How to eat your way around Tasmania
Traditionally, Australia has never really been famous for its culinary traditions in a good way. After all, putting beetroot on your burger just sounds plain weird, doesn't it? But these days more and more people are discovering that the cuisine of Down Under is about more than beer, beer, more beer and Vegemite. There are entire regions that are a foodie's paradise with their fresh produce, excellent markets and restaurants and food festivals. In 2012, the often overlooked Tasmania was put on the map when Series 4 of the very popular MasterChef Australia featured a week of challenges in the island state. Since then, devotees of the addictive show have been flocking to Tassie to sample its culinary delights.
If you love food, why not head south to Tasmania on a gastronomic road trip? Let MasterChef Australia's Tasmania Week be your inspiration for eating your way around the state.
Setting out: Hobart
The best place to begin your journey is in Hobart, the state capital. Fly into Hobart International Airport from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Canberra or Gold Coast and then hire a car, since the city centre is about 15 km away and you'll need wheels anyway to make your way around the island.
Hobart is the second oldest city in Oz, having been founded in 1804. Located along the Derwent River where it flows into Storm Bay and the Tasmanian Sea, this harbour city at the foot of Mount Wellington has the perfect mix of old and new, art and culture, city life and stunning natural surroundings. Wander around and explore the Victorian and Edwardian architecture, browse the shops and art galleries and relax in the Botanical Gardens. (Remember to take something warm for when you go into the sub Antarctic garden.) One of the city's main attractions is MONA, the Museum of Old and New Art, which opened here in 2011. Its rather quirky collection includes contemporary art but also Egyptian mummies. A fun way to get here is to take the catamaran and travel upriver from the Hobart Waterfront.
(Tasmania Hobart harbour)
If gluttony is your favourite of the seven deadly sins, Hobart is definitely the place for you. It was here, after all, that in 1864, Edward Abbott's The English and Australian Cookery Book: Cookery for the Many, as Well as for the "Upper Ten Thousand" was produced. This tome is considered Australia's first cookery book and includes some very … interesting recipes. Kangaroo brains in emu fat, anyone?
Probably Hobart's most famous attraction and the one where MasterChef's Tasmania Week kicked off is the Salamanca Market. Held every Saturday at the Hobart Waterfront, this is the place to get your introduction to Tassie's culinary treasures. Unfortunately you probably won't find brain of kangaroo or fat of emu here, but what you will find is the freshest of fresh produce and other delectable goodies Tasmania has to offer, as well as crafts. Because you need to get in early to have the pick of the crop, why not skip breakfast and fill up at the many fast-food stalls? The most difficult will be to decide which dishes to pick!
While Salamanca Place is really bustling on market day, it doesn't mean that you'll go hungry if you're there on other days of the week. The area is filled with eateries. Don't forget to try some fresh seafood and wash it down with Cascade Premium Lager. In fact, if you're serious about beer, why not go right to the source? Cascade Brewery is in South Hobart and is the oldest of the breweries still operating in Australia. It's a good place to learn what the difference between a pot and a schooner is: 140 ml. An easier way to order the size beer you want in Hobart is simply to ask for a six, a seven, a ten, and a fifteen and so on. The numbers refer to how many fluid ounces each glass contains.
After all that eating and drinking, it's a great idea to get some exercise while enjoying Hobart's scenery. Why not rent a bike for the day and cycle the 12 km or so to Claremont? This is where you'll find the Cadbury's Chocolate Factory. Stock up on something sweet here. You don't even have to feel guilty because you need the energy after that long cycle, don't you?
Picking and fishing: Kettering, Bruny Island and the Huon Valley
(Tasmania Bruny Island)
The next destination is Kettering, a little over 30 km south of Hobart. It's a tiny town on the D'Entrecasteaux Channel and it was just north of here, at Oyster Cove, that the last of Tasmania's Aboriginal settlements used to be. Today the area is well known for its fruit production. There are orchards of apple, pear and cherry trees that are covered with fragrant, colourful blossoms in spring. In summer, go pick the ripe fruits as well as a variety of berries.
Kettering was also the next Tasmanian destination featured in MasterChef Australia. It was in this area that the Blue Team had to go fishing for salmon and immunity. The many yachts and boats in the town's two marinas are a clue to what else you can do here, other than picking fruit. Charter a boat to explore the coastline or, if you want some physical activity, what about hiring a kayak and gliding across the smooth waters?
After you've had your fill of Kettering, hop on the ferry to Bruny Island. Take your rental car across too, since it will make it easier for you to get around the island. Bruny Island is characterised by large fields and eucalyptus forests inland and dramatic cliffs and rock formations along the coast. There are stunning places to walk and try to spot wildlife such as little penguins, dolphins and, if you're there in late winter or early spring, maybe even whales. Be sure to take a walk along 'The Neck', a narrow isthmus that connects the southern and northern parts of the island.
All that fresh air and activity will naturally make you hungry and there are plenty of gourmet goodies to be found on Bruny Island. Australia's southernmost winery is located here and you'll simply have to visit, since you'll need a stellar tipple to enjoy with the fresh oysters you'll be shucking. Pair these with some of the artisanal cheeses produced here and you'll have a meal fit for royalty.
Back in Kettering, instead of heading northwards back to Hobart, take the long way round. Drive south along the Channel Highway, which follows the coastline, and just drink in the views. As the road turns north and you start approaching the town of Cygnet, you'll find yourself in the Huon Valley. For many years this was one of Tassie's main apple-growing regions. Apple orchards still abound but nowadays you'll also find other summer fruit here, especially cherries. Take some time out to go trout fishing on the tranquil river and explore the little country roads.
Once you're in Huonville, it's time to take a few side trips before returning to Hobart. A little west of Huonville lays Glen Huon and here you'll find one of the region's quirkier attractions. It's called Tasmanian Appleheads and Model Village and will definitely bring a smile to your face, even if it's just because it's a foolproof way of getting the kids to stop asking, 'Are we there yet?' There are actually two model villages on the property and you'll have hours of fun trying to appreciate all the little details. Be on the look-out for the shoe-shaped house wonderful diversion for the kids. Because this part of the world is apple country, Appleheads make the perfect souvenirs. They're caricature-like faces carved out of apples which have then been dehydrated. Small children may find these a little scary-looking but the older ones will love them!
Following the course of the Huon River westward and more inland will bring you to the Tahune Forest Airwalk. This network of steel walkways and swinging bridges among the treetops and across the river can be stomach-churning if you aren't particularly fond of heights but the views are breath-taking. If you need a lie-down afterwards, head about 40 km all the way south to, well, Southport and then a little west to the Hastings Caves State Reserve. Newdegate Cave is spectacular but after all the adventures of the day, what better way is there to relax than floating in a thermal pool?
Wine and fine dining: Launceston
Launceston lies about 200 km north of Hobart and is Tassie's second largest city. You can fly in from Melbourne, Sydney or Brisbane but why not drive up from Hobart instead? This will allow you to appreciate the Tasmanian landscape along the way.
The city lies in hilly country where the South Esk and North Esk Rivers flow into the Tamar River and has, since its foundation in 1806, been a major centre for the region's agricultural communities. Like Hobart, it combines lovely Victorian architecture with modern elegance and it's a great place to kick back and relax. Once a major apple-growing area, Launceston and other towns in the Tamar Valley are now in a prime wine region. Lavender plantations, strawberry fields and orchards abound too and it's no wonder that Launceston is renowned for its fine dining. Whether you want to try the fare in one of the city's excellent restaurants or simply want to grab something to eat from one of the roadside farm stalls or the Saturday market, your taste buds will definitely be tantalised.
Just outside of Launceston lies Cataract Gorge, the scene of MasterChef's Afternoon Tea Challenge. Stroll around the gardens and admire the colourful peacocks, take a dip in the river and take the chairlift across The Gorge for spectacular views. Then relax with a coffee and a snack at one of the cafes.
Launceston makes the perfect base from which to explore the quaint, historic towns of northern Tasmania. Visit the farms and wineries and don't forget to buy some local wool products for when the weather becomes chilly. If it feels as if all those fine wines are going to your head, why not enjoy some jazz and a pint at an old-style local pub?
Speaking of pints, Launceston is also home to the historic J Boag and Son Brewery. At the Tamar Hotel you have a choice of two brewery tours, both of which conclude with a tasting of some of James Boag's best brews. If you really love your lager, take it a step further by sampling all of the beers brewed here.
Surf and turf: The road to Stanley
After Launceston, it's time to head northwest to the lovely little seaside town of Stanley. This is northwest Tasmania's main fishing port and one of the most beautiful settings for enjoying fresh seafood. Make the drive there a slow one. There's no rush. Near Deloraine, make a side trip to the Mole Creek Karst National Park with its more than 200 caves. Then head north to Latrobe and the Warrawee Forest Reserve to try and spot a platypus, the strangest of all Australia's strange animals. Latrobe is also home to the Anvers Chocolate Factory, where you simply have to sample and then stock up on the heavenly handmade chocolates and fudge.
At Devonport the road takes a westward turn and you'll be cruising along the Bass Strait coastline. The stretch of almost 130 km between Devonport and Stanley is dotted with lovely coastal towns and villages. On a Sunday, stretch your legs at the huge undercover market in Penguin and don't forget to take a picture of The Big Penguin, one of the Australian Big Things.
In Burnie you have the perfect excuse to take a break from all the Tasmanian wines and beers you've sampled so far. Here you'll find the Hellyers Road Distillery, the largest single malt distillery Down Under. Take a tour of the facility and sample not only the premium whisky but also the vodka produced here.
Once you've arrived in Stanley, the best way to appreciate the landscape is to take the chairlift at The Nut, the volcanic plug that looks out over town and the Bass Strait. There are plenty of places to go walking and be at one with nature too. You'll need energy for this, so why not indulge in fish and chips, a Stanley speciality?
The area inland from Stanley is farming country where cattle graze the fields. It's inevitable, therefore, that Stanley was the place where the MasterChef contestants had to cook the perfect steak.
The Wild West
(Tasmania Tasmanian Devil)
When you make the drive back to Hobart, the easiest is to backtrack from Stanley eastward along the coast. Just before you reach Burnie, make a right turn so that you can explore Tassie's wild western parts. This is the place to be if adventure is your middle name or if you want to see more of Tasmanian weird and wonderful wildlife, including the so-ugly-it's-cute Tasmanian devil and that strange cross between a duck and an otter, the platypus.
At Rosebery, you'll find the highest waterfall in Tasmania, the Montezuma Falls, which plunge down 104 m. If you're feeling lazy, you can take a four-wheel-drive tour there, but why not take a hike instead? The trail follows an old tramway track and it's an easy hike that takes about 3 hours there and back.
The next town is Zeehan, which is a popular base for fishermen. From here, a side trip north-westwards will take you to either Granville Harbour for crayfishing or to Lake Pieman for trout fishing.
The entire area here is in fact a trout-fishing and fly-fishing paradise with plenty of tranquil lakes and streams. Standing in the cool mountain air while watching the rainbow trout leap from the water will make you think that you're somewhere in the Scottish Highlands. Just remember that you need a licence for trout fishing. These are available online or from agents in most towns in the area and the necessary paperwork for fishing legally in Tasmanian waters can be valid for as little as 48 hours or as much as a year.
If you're serious about fishing and would like each day to bring a new adventure, don't miss Strahan and Macquarie Harbour. There is such a variety of fishing possibilities here that you'll never be bored. In the fresh waters of the rivers flowing into the lagoon, you'll find species like Rainbow trout, Atlantic salmon and Australian salmon. If ocean fish is more your thing, head to Ocean Beach just west of Strahan to try and catch Australian salmon, skate and sharks. Be careful, though: Australia has many, many things that will try to kill you and at Ocean Beach this comes in the form of quicksand.
For some real adventure, hire a boat and a fishing guide to head out to the open ocean so you can try and hook some big ones for the pot. On your return, as you go through the heads known as Hell's Gates, spare a thought for the convicts who were incarcerated at Sarah Island's Macquarie Harbour Penal Station. Conditions here were so bad that one convict went so far as to kill a fellow prisoner so that he would be executed rather than spend more time in this hellhole.
The weather in Tasmania
Tassie is one of Australia's coldest areas, due to factors like its southerly location and its mountainous landscape. Daytime temperatures in summer average around 21 °C, much cooler than on the mainland. In winter, the mercury drops to around 5 °C at night and high up in the mountains you may find snow.
The weather changes very quickly and it's common to have four seasons in one day here. When you travel around Tasmania, take something warm along and layer your clothes so that you won't be caught off-guard by sudden changes in temperature. And, don't pack clothes with too tight a waistband – it will be uncomfortable when straining from all the delicious food and drink you'll be unable to resist on a Tasmania road trip.