Australiaís chilliest and greenest state, Tasmania is the place to visit if youíre looking for a vacation which features barely-explored wilderness, rugged national parks, a dark colonial history, a thriving gourmet food and wine scene and supposedly the cleanest air in the world. Tasmania is also the part of Australia most similar to New Zealand, making it a fantastic travel destination for hikers, with the Overland Track widely considered one of Australiaís best.
Most holiday-makersí Tasmanian travels will start in a hotel in the state capital, friendly and laidback Hobart. Australiaís second-oldest city, after Sydney, Hobart is also one of Australiaís most picturesque, thanks to its colonial buildings located between a sparkling harbour on one side and Mt Wellington on the other.
Most of Hobartís cosy bars and restaurants can be found around the harbour, notably Salamanca Place, with many of them characterised by a distinctly British, seafaring atmosphere. Salamanca Place, within walking distance of most of Hobartís hotels, is also where youíll find the colourful Saturday markets.
Itís worth hiring a bike or taking a tour up to the top of Mount Wellington for spectacular views over Hobart.
The free Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery is an excellent place to get an introduction to the stateís dark past as predominately a convict state that basically wiped out its Aboriginal population through a policy of genocide.
A great time to visit Hobart is from Christmas until just after New Year, when the Tasmanian capital is at its busiest. Be wary that hotels tend to get booked out way in advance. Sailing enthusiasts flood into Hobart as contenders in the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race gradually make it across the Bass Strait after setting off on Boxing Day. Thereís a real buzz in the city, especially in the harbourside bars and restaurants. The boat race also coincides with the annual Taste Festival, featuring hundreds of gourmet food and wine stalls, as well as live music.
Places to see in Tasmania
Comparable in size to Ireland, Tasmaniaís smallness (relative to the rest of Australia) means that it is very easy to rent a car or campervan and travel around the island by yourself. A roadtrip (or tour) starting and ending in Hobart, covering many of the stateís highlights, could be done in a week-long holiday. If vacation time is limited then try to at least visit Port Arthur, Cradle Mountain and Wineglass Bay. Thereís plenty of accommodation throughout Tasmania, but being probably the most friendly and least touristy state in Australia, the best option is often to stay at small B&Bs.
Just inland from the north coast is Launceston, Tasmaniaís second city. It boasts the impressive Cataract Gorge, right in the middle of town, and the very cool monkeys in City Park.
In the north-east is the Bay of Fires, a rugged stretch of glorious beaches dotted with fiery red rocks. You can camp quite near the beach, although some tracks are 4WD access only. Until Lonely Planet named the Bay of Fires one of the worldís top 10 best secrets in 2010, you really could get the place to yourself. Thatís no longer the case, but luckily the tricky access means itís still fairly quiet.
About halfway up the east coast is Freycinet National Park, home to Wineglass Bay, one of Australiaís best beaches. Again, to get there requires quite a hike, meaning itís still not crowded. Indeed, most tourists choose the shorter hike to a lookout point, rather than the longer hike down to the sand and a chance to swim with the bayís dolphins. You can stay at a campsite at the far end of the beach.
Bicheno is a quaint little seaside town famous for its little penguin population. You can take guided tours at dusk to see the unbearably cute little birds waddle up the beach, just feet away, as they commute home to their nests. You can also see penguins on Bruny Island or at subtly-named Penguin, on the north coast.
Port Arthur is where the worst convicts in Australia were sent. Itís now probably the best place in Australia to get a real taste of just how hellish convict life was. Surprisingly large, with many buildings to explore and a boat trip to do, itís easy to lose a day touring Port Arthur. You can also do spooky ghost tours in the evening. You can travel to Port Arthur on a daytrip tour from Hobart, but there are plenty of hotels nearby as well.
About a third of Tasmania is made up of national park and most of it can be found in the west. Wild, less populated and enduring more unpredictable weather than the sunny east coast, Tasmaniaís west side is where you travel to escape Australiaís crowds.
The highlight is Cradle Mountain, almost in the centre of Tasmania. Characterised by almost gothic, craggy dolomite peaks, Cradle Mountain is a spectacular sight. You can climb to the 1,545m peak in a few hours or take a number of walks around it, which form part of the 80km Overland Track. Itís also somewhere youíre very likely to see wombats in the wild.
The large south-western corner of Tasmania is a World Heritage area and one of the most remote regions in Australia. The area has few roads and, incredibly, much of it still hasnít been mapped. Many people believe that if the Tasmanian tiger is in fact not extinct, this is where it would be hiding. Experienced bushwalkers should try to travel to Lake Pedder or Lake Gordon, while adventure travel enthusiasts should brave the epic whitewater rafting trips, typically 5-10 days long, down the Franklin River. Many claim the Franklin River is the ultimate whitewater rafting experience in Australia. Alternatively, you can also tour the area by taking a seaplane scenic flight or jump on a river cruise from historic convict town turned pretty coastal resort Strahan.
Nearby Queenstown has been turned upside down by generations of mining, the result being that it is probably one of Australiaís ugliest towns. The bizarre lunar landscape, however, does make it intriguing for a quick stop. Nearby you will also find the pretty Lake St Clair and the dramatic Henty Sand Dunes, where adrenalin junkies can take quad bike tours.
Up in the north-west is more wild country, courtesy of the Tarkine region, where you can take cruise tours along the Arthur River.
The Nut, just off Stanley, is a bizarre lump of volcanic rock rising from the sea, which makes for some good photos.
Tasmania has some of the best temperate water scuba diving in the world. Even better, scuba diving courses are generally far cheaper than on the Australian mainland. Good dive sites include Eaglehawk Neck and Bicheno, while King and Flinders Islands have multiple good wreck dives and an artificial wreck dive has recently been created off Maria Island.
Getting to Tasmania
Most holiday-makers will arrive in Tasmania by taking a connecting flight from the Australian mainland to either Hobart (in the south) or Launceston (in the north). Regional carriers also operate flights to Devonport, Burnie and King Island. Many travellers also arrive by boat from Melbourne, especially if youíve hired a car or campervan. The Spirit of Tasmania operates two Melbourne to Devonport overnight ferries, which travel every day. While thereís no shortage of car and campervan rental companies in Tasmania, many rental firms donít have offices in Tasmania. As a result, you might find cheaper deals for hiring a vehicle in Melbourne or another Australian capital. Hobart is also a popular stop with many cruise ships that tour Australia.