Tasmanian Gems – Tasman Island and The MONA

Coastal Gem, Tasman Island, and a City Gem, MONA

Tasman Island's towering rock cliffs as seen while on Pennicott Wilderness JourneysAfter leaving Freycinet, we headed to Hobart with 2 goals in mind:
1) See the famous MONA (Museum of Old and New Art) in Hobart, Tasmania’s Capital, and 
2) A tour of Tasman Island off of Port Arthur and the south coast of the Tasman Peninsula


Hobart is Australia’s second largest city after Sydney and was founded in 1804 as a penal colony. What an auspicious beginning for one of Lonely Planet’s ‘top 10 destinations worldwide.’ Tourists come to Hobart not only for the MONA, but for the ‘foodie scene.’ There is a walkable waterfront filled with great restaurants. And, ferries leave from the waterfront to go to the MONA.


MONA Museum in Hobart Tasmania - Outdoor grounds with TomThe MONA is touted a controversial macabre Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), and Hobart’s biggest tourism draw. It is a privately funded museum that helped put Hobart on the map. The museum is 11 km (7 miles) outside of town and can be accessed by ferry, car, express bus, metro bus, or taxi.

This extremely unusual subterranean museum is home to David Walsh’s $110 million private collection of art and antiquities, and it hosts various exhibitions of contemporary art, art with social statements and some with historical significance. The MONA appears to be one level; however, there are 3 levels underground. Upon entering, you descend into ominous darkness to galleries with no windows. The descent down endless stairs invokes a feeling of danger. Walsh thought the descent into the dimly lit space would enhance the art viewing. For me, it diverted my focus; I wondered why we descended into museum caverns, and why the galleries are so dark when we are here to view art. I was not sure if I could figure out how to get out, which took several tries when we were finally ready to leave.

MONA Museum in Hobart Tasmania - Dots Obsession by Yoyoi Kusama 2016 - panoramaThere are exhibits from crazy to bizarre, experimental to scientific, like techniques of copying the work of Dutch masters. We viewed several interesting exhibits, and at least one that is controversial – a series of 151 porcelain vulvas sculpted from real women. No labels appear on any of the work, which requires visitors to use the electronic device, the ‘O,’ to read about the art or to listen to interviews with the artists.

Overlooking the harbor, the outdoor grounds are lovely, with big lawns and places to sit or lie on the grass. Interesting sculptures are set around the grounds. There are a few places to eat and drink, both indoors and out. They serve local and global wines and beers, and locally procured food.

If you find yourself in Hobart Tasmania, don’t miss the wild and wacky thought-provoking MONA.

Tasman Island from the Sea

Tasman Island towering rock cliffs from Pennicott Wilderness Journey boat tourTasman Island and the southern coast off of the Tasmanian Peninsula is definitely a coastal gem. The coastline with its volcanic dolerite and sandstone layers of rock, black cliffs, and vertical towering rocks are extremely dramatic. It is like none I have ever seen.

Some of the coastline is stepped, providing enormous sundecks for the vast number of fur seals hanging out here. Some of the male fur seals are as much as 360 kilos (800 lbs.). From youngsters to grown males, seal behavior abounds for the curious observer, and can only be seen up close by boat.

Tasman Island's shagsA multitude of sea life is all around for visitors to view. Sea birds include Albatross, Black-faced Cormorants, Gannets, and more can be seen here. Likely you’ll see dolphin; we were treated to the company of Bottlenose Dolphin, and had a short visit from Common Dolphin.

We did not see many boats out in the wild Southern Ocean. Pennicott  Wilderness Journeys runs several different boat tours for tourists to experience the rare treasures of Tasman Island, the surrounding sea, and sea life.

Pennicott Wilderness Journeys

Disclaimer: While we were invited guests by Pennicott Wilderness Journeys, this is a totally independent and honest review based on our experience.

When we checked in at Pennicott Wilderness Journeys‘ office, we learned that there are 3 choices for afternoon activities with the Tasman Island tour. We had to choose from:

  1. Visit a cave, a chocolate maker, and a lavender farm. After all of our touring the previous two months in New Zealand, these 3 seemed commercial except for the cave.  We opted for this because of the cave, but the cave was not special compared to what we had seen in New Zealand.  This was the only option that did not add cost to the tour.
  2. Port Arthur Historic Penal Colony – While very historic, we were not interested in seeing the jail. When we picked up everyone who went to the Penal Colony, they were quite enthusiastic about their tour, and said it was fantastic.
  3. Tasmanian Devil Park – If we had not already done a nocturnal Tasmanian Devil Park experience at Cradle Mountain, this would have been our choice.

Pennicott Wilderness Journey Tour
The Ride to Port Arthur

Once the whole group boarded the bus, our bus driver, Phil, started his verbal commentary. Phil told us the history of Hobart and the towns as we drove through them. He talked about when and how castles – the Governor’s Castle, bridges, like the Tasman Bridge, and other structures were built; most were built by the prisoners brought to Tasmania by the English. We learned more about the ‘food culture’ of Hobart, like local produce, wineries, olive groves for olive oils, fine cheeses, mussels and oyster farming, and fishing for crayfish (Americans call these lobster). Phil explained that Tasmania is part of Australia’s food chain, providing wheat, barley, and oats to mainland Australia.

Stewart Bay to Tasman Island

We arrived at Stewart Bay Lodge for our morning tea; they served us tea and scones before boarding our boat in Stewart Bay.

Tasman Island's Port Arthur - boarding for Pennicott Wilderness Journey tourSeveral boats were being boarded with different Pennicott Wilderness Journeys groups. Our open motorboat held 32 passengers and 2 crew for our 3-hour cruise between Port Arthur and Tasman Island. Once aboard and seated in theater-style rows, the crew offered sea sickness medicine, given big red rain ponchos and seat belted in for our wild ride. Apparently we had a sunny calm day compared to most, and we still bounced off the waves and had walls of water soak us. It was worth it to see the unique dolerite and sandstone coastal formations and sea life.

Tasman Island Pennicott Wilderness Journeys tour boat

Our boat captain, Tim, is a local who enthusiastically shares his vast knowledge about the area history, the coastal rock formations, and the animals who live there. We motored between coastal walls and Pinnacle Rock. Tim took the boat up close to view the soaring coast rising at some points to plateaus a thousand feet above sea level; it is incredibly awesome. On some of these highlands, we could see hikers and climbers at the top.

Back closer to sea level, watch the antics of Black-faced Cormorants (they are camouflaged to look like Penguins), the fur seals playing, sunning, fighting, and Gannets diving and feeding. We enjoyed the dolphins surfing our bow wake.

As we motored around Tasman Island, Tim told us about the light station, one of two of the most remote in the world, and extremely unpopular with all light keepers.

Tim showed us the flying fox, a zipline used to move goods or people from a boat onto the shore. A tram was used to move the stores and goods hundreds of feet up the rock for the light-keeper. The light keeper had to climb down to fill the tram with the goods and then climb back up, and use a pulley to haul the goods up. Once at the top, a horse-drawn cart moved the goods from the tram to the lighthouse. Now abandoned, we could only imagine how dangerous an endeavor this was.

Tasman Island bull kelpTim also pointed out the bull kelp attached to the rocky shore. Bull kelp is used to make toothpaste, cosmetics and beer, believe it or not! The kelp here is plentiful and provides the material to manufacture these items.


Tasman Island's Port Arthur's historic prisonOn our return to Stewart Bay, we saw the Port Arthur Penal Colony, which faces the water. Tim told us about the prisoners who arrived here, the Englishman who worked there, and the depth of the sea. It is 140 meters deep (450’). In this deep ocean, remote location, and sometimes shark infested waters, there was no real escape route for the prisoners. There are 430 cells in the Port Arthur Penal Colony, where the worst criminals were sent. It took 3 months of sea travel to reach Port Arthur. I can’t imagine, as 3 hours in the protected sea where we toured provided enough jostling.

Land Tour

For the return trip to Hobart, those of us going to the cave had lunch back at the Stewart Bay Lodge. The Lodge has large windows all around looking out to the water. For lunch, we had 5 selections to choose from. Everyone enjoyed the variety of food served at Stewart Bay Lodge. After a short walk around the grounds we were off to the cave and blowholes.

Tasman Island rock archIt was nice to walk around and pretty to see the cave and blowhole, but it wasn’t special. Tom climbed down to the sandy entry, and I took photos. After the cave we were off to the chocolatier, and then the lavender farm, where I had lavender ice cream, yummm. If you have never been to a chocolatier or lavender farm, it will be interesting for you.

It was a long full day. We especially enjoyed the 3 hour cruise on the Southern Ocean. The coastline is so unique and impressive; I highly recommend taking the cruise with Pennicott Wilderness Journeys.


The sights are spectacular in Tasmania!  The MONA was more incredible and strange than words can describe.  The Pennicott Wilderness Journeys’ Tasman Island cruise explores dramatic coastal features.  Even though the tour we chose and the boat launch for Tasman Island is 1.5 hour drive from Hobart to Port Arthur, staying in Hobart was ideal. We had the restaurants and waterfront in easy walking distance, and our Pennicott Wilderness Journeys bus pick-up point was on Hobart’s waterfront at Franklin Pier.

There is so much to see in Tasmania, and our one week trip for the whole island was not nearly enough.


14 thoughts on “Tasmanian Gems – Tasman Island and The MONA

  1. The art museum sounds fascinating! I’ve never heard of it before. I’m not great with boats in rough water, but sometimes it’s just the best way to see things 🙂

  2. I did not opt to go to Tasmania on my 3 months in Melbourne. Now I regret it. Next time I visit my daughter and her family., I will make sure to go!

    • Yes – definitely. Make sure to visit Cradle Mountain, Launceston, and Freycinet too! I wrote about Freycinet, but not sure if I will do Cradle and Launceston. We spent the most time at Cradle Mountain.

  3. I have wanted to visit Tasmania for a long time. The MONA looks interesting, but the Pennicott Wilderness Journeys’ Tasman Island cruise is really my cup of tea!! Your photos are glorious!!

  4. Very interesting post! I’ve never been to Tasmania, but like others, thought of it mainly as a nature destination. It does look like Hobart has a lot for lovers of contemporary culture as well.

  5. The art museum sounds different. The best part is going the three levels underground. 🙂 And I didn’t know that kelp was so useful. Your blogs are always so informative.

  6. I’d always thought of Tasman Island as a nature destination, so I am happy to read of all Hobart has to offer. I love that you can really explore it on foot. The MONA looks very interesting and what a contrast to all of the outdoor activity. Thanks for the education on this destination.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.