The Old Wool Store Hotel Hobart
Sleeping on the Sheep’s Back
Kerry van der Jagt will do anything for a good night’s sleep – Which is why she headed to this converted Woolstore in Tasmania to count sheep.
If John Macarthur, father of the Australian wool industry, could tread the boards of Hobart’s Old Woolstore Apartment Hotel, he’d be impressed. The hotel, like a good pair of ugg boots, is warm, comfortable and stylish.
The site, near the historic Sullivan’s Cove waterfront, was first taken up by shanty housing before being turned into a wool storage and treatment facility around the turn of the 20th Century. Roberts and Co Ltd, an agricultural company, operated the wool and grain store. The top floor, used for wool treatment, required the natural light offered by the striking saw-tooth roofline.
The National Trust has listed parts of the building, including the façade, the bricks in the bar area and the roofline, as being of historic importance. In fact, The Old Woolstore was awarded Best Redeveloped Industrial Building in 1997 by the Trust, and in 2001 additional apartments and conference facilities were added on adjacent land.
Arriving at the Old Woolstore is like stepping into the famous Australian painting, Shearing the Rams. The decor is pure Tom Roberts. Some original floors have been maintained, and rather than destroy original equipment used at the wool store, many have been retained and incorporated as features in the corridors and common areas.
Arriving mid-morning with a friend for a girls’ weekend, we’re granted our request for early check-in. For the remainder of our stay the exceptional service continues. Nothing is too much trouble, from changing our room from a double to a twin, to bringing us a late night snack of toasted sandwiches or arranging an unscheduled check-in when our flight home is suddenly cancelled due to fog. We’re even offered an upgrade.
You don’t need to count sheep for a good night’s sleep here. The beds are comfortable, the sheets crisp, the rooms quiet. If you have a large flock of your own, go for an apartment. The one-bedder costs about the same as a standard hotel room anywhere else in Hobart.
In the Stockman’s Restaurant, award-winning executive chef Kristian Bearman dishes up well-priced, hearty meals. The menu changes seasonally and features fresh Tasmanian produce, including oysters from Bruny Island at $14 a half-dozen, Spring Bay scallops and Blue Eye Trevalla. Most farmyard animals are well represented on the menu, but I must admit the braised lamb with baby beets, balsamic and fresh herbs was a surprise. It just doesn’t seem Australian to serve up your hotel’s own mascot.
The real test of any hotel is not whether it has a gym (tick), complimentary parking (tick) or eight in-house movie channels (tick), but in the quality of its watering hole. For this, the Old Woolstore wins the blue ribbon. The mood is relaxed, the service attentive and the wine top paddock. Just repeating the name, Baaa Bar, kept me amused for hours.
The location is excellent. Macquarie Street is not pretty – most views are of the car park – but Hobart’s majestic harbour front is just a block away. And since the next nearest landmass south is Antarctica, we set out to explore Hobart’s various tributes to the cold continent. From Sullivan’s Cove we follow the Polar Pathways and wander past bobbing fishing boats, statues of Antarctic explorers and right up to the hulking form of the icebreaker Aurora Australis. From here it’s a five-minute walk to the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery where we drop into the exhibition Islands to Ice: The Great Southern Ocean and Antarctica.
We continue our Shackleton odyssey by visiting the Australian Antarctic Division at Kingston (16km south of Hobart). Visitors are welcome into the public display area, which includes Mawson’s half-sledge, a K95 Polaris Snowtraveller and various field clothing and crevasse climbing gear. With permission (just ask nicely) you can access the library, which holds more than 1300 books about Antarctica, or speak to one of the many experts that work there.
We finish off our Antarctic adventure by visiting the Subantarctic Plant House at the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens, buffeted by blasting winds and frozen solid by temperatures that mirror the harsh conditions of the subantarctic.
The plants themselves have been collected by scientists and Gardens’ staff on field trips to Macquarie Island. We listen to the sounds of wildlife, including elephant seal harems, fur seals, and colonies of various species of penguins, albatross and skuas. A sudden downpour sends us scuttling like barnyard rats back to the comfort and warmth of our hotel. After a day visiting Antarctica, the Baaa Bar is calling.
DETAILS // The Old Woolstore Apartment Hotel
Where // 1 Macquarie Street, Hobart
Phone // (03) 6235 5355 or 1800 814 676
Website // www.oldwoolstore.com.au
Rooms // Four star, with a mix of 242 hotel rooms, studio, one-and two-bedroom self-contained apartments.
Cost // Standard room from $135/night, one-bed apartment from $140/night. Antarctic experience // Entry to Polar Pathways, Tas Museum & Art Gallery, Australian Antarctic Division and the Royal Tas Botanical Gardens is free.