So why didn’t I love Hobart? Was in the weather? I’m sure it had an impact but mostly I think I’d just been spoilt by the beautiful Launceston, Cradle Mountain and drive to Tasmania’s biggest city. Hobart is surrounded by the water so to get there or leave involves crossing the iconic Tasman Bridge.
Note that since I had to get a new phone a few weeks back that takes panoramic photos I’m now obsessed with this feature.
On my arrival that day I headed first to the Cascades Female Factory, taking the perhaps falsely advertised “scenic Rivulet Walk”. Again I’ve been spoilt. There was definitely no more than a trickle of water, which essentially made it a walk behind some houses next to a sort-of ditch. Autumn had at least made the trees look amazing and Mount Wellington looming in the background was visible despite the gloomy skies.
Luckily the rain held off for a while because Cascades Female Factory is all outdoors. In fact it’s just the exterior walls left behind (and one building where the matron lived) as unsurprisingly the buildings on the site were destroyed when the land was sold off to different businesses after the site was closed. There used to be 5 different courtyards but today 2 of these lie underneath housing built next door. So here’s a fun fact: when women arrived at the factory they had their heads shaved (more to shame them than because of lice) and the hair was sold because it was used in the material that they used to make bricks from, which basically means that a lot of the houses in Hobart are built from bricks containing the hair of female convicts. I’m not sure how I’d feel about that if I lived in Hobart.
I learnt this from the informative tour you can purchase at the site. Honestly I don’t know if anyone visits and doesn’t do the tour but it’d probably be a waste of time as there aren’t any signs in any of the areas to explain what anything is. You do get a booklet if you pay the site entry fee but the tour is well worth the extra $5. Being a not-so-nice day and also I think considering they’re having an open house day in a couple of weeks time there was nobody else on my tour (this is becoming a running theme during my time in Tasmania).
On my way back to the hostel I met a lady walking the same way who was marvelling at the colours of the trees after telling me she was from Cooktown and she’d never witnessed trees with autumnal colours before!!!
The following day was a Thursday, which meant that at half nine I was on the hostel shuttle bus to the top of Mt Wellington. This was one of the reasons I had chosen to stay there because there’s no other way to get to the top by public transport. You can get a bus to the bottom and do the brutal two hour walk to the summit but, like most sane people, I’d much rather drive to the top and do the walk down. We were advised that there was a little visibility at the top of the mountain although it looked pretty foggy apparently there’s a camera at the top so you can check the conditions online) but as we drove up it became pretty clear that unless some miracle occurred we weren’t going to see a single thing. It was pretty unfortunate because it seemed to me that out of all of my days in Hobart – of which not many were sunny – this was definitely the worst one.
It was so foggy when we got to the top that at times on the descent I couldn’t see for much further than a metre in front of me. This can make it quite hard when you already have no idea where you’re going. We were advised at the top that we could do the 2 hour walk down to where the bus runs and then catch that back to town or the 5 hour walk right back to the hostel. When I got down to the turn off point after a very treacherous climb down the steepest bit of the track I hesitated as to what to do. I decided to risk the 5 hour walk in the end under the presumption that it would be less steep than the 2 hour one. However what we were not warned of was the sections where the path completely disappeared and there were just rocks to climb over until you found where the path picked up again. This would’ve been a struggle even on a clear day but in the dense fog I was starting to contemplate my sanity in choosing to spend my day this way.
While I clamoured through the woods I didn’t spot another living soul for 4 hours and so to take my mind off the fact that if I fell over and broke my leg nobody would likely know about it for days I formed an extensive argument as to why in hindsight the final episode of LOST was good closure. You can see how people go mad pretty quickly in that kind of situation.
After going the wrong way I met up at the bottom of one of the paths with one of the girls in my hostel room who’d also done the long walk down. We concluded that we must’ve been the only ones crazy enough to attempt it in the weather, With the comfort of having someone to call an ambulance if I injured myself the last hour’s walk was a lot quicker and easier.
You can’t come to Hobart without a trip to the MONA (Museum of Old and New Art). It’s a private collection of some of the most unusual art in the world and people actually make the trip to Tasmania from across the world just to see it. The owners obviously know this as they make your whole trip into part of the experience.
For starters there’s a designated ferry to take you to the museum which is just as quirky as the art inside. On the journey across you can ride of plastic sheep, bar stools or sofas and there’s a large plastic cow also on deck (why not?) When you arrive you’re given an ipod loaded with a tour and information about the art. There are no signs on the walls and otherwise you wouldn’t have the foggiest idea when it comes to most of it. It also means that they can load it with artist interviews and songs inspired-by/relevant to the pieces.
There are some famous pieces in here including two of my favourites. There’s the wall of 85 vaginas. YEP. Just while you process that and the photos to follow I’ll also mention that in the gift shop (worth a visit for a laugh) you can buy some of them in the form of soap. The perfect gift.
There’s also a model (or machine?) mimicking the functions of the human digestive system. Both slightly repulsive and fascinating. They have to FEED it twice a day and then it excretes. The artist said he was fed up with being told his art was bad so he decided to literally make an artwork that shits, which is the best middle finger to the critics that I’ve ever heard.
I also used a day of my time in Hobart as a launching pad for a day trip to Port Arthur. It is accessible by public transport without a day tour but you’re bound the constriction of going on a Saturday, which was fine by me to dodge having to go on another day tour.
It’s definitely one of the best historic sites I’ve ever visited. Even though most of the buildings are now just fragments and ruins and at first a whole day seems like it will be way too long to spend there it’s actually not enough time. I believe if you buy a ticket it’s valid for two days at the site because there’s a whole other section with a coal mine that I wasn’t able to get to because it was a 20km walk away! I also didn’t do the tours to the Island of the Dead (where all of the dead convicts are buried) or the Point Puer Boy’s Prison and only just managed to get around all of the rest in a day.
Just general entry to the site includes a 45 minute guided tour (although it’s more a general overview of the history than them actually taking you around, which would take all day) and a 30 minute ride on the ferry so you get to see the above-mentioned places closer up and also get an audio commentary. I have a feeling that my experience of Port Arthur was not quite authentic to the convict experience because it was the most beautiful day.
Not a nice note to end on but I hadn’t realised that Australia’s biggest massacre occurred at Port Arthur 20 years ago this August. There’s a memorial garden on site for the 35 people who were killed and it was the incident that lead to Australia’s current anti-gun laws. It’s unusual for one place to have so much terrible history associated with it and you can almost feel it when you’re there but it’s undoubtedly an important place to visit and remember.
That’s the end of my trip to Tasmania. Unfortunately I didn’t make it to Wineglass Bay because the weather was just too bad so maybe cause for a return visit someday?