Hobart girl SANDRA LANGDON went kayaking, beer tasting and hurtling down a very steep mountain as she re-aquainted herself with the Tasmanian capital. Plus she wore ear muffs. How ace are ear muffs?

Like socks under sandals or a leopard-print bodysuit, ear muffs are a clothing item I never imagined wearing. I certainly never thought I’d wear such a thing in the middle of an Australian summer.

But standing atop Hobart’s Mount Wellington where snow flakes regularly fall in December, I was willing to pile on all the layers on offer. I was about to embark on the Mt Wellington Descent – a daredevil 21-kilometre cycling trip from the pinnacle to the city’s waterfront.

About a dozen people were making the trip. Having grown up on the eastern shore of the Derwent River looking up at the monstrous 1270-metre-high mountain, which towers over tiny Hobart, and after an overseas sojourn, I had returned to tackle the terrain on two wheels.

My eyes were glued to the panoramic view, especially the distant peninsulas and islands, which looked like giant jigsaw pieces in a brilliant blue puzzle.

Before long we were cruising down the alpine slopes where all the shrubs lean in one direction – a testament to the ferocious winds. I started off at the front of the pack and for the first two kilometres was enjoying the breeze in my face.

Brake time

But soon we were freewheeling down the steep road with just little white bollards linked with wire between us and the city far, far below. One rash move and I would be propelled off the slope like a bungy jumper without a bungy chord.

I gripped the handbrakes and tried to maintain control as I hurtled down the mountain. Yikes!! Whose crazy idea was this? Oh, that’s right, mine!

The other cyclists whizzed by and soon I was alone, sneaking the occasional peek when I had the nerve to shift my eyes from the road and the oncoming traffic. My legs were frozen in place, the pedals useless. It was tempting to brake the entire way, but fear of the brakes seizing up from overuse motivated me to let them go occasionally.

My hands ached and my knuckles – although they weren’t visible through the gloves – were as white as the snow on the summit.

We passed below the organ pipes and just as I was getting the hang of all this freewheeling it was time to turn off the bitumen and onto a fire trail for some off-road cycling.

I was terrified – all I could think about was the time I scraped half my face off as I slid head-first down a playground slope – and I have to confess I did push my bike through a couple of steep, loose-gravel stretches.

Eventually we came out of the bushland and inhaled the sickly-sweet aromas as we passed Cascade Brewery, Australia’s oldest brewery. I breathed a sigh of relief and my acidic stomach began to return to normal.

Time for a brew?

I made my way back to Cascade with some friends for a tour a few days later. We wore attractive fluorescent vests and safety glasses and were warned to turn off our mobile phones to avoid a barley-dust explosion!

The brewery is full of nooks and crannies and narrow staircases. The fermentation tanks are accessed via wire-mesh walkways and, if the sight of a two-storey drop between your feet doesn’t scare you (one middle-aged mum bailed out before the tour even began!), you can relish being surrounded by a million litres of beer. There isn’t a lot to actually see, but the brewery stories and the tasting sessions make it fun. We were given half a dozen bottle tops to swap for cute six-ounce glasses.

I liked the potent Mercury Black cider, which is more than eight per cent alcohol and only available locally.

Pub life

To sample more of the local brews, head down to the waterfront. In some ways Hobart is like a big country town and the waterfront is its beating heart. When I think of Hobart I recall warm nights sitting on the lawns in Salamanca Place and wandering from pub to pub bumping into uni mates and school friends as well as meeting new people.

Locals have been drinking at Knopwoods Retreat (known as Knoppies) since 1835. On Friday evenings you’ll find workers spilling out onto the footpath and beyond. In recent years the council sparked outrage when it tried to curtail this tradition. Hundreds of people – including politicians – flocked to Knoppies to defy the ban.

The old Georgian warehouses of Salamanca Place are the backdrop to a famous market held every Saturday morning. The eclectic stalls feature Huon pine carvings, wilderness photography, woollen scarves, organic vegetables, painted tiles and books. Chilean band Arauco Libre’s infectious folk tunes add a festive atmosphere.

A river runs through it

Just as crucial to Hobart is the river. There are many ways to enjoy the Derwent, including yachting, cruises, sea kayaking and jet-boat riding.

I’ve been sea kayaking with mates numerous times. One time we got a bit rowdy – splashing and bumping into one another – and one of the guys rolled his kayak. He went down one way with $300 sunnies on his head and came up the other side without $300 sunnies on his head. To make matters worse, the $300 sunnies belonged to the guy in the other kayak.

If water sports aren’t your thing – or you don’t want to risk your sunnies – take a cruise up the river and gorge yourself on chocolate at the Cadbury factory or have a few drinks at Moorilla winery.

If all these beverages don’t give you the nerve to book a white-knuckled journey down the mountain, you may want to try going up instead.

Each year more than 1000 locals run from Wrest Point to the top of the mountain during the Point to Pinnacle. They face extreme weather, from strong sun to high winds, sleet and snow, but those who persevere will take home a gold medal. Not a bad memento.

Tasmania is tops for you, if…

You like getting away from crowds. Many travellers are too busy getting pissed on the Gold Coast. Striker!

You are a sucker for the wonder of wilderness. Not manicured ‘wilderness areas’ with a concrete path through the middle. Proper, life-changingly spectacular wilderness. Try the Arthur River cruise through the wonderful Tarkine region, the windswept beauty of the far south, or the barely penetrated South-West National Park.

You like mystery. As well as the dark convict history, and the lamentable treatment of Aborigines down here, there’s the great tiger debate. Officially ‘extinct’ numerous ‘sightings’ make it the Tassie Loch Ness Monster.

You’re environmentally sensitive. See the island-dividing debate: greenies versus people who want to cut down ancient hardwood trees – the tallest in the world – and turn them into paper (yup, we’re staying neutral on this one). See some of the amazing rainforests before they become yesterday’s newspaper.

You like wildlife. Many of the introduced mainland pests haven’t made it down here so native critters flourish. Pademelons (the Tassie wallaby), wombats, platypuses and feisty Tassie devils run rampant.

You’re not averse to profound natural beauty. We could name so many spots, but Wineglass Bay is one of our very favouritist spots in all of Oz. A seductive curve of squeaky white sand, with bush on one side and the turquoise sea lapping the other – where dolphins can be seen splashing about.

You like bushwalking – it’s a hiker’s Valhalla. If the Overland is too busy for you, try the South Coast Track.

You fancy tasting the world’s freshest air, the country’s best (and second-best) beer, or meeting the Australia’s friendliest locals.

The damage: Mt Wellington descents from $75; brewery tours from $18.

The details: For more info, Freephone: 1800 064 726 or visit http://www.islandcycletours.com; For more info on brewery tours, Ph: (03) 6224 1117
or visit http://www.cascadebrewery.com.au.