It was my summer of love, a season on a bicycle 20 years ago, pedalling around Tasmania. For four months I absorbed the state's coast, mountains, wilderness, towns and people, riding slower all the time, never really wanting to leave.
I vowed that one day I'd return to live on this island. Ten years later I did, selling my home in an outer industrial Melbourne suburb and buying beside a beautiful Hobart beach with change in my pocket.
I arrived in time to experience a remarkable decade in tourism in this state that had been so long shackled to its convict past. The Tasmania of 10 years ago is not the Tasmania of today. Then, it was still a place for a quiet lap in a campervan, or to slop across muddy bushwalking trails with bland dehydrated meals on your back. Today, its sophistication spreads across galleries, boutique hotels and arguably the freshest and finest food scene in the country, to even those bushwalking trails.
It's regularly referred to as the MONA effect, and there's no doubt the opening of David Walsh's extraordinary underground Hobart gallery in 2011 was the defining moment in awakening Tasmanian tourism. People came for MONA, but wanted more. The gallery beget the emergence of quality restaurants, which beget intriguing hotels, which beget a slew of new tourism experiences. Snowball after snowball.
Filmmakers, too, have discovered how moody, evocative Tasmanian landscapes can lend a sense of beauty, awe and sometimes foreboding to narratives. Television series such as The Kettering Incident and The Gloaming were shot there, and colonial-era films such as 2009's Van Diemen's Land and the harrowing revenge tale The Nightingale, tell powerful stories about Tasmania's often grim convict history.
In 2010, the year before MONA opened, 904,000 people visited Tasmania, a number that was on the decline. Last year, 1.32 million people came to the island, a jump of nearly 50 per cent since 2010. International visitor numbers to Australia grew by 5 per cent last year, but surged by 11 per cent in Tasmania.
Those numbers are not the only measure of a massive decade in Tasmanian tourism. When I shifted to the state, there was no Saffire or MACq01 in the luxury-hotel market, the cliff-top Three Capes Track didn't exist, and the Overland Track was still a mud bath in parts. People still talked about the Aboriginal line ending with Truganini's death in 1876, and yet Indigenous culture is now being re-embraced in the likes of the Wukalina Walk and the Aboriginal foods of Palawa Kipli.
Tasmania's mountain-bike trails have gained international fame since the opening of the Blue Derby network in 2015, and its whiskies and vodka have been decreed the best in the world. Three of its golf courses were named among the world's top 30 by Golf Digest, and five Tasmanian restaurants last year featured in The Australian Financial Review's list of Australia's 100 best restaurants. None of the five restaurants existed five years ago.
For all that's new and sparkly, however, the inherent qualities that were truly great about Tasmania 20 years ago – and long before – remain unchanged. The sense of natural space on the island is inescapable, with World Heritage-listed wilderness covering 20 per cent of the state. The personal warmth of its people is also undiminished – Hobart's MACq01, for instance, themed its hotel around people and stories after reading so many tourist exit surveys describing the Tasmanian people as a highlight of visitors' trips.
It's been a decade that's brought out the parochial in Tasmanians (don't get a local started on the place), even blow-ins like myself. We've asked seven prominent Tasmanians involved in tourism about their passion for the state.
Built and operates Avalon Coastal Retreat, Rocky Hills Retreat and Avalon City Retreat. She is the chair of the Tasmanian Heritage Council. See avalonretreats.com.au
FOR ME TASMANIA IS SPECIAL BECAUSE of the way she makes you feel. You can feel her beauty and sense her brutality – her wild edges merging the vast blue oceans and deep green centre. We'll never know her people of ages past or fully understand the tensions and contradictions that make her so intriguing and seductive.
YOU REALLY SHOULD VISIT TASMANIA BECAUSE the world is suffering under the weight of same-sameness, the gift of globalisation, but Tasmania remains wildly different. Tasmanians create, preserve and protect the unusual, which not long ago was considered a negative, but is now among her finest assets. Tasmanians quietly pursue the extraordinary – you can drink it, taste it, experience it.
THE ONE PLACE YOU SHOULD VISIT IN TASMANIA IS the rocks above Honeymoon Bay on the Freycinet Peninsula in the early morning. Breathe in the pre-dawn light and wonder as the sun rises on the Hazard mountains. It's a moving experience that may help you understand your place in the world.
THE ONE PLACE EVERYONE TENDS TO OVERLOOK IS all Tasmania's beautiful historic places – they're everywhere, telling their stories of the past. Visitors also tend to miss New Norfolk, though the Agrarian Kitchen, Drill Hall Emporium and Flywheel have started to change that. Or standing on Randalls Bay beach at 2am, looking to the southern sky and the dancing Aurora Australis, is also hauntingly intimate.
MY FAVOURITE TASMANIAN HOTEL IS Seven at Stillwater, created by Kim Seagram, Rod Ascui and their inspired team. Gently shaped into a historic Launceston mill, the bespoke rooms are crafted with care to create what someone described to me as "like someone putting a warm blanket around your shoulders in a loving embrace". See stillwater.com.au
Owns and operates Pennicott Wilderness Journeys, which has won 12 Australian Tourism Awards.
FOR ME TASMANIA IS SPECIAL BECAUSE we're surrounded by an incredible environment and Tasmanians enjoy a really safe, relaxed way of life. It's an ideal place to raise a family, and my kids enjoyed many hours in nature while growing up. I love living and working in such an authentic, beautiful place.
YOU REALLY SHOULD VISIT TASMANIA BECAUSE you'll almost feel like one of the locals while you're here. There are so many great things in close proximity, and the businesses are authentic and locally owned. Whether you're wanting a relaxing break, delicious food or pristine scenery, it's all here.
THE ONE PLACE YOU SHOULD VISIT IN TASMANIA IS the island off an island, Bruny Island. It's really close to my heart. Time slows down as you cross on the ferry, which gets you ready to enjoy stunning coastal scenery, pristine beaches and artisan produce. To me, it's the jewel in Tasmania's crown.
THE ONE PLACE EVERYONE TENDS TO OVERLOOK IS the many hidden short walks. For example, in an hour's walk on kunanyi/Mount Wellington you can go from dry woodland to temperate rainforest. The diversity in flora and fauna is awesome.
MY FAVOURITE TOUR IN TASMANIA IS at Port Davey, where Tasmanian Boat Charters runs four- to seven-day expeditions that immerse you in the pristine wilderness while enjoying Tasmanian food and beverages. To me, Port Davey is one of the most incredible places and on a still day the tannin-coloured waters reflect the amazing scenery. It's so wild, remote and full of beauty. See tasmanianboatcharters.com.au
Co-founded the Agrarian Kitchen and Agrarian Kitchen Eatery with husband Rodney Dunn. See theagrariankitchen.com
FOR ME TASMANIA IS SPECIAL BECAUSE I was able to move here 12 years ago and buy my dream home, something that wouldn't have been possible if we'd stayed in Sydney. I could see then that Tasmania had so much potential, especially in tourism, and it gave my husband and I the opportunity to start our own business.
YOU REALLY SHOULD VISIT TASMANIA BECAUSE it's beautiful but also not overcrowded, and so much has changed in just a few years. I love visiting MONA and TMAG [Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery] all year with my children, and on occasion we'll go to the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra. Winter is now one of my favourite times of the year, thanks to Dark Mofo and the Festival of Voices.
THE ONE PLACE YOU SHOULD VISIT IN TASMANIA IS Mount Field National Park, as each season offers something special. There's snow in winter and spring is the perfect time to see the famous Russell Falls. Summer picnics are a winner, and from late April to May, Australia's only cold-climate winter-deciduous tree, the fagus, puts on a spectacular show when its leaves change colour. Tasmania is the only place in the world to see it. See parks.tas.gov.au
THE ONE PLACE EVERYONE TENDS TO OVERLOOK IS our small town of New Norfolk in the Derwent Valley. We often meet Tasmanians who say the last time they visited New Norfolk was 30 years ago. It has many antique stores and kayaking tours with Tassie Bound or Derwent Valley Stand Up Paddle Board School are a must in summer.
MY FAVOURITE TASMANIAN RESTAURANT IS currently Tom McHugo's, a Hobart pub where the ingredients are locally sourced. I love that I can pop in during the week for a quick dinner with the kids after my son's soccer training.
Established Lark Distillery in 1992 with wife Lyn. It was Tasmania's first whisky distillery since 1839. See larkdistillery.com
FOR ME TASMANIA IS SPECIAL BECAUSE of its island mentality, where you can do anything you dream of with the help of other Tasmanians. It's an inner desire to simply help each other grow and prosper and be friends in business and life.
YOU REALLY SHOULD VISIT TASMANIA BECAUSE it will light your imagination and awaken your senses. Tasmania is remarkable – such a small place with such a varied and diverse environment. All the best things in the world, produced in a stunning landscape.
THE ONE PLACE YOU SHOULD VISIT IN TASMANIA IS Cradle Mountain to immerse yourself in my favourite place on Earth. From the moment I first visited the area in 1974, when I moved to Tasmania, it became that special place that epitomises Tasmanian life, spirit and soul.
THE ONE PLACE EVERYONE TENDS TO OVERLOOK IS probably right behind them. We're all captivated by what's in front of us, but there are so many special places to not just explore but become, even briefly, a part of the community.
MY FAVOURITE DRINKING EXPERIENCE IN TASMANIA IS sitting with friends on the deck of Saffire gazing across Coles Bay to the Hazards. Or pulling up a chair beside Lake Augusta after a day fly-fishing with friends, enjoying our favourite gin and tonic until the sun goes down and then sipping a rich malty Tasmanian single malt whisky around a campfire. See saffire-freycinet.com.au
Grew up on the Tamar River in Tasmania's north and works as a guide with the Tasmanian Walking Company. See taswalkingco.com.au
FOR ME TASMANIA IS SPECIAL BECAUSE it's so diverse and offers extremes – nature at its most brutal, but equally at its most peaceful. We have rugged mountain ranges, and cliffs that plunge into the wild Southern Ocean, yet you can get lost in the sound of a forest for days, or roll up to the most pristine beach and have it to yourself.
YOU REALLY SHOULD VISIT TASMANIA BECAUSE it's full of authentic people, doing what they do for the love of it and immersing themselves in the places that shape their lives. There's a vast array of experiences to enjoy, whether it's the intimate nightlife of Hobart during Dark Mofo, or the deep and rugged Southwest Wilderness where you're days away from crowds.
THE ONE PLACE YOU SHOULD VISIT IN TASMANIA IS the Tasman Peninsula with its rich European and pre-European history and an incredible diversity of landscapes, spectacular dolerite cliffs and rich ocean life. Swim with seals off Eaglehawk Neck, view the sublime coastline on a boat tour, surf big waves at Shipstern Bluff or hike to Cape Hauy.
THE ONE PLACE EVERYONE TENDS TO OVERLOOK IS the north-west coastline, which is dotted with little towns between beautiful pockets of coastline. Rocky Cape National Park is well worth a visit, and is home to its very own endemic species of banksia. Boat Harbour Beach and Sisters Beach are beautiful summer shack getaways, while Stanley has its famous Nut and local fisheries with fresh crayfish.
MY FAVOURITE OUTDOORS EXPERIENCE IN TASMANIA IS camping at Killiecrankie on Flinders Island. Whether rock climbing, beachcombing for elusive Killiecrankie diamonds, exploring the ocean for dinner, or walking the coastline, it's like stepping back in time. Flinders Island's outdoor experiences leave me feeling nourished and in touch with humanity.
is the creative director of Hobart's winter Dark Mofo festival. See darkmofo.net.au
FOR ME TASMANIA IS SPECIAL BECAUSE it's always been my home. I love the scale, the mountains and the wilderness areas. The mystical atmosphere is different to anywhere else in Australia.
YOU REALLY SHOULD VISIT TASMANIA BECAUSE Hobart is actually the best small city in Australia. Our restaurant scene is thriving and you'll experience the best seafood anywhere in the world. I love Melbourne and Sydney, but they don't come close to Hobart.
THE ONE PLACE YOU SHOULD VISIT IN TASMANIA IS the Huon Valley. The bushfires of last summer impacted a number of small communities, and it's important that visitors return and support the region again. There's also the fresh cherries, which are worth the trip alone.
THE ONE PLACE EVERYONE TENDS TO OVERLOOK IS our past. Tasmania's pre-colonial historical sites are largely hidden. There are online maps available that detail the location of massacres that happened around the state. It's an important part of the Tasmanian story, and one that needs to be told.
MY FAVOURITE FESTIVAL IN TASMANIA IS the Huon Valley Mid Winter Festival. It's a lively community festival with ancient storytelling, the best produce from the region, and lots of song and dance. It takes place in an old apple shed. Dress warm and wear gumboots. See huonvalleymidwinterfest.com.au
One of the leaders of the Franklin River blockade in the early 1980s., Law continues to lead a rafting trip down the river each year for World Expeditions. See worldexpeditions.com
FOR ME TASMANIA IS SPECIAL BECAUSE it's one of the few places where one can readily experience immersion in the natural world. Genuine seclusion and tranquillity are increasingly rare. Tasmania has ancient life forms, such as King Billy and pencil pines in the highlands, which have changed little in 150 million years.
YOU REALLY SHOULD VISIT TASMANIA BECAUSE if you live in Australia, a holiday in Tasmania will create less carbon pollution and cause less global warming than travelling to distant countries. And once you get here, it doesn't take much driving to visit a variety of places, from sodden rainforests and waterfalls to sunny beaches.
THE ONE PLACE YOU SHOULD VISIT IN TASMANIA IS the Tasman Peninsula. This compact peninsula has an extraordinary array of natural and cultural attributes, including the Port Arthur Historic Site, magnificent beaches, sheltered coves and some of the southern hemisphere's tallest sea cliffs, accessible by walking and by boat. The rolling landscape has a mixture of farmland and thick forest and is dotted with tiny towns.
THE ONE PLACE EVERYONE TENDS TO OVERLOOK IS the north-east. The more celebrated attractions are elsewhere, but the north-east has mountains, forests, waterfalls, beaches, lagoons, national parks and vineyards. These are joined by winding roads that haven't yet suffered the widening, flattening, levelling and straightening that the state's other roads are experiencing. The area retains its rural, backwoods character.
MY FAVOURITE PLACE IN THE TASMANIAN WILDERNESS IS a secret. The joy in visiting these places is the experience of isolation. There are parts of Tasmania that can cope with more visitors, and other parts that can't. Besides, one of the attractions of travelling here is the ability to explore the countryside yourself, looking at a map and thinking "that looks interesting – how do I get there?" I don't want to spoil that pleasure for you.
FIVE QUINTESSENTIAL TASMANIAN EXPERIENCES
DINE WITH A DEVIL
Sightings of Tasmanian devils at wildlife parks abound, but at Devils@Cradle in Cradle Mountain you can nibble on Tassie cheese and salmon while watching the devils begin their nocturnal ventures. See devilsatcradle.com
SCOFF A SCALLOP PIE
Tasmania's gourmet credentials are now quite refined, but there's still space for a good old pie stuffed with scallops. Try Harbour Lights Cafe in Hobart, or Bakery 31 in Ross.
RAFT THE FRANKLIN RIVER
This river is as famous as the state and the only way to get more than a glimpse is to raft it, an adventure named by Outside as the world's best river trip. See worldexpeditions.com; franklinriverrafting.com; franklinrivertasmania.com
HOLD YOUR BREATH AT CLOACA
Work your way through the warrens of MONA to find Wim Delvoye's whiffy, excrement-creating Cloaca Professional. It's every Hobart child's favourite love/hate MONA moment. See mona.net.au
PLUCK SEAFOOD FROM THE SEA
Tasmania does a great job of dishing up ocean delights that can be eaten almost before they leave the sea. Eat the catch on the boat on Pennicott Wilderness Journeys' Tasmanian Seafood Seduction trip, or slurp oysters in sight of the leases at Get Shucked (Bruny Island) and Melshell Oyster Shack (Swansea). See pennicottjourneys.com.au; getshucked.com.au; melshelloysters.com.au
FIVE OF THE NEXT BIG THINGS IN TASMANIA
Hard on the heels of the Three Capes Track's opening, plans have been announced for a new $20-million multi-day, hut-based walk known as the Philosopher's Tale along the Tyndall Range above Queenstown.
Tasmania's second city has always had a paucity of noteworthy hotels, but that has well and truly changed with the recent arrival of Peppers Silo, Stillwater Seven and Change Overnight. A new luxury hotel from Josef Chromy Wines is also coming next year. See peppers.com.au/silo; stillwater.com.au/seven; changeovernight.co
MONA'S NEW HOTEL
Hobart is about to get a slew of new hotels – the Hyatt Centric, Vibe, Crowne Plaza and Marriott Tasman should all open in 2020 – but the most attention-grabbing will be MONA's new 172-room hotel, angling over the Derwent River like a giant shopping trolley. It's already been through a couple of proposed (and dumped) names: HoMo and Motown. Expected around 2024. See mona.net.au
King Island may get all the foodie plaudits, but Tasmania's most spectacular island is catching up fast with the April opening of the Flinders Wharf restaurant (with guest chefs such as Luke Burgess and David Moyle) and the attached Furneaux Distillery. See visitflindersisland.com.au; theflinderswharf.com.au
Long a city most tourists simply drove through from the ferry dock, Devonport is amid an ambitious development. The Paranaple Arts Centre and Providore Place market hall (headlined by Ben Milbourne's CharlotteJack restaurant and Southern Wild Distillery) are open, and there are plans for a hotel and elevated walkway overhanging the Mersey River. See livingcitydevonport.com.au