Nothing on this earth will chill your blood quicker than the fierce screeches, snarls and assorted other atrocious sounds made by the Tasmanian devil, a toothy little carnivore that moves around at night eating any smaller animal that stirs.
Once roaming widely throughout Australia, this feisty rascal now does his gnawing and chomping only on this island, all the more surprising, as Tasmania is one of the most peaceful and lovely places you are ever likely to see.
Hobart has a distinct San Francisco feel about it, with sandstone Victorian houses lining hills running down to the Derwent River and estuary, majestic Mt. Wellington lending a dramatic backdrop to the scene.
Five minutes from town and you’re in countryside reminiscent of England’s Lake District, more gently rolling green hills and a sense of pastoral quietude, the yellow blooms of Scotch broom and wattle trees lining roadways. Another 10 minutes or so and you enter the bush, severe but somehow beautiful unkempt land as beloved by Tasmanians as mainland Aussies revere their outback.
Here to there: Fly Qantas to Melbourne; Qantas, Air New Zealand, Pan Am and Continental to Sydney; then Ansett, Trans Australia or East-West onward to Hobart. You may also take a 17-hour modern ferry from Melbourne. Airport-Hobart bus about $3.50, taxi around $16.
Getting around: Thanks to fly-drive competition, car rental is the best bet. No trains; buses OK for long hauls.
How long/how much: A day for Hobart, two or three more for good things to see about the island. Prices strike us as reasonable for both food and lodging.
A few fast facts: Australia’s dollar was recently worth 70 U.S. cents Australia’s seasons are upside down to us, April to October a mild but brisk and cool winter, summers pleasantly warm with little rain. Don’t forget a rather stiff departure tax when leaving the country: $20 Australian, U.S.$14.
Getting settled in: Hobart has a wealth of colonial-era B&Bs;, Victorian mansions, old whaling cottages and the like. Colville Cottage (32 Mona St.; $33 double B&B;), built in 1877 in the town’s picturesque Battery Point section, is the domain of friendly and chatty Rosemary Lewis. A rambling place with lacey ironwork on the veranda, lots of antiques around and the possibility of eggs Florentine for breakfast.
Four Seasons Westside (156 Bathurst; $59) is a handsome and thoroughly modern hotel with flowering trees in the lobby, deep couches in restful green chintz, large bedrooms, attractive restaurant.
Families will love Woolmers Inn (123 Sandy Bay Road, $35), banks of colonial-style town houses with practically everything you need to set up residence: kitchens with all utensils, color TV, washer and dryer, bar, pool.
Regional food and drink: It’s almost a draw between fresh fish and game as local specialties. Deep-water trout, scallops, crayfish, abalone and trevalla, a firm but flaky white fish much in favor. Huge strawberries and raspberries are the basis for many desserts, while apple juice and cider bottled here is said to be the best in Australia.
Pyangana, a cheddar, went very well with our impressive bottle of Moorilla Estate Pinor Noir ’83, an excellent example of the region’s newly emerging wine industry. We also dropped down an epicurean notch with a hot meat pie bought at a country grocery store for lunch, slathered with catsup, which is called “sauce” hereabouts. Messy but delicious.
Moderate-cost dining: Three marvelous places with different menus begin with Mures Fish House (5 Knopwood in town), an 1849 Victorian building; you must ring the doorbell to get in. Several dining rooms with old-fashioned nosegays on tables, Tasmania scallops at $8.75, trevalla $7.50 and a sea of other fish at similar prices. Be sure to reserve for this one.
Steaks-and-chops fanciers should head for the Astor Grill (157 Macquarie St.) where a gigantic porterhouse will nick you $6.60, thick-eye filet $8.50 and venison sausage $3.50. Trimmings grace all of these in this attractive place with ceiling fans, neat white linen, carnations on each table.
In Richmond, 20 minutes from town, Tasmania’s finest restaurant turns marvels with island game. Prospect House is a stately Georgian manor set in 30 acres of landscaped grounds. They hang their own venison here, superb with wild mushrooms at $12.50. Or try the hind leg of aged hare with black currants for $10. Locals furnish the hare, pheasant and wild duck, owners Lil and Graeme Phillips have their own herb garden. They also have a few guest rooms ($39 B&B;) in the original convict-made barns and haylofts around the courtyard out back.
Going first-class: Wrest Point Federal (410 Sandy Bay Road; $60-$84) is a high-rise hotel with Hobart’s best view, most comfortable, every amenity including sauna and pool, a casino attached for those who care for a flutter. Several good restaurants and bars, our favorite being the Asian Room where the foo chow abalone, beggar’s prawns and Sichuan pork spareribs add up to a difficult decision.
On your own: Take a drive through Battery Point with its old whaling cottages, charmingly restored restaurants and shops. If it’s Saturday, don’t miss the morning market, a melange of fresh fruits and vegetables, homemade crafts, garden and wildflowers, chutneys and cakes and a few itinerant musicians around to further liven things up, one a 10-year-old boy in his school uniform playing a not-so-lively “Waltzing Matilda” on his clarinet.
See those Tasmanian devils, gratefully caged, at Bonorong Park a few miles from town, also friendly kangaroos, wombats and emus. Another few miles and you’re in Richmond, a restored convict station of the 1820s. It’s a fascinating study in the macabre, an old sandstone gaol just dripping with history and tales of heartbreak. Richmond also has a lovely old bridge considered a national treasure, antique shops and a beauty that softens its early role in Tasmania’s past.
For more information: Call the Australian Tourist Commission at (213) 380-6060, or write (3550 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles 90020) for a colorful brochure on Tasmania and Hobart, another called “Down Under Down Under” for southern Australia. Ask for the Tasmania Package.