Go to Tasmania, where fantastic golf coexists with rather cute little devils

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Australia’s all sun, sand and surf, isn’t it? Not necessarily. This beautiful, mist-drenched isle would not be out of place off the coast of New Zealand, Patagonia or some other foggy, secluded spot at the very borders of civilization. There is the windswept coastline, the exotic wildlife teetering on the verge of extinction, pristine wilderness and exceedingly fresh natural produce. But as untamed as much of the island is, it’s also rather cultured and worldly for a place in the middle of nowhere. It’s got one of the most avant-garde art museums you’ll come across anywhere, the finest cuisine in all of Australia, elegant vineyards dotting its countryside and an endless array of arts festivals. It’s a beguiling combination of the big city and the country in one very compact land mass and its good looks and 80 courses create the perfect stage for an emerging world-class golf scene.

A Brief History

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The last aborigines in Hobart, 1864. Source: jackandjude.com

Tasmanian history is as tragic and tumultuous as its landscape is rugged and romantic. The first European to ever see Tasmania was Abel Tasman in 1642. Captain Cook himself set foot on its virgin soil in 1777, but no European explorer made a lasting impression until a settlement on the eastern bank of the Derwent River was established and moved to the western bank in 1804. Predictably, the settlers started wreaking havoc the very year they arrived. 8,000 indigenous people lived on the hitherto nameless island and the Europeans immediately set to making a dent in that population by shooting and killing 300 natives who wandered into their camp on the hunt for kangaroo. A bloody racial war commenced and raged on well into the 1820’s. Between 1828 and 1832, Governor George Arthur took a much harder line on the skirmishes by declaring martial war. One of his most nefarious deeds was known as the Black Line of 1830, an order for his soldiers to form a line across the Tasman Peninsula and literally force the native Tasmanians into the shark infested waters. Thankfully, his dastardly strategy ultimately failed, but it was too little too late for the Tasmanians anyway. There were so few of them remaining that they conceded to move to Flinders Island Reservation on the urging of preacher George Robinson. They did not fare much better there, dying off of European diseases until they were finally allowed back into their former homeland in 1847.

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Guards at the Port Arthur penal colony, 1866. Source: utas.edu.au

Not that Tasmania was paradise for many of the Europeans there either. The island became a feared penal colony in 1822 and only saw the influx of convicts stop in 1852. It was an independent colony called Van Diemen’s Land until 1856, when its name changed to Tasmania and it joined Australia in 1898. In the meantime, the island was building up its economy with whaling, shipbuilding and seal-hunting throughout the 19th century. The economy experienced a well-deserved boost from the discovery of tin in the 1870’s and copper mining in the 1890’s. The population swelled to 115,000 in 1881 and has only continued to flourish into the new millennium, despite suffering serious losses in both world wars.

Golf in Tasmania

While the island seems to exist on the fringes of Australian life, it is the coolest kid in the club as far as golfers were concerned. The 1800’s saw some upper class Welsh, Scottish, Irish and English migrants as well as the convicts and they were eager to transport their passions from the Old World along with their hopes and dreams of a better life. As you might expect, one of these passions was golf and these Tasmanian colonists started the very first golf club in all of Australia, the Ratho Farm Golf Course in 1822. To this day, it still has more golf courses per capita than anywhere else in the country. Backwater? Not so much.

You’ll be spoiled for choice and for variety when it comes to scenic golf courses in Tasmania, which take full advantage of the island’s dramatic, ever-changing terrain. Most courses are private, but don’t let that stop you from utilizing the services of a golf-specific based on the island tour agency. As far as players to root for, Tasmania doesn’t yet have any PGA Tour candidates. But it’s a young settlement and with the rate at which Tasmanians are enjoying the sport, we feel it’s only a matter of time.

Top 5 Golf Tour Agencies to Use

Tasmanian Golf Tour

Golf Tours Tasmania

Getaway Golf

Ausgolf

First Light Travel

Day 1 – Hobart 

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Instead of a skyscraper, Hobart has Mt. Wellington. Source: australia-tourism.net.au

Hobart’s fast gaining a reputation as one of the most underrated little cities in the world. The Tasmanian capital is no major metropolis like Sydney or Melbourne, but is more like the most sophisticated settlement you’ll find at the ends of the earth. Amidst arresting scenery, you’ll find beautiful sandstone heritage architecture, cutting-edge art galleries, a king’s selection of award-winning eateries, a lively waterfront replete with galleries, theatres and art shops in Georgian warehouses and Australia’s best outdoor market. It’s the best parts of the big city with none of the accompanying smog, noise pollution and obnoxious crowds. Also, where else would you be able to eat breakfast at a laundromat?

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Salamanca Market dappled in shade. Source: abay.vn

Catch your breath after your flat in your room at the Henry Jones Art Hotel, a boutique hotel that perfectly marries the city’s exceptional contemporary art scene with its history. Once a jam factory, it’s now a space where you can view up to 400 artworks on rotation and stay in one of 56 individually designed rooms. Be sure to arrive with a suitcase of dirty clothes. Yep, you read that correctly. At the Machine Laundry Cafe in Salamanca, you’ll get to snack on ricotta hotcakes or free range eggs and haloumi while your garments spin their way to cleanliness. Afterwards, take your time wandering around Salamanca Place, Hobart’s iconic waterfront where trade and commerce have been booming since the 1800’s. In four colonial warehouses, you’ll find a warren of shops, cafes, bars, restaurants and the unmissable once-a-week Salamanca Market. It’s not just the best market in tiny Tasmania, but in the entire country. Every Saturday, visitors and locals alike are treated to 300 stalls selling the very freshest finest of local produce and crafts. You’ll be blowing lots of hard-earned pocket change on irresistible niceties like scallop pies and Tasmanian timber.

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MONA’s serene exterior does not betray its outlandish exhibits. Source: riamobilegis.com.au

We’d hate to pull you away from it all, but you’d be missing out on a fundamental piece of Hobart’s heart and soul if you skip out on taking the ferry to MONA, or the Museum of Old and New Art. Just like any other city with its own laundromat cafe, Hobart has a healthy iconoclastic streak and it could not be more apparent in its most renowned art museum. Founded by an eccentric mathematician by the name of David Walsh, the museum has been described as a “subversive adult Disneyland” for its fusion of classical art with its most shockingly confronting elements. One minute, you might be admiring an Egyptian sarcophagus and the next, you’ll be puzzled by a room-sized simulation of the digestive tracts that actually poops.

Ponder it all over a glass of wine at the Moorilla Estate, the winery on the premises. Give your mind a rest at a friendly match at the Tasmania Golf Club, a world class private club hemmed in by bodies of water on all three sides.

End your day right at Da Angelo’s, the city’s best Italian restaurant. It’s famous for its gnocchi made with potato and served with bolognese sauce and a knockout classic calzone. Retire to your hotel for a nightcap and sleep off the pleasant exertions of the day.

Day 2 – Hobart

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Bruny Island’s narrow isthmus, the Neck. Source: styleblog.saba.com.au

You’ll need to set your alarm this morning, as you’re about to embark on what has been voted one of the Top 100 Greatest Trips in the World. Drive 40 minutes south of Hobart to Kettering to take the ferry to Bruny Island, a paradisiacal slice of isolated, wind-buffeted Tasmanian coastline that will be sure to appeal to the lone wolf in you. However, the island abounds in indigenous wildlife, so your peaceful swim in a deserted cove or solitary walk in the bush might be disturbed by an echidna, fairy penguin, mutton bird or an albino wallaby. The number of activities you can partake of here is so vast that you’re often cautioned not to try and see it all in a day, though we must sadly do the unspeakable due to time constraints. You could opt to take the Bruny Island Cruise, which will have you weaving in and out of Australia’s highest sea cliffs and sea caves in search of albatross, seals, dolphins and whales. You could also drive from the northern tip of Dennes Point, where you will no doubt stop at the Art at the Point gallery, all the way to the famed Cape Bruny Lighthouse in the south. A nature walk looping around Labillardiere Peninsula with a picnic in tow is an equally valid option. Whatever you do, don’t neglect to try the local cheeses, oysters and single malts. For an island in the middle of nowhere, Bruny is quite the gourmand’s utopia.

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Bruny’s Bounty. Source: suellewellyn2011.wordpress.com

When you return to Hobart, recover from your day out in the wilderness by taking a leisurely stroll in the labyrinth of 19th century fisherman’s cottages and merchant’s mansions in the old maritime village of Battery Point. Take time to check out the barges bringing in crayfish and other catches of the day. Stop over at the pub at the Shipwright’s Arms Hotel to make like a swarthy sea dog with a tankard of ale. Cap off with dinner at Me Wah, which pairs refined Cantonese cooking with just-caught seafood from the surrounding waters. Because you can’t get enough of them, awaken your palate with Tasmanian oysters lightly steamed with spring onion, ginger and soy before moving on to the famous greenlip abalone braised with mushrooms, vegetables and thick stock.

Day 3 – Hobart to Port Arthur and the Tasman Peninsula

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When the top of a peak looks like a distant, magical shore. Source: commons.wikimedia.org

They say that the best way to get to know a city is to see it from its highest vantage point. After breakfasting on taleggio baked eggs at Pigeon Hole Cafe, you’ll be doing exactly that at the summit of Mt Wellington. A 25 minute drive outside of Hobart, this peak is one of the most outstanding features of the surrounding landscape and acts as the de facto skyscraper in a town devoid of buildings higher than 2 or 3 storeys. You’ll get to choose from a variety of vantage points for unparalleled 360-degree views over the city and the bushland around it. Bid Hobart your fond farewells before descending and driving on to the Tasman Peninsula. This unspoiled biosphere offers fantastically diverse landscapes, ranging from rugged sea cliffs and rock formations to secluded forests. You’ll stop off at Eaglehawk Neck, a long isthmus with a gorgeous beach with clear water and rugged cliffs.

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The Tessellated Pavements, the original bathroom floor. Source: wikipedia.com

However, you’ll soon find that this beautiful shore has some serious skeletons in the closet. Dogs were chained in a long line across all 100 meters of it to prevent convicts from escaping. The waters surrounding were also rumored to be shark-infested to discourage potential escapees from swimming away to freedom. You’ll have fun devising your own convict tales at the next few evocative bits of scenery. Just down the hill, the Tessellated Pavement is a rocky terrace that bears a curious resemblance to the tiles in your shower. The Blow Hole is a cavelike orifice in a cliff face where tides forcing the waves in through it cause water to erupt from it to spectacular effect. Make sure to stop by the Devil’s Kitchen and the Tasman Arch, two rock formations that have definitely earned their monikers.

Stop over in Dunalley for a laid-back gourmet lunch at the Bangor Wine and Oyster Shed. You can pretty much guess what your going to eat here, as the main draws are the large seafood platters heavily featuring the eponymous bivalves. Should you be tired of oysters by now, the lamb pies are an excellent option. Head on to Port Arthur Historic Site.

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In inclement weather, Port Arthur still frowns upon all who enter. Source: Andrew Braithwaite via Wikimedia Commons

Once a notorious penal colony, now a UNESCO World Heritage site, Port Arthur still wears an air of tragedy about it. Perhaps this is because of a more recent misfortune, when a deranged gunman opened fire at killed 35 people while wounding 37 more in 1996. Regardless, it is the site’s long history as a fearsome prison that you’re here for. Take a guided tour, because trying to see all thirty of the buildings, ruins and period homes might make you feel like you’ve been spending the day in irons yourself. Don’t miss the Penitentiary and the Separate Prison, where prisoners were punished with isolation and sensory deprivation.

Drop your baggage off at the Stewarts Bay Lodge and make the 10 minute drive out to Nubeena, where you’ll dine at the Lucky Ducks Cafe. Farm-to-table produce is king here and you can’t go wrong with any of the pies, filo pastries or the chicken, chorizo and bacon terrine.

Day 4 – Port Arthur to Coles Bay and Freycinet National Park

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Pack in a morning’s worth of activity at the nine-hole Tasman Golf Club, a public course located on one of the many sea cliffs in the area. Get in a good amount of exercise, because you’re going to be seated on your rump in the car for a good chunk of the day. Depart from Port Arthur to embark on one of Tasmania’s most stunning road trips, the Great Eastern Drive. It’s not about major stop off points, the whole route is just so uniformly scenic that stopping off at any white-sand beach, tranquil bay or granite bluff accented by shocks of orange lichen would be rewarding. You’ll not want for culinary delights either, as many of the coastal towns abound in spots where you can get the freshest of local seafood. The Fish Van in Triabunna is always a good bet. It’s a food drunk laden with mussels, home-made fish patties, fish and chips, scallops and whatever else was alive and kicking on the docks on the same day.

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A likely scenario on the Great Eastern Drive. Source: greateasterndrive.com.au

Wine connoisseurs need look no further than the coastal town of Swansea for their fix. Swansea is flanked by a host of impressive wineries and all you’d have to do is pick your vintage. Want Sauvignon Blanc? Freycinet Vineyard is your place. If you’re more in the mood for a nice, robust Pinot Gris, you’ll be better off heading for Spring Vale Wines. But teetotalers need not feel like pariahs at Swansea, thanks to Kate’s Berry Farm. The tipple of choice here is the decidedly non-alcoholic berry juice, meant to be accompanied by berry crepes with berry ice cream and staggering views over Oyster Bay. The best part of this is that even the winos in your travel entourage will want to be exactly where you are as they fill up on more wine than they can handle. Recoup to stretch your legs at the Swansea Golf Club, a waterfront nine-hole course where you certainly won’t have to sacrifice your enviable Oyster Bay panorama.

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Coles Bay glowing orange and pink in the sunset. Source: australiantraveller.com

Finally, rest your wings at Coles Bay, the gateway township to the splendid Freycinet National Park. It sits pretty atop a sandy stretch along the feet of the rose-tinged peaks of Hazards, so you’ll get just a whiff of the scenic drama that awaits you within the confines of the park. Unload your weary selves at the Saffire Freycinet, a sleek, luxurious resort that is very much worth the extra pennies you’ll be paying for a night there. It’s set spectacularly on the side of a picturesque bay and is a two minute walk from a pristine little beach. You also need never leave its grounds to escape hotel food, as the restaurant is one of the finest examples of farm-to-table dining in the region. You’d be tempted to lay down and become one with the furniture, but you’d be missing out on an unforgettable kayak tour around the bay. Courtesy of Freycinet Adventures, the tour will have you gliding across the glassy waters of the bay. Their rousing narrations of the French explorers from the days of your will only be interrupted by the appearance of a sea eagle or a dolphin. Have dinner at the aforementioned hotel restaurant and just… crash.

Day 5 – Coles Bay to Bicheno 

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Drinking in the view at Wineglass Bay, Freycinet. Source: girltweetsworld.com

Get up at the crack of dawn to make a somewhat grueling 1-1 1/2 hour trek into the Freycinet National Park. The objective isn’t torture for fitness, but rather to get to the lookout over the highlight of the park, Wineglass Bay. The bay is shaped rather like the rim of a wine goblet and sinuously harmonizes pinkish peaks, crystalline sea and powdery silica sand that squeaks underfoot when you walk upon it. On the way to the lookout, you’ll pass indigenous Tasmanian blooms, wallabies in the parking lot and tide pools full of little marine critters. However, please don’t fish them out of their homes for your midday meal, even if your growling stomach is the only thing you can hear in your serene environs. Hold out instead for Italian at Tombolo Freycinet, a welcome change from all the seafood you’ve been gorging on. Their wood-fired pizzas are so addictive that they’re a bit of a Hazard to your waistline (see what we did there?).

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Bicheno’s blowhole. Source: think-tasmania.com

Your next stop on the tour, Bicheno, is a bit of an anomaly in these parts. While other Tasmanian coastal towns like Swansea and Coles Bay tend to be rather upscale and tourist-friendly, Bicheno is for those who like a bit of rough-and-tumble. It’s still a functioning sea port, where tons of crusty characters ply their trade on fishing boats and drop their bounty off at a harbor locally known as the Gulch. In this ramshackle little town, it’s certainly fitting that your first point of interest is a biker’s shop. Andrew Quin, a local bike enthusiast, founded the Bicheno Motorcycle Museum at the back of his repair shop. You don’t have to be totally gaga about bikes to appreciate the impressive collection of some 60-odd vintage motorcycles or Quin’s enthusiasm as he expounds on his babies. If you are a fellow aficionado with a bike of your own to fix, however, you would be doing yourself a grave disservice by not stopping here and picking his brains.

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A Tasmanian Devil poses for a fearsome mugshot. Source: Healesville Sanctuary

You’ll be staying at Windows on Bicheno, an intimate B&B where you’ll be treated to a private ocean view from one of the two rooms available. Grab a quick Lebanese dinner in town at Three Spices before heading out to become one with the indigenous creatures of the night. The sinister-sounding Tasmanian devils are nocturnal marsupials that come out after dark to feast on carrion and unsuspecting small prey. Foul-smelling with a blood-curdling screech, it’s not the cuddliest of Australian creatures around. But after observing them in the wild during your Devils in the Dark tour, you’re bound to come away with a good bit more compassion for their unenviable plight. Like the Tigers before them, their population is becoming seriously endangered as they fall prey to a mysterious epidemic of unsightly, malignant facial tumors. This tour will be one of your only opportunities to see them as they should be seen in their natural habitat and you shouldn’t miss it for the world.

Day 6 – Bicheno to Launceston

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Leafy sea dragon, a popular denizen of Bicheno’s underwater canyons. Source: tasmaniaseastcoast.com

Plunge into the pleasantly temperate saltwater depths around you with guides from the Bicheno Dive Centre, kickstarting your day with gently waving sea whips, jeweled anemones and a plethora of colorful Tasmanian reef inhabitants like butterfly perch and moorwong. As you buy fish and chips off the barges at the gulch, you just might be breakfasting on some of the beautiful fish you were just admiring not one hour ago. Put that disturbing thought out of your head after knocking a few impressive drives at the Bicheno Golf Club, a nine-hole course that makes it its mission to treat both its male and female members equally. There are no associate memberships here, but if you’re a visitor, check in advance to see when would be a good time to drop in and play.

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The Bay of Fires is almost literally ablaze. Source: visitsthelenstasmania.com.au

On the drive to Launceston, you’ll be making a pit stop at the striking Bay of Fires. No, there is no volcano slowly stirring to life on Tasmanian shores, only a sandy cove ringed by large boulders covered with flame-hued lichen. You’d never have thought anything the exact shade of an oompa-loompa could be considered beautiful, but you’ll discover after a few minutes here that you were very, very wrong. When you’ve had about all you can take of blindingly bright rocks, head on down to Pyengana where you’ll lunch at the Pub in the Paddock. The food’s nothing mind-blowing, but there is the novelty of stepping out after your meal to pet the resident pig behind the pub. You’re really stopping in Pyengana for the dairy, which produces the best cheese on the island from some of the happiest cows in all of Australia. That’s a lot of superlatives there.

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The best course in Tasmania? You betcha! Source: barnbougle.com.au

Laden with dairy products, you’ll head on down to Barnbougle Dunes, which is the closest thing to a traditional links course in all of Tasmania. Barnbougle is actually two courses, the Dunes and the Lost Farm. Both are included in Australia’s top five golf courses and would be ideal grounds for honing your skills. Play until you’re about to drop dead and then shack up at Launceston, one of the country’s most beautifully quirky cities and Tasmania’s second largest. It’s composed of assorted Victorian and Georgian streetscapes against a profusion of parks and natural wonders. Its burgeoning arts scene will ensure that culture vultures will not feel in the slightest bit neglected.

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Launceston’s bucolic Tasmanian Gothic streetscape. Source: Dan Fellow

You’ll be staying at Topiary Haven, a tiny B&B secluded in a quaint topiary garden. Head on down to the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery (QVMAG), a comprehensive and educational ode to everything Tasmanian. The four main sections of the museum are Visual Arts and Design, History, Natural Sciences and Physical Sciences. You’ll learn about everything from black holes to colonial paintings to Tasmanian insects in Australia’s largest regional museum. Take advantage of the city’s refined restaurant scene by dining at Stillwater, possibly the best dining spot in a town that’s crawling with them. It’s Tasmanian fine dining at its finest, with marbled wagyu blade to share, scallop sashimi and sea urchin.

Day 7 – Launceston to Home

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Launceston’s exceptional Country Club Tasmania. Source: insidegolf.com.au

Test your mettle at the international standard Country Club Tasmania, an 18-hole course that was designed by golfers and course designers Mike Wolveridge and Peter Thomson and has developed into one of the best courses on this golf-crazy island. Now, for why you’re really in this part of Tasmania. Everyone comes to Launceston for Cataract Gorge and it’s small wonder why.

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Alexandra Suspension Bridge at the Cataract Gorge inspires a zen state of mind. Source: natureloverswalks.blogspot.com

A mere 15 minute walk from the city centre, the gorge is carved right in the midst of pristine bushland and becomes a complicated conduit for the frigid South Esk River. The river flows through the gorge in a series of lovely cascades that give the area its name and you can easily see each one from one of the many lookouts and walking trails that lattice the area, but why would you stick to walking when you could just as well fly? The Cataract Gorge is home to the world’s longest chairlift, which spans across the First Basin, where there is a free outdoor swimming pool. When you’re done here, have one last astounding Launceston meal at Tasmania’s most awarded restaurant, the Terrace Restaurant. On the way back to Hobart to catch your flight home, try to squeeze in a visit to one of the 32 wineries in the Tamar Valley 15 minutes out of town. That way, you’ll still very much be feeling the last dregs of Tasmania slosh about in your belly is you lay hunched over in your miserably cramped plane seat.

Conclusion

This tiny island is well-worth the time of any golfer or anyone with a taste for unorthodox travel experiences. In a single day, you can make a birdie at the most dramatic twin courses in Australia and steal away late in the night to watch hissing Tasmanian devils fight over a wallaby carcass. After a week here, you’ll learn that being away from it all can yield a range of adventures you’ll never get in a teeming metropolis. In fact, make sure to get there before it ever becomes a teeming metropolis, heaven forbid.