Unlocking the secrets of Tasmania

TRANQUIL: The dock in Hobart sits in a historic waterfront area of standstone warehouses and eateries.

Docking in Hobart on a cruise ship is not just a sweetly scenic affair, but a stunningly effortless way to immerse yourself in the heart of the city.

I regained my land legs on an eye-pleasing walk around the historic waterfront, in Sullivans Cove, where 19th-century sandstone warehouses brim with dockside cafes, artist studios and eateries. If you’re visiting on a Saturday, soak up the extravagant market flavours of Salamanca – Australia’s largest outdoor market.

Also on the waterfront, pay your respects to the beautifully sculpted monument dedicated to the legendary explorer, Abel Tasman. It’s one of an increasing array of sublime sculptures, dotting the harbour edge.

My chief assignment was to head down the Derwent River, to visit Australia’s most talked about museum. The Museum of Old and New Art, MONA, harbours a subterranean storehouse of eye-popping eccentricity. Six-years-old, MONA was the brain child of Tasmanian, who made a fortune fine-tuning algorithms to beat bookies and casinos at their own game. Nicknamed “the subversive adult Disneyland”, entering MONA is more like falling down a rabbit hole.

From the foyer, a spiral staircase leads you 17m underground, into a cave-like space, brimming with art and objects loosely themed around sex, evolution and death. Standing in the basement, I gazed in awe of the gigantic installation called “Bit.fall,” a rain-painting machine created by German artist Julius Popp.

This multi-million dollar contraption comprises 128 computer-controlled nozzles, releasing cascading droplets in the shape of trending phrases harvested daily from news websites. This pulsing waterfall of words, streamed from real-time Google searches, is a clever, cascading ode to the unrelenting news cycle.

I was lulled into a false sense of complacency. As I walked on, mulling whether MONA’s reputation for shockability was overhyped, I was suddenly confronted by the chocolate sculpture of the remains of a Chechen suicide bomber. Stephen Shanabrook’s cast of a disembowelled suicide bomber rendered in chocolate is unsettling.

One level up, a wall has been lined with more than 100 porcelain moulds of female genitalia, while another wall boasts a gigantic image of a man engaged in bestiality. It’s not hard to see why some art snobs sniff at MONA’s obsession with smut.

But the centre-piece of MONA that repulses and engrosses in equal doses is called Cloaca Professional by Belgian artist, Wim Delvoye. This room-sized machine of giant test tubes, pumps and glass receptacles parodies the digestive tract of humans in lurid detail. Nicknamed the poop machine, it’s fed twice a day, and you can watch the full digestive process of food unfold over three hours. I didn’t stay for the final act, but apparently the bi-product is absolutely pungent.

Prior to reaching Hobart, I had crossed the Tasman with Princess Cruises. Notorious for offering cruisers the tumble-dryer ocean experience, I’d heard plenty of dire reports. But my two days at sea across the Tasman, were relatively plain sailing – no brown paper bags were required.

Before reaching Hobart, the roll call of on-board entertainment made very short work of those two days at sea. There were Pilates and yoga classes, sports tournaments and quizzes, photography and health seminars, star-gazing courses and movies under the stars, on the giant screens crowning the pool deck.

Sea days are also a fabulous opportunity to sneak a peek behind the scenes, on the tours of the galley and bridge. I marvelled at the culinary miracles crafted in the ship’s galley, while the sheer magnitude of cutting-edge technology deployed on the bridge is an eye-opener.

But the extensive live entertainment that unfurls throughout the ship, was seriously impressive. Princess Cruises has partnered with The Voice to present The Voice of the Ocean, featuring a competitive cast of passengers battling against each other for supreme honours. The quality was exceptional.

However, the signature production was a Broadway-calibre musical called Magic to Do, created for Princess Cruises by the producer of Wicked, Stephen Schwartz. So even if the Tasman is turbulent, rest assured, you’ll be thoroughly entertained.

•Princess Cruises operates a series of transtasman cruises over the summer season, with five ships currently home-ported down under. An extensive schedule of sailings from New Zealand to Hobart will resume later in the year, in the 2017/18 summer months. For more information and cruise bookings, see your travel agent or visit www.princess.com