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The Best Time to Visit Hobart


Over the comings months, Experience Oz will be running a series answering the frequently-asked question by potential travellers “When is the best time to visit...?” for some of Australia's best and most popular travel destinations. Here, we look at Hobart, Tasmania.

This article in a nutshell:
  • The summer holiday period (December-January) labeled the best time to visit Hobart
  • Season famous for its large number of annual events (Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race, Taste Festival, New Years' Celebrations on the waterfront)
  • Average summer temperatures for Hobart: Max 21°C (69.8°F), Min 11°C (51.8°F)
  • Essential spots to visit in the city: Mt Wellington, Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary, Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens, Maritime Museum of Tasmania, Cascade Gardens and Brewery
  • Top destinations for outings/day tours/short trips from Hobart: MONA Art Gallery, Bruny Island, Battery Point, Coal River Valley

Hobart is a city that walks a delicate, charming line between combining the old with the new and the green with the blue all into one highly enjoyable package. With its seaside location and relatively laid-back atmosphere, Tasmania's capital city is renowned Australia-wide as a destination that makes for a great getaway from the mainland, yet it has also begun to receive an increasing amount of international attention over the past few years for a number of reasons.

Having recently been dubbed one of the world's Top 10 Destinations on the Rise by travel giant TripAdvisor as well as making the list of Lonely Planet's Top 10 Cities to Visit in 2013, Hobart is getting its share of exposure in the global spotlight that would normally fall by default on its larger northern brothers such as Sydney and Melbourne.

Hobart Tasmania

Hobart, Tasmania panorama

There are multiple factors at play here; while the city's cosmopolitan blend of boutique shopping, colonial style architecture and great local produce from its many verdant surrounding regions all play a large part in giving Hobart its charm, it's the establishment and worldwide publicity of the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) and its striking, controversial artistic offerings that has helped capture the attention of international travel junkies.

Couple all of these with striking natural features such as the beautifully looming peak of Mount Wellington which watches benevolently over the city and the nearby wildlife haven of Bruny Island, and it's easy to see why Hobart offers such an appealing, reasonably affordable locale for a holiday.

For international travellers looking at Hobart, however, the city's relative isolation as a capital and sheer distance from many countries can sometimes be seen as an obstacle to overcome. As an example, given that it takes a total of around 18 hours in the best possible scenario when attempting to fly from Los Angeles to Hobart – with multiple stopovers sometimes a necessity – and it makes it even more important for visitors to choose the right time of year for them to maximise their enjoyment of their trip to the place that puts the “down” in “downunder”.

But when then, exactly, is the best time of the year to visit Hobart? According to various authorities and experts we polled in the know on Hobart – including tourism organisations, tour operators, and Hobart locals themselves – the best time of year to travel to Hobart... is the summer holiday period from the end of December to mid January, for a variety of reasons.

It's a truly active period of Hobart's annual calendar, with residents and visitors alike embracing the outdoors and making the most of the season in a range of ways. The question is then: what makes Hobart in summer so special, and why should you spend your hard-earned cash to pay Tassie's capital a visit?

Why Hobart in the Summer Holiday period?

One of the few factors that tends to work against Hobart's favour in terms of public perception – that being the comparatively cool-to-cold weather that summer lovers will likely want to avoid – is almost entirely removed from the equation from December to January. Not only does the season offer consistently clear skies (Hobart is actually the second-driest capital city in Australia in terms of rainfall behind only Adelaide), but the average temperatures remove any hint of chill from the air and makes exploring outdoors a true joy.

With temperatures hovering around a maximum of 21 degrees Celsius during these two months, the weather is warmish but never hot, and the city and its residents take full advantage of this.

Hobart Taste Festival

Hobart Festival of Taste

It's during this period that Hobart's annual Taste Festival is held, which serves as a true showcase of the array of foods and beverages produced in the region that have long been popular with Aussies on the mainland. Hobart and its surrounds are famed for various products, but its beer, wines and cheeses in particular are standard-bearers that have been a source of Tasmanian pride for many years.

The Taste Festival itself is held for a week over the New Year period on the city's waterfront, and features various stores and stalls, live entertainment and fireworks over the water that provides delights for both the eyes and the palate. As Alan Leitch from the Tasmanian Travel & Information Centre Hobart tells us, it's in large part due to this event that the city was recently named the Best Weekend Away by culinary publication Australian Gourmet Traveller for 2014.

The eyes of the rest of the nation also settle on Hobart during this time for another, entirely different reason – the city serves as the finish line for the annual Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race which has been a staple of Australian culture since back in 1945. A national fixture each Boxing Day (December 26th), yachts of all sizes take part in making the journey from Sydney Harbour to Hobart, receiving a huge amount of television coverage and making for a great way for many Aussies to unwind after a day of feasting and drinking on Christmas the day prior. If you happen to be in Hobart during the yachts arrival, the site of Hobart's harbour filled with the 70+ vessels that the event averages each year.

Hobart Yacht Race

Yacht in Hobart's harbour

Meanwhile if you're looking to explore the city itself, many of its outdoor attractions are at their best during the summer months – the combination of clear skies and pleasant weather bring the likes of the Royal Tasmanian Botanic Gardens, Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary and even Mt Wellington itself to the forefront during this period. It's highly recommended to visit each of these attractions, as while they all focus on nature in some aspect, each provides a different emphasis that is no less enjoyable than the last.

In and around Hobart in Summer

First off are the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens which sit on the city's eastern edge and provide some outstanding waterfront views to go along with their impressive cavalcade of plant life on display. Hobart's botanic gardens differ from those in most other Australian capital cities in that they combine all the standard beauty of native and exotic flora with a blend of colonial style architecture with which the gardens integrate, providing a unique juxtaposition that other similar facilities throughout Australia lack.

Royal Botanic Gardens Hobart

the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens

Owing to Hobart's climate, the vast majority of the plants on display are still at their best during the height of summer, with each section of the gardens offering its own individual charm – the both the Japanese garden and orchid rooms in particular are often mentioned as perennial favourites. Perhaps best of all, the gardens are easy to access given their location and can be reached within a reasonably short walk from most accommodation within the Hobart city centre – with plenty of parking available for those who have rented a car as well.

The previously mentioned MONA modern art gallery is also, of course, visitable not just in summer but any season - in fact, it serves as the ideal choice for the rare day the weather isn't especially pleasant. Accessible by ferry, the gallery has only recently been established by artistic stalwart David Walsh yet has already become widely acclaimed by various international media as one of the must-visit artistic facilities in the world. MONA combines the old and the new into a single slick, modern - and sometimes confronting - package, with a focus on a mixture of both regular artefacts and adult-centric art.

MONA Gallery Hobart

MONA Gallery, Hobart

Uniqueness is truly the name of the game at the Museum of Old and New Art; you're bound to come across several things you've not only never seen before, but would most likely have never encountered in your dreams. The gallery offers a detailed companion "iPod-style" guide which provides further insight into its many displays, and even the building and its interior itself is a testament to modern design and ambition.

Meanwhile, those with a passion for wildlife will want to turn their eyes to the north of the city and pay a visit to Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary, perhaps the most widely-acclaimed wildlife facility in Tasmania. Established back in 1981 originally as a haven for orphaned wildlife, Bonorong is now a fully-fledged sanctuary that specialises in both the care for – and rehabilitation of – wildlife while allowing visitors to get an up-close and personal experience with some of these cuddly creatures. The park's staff are renowned for both their passion for the animals and friendliness to visitors, and do their best to educate guests on not just the aspects of the animals characters and habitats but also the importance of conservation.

With the likes of Tasmanian Devils (obviously), kangaroos, wallabies, wombats and many others, it offers a variety of wildlife at a reasonable price, although it's slightly out of the way if you're staying in the city centre – expect to travel roughly 25 minutes drive to get there (taking a bus is not recommended as the nearest stop leaves you facing a 1.5km walk uphill to the park entrance. Of special interest to families travelling with kids, Bonorong's popularity can tend to make it quite crowded over the summer school holiday period however, so bear this in mind if you're either adverse to crowds or not a fan of the little ones.

Lastly, of course, no visit to Hobart would be complete without making the trip up Mt Wellington itself – it's ranked #1 on our Top 10 Things to do in Hobart guide for a reason - the mountain not only forms a beautiful panorama aside the city, but provides outstanding views of Hobart and its harbour once you've ascended to the summit. Summer is, once again, the ideal time to spend on Mt Wellington as the greater number of clear days means you're more likely to get a view all the way out to Southern Tasmania and beyond.

Mt Wellington Hobart

View from Mount Wellington, Hobart

If you're looking to reach the summit, you've got a range of choices available – driving directly by car, taking part in any of the number of Mt Wellington coach tours on offer, or utilising one of the many bush and bike tracks available. All in all it's easily the best and most iconic natural attraction in the greater Hobart area and serves as a wonderful symbol of the city and its people.

Day tours and Trips outside Hobart in Summer

Looking outside the city opens up an even wider range of opportunities for exploration in the summer, as the relatively compact size of not only Hobart but Tasmania as a whole makes it easier to navigate from one major highlight to the next. From the feedback we received when researching this article, there were three major destinations which stood out from the pack, each for different reasons: Bruny Island, the Coal River Valley, and Port Arthur. While it can be difficult to fit all three destinations into a shorter itinerary, even choosing just one of these spots – depending on your individual interests and tastes – can make for an exceedingly satisfying day out.

Bruny Island Tasmania

Cruising at Bruny Island

Bruny Island has been long considered one of the “top 100 greatest trips in the world” by multiple independent travel authorities, and after paying a trip to this rugged, wildlife-rich region it's not hard to see why. Accessible from a wharf around 35 minutes to Hobart's south and then via a roughly 15 minute cruise from the shore, Bruny Island offers a fascinating array of marine life combined with stunning geological features that jut directly out of the ocean to form a spectacular contrast of colours – including its iconic sandstone monuments and sheer sea cliffs, some of which rank amongst the highest in Australia.

Upon setting sail on a Bruny Island cruise, you'll likely not have to wait long before coming across the likes of dolphins, seals and even whales during their migratory season, so those with a passion for animal life will be in their element here – the seals in particular are more visible than usual in the summer. If you're looking to visit Bruny Island and concerned about time constraints, you're likely looking at either making the drive from Hobart yourself and spending around 3 hours of cruise time on the water, or choosing a full day tour that includes accommodation transfers from the city. These tours aim for an earlier start, typically kicking off at around 8:00am and returning you to Hobart by 5:30-6:00pm. Regardless of your choice of options, Bruny Island makes for an ideal choice of day trips in the summertime.

Meanwhile, if you're instead looking to indulge your palate with some of the region's highly-regarded local produce, you'll want to turn your eyes towards the renowned wine-producing region of the Coal River Valley which lies just 25 minutes to the north east of Hobart's city centre. Featuring some of the best food and wine in Tasmania, the Coal River Valley also offers spectacular views of the surrounding greenery that is typical of the more lush regions of Tassie in addition to its culinary delights. The area is characterised by its blend of wineries and boutique vineyards, with generally friendly and knowledgable winemakers who are more than willing to share their insider information with visitors.

Coal River Valley Tasmania

Coal River Valley wineries

Wine lovers will be in heaven here as it's a commonly mentioned fact that the Coal River Valley's wineries produce the best Pinot Noir in Australia, and their cheeses are no slouch either. With a variety of vineyards to choose from, it's easy to spend an entire day here – although if you're imbibing in a number of wines, a bus tour can come in handy to ensure you won't need to monitor your alcohol intake and can leave the driving to designated bus guides.

Lastly – but definitely not least - is Port Arthur. This historic, World Heritage-listed site serves as a living testament to Australia's colonial history and boasts an array of beautifully-kept buildings that prove just how far Aussies have come since their convict past. The site is lovingly maintained by regional authorities via the proceeds from ticket sales, and it shows with plenty of spots that make for outstanding photo opportunities, particularly as the sun shifts to varying different angles throughout the course of the day. Despite its recent tumultuous past, the site is incredibly peaceful and simply dripping with history – it's easy to spend a full day just exploring the Port Arthur site and its surrounds, and the summer weather and longer hours of daylight make it possible to squeeze a few extra hours out of your time there.

Port Arthur Historic Site

Port Arthur historic site

This is a good thing, as it's a fair distance from Hobart – expect it to take around an hour and a half drive to get to Port Arthur, although it must be said that the drive itself is quite scenic. Depending on the amount of time you have, additional options to explore the Port Arthur region are also available such as relatively cheap boat tours of the harbour and the option to disembark and do some sightseeing on the neighbouring Isle of the Dead (quite enchanting despite its morbid name). History buffs can easily stretch their visit to Port Arthur out over two days in order to see everything, and the variety of passes and tours available – from bronze silver and gold pass options that include everything from basic entry to additional tours, lunches and other extras to after-dark and ghost tour adventures, Port Arthur offers an extremely satisfying and customisable historical Tasmania experience.

In short, Hobart and its surrounds is continuing to show more and more why it's making its mark on the international travel map – and with summer being the best time to visit, you'd be wise to get in quick before the crowds catch up with its increasing worldwide fame. Lastly, if you're looking for a range of other things to do in and around Hobart not only in summer but various other times throughout the year – including tickets to some of the city's most popular attractions – be sure to visit our main Hobart region section by clicking below

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