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Footloose in Hobart

Tasmanian Capital Set in a Lake District Scene

April 06, 1986|BEVERLY BEYER and ED RABEY | Beyer and Rabey are Los Angeles travel writers.

HOBART, Australia — Nothing on this earth will chill your blood quicker than the fierce screeches, snarls and assorted other atrocious sounds made by the Tasmanian devil, a toothy little carnivore that moves around at night eating any smaller animal that stirs.

Once roaming widely throughout Australia, this feisty rascal now does his gnawing and chomping only on this island, all the more surprising, as Tasmania is one of the most peaceful and lovely places you are ever likely to see.

Hobart has a distinct San Francisco feel about it, with sandstone Victorian houses lining hills running down to the Derwent River and estuary, majestic Mt. Wellington lending a dramatic backdrop to the scene.

Five minutes from town and you're in countryside reminiscent of England's Lake District, more gently rolling green hills and a sense of pastoral quietude, the yellow blooms of Scotch broom and wattle trees lining roadways. Another 10 minutes or so and you enter the bush, severe but somehow beautiful unkempt land as beloved by Tasmanians as mainland Aussies revere their outback.

Here to there: Fly Qantas to Melbourne; Qantas, Air New Zealand, Pan Am and Continental to Sydney; then Ansett, Trans Australia or East-West onward to Hobart. You may also take a 17-hour modern ferry from Melbourne. Airport-Hobart bus about $3.50, taxi around $16.

Getting around: Thanks to fly-drive competition, car rental is the best bet. No trains; buses OK for long hauls.

How long/how much: A day for Hobart, two or three more for good things to see about the island. Prices strike us as reasonable for both food and lodging.

A few fast facts: Australia's dollar was recently worth 70 U.S. cents Australia's seasons are upside down to us, April to October a mild but brisk and cool winter, summers pleasantly warm with little rain. Don't forget a rather stiff departure tax when leaving the country: $20 Australian, U.S.$14.

Getting settled in: Hobart has a wealth of colonial-era B&Bs, Victorian mansions, old whaling cottages and the like. Colville Cottage (32 Mona St.; $33 double B&B), built in 1877 in the town's picturesque Battery Point section, is the domain of friendly and chatty Rosemary Lewis. A rambling place with lacey ironwork on the veranda, lots of antiques around and the possibility of eggs Florentine for breakfast.

Four Seasons Westside (156 Bathurst; $59) is a handsome and thoroughly modern hotel with flowering trees in the lobby, deep couches in restful green chintz, large bedrooms, attractive restaurant.

Families will love Woolmers Inn (123 Sandy Bay Road, $35), banks of colonial-style town houses with practically everything you need to set up residence: kitchens with all utensils, color TV, washer and dryer, bar, pool.

Regional food and drink: It's almost a draw between fresh fish and game as local specialties. Deep-water trout, scallops, crayfish, abalone and trevalla, a firm but flaky white fish much in favor. Huge strawberries and raspberries are the basis for many desserts, while apple juice and cider bottled here is said to be the best in Australia.

Pyangana, a cheddar, went very well with our impressive bottle of Moorilla Estate Pinor Noir '83, an excellent example of the region's newly emerging wine industry. We also dropped down an epicurean notch with a hot meat pie bought at a country grocery store for lunch, slathered with catsup, which is called "sauce" hereabouts. Messy but delicious.

Moderate-cost dining: Three marvelous places with different menus begin with Mures Fish House (5 Knopwood in town), an 1849 Victorian building; you must ring the doorbell to get in. Several dining rooms with old-fashioned nosegays on tables, Tasmania scallops at $8.75, trevalla $7.50 and a sea of other fish at similar prices. Be sure to reserve for this one.

Steaks-and-chops fanciers should head for the Astor Grill (157 Macquarie St.) where a gigantic porterhouse will nick you $6.60, thick-eye filet $8.50 and venison sausage $3.50. Trimmings grace all of these in this attractive place with ceiling fans, neat white linen, carnations on each table.

In Richmond, 20 minutes from town, Tasmania's finest restaurant turns marvels with island game. Prospect House is a stately Georgian manor set in 30 acres of landscaped grounds. They hang their own venison here, superb with wild mushrooms at $12.50. Or try the hind leg of aged hare with black currants for $10. Locals furnish the hare, pheasant and wild duck, owners Lil and Graeme Phillips have their own herb garden. They also have a few guest rooms ($39 B&B) in the original convict-made barns and haylofts around the courtyard out back.

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