As anyone who has visited Hobart in mid-winter can attest Tasmania is Australia’s closest point to Antarctica and its weather. Most notably, Douglas Mawson left from Hobart and it was at Hobart Post Office that Roald Amundsen announced in 1912 that he’d reached the South Pole.

Today there are more Antarctic scientists in Hobart than any other city in the world and it’s the home of the Australian Antarctic Division, the new IMAS (Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies) and the international HQ for (deep breath) the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR).

Hobart is hosting the Australian Antarctic Festival 8-11 September, 2016. It’s a good reason to visit the city when there’s even more to do than usual. Good planning for the weekend can include the Salamanca Markets on Saturday morning and a mind-filling trip out to MONA as well as catch all the special events of the festival.

Patagonian toothfish for dinner anyone?
The big event is the Gala Fundraising Dinner for the Mawson’s Huts Foundation that will be held in the Hotel Grand Chancellor’s Federation Ballroom on the Saturday night. The guest speaker is Peter Hillary, son of Sir Edmund and a noted climber and Antarctic explorer in his own right. Tickets are $300 per person and the main dish is sustainably-caught Patagonian toothfish, widely recognised as the best tasting fish in the world.

Penguin -painting -hobart -fest -500x 600
Penguins being decorated for the festival (Image: Facebook / Australian Antarctic Festival)

The festival provides a unique opportunity to go on board the Australian Antarctic research ship, the Aurora Australis and the French equivalent L’Astrolabe. For just $10 you can book here and learn why it’s a challenge to cross mountainous waves to reach the Southern Continent. The festival literature politely refers to the Aurora Australis as the “Big Orange Taxi” that is much more polite than its other nickname of the “Orange Roughie”.

Husky-pulled sled races
On Sunday there’s a husky-pulled sled race on Sunday morning before a Huskies Picnic on the lawns of Parliament House. While the last huskies left Antarctica in 1994 some of these dogs are descended from their polar ancestors.

Over the four days there’s quite an action-packed program including a Film Festival and a Photographic Exhibition.

The Phillip Law Lecture will be presented on Friday night by Professor Tony Worby, the CEO of the Antarctic Climate & Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre. The lecture is named after the legendary Phil Law, who followed the work of Sir Douglas Mawson as Director of the Antarctic Division in 1949.

Hobart -antarctic -festival -p 2-wyza -com -au
One of the stunning painted penguins (Image: Facebook / Australian Antarctic Festival)

He established the bases at Mawson, Davis and Casey and led expeditions that explored more than 5000 km of coast and a million square kilometres of territory. Phil only died in 2010 at the age of 97. Professor Worby’s talk should be interesting as he’s spent some time on the ice and was the Program Leader of the Antarctic Climate research program.

Polar history walks
Each day there are Polar History walks that take in the remarkable moments in Hobart’s links to Antarctica. And, of course, everyone should visit the replica of Mawson’s Hut on the waterfront that is a very faithful reproduction of the original and filled with items from the expedition.

Over the weekend there’s an Antarctic Expo at Princes Wharf between 10am and 4pm. This is free and gives you a chance to find out what it’s like to work in Antarctica, not just from scientists but also the tradies, chefs and technicians. Ask them about going for a swim when the temperature is -40°C during the mid-winter celebrations down in Antarctica.

Penguins galore Hobart is also going to be in the middle of a plethora of penguins during the festival. Firstly, 20 one-metre high fibreglass penguins have been given to 20 Tasmanian artists to decorate as they like. They are on display and will be available for sale. They are joined by 5000 plywood cut-out penguins that have been painted by Tasmanian primary school children which will be displayed along the Hobart waterfront.

Did you know? Hobart is home to more Antarctic scientists than any other city

The money raised by the festival goes to the Mawson’s Huts Foundation to allow it to conserve the historic hut that’s subject to the worst possible Antarctic conditions on the coast at Commonwealth Bay.

With all the attention directed downtown this might be the ideal time to head to Hobart and out to MONA while the crowds are distracted.

If you’d like someone else to do all the organising for you, Chimu Adventures is offering a program from Friday to Monday (September 9-12) that takes in all the events of the Antarctic Festival shared with the company’s founders. That includes exclusive ship tours and the gala dinner. Details can be found here.

Hobart is also a great destination for foodies
Options range from the very casual Machine Laundry Café in Salamanca Square where you really can have your laundry done while you eat. The breakfasts are excellent. At the other end of the scale there’s Frank, an Argentinean themed restaurant and bar not far from the docks.

On a recent visit to Salamanca markets we found a stall selling Davey Crockett hats.

Hobart really does have something for everyone.

What Australian travel destination would you like our travel editor to write about next?