Last updated: May 12, 2012 1:16 am

Up from down under

The former penal colony’s reputation has undergone a sea change, and with it comes a property boom

Between the 40th and 43rd parallels south, suspended like a name tag beneath the terrier head of Australia, and separated from the continent by the treacherous 150 miles of the Bass Strait, lies the island of Tasmania. The next landfall to the west is Patagonia, from where the Roaring Forties race unimpeded across the southern oceans to reach Tasmania’s shores as some of the purest air in the world.

Map of Tasmania

Tasmania is a by-word for remoteness. When Dutchman Abel Tasman first sighted the island in 1642, he named it Van Diemen’s Land and sailed on, unaware of its mineral riches. That the British occupied it at all, in 1803, was to thwart any designs of the French – and they proceeded to turn Van Diemen’s Land into the most notorious of penal colonies. Not even the change of name to Tasmania, after convict transportation ceased in 1853, could eradicate this stain. “We were never taught Tasmanian history at school,” a woman in her fifties told me. “It was considered too shameful”.

In the past 15-odd years, however, Tasmania’s reputation has undergone a sea change, and with it a property boom that, since 2002, has seen a threefold rise in prices. Tasmania’s remoteness and the pristine wilderness of the national parks that occupy more than one-third of its land have become positive attributes. “9/11 had a lot to do with it,” says Pam Corkhill of Corkhill & Associates. “Tasmania was seen as a safe haven, far from the threat of fundamentalist attack”.

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Should this remain a worry, however, a 1930s four-bedroom house in suburban Deloraine comes with arts and crafts details and, bizarrely, a bomb shelter, at A$850,000 (£531,000).

With less sense of drama, one might credit Tasmania’s rehabilitation to the marketing of its cool climate vineyards and the development of “wine routes”. At the same time, growing interest in conservation and wilderness adventure have dovetailed with the growth in tourism.

Even Tasmania’s dark history attracts interest, and in 2010 five convict sites were placed on the Unesco world heritage list. Only Hobart’s Museum of Old and New Art (Mona), which opened last year, receives more visitors than the convict settlement of Port Arthur, representing both a coming to terms with the past and a trend towards a more sophisticated image.

“Today, property prices in Tasmania are almost on a par with Melbourne, though still well below Sydney,” says Christine Neely, former partner and co-founder of estate agent View. Although the market has softened over the past year, with a reported fall of 20 per cent in sales since the peak of 2009, Neely is confident that it “will take off again, as it did after the lull of 2007”.

“We have a buyers’ market,” says Corkhill, who specialises in residential sales in the exclusive suburbs of Hobart’s Battery Point and Sandy Bay. “Prime property has been worst affected, so that vendors are having to lower their expectations.”

A glass home in Battery Point, for sale at A$3.5m

A glass home in Battery Point, for sale at A$3.5m

A three-bedroom house in Battery Point, which Corkhill sold for A$1.6m almost two years ago, is now for sale at A$1.55m, after extensive improvements. She is also offering one of the most expensive properties available in the capital: a four-bedroom, 362 sq m steel and glass construction, with title to the land down to the high-water mark at Battery Point, for A$3.5m. Corkhill has also opened an office across the Derwent River, in less fashionable East Hobart, to ride the tide of “the buoyant market below A$400,000”.

Tasmanian properties range from convict-built Georgian and Victorian houses of the early settlers, who were anxious to recreate “home” through nostalgic place names and architectural styles, to pretty Federation-era weatherboard houses and inexpensive latter-day structures. Increasingly, plots of land are purchased for the owners to build glass-walled homes designed to maximise Tasmania’s greatest asset: views over mountains and 4,992km of coastline.

“After Hobart, the most expensive real estate is on the east coast, around Binalong Bay or Coles Bay,” says Neely. With the driest climate, the turquoise waters of the Tasman Sea, views over the pink granite of the Freycinet Peninsula and vineyards, the number of residents on the east coast swells during summer months. A minimalist beachfront house on five acres, in Swansea, is available at A$1.65m through Roberts Real Estate.

The wild west is a different story, Strahan being the only waterfront town on this inaccessible coast. Hemmed in by dense rainforest and drenched by three metres of rain per annum, it might not appeal to everyone. Yet there is no escaping the great outdoors; it is only a matter of degree.

Tasmania provides the perfect landscape for hiking and riding. Boats are ubiquitous. There is game fishing off the rugged Tasman Peninsula and fly fishing in the highland lakes. The superior infrastructure of Hobart, Launceston and their hinterlands attracts businesses and families alike.

Before rushing to buy a property, however, remember that any foreigner wishing to purchase in Australia must first apply for approval to the Foreign Investment Review Board, to ensure that certain conditions are met.

Meanwhile, both foreigners and mainland Australians continue to buy into Tasmania’s charm. Delia Nicholls, originally from Sydney, who works for Mona, says: “It is a place where ‘environmental refugees’ come in search of a milder climate, local produce, absence of traffic. Here, you can find a network of like-minded people.”

Teresa Levonian Cole was a guest of Turquoise Holidays

www.turquoiseholidays.co.uk

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Buying guide

Pros

● Excellent fresh local food and wines

● The outdoor life

Cons

● Remoteness and lack of an international airport (sometimes seen as a ‘pro’)

● Lack of infrastructure outside the main cities

● Strength of the Australian dollar

What you can buy for ...

£100,000 A three-bedroom house in a west-coast mining town

£1m An elegant 1850s four-bedroom house in Battery Point

Contacts

● Corkhill & Associates www.corkhill.com.au

● View Real Estate www.viewtube.com.au

● Roberts Real Estate www.robertsre.com.au

● Domain www.domain.com.au

www.realestate.com.au

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