I like lastminute.com. Not as a website, but as a lifestyle.
And so it was when I was sitting in one hotel in one state capital (Sydney), I conspired with Mena to make another trip to another hotel in another state capital. But not any other state capital, our favourite. Hobart.
Yes, it’s winter. Yes, Hobart is at the same latitude south of the equator as Buffalo, New York is north of the equator. (Buffalo’s mean temperature on 21 February 2010 was -2°C). We didn’t care.
The main issue was getting up at 4.30am to get a very early flight. Ryanair aren’t the only sub-human airline in the world. The upside of this was that we were parked at our waterfront apartment and already browsing the famous Salamanca Market before eleven in the morning.
The place was hopping, and they weren’t all tourists. Stalls stretched as far as the eye could see from Macquarie Street to Prince’s Park. We tried chilli chutneys, blueberry jams and fresh breads. I bought two brown hats in the space of three minutes. Why not? We gravitated towards trestle tables filled with bric-a-brac and managed to purchase a sum total of no jugs. I told myself I needed no more scarves or necklaces. And then it was lunch-brunch-time.
We wanted to sit down, but outside. I wanted savoury, Mena didn’t mind. There was coffee and doughnuts. No. There was elderberry wine. No. Then I had a brainwave. Two currywursts from the sausage stall, washed down with two glasses of the local bubbly purchased from Irish Murphy’s, which gave us the right to sit at an outdoor table. Marvellous.
When we’d eaten and drunk our fill, bought sufficient headgear and things in jars, the day was half-gone. We wandered vaguely in the direction of the summit of Mount Wellington in search of winter sun and perhaps a snow view or two. A traffic accident made us stop awhile in the Fern Tree tavern, the biggest waste of a bar I’ve ever seen. We sat in a faded eighties-style café area by a beautiful log fire, drinking coffee and eating very good home-made fruit cake. And that’s all I can say about the place. I think there was a stunning view across Derwent Bay, but at four o’clock on a Saturday afternoon the curtains were closed and the dining room in darkness. I think there was a decent wood-fired pizza oven but you had to walk through a grim pool hall to get to it. No wonder the local convenience store across the road was busy serving many more people. At least they had daylight.
At the summit of The Mountain (at 1,271 metres, only 75 metres lower than Ben Nevis and full 240 metres lower than Carrantuohill in Ireland) the car park was full. Some weird atmospherics mean the remote locking on your car doesn’t work, which doesn’t help when it is blowing a hurricane and you can’t feel your hands. We ventured towards one lookout across a shaky-looking boardwalk, then braved the icy wind and sub-zero temperatures (with wind-chill it was close to -10°C up there) to catch a glimpse of the view across the bay. Despite losing the feeling in my hands, it was stunning, and well worth the Arctic conditions to experience.
Later, back in Salamanca Place, we settled in to the Ball and Chain Grill with a glass of wine and a half-decent steak, but the free salad bar kept reminding me of the old Pizza Huts in London and sort of put me off in the end. Nevertheless, the food was fine and the atmosphere cosy so we didn’t mind.
Next day, the weather was unseasonably mild and sunny, and we spent a lovely Sunday wandering the country roads of the Tasman peninsula. Seven Mile Beach near the airport was staggeringly beautiful at ten in the morning, with hardly a breath of air, perfect blue skies and a tiny bit of warmth in the spring air. People strolled along the curve of white sand or kayaked in the still bay waters. We stood and drank in the view and listened to the waves and knew we would be back for a longer visit.
Laneway after laneway gave up treasures of stunning view after stunning view. A return visit to Dunalley meant lunch in the wonderful Dunalley Waterfront Café, housed in an old fish cannery right by the little fishing pier. Stunning views over the bay accompanied our lunch of fresh seafood pie washed down by Tasmania’s finest bubbly. It doesn’t get much better than this.
Later in the evening, back at Salamanca Place, we lounged in Cargo pizza place and bar, downing enormous wood-fired pizzas and lashings of wine before retiring to our penthouse apartment with yet another bottle of Ninth Island sparkling wine. This is the life.
Our last day of the long weekend took us north-east along the east coast, in the direction of Freycinet. Yet again, we were stunned by the spectacular views around almost every turn of the road. A tiny laneway took us down to Rheban Beach, a perfect crescent of deserted beach tucked away from view, overlooking Maria Island.
Why doesn’t the tourist board show these amazing views as well as the ever-present Wineglass Bay? We knew we would have to come back to experience even more of this Tasmanian secret.
Back to the airport late in the evening, we stopped in Sorell for an early supper. Heat Pizza across the road from McDonalds was one of only a few places open at seven on a Monday night. We were not disappointed by the light fluffy pizzas with a perfect amount of topping on, served with a smile from the wood-fired oven.
Except, typical Doyle, we ordered too much and had to leave far too many slices behind. As we left, I swear somebody in the town turned off the rest of the lights.