For centuries, people have been looking for a utopia ever since this term was borrowed from Greek by Sir Thomas More for his book, Utopia, in 1516. Utopia, an idealistic place of social and political perfection where everyone lives in harmony and happiness. How sweet it would be if such an place existed!
Tasmania, an island in the south of Australia, is not far from perfection. What greets visitors is a beautiful waterfront where people laze on their yachts or pass time on the benches to admire the clear, blue sky. Trips to Bruny Island, with its famous blowhole, and Port Arthur, a prison turned museum, will not disappoint visitors.
Australians are generally kind and polite folk, but Tasmanians take this friendliness to a whole new level. From the airport employees I greeted, to the day I checked out of my hotel one week later, all of them had showed their hospitality. This may be because Tasmania is pretty much a self-sufficient island. Its residents are happy with the way they live and don't ask for a lot in return.
The list of why I love Tasmania can go on forever. At the top is the Taste Festival, which is held in the capital, Hobart. It is seven days of street performances, band gigs and incredibly good food and wine. There is nothing better than dining on a plate of fresh Tasi oysters with Hobart's breathtaking wharf providing the perfect backdrop.
The next festival will run from December 28 to January 3.
But even if you don't catch the festival and get to dance the day away to the music of jazz bands, there is still Bruny Island. Actually it's two islands, joined together by an isthmus. Pack swimming gear.
The easiest way to get there is to join a day tour that includes a cruise. That way you'll get to see the ocean wildlife as the boat zigzags among the rocks. Keep the camera ready for dolphins and whales and the dozens of basking seals. Once you get back to dry land, if you're still feeling energetic, you can take one of the bushwalks where you can hike along routes that vary from a gentle stroll to serious exercise. Again, keep the camera handy for spectacular views.
Birders will not be disappointed, either, and if you go at the right time of the year, you might catch the awfully cute fairy penguins. Check the weather forecast before setting out, and take a map.
A visit to Port Arthur will give you the historical perspective of the area. In 1830, the port was a convict settlement for the most hard-core British criminals.
The settlement was abandoned in 1877, and some of its properties were sold, but others remained without buyers because of its dark reputation. I dare you to take a ghost tour! But even if thrills and chills are not your thing, this is just a wonderful place to relax.
Just across the harbour is the Point Puer Prison, where boys as young as nine were sent for punishment. It's a sad reminder of the area's darker days.
Hong Kong permanent residents can apply for an Electronic Travel Authority online. It costs A$20 (HK$166) and is valid for multiple stays within 12 months, up to three months per visit.
Health and safety
Australian doctors are highly trained and hospitals well equipped. There is high emphasis on food safety and hygiene.
Foreign currency can be exchanged at international airports. Many hotels also exchange currencies. Most restaurants accept only Australian dollars, but credit cards are widely accepted. A$1 is equal to about HK$8.30 currently.
Weather and climate
Tasmania's seasons are the opposite of Hong Kong's, meaning it is now winter Down Under.