Known for their peace and quiet, clean air and postcard-worthy beauty, Hobart and Bruny Island are also places for adventure as ALEX HARMON explains…
It was a bit like The Amazing Race: hurtling down a mountain by bike, paddling through the rain on a kayak, hanging on for dear life on a speed-boat… reverse parking on a busy CBD street during rush hour. Hobart was pushing me to the limits, my patience was being tested, my sense of direction – which is dyslexic at best – was reaching demented levels and my ‘team mate’ from London was suffering from some form of multi-platform road rage.
First stop, or should I say challenge, on our two-day Hobart trip was to navigate out of the airport, which is roughly the size of a 7-11 in Sydney. Yet, when I forget to ask for a GPS, I go running back to the hire-care office like I was fleeing a burning building. I could never figure out why contestants on those shows were always running. Now I know – panic.
We made it to the shores of Marieville Esplanade just in time for leg one of the journey: kayaking Hobart’s Derwent River. My team mate seems to get more worried by the minute, from “check out those grey clouds” to “it’s definitely going to rain” to “we’re going to capsize and drown”.
Ignoring the fact I am travelling with someone who empathises with the Costa Concordia captain, I get kitted out into the kayaking gear. This includes wet weather clothing, life vests and your very own skirt that attaches snugly to the banana-yellow kayak. Hang on a minute, capsizing and drowning is looking more and more likely. Our lovely guides tell us otherwise. This is a peaceful paddle into Hobart’s docklands as we discover the history of Tasmania’s capital. I called shotgun and took the front, which meant I had no control over the rudder. People with control issues make better drivers.
Hobart has a colourful history. It’s the second oldest city in Australia and considered the Cell Block H of all the penal colonies in the 1800s, with the country’s worst convicts being sent down the road to Port Arthur. The most dangerous offenders or the repeat offenders from Sydney’s penal colonies were sent to Tasmania, which was known in 1803 as Van Diemen’s Land. Our guide jokes to us Sydney folk that Tasmania made The Rocks “seem like the Holiday Inn”. And yet, with such a troubled past, today’s Hobart has a quaint and peaceful feel to it. That is until we crash into a bridge pillar and the rain starts to fall.
Paddling hard through the rain, my vision shrouded by my saltwater encrusted sunglasses, we make it into the docks and miraculously the sun comes out. I’m realising that unlike Melbourne, which has four seasons in one day, Hobart has four in every hour. You can go from wind-burnt to sunburnt in 10 minutes. We stop in the docks and our guide rounds up some fish and chips from a dockside fish punt. The salt from the food may be rubbing into my blistered wounds and the cold air is whipping me in the face, but I decide to lie back and think of England. Err, not like that. I mean Hobart has the old-world charm of the English seaside about it.
After lunch we go back out to sea on the return leg of the journey. This time I’m controlling the steering and I’ll admit it takes some time to get used to the pedals not being ‘accelerate’ and ‘brake’, but left and right. The wind is back and the sea is choppier than ever but we make it back to shore without capsizing like an Italian cruise ship and, although my arms ache and my fingers are blistered, we feel a sense of accomplishment as we move onto round two.