36 Hours in Hobart (and Environs)

Tasmanians have heard all the tired jokes from mainland Australians. The country’s isolated southern island state has been so overlooked in the past, it’s even been left off maps of Australia. In recent years, however, Australians have changed their tune. Tasmania is experiencing a surge of weekenders and property buyers, driven by a newfound interest in its pristine nature, unhurried way of life and an increasingly diverse food and art scene that really started to take off with the arrival, in a Hobart suburb, of the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) in 2011. The biggest transformation has taken place in the once-sleepy capital of Hobart, which now boasts a plethora of creative new restaurants and an edgy spirit, particularly during the winter Dark Mofo festival. (A highlight: the nude solstice swim in the chilly River Derwent.) Tasmania’s profile is rising overseas, as well. International visitors jumped by 21 percent from mid-2017 to mid-2018 — the biggest rise by far of any Australian state. Tasmanians have always known how good the life is here. The rest of the world is only now starting to find out.

While MONA has put Tasmania on the international art map in recent years, Hobart’s gallery scene has actually been showcasing the best of Tasmanian art for decades. Both Despard and Handmark galleries — set in renovated 19th-century Georgian sandstone warehouses on the waterfront — exhibit works by well-known local artists like the landscape painter Geoff Dyer and the animal portraitist Michael McWilliams, as well as dozens of emerging artists. And Bett Gallery, which recently relocated to a 1950s modernist office building with beautifully restored parquet floors and coffered ceiling, has rotating exhibitions of contemporary artists from Tasmania, mainland Australia and abroad. Entry is free at all galleries.

David Moyle was among the first chefs to champion the farm-to-table concept in Tasmania when he opened Franklin in 2014. Moyle has since moved on, but the new head chef, Analiese Gregory, a rising star in Australia’s culinary world, and the rest of her team still regularly dive for sea urchin and wakame seaweed, and forage for mushrooms, saltbush and succulents to use in the kitchen. What ingredients they can’t source themselves, they procure from local suppliers, such as wallaby from a game hunter on Bruny Island, south of Hobart. This past winter (summer in the United States), the restaurant served it raw with beetroot, pepperberry and horseradish for 22 Australian dollars, or about $15. Reserve seats at the bar for a view of the focal point of the kitchen — a 10-ton, wood-fired Scotch oven, also made locally.

With its sandstone streetscapes, penal-colony history and moody, damp weather, Hobart feels like a town with plenty of secrets to divulge. Little surprise, then, that The Story Bar, in the newly opened MACq 01 hotel, trades in Tasmanian lore. Sip one of the 27 Tasmanian gins on the menu (Hartshorn Sheep Whey, 14 Australian dollars, and Poltergeist Unfiltered, 15 Australian dollars, are highly recommended) and take in the Hobart history around you. Broadsheet banners from the local newspaper archives tell the tales of tragic shipwrecks and fires, while grainy video footage on the wall highlights the sporting heroics of cricketers. Nothing tops the views of the colorful sailboats bobbing in the River Derwent, however, from a perch on the waterfront deck outside.

The local go-to spot for breakfast in the historic Battery Point neighborhood is Jackman & McRoss, set in an airy, rambling building that has been home to various bakeries and butchers over the past 150 years. This latest incarnation, founded by a baker-chef team 20 years ago, is as popular as ever for its hearty breakfasts: clay-pot poached eggs with chorizo polenta in a black bean ragout (15 Australian dollars), a delectable selection of baked goods, such as strawberry and pistachio tarts (7 Australian dollars), and prune-and-walnut sourdough bread (6.90 Australian dollars). Afterward, drop into On Hampden Creative across the street to peruse the homewares, handprinted textiles and vintage women’s hats and scarves made by 60 local artisans and designers.

Salamanca Place has been a focal point of Hobart life since the early 1800s, when warehouses lined the harbor to store whale oil, wool, apples and other goods for export. Today, at the lively Salamanca Market, there are slightly more contemporary, artisanal goods on offer: wallaby and scallop pies; Tasmanian-made gin, saffron, truffle mustard and pepperberry salt; and all manner of handicrafts, antiques and echidna- (spiny anteater) printed tourist kitsch. Arrive early to beat the crowds — thousands descend here on most pleasant Saturdays — and have enough time to saunter through the 300-plus stalls and take in a busker or two.

Not shopped out yet? Just behind the market is the wonderful Salamanca Arts Centre, a series of early-19th-century warehouses that were restored in the 1970s and transformed into an arts, theater and design hub. There are numerous galleries and studios here (including Handmark), as well as plenty of creative shops. Stop at The Maker for Japanese handicrafts and women’s fashions made with Japanese-sourced linens and wools; Bruny Island Cheese Co. for pinot-washed raw milk cheeses and small-batch beers made with Tasmanian grains and hops; and the Hammer & Hand Metal and Jewellery Collective for handmade earrings, necklaces, sculptures and stainless steel utensils, forged by local artisans.

To put Tasmania’s recent rebirth in the proper perspective, it’s necessary to understand its dark history. From 1803 until 1853, some 75,000 convicts were transported to Tasmania (then called Van Diemen’s Land) from Britain and other British colonies, and many passed through the Hobart Convict Penitentiary, part of which still stands today. A tour of this bleak yet fascinating relic provides a glimpse of convict life over the years: pitch-black solitary confinement cells, subterranean tunnels leading to a courtroom, the gallows where 300 prisoners were hanged. Little has changed in 185 years, which only adds to the spooky feel of the place. (For those who want an extra fright, ghost tours are offered at night, too.) Admission is 25 Australian dollars.

Cascade beer is to Tasmania what Budweiser is to America. Not only is Cascade the quintessential lager for most Tasmanians, the beer maker is also the oldest continually operating brewery in all Australia. The building alone is worth the 15-minute drive out of Hobart — the sandstone facade of the brewery, originally built by convicts in the early 1800s, looks magnificent set against imposing Mount Wellington, particularly when the peak is snow-capped in winter. Brewery tours (30 Australian dollars) end with a tasting of the beers, but the expansive garden also makes a nice setting for a leisurely pint of Cascade Pale Ale (9.50 Australian dollars) and a cat nap.

The vibe at cozy, 22-seat Templo, tucked away on a quiet Hobart backstreet, perfectly encapsulates the youthful food movement transforming Tasmania at the moment. The setting is fun and casual, with attractive, chatty servers and a large communal table that promotes easy conversation with fellow diners. (A few glasses from the extensive wine list surely help; try one of the bottles of minimal intervention wine made exclusively for the restaurant.) The Italian-inspired menu changes daily; on a recent visit, standout dishes included the homemade gnocchetti with broccolini, chile, anchovy and pangrattato (24 Australian dollars) and the housemade mustardela (blood sausage) with dragoncello sauce (18 Australian dollars).

The Museum of Old and New Art (entry 30 Australian Dollars), founded by David Walsh, an art collector who built a fortune from gambling, has become much more than an art institution. It’s spawned two popular (and more than a little subversive) art and music festivals — MOFO and Dark MOFO — in addition to art-filled luxury pavilion accommodations (from 750 Australian dollars a night) and, coming soon, a 172-room hotel (as yet unnamed after several controversial choices). The museum itself is a lot to take in, so arrive early and plan to get lost in the cavernous space showcasing Mr. Walsh’s outlandish collection. Be sure to check out the four fantastically disorienting James Turrell light installations commissioned for the new Pharos wing (separate tickets and advance booking, 10 to 25 Australian dollars), as well as the newly opened underground network of tunnels and chambers filled with works by Ai Weiwei and Alfredo Jaar. On a pleasant day, take a break on the lawn with a glass of Moorilla sparkling Riesling (10 Australian dollars) or a Moo Brew Pilsner (9 Australian dollars) — Mr. Walsh owns the winery and brewery, too. A fast ferry offers 25-minute connections to the museum from downtown Hobart (from 22 Australian dollars roundtrip).

Long before Tasmania became a foodie destination, Rodney Dunn and Severine Demanet ditched city life to set up a farm and cooking school in the Tasmanian countryside. Nearly a decade later, the couple completed the farm-to-table circle with the opening of The Agrarian Kitchen Eatery in a rather unlikely location: a sprawling asylum in the town of New Norfolk (about 20 miles from Hobart), which operated for over 170 years before closing in 2000. A tour of the grounds reveals glimpses of the institution’s notorious history, but inside, the focus is on the seasonal menu, which highlights ingredients from the farm and other local producers: sugarloaf cabbage with lovage seed mayonnaise and preserved fish (23 Australian dollars) and slow-roasted Derwent Valley lamb (a sharing dish for 140 Australian dollars). It’s a glimpse of the present-day potential of the island, risen from a painful past.

Hobart is an extremely walkable city if you base yourself centrally near the wharf on the River Derwent. Check out the Battery Point neighborhood, which is accessible to Salamanca Place via the 19th-century Kelly’s Steps; apartments here on Airbnb rent for 200 to 250 Australian dollars per night.

From the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman (the first European to land on Tasmania) to the cricket hero Ricky Ponting, each of the 114 rooms at the new MACq 01 Hotel is devoted to a different character in Tasmanian history, with illustrations on the door and their full stories and other artifacts featured prominently inside. Doubles from 240 Australian dollars.

The nearly 150-year-old Lenna of Hobart was once the mansion of a wealthy Tasmanian whaling merchant, Alexander McGregor, who oversaw the largest individually owned fleet of ships in the Southern Hemisphere. Doubles from 208 Australian dollars.