermal sleeping bag in winter and someone hot to cuddle.

MUST EAT: The Black Cow Bistro, an old Art Deco butcher shop in Launceston, is more than just a steak house, it’s a carnivores dream. For melt-in-your-mouth perfection try the 450 gram Cape Grim grass fed Rib Eye on the bone, aged 40 days, with an MSA score of 49.

MUST TASTE: The cool climate Dalrymple Single Site Bicheno Pinot Noir (ideally with the above steak) encapsulates the modern flavour of Tasmania in a glass. Textured yet silky smooth tannins and good length with concentrated blackberry, plums and spice.

MUST DRINK: A parochial pint please! Starting out in Hobart, the locally brewed Cascade Pale Ale has a firm, hoppy bitter finish, perfect for one off the wood after a day at MONA – or for the courageous a chaser of Lark Distillery Single Malt.

MUST VISIT: MONA’s Cloaca poo machine – that’s right a piece of art that digests a daily diet and then…well wait and be surprised or perhaps shocked! But that’s just the eye (and nose) stopper. The whole collection is an absorbing, sensory experience on the Richter scale of Guggenheim or Saatchi.

MUST SHOP: Salamanca Wharf is the touristy centre of Hobart but its collection of art galleries, bookshops, craftspeople and fashion designers are mostly high end (although you can still get the souvenir tea towels). Don’t miss the Saturday market.

MUST DRIVE: Rent a Mercedes A180 and drive along the beautiful east coast from Launceston to Hobart for two perfect days of scenery, including fishing villages such as Bicheno and Swansea, the Freycinet National Park and Wine Glass Bay. Stunning.

MUST SEE: Port Arthur is almost a Tasmanian cliché, and yes there are lots of buses, BUT if you want to see a complete Victorian cultural time capsule in a surprisingly beautiful place its worth taking the drive south.

MUST STAY: It’s hard to go past the friendly staff and cool comfort of the Henry Jones Art Hotel – a sympathetically renovated sandstone jam factory right on Salamanca Wharf in Hobart. In Launceston, the Hatherley Birrell Collection is a boutique B&B with arty private suites and garden pavilions, complete with Apple TVs and outdoor baths.