Why Tasmania is the state everyone wants to visit

It's eight o'clock in the morning, and I'm standing in the cellar door at Pooley winery, just outside Hobart, faced with a very long line of bottles sprawled across the bar.

"Do you want to try them all?" the bartender smiles. "Or should I just give you the highlights package?"

Just the highlights package, I assure him. Yesterday I visited three whisky distilleries. Today I've got four more wineries. Just the highlights will be fine.

Only, of course, this is Tasmania, and everyone wants you to be comfortable and happy and make sure you're having a good time, so I watch as my new friend behind the bar pours out a sample of the first riesling in the line. And then the next riesling. And then the next riesling.

Swirl, sniff, drink. Swirl, sniff, drink. I don't want to say no. Everyone is so nice. How could you reject the hospitality? Swirl, sniff, drink, until eventually I realise I've been treated to a sample from every single bottle and I need to have a little rest.

I get it now. I get the hype about Tasmania. I get the fascination. Sometimes you go to a place expecting big things and it just doesn't deliver, you travel to somewhere everyone seems to love and you don't understand the attraction. But Tasmania is nothing like that. It's the real deal.

First though, an admission: I was treated to my journey down south by Tourism Tasmania – it was a research trip for a book I'm working on. So, I guess you could take this love letter with a grain of salt, I'd understand that. But I'm lucky to do this sort of travel a lot, and there aren't many places I devote a whole column to. But Tasmania gets the treatment.

I've been to Tasmania before, just never with enough time to get a real feel for the place, and certainly not since the Apple Isle became the tourism destination du jour, the state everyone wants to visit (Tourism Australia data put Tasmania behind only Melbourne and the Gold Coast as top places Australians were planning to visit), particularly if they're into food and wine. Tassie was the butt of jokes when I grew up – it wasn't somewhere you'd be jealous of. But now, I'm jealous of Tasmania.

Here is a state where life is good, where people are friendly and genuine, and you get all of this good stuff concentrated in a relatively small area.

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(A friend of mine lives off the grid in Tassie, she's out on a property in the middle of nowhere, no running water, only solar power. She likes it that way – the solitude, the scenery. She came to visit me though when I was in Hobart, which I thought was really sweet. "How long did it take you to get here?" I asked as we clinked glasses at a North Hobart pub. She shrugged. "Half an hour or so.")

Why is everyone so obsessed with this place? Why are all the hotels booked out and flights chockers? You've got the food and wine, obviously: Hobart, the Derwent Valley, Coal River Valley, Huon Valley, Bruny Island, Tamar Valley, and on and on and on. Top-end wineries. Idyllic country restaurants. Heaving farmers markets. That's all good stuff.

There are the natural attractions, too: the rugged, almost untouched west coast, the mountainous beauty of the interior, the rolling hills around Hobart, kunanyi/Mt Wellington, the lakes, the rivers, the hiking trails, the mountain-biking.

But there's something intangible about Tassie too, that visitors justifiably love. People here are just… nice. Easygoing. Fun. I had to spend six days in a car with one tour guide when I was in Tassie, which is quite often a recipe for serious awkwardness, and yet it was great. We had a ball. Jacob's a legend. And he's far from the only one.

People who work in tourism down in Tasmania talk about the "MONA effect", the influence that this one hugely popular attraction has had on bringing the hordes to Tasmania, and I get that. But at the same time, MONA is probably my least favourite thing in Tassie. The gallery/restaurant/winery/soon-to-be-high-roller-casino to me is pure style of substance – in other words, the exact opposite of everything I have very quickly come to love about its homeland.

You're missing New Zealand? Go to Tasmania. It's the same vibe. Similar attractions (plus an art gallery). Feel like you won't make it to Canada this year? Head to Tassie, for the same reasons (minus the ski resorts).

You can judge a destination, I think, by how soon you want to go back. This isn't a failsafe measure – it takes me years to want to go back to India, for instance, but I absolutely love visiting. I may never return to somewhere like Guatemala, but what a place.

Anyway, how soon did I want to go back to Tasmania? Immediately. Pretty much as soon as I stepped off the plane. It gets in your bones, this big island. It gets a grip. I understand the people who go there for a holiday and just never leave again.

I'm surprised I left, in some ways. I'm surprised I ever made it out of that winery.

Ben Groundwater travelled a guest of Tourism Tasmania.

Have you been to Tasmania? Do you understand the hype? Did you love it? What are your tips for visiting – where should people go? What should they do?

Email: b.groundwater@traveller.com.au

Instagram: instagram.com/bengroundwater

Twitter: twitter.com/bengroundwater

See also: Nine must-do highlights of Hobart

See also: If you think Tasmania seems cold, wait until you try this

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