It is a most beautiful and dramatic location for a hotel. Perched on the edge of Macquarie wharf in the heart of Hobart is the new MACq 01. Built on the footprint of a historic wharf shed, MACq 01 is sympathetic but not sycophantic in its tribute to the district’s maritime architecture. Formed concrete, bare wood and dark glass are the materials. The dark waters of Sullivans Cove are the foreground, the fishing boats moored at Franklin Wharf the neighbours. The mix of Hobart’s brutal modern and classic colonial buildings, the neighbourhood and the haunting mass of Mount Wellington, its summit shrouded by a shawl of thick grey cloud, form the backdrop to it all. The ferry to MONA cuts through the water just beyond the hotel. Beyond its wake is the mouth of the Derwent River and, beyond that, nothing until Antarctica. There are times in Hobart when you can’t help but feel you’re on the very edge of civilisation.
That is something this new scion of the Tasmanian-owned Federal Group plays on very well. Its sister operations are the highly regarded Saffire Freycinet lodge and The Henry Jones Art Hotel. It differentiates itself from other luxury Australian hotels by calling itself the ‘storytelling’ hotel. From the second you enter the doors – sliding glass with a topographic map of the island of Tasmania lying oddly on its side – the dark and enigmatic history of the state confronts you. Hand-made indigenous kelp water-carrying baskets and models of hand-woven bark canoes are housed in glass cases in the foyer lounge. Next to them are harpoons used in the island’s whaling days and agricultural tools used by convicts. The design and artefacts somehow capture the newfound fascination of Tasmanian Gothic without directly referring to it. The ceiling above the lounge is covered in green, kelp-like sculptures; underneath are a conversation pit and open fire.
On the door to every one of the 114 guest rooms is an engraved plaque depicting an important Tasmanian with a potted history of their contribution to the narrative of the onetime ‘Van Diemen’s Land’. The 114 Doors Storytelling Tour has become a destination in itself with visitors paying the $20 fee to have one of the hotel’s master storytellers relate the life stories of the rogues, royalty, indigenous heroes and infamous villains etched into the very body of the building. The tour is free to guests.
While the marketing of the hotel is all about the storytelling theme it somehow underplays the outstanding solid basics of the hotel. For a start the hospitality is both warm and heartfelt. Like its older brother The Henry Jones Art Hotel, just a few hundred metres away, MACq 01 has staff that can combine Tasmanian casual with effective and professional. From the nautical cabin feel of reception to the newsroom décor of the bar every surface and every fitting has been considered for maximum visual impact and comfortable functionality.
The rooms are spacious and well appointed. The comfortable beds are fitted with fine cotton sheets, a colourful throw over the continental quilt. The rustic raw wood of the exterior continues into the rooms with bare wooden stools and tables standing beside plush modern furniture. Behind each bed is a modern mural. The mini bar offers complimentary bottled water and Nespresso coffee, and is a tribute to the state’s wineries and distilleries. Bathrooms are tiled grey with underfloor heating, special MACq 01 designer robes and fine toiletries. The views are nothing less than sensational: one side of the long wharf-like building taking in the day-to-day drama of the dockside, the other taking in the historic buildings of the Hunter Street docks and the international terminal.
The food and wine offerings in the hotel are designed to match the quality of Hobart’s burgeoning restaurant scene at competitive prices. Chef Simon Pockran has been seconded from Saffire Freycinet to present a menu led by Tasmanian produce. Typical is a gently confited ocean trout with a chopped parsley salad, sesame and yoghurt dressing with salmon roe dotted with barberries and crisp pistachios. There could be a grass-fed Cape Grim sirloin with Café de Paris butter, market fish or a whole grilled small octopus, wonderfully tender and slathered in a Middle Eastern-inspired sauce. Pockran excels at dessert. His delicate baked panna cotta is redolent of the citrus aroma of bergamot, counterbalanced by a rich curd made with ruby grapefruit and ginger, offset with bittersweet morsels of honeycomb.
MACq 01 is a welcome addition to the Australian tourism scene, a hotel that has a clear and insightful vision and historic understanding of its unique and beautiful location. It delivers handsomely on the basics of comfort and the tenets of luxury.
Essentials Magazine stayed as a guest of The Federal Group.
18 Hunter Street, Hobart, Tasmania
Tel 03 6210 7600