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Further Down Under: MONA Opening Puts Tasmania in the Limelight

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Once considered a beautiful Australian backwater, Tasmania is turning heads with an extravagant new eco-lodge and provocative museum.

To residents of bustling Sydney and artsy Melbourne, the southern island state of Tasmania is Australia’s provincial cousin. Its residents, so-called Taswegians, are often characterized as country bumpkins who live 150 miles off the coast. It’s easy to see why the natural landscape has defined the area: Tasmania is a striking mix of Tahitian-like beaches, verdant rain forests, and pointy peaks, much of it protected within 19 national parks. In the bushland, furry wallabies hop, fat wombats waddle, and Tasmanian devils howl.

Recently, however, a touch of worldly elegance has landed on these shores. High-end lodges set in isolated areas have long been considered a specialty of the Kiwis to the north. But over the past few years, choice areas of Australia and now Tasmania have started to get into the game. The 20-suite Saffire Freycinet (www.saffire-freycinet.com), a deluxe resort that opened in June on Tasmania’s sunny east coast, has brought clean-lined modernity, but not so much so as to interfere with nature.

The main building – housing a full-service spa and a 40-seat restaurant emphasizing fresh degustation menus – sports a swooping manta ray-like roof, visually connecting it to the pristine waters of Great Oyster Bay just below. Wading for shellfish is one possible activity for guests. The rooms are decorated to emphasize the view of the Hazard Range in the distance.

Further boosting Tasmania’s cachet is the Museum of Old and New Art, or MONA (www.mona.net.au), which opened January 21  just outside the Georgian-style capital city of Hobart. The museum contains what is being touted as one of the largest private art collections in the Southern Hemisphere. The new attraction is a project of eccentric millionaire David Walsh, a professional gambler and art collector who has poured much of his fortune into its construction.

MONA is garnering a lot of buzz, not least because of its location and layout: Set on 8 acres of riverfront on Walsh’s Moorilla estate, the museum is entirely subterranean and the galleries are arranged like a labyrinth. To encourage further disorientation, a bar stands in lieu of an information desk at the museum’s entrance. Presented against a backdrop of millions-of-years-old Triassic sandstone, the eclectic works range from antique Roman coins to contemporary works by the likes of Damien Hirst, Jenny Saville, and Chris Ofili. Provocative installation pieces fill entire rooms; one piece by Wim Delvoye, Cloaca, is a machine that simulates the human digestive system in all its graphic glory.

The museum neighbors Walsh’s winery, brewery, and his boutique hotel, Mona Pavilions (www.moorilla.com.au/pavilions). The ultramodern lodging is decorated with artworks from the collection, and each of the eight pavilions is named for an influential Australian architect or painter. Walsh is a fan of electronic gadgets, reflected in the unusual array of tech goodies offered at the hotel, including Aquavision LCD television screens with waterproof controls.

That other attraction of New Zealand and mainland Australia, wine, has the potential to lure visitors to Tasmania as well. Already 265 wineries are producing pinot noirs, rieslings, sauvignon blancs, and sparkling wines from the island’s red basalt earth and many are winning international plaudits along the way. Premier Travel Tasmania (www.premiertraveltasmania.com) will chauffeur a tasting trip on one of the four main wine trails.

As the island weaves in more sophistication with its ravishing natural beauty, travelers will have a devil of a time resisting Tasmania.

From the Winter 2010/2011 issue of Smart Luxury Travel magazine by ShermansTravel.com

For more trip-planning information, see our Tasmania Travel Guide, then use our Travel Search price comparison tool to find flight, hotel, cruise, and more travel deals to Tasmania.

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