Tasmania is Australia’s smallest state, but it punches well above its weight in terms of fabulous things to see and do.
The island continues to attract record numbers of eager visitors, keen to immerse themselves in world-renowned natural landscapes like Freycinet and Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Parks, and to experience the cutting edge cultural scene that has evolved in Tasmania over the past decade — spearheaded by the popular but polarising Museum of Old and New Art (Mona).
A road trip is the perfect way to explore Tassie. The distances between key centres are relatively short, the roads are excellent, and you never have to travel too far to see something amazing. To do a rough full circle of the island, you’ll need ten to twelve days. That will still see you moving reasonably quickly, but with time to tick off the key sights and attractions along the way.
With that in mind, here are ten of the best things to do on a Tasmania road trip — travelling in an anti-clockwise direction from capital city Hobart.
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You’ll most likely start and finish your Tassie odyssey in Hobart. The city has a rich history to explore and is packed with exquisite Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian architecture. Cutting edge design hotels, an amazing food and wine scene, world class arts festivals and easy-to-reach stunning natural landscapes like Bruny Island, all play their part to ensure that visitors invariably have a top time here.
Mona is a must-see. The complex — which includes the museum/gallery, upscale accommodation, several eateries and bars, and a winery — is located by the Derwent River, 25 minutes by ferry from the city centre. Arriving by water is the way to go. Armed with your ‘O’ (a handheld device that provides ‘art wank’ (their words, not mine) on the works you’ll see), you can wander this subterranean world at your leisure and debate whether much of the ‘art’ is actually art. The building itself is an architectural masterpiece.
Time your visit to Hobart to include a Saturday and join the throng down on Salamanca Place at the famous Salamanca Market. The market has operated here for almost 50 years. It’s a great way to mix and mingle with the locals, and there are oodles of handcrafted wares on offer.
Devil Facial Tumour Disease continues to wreak havoc on Tassie’s Tasmanian devil population. You can learn more about efforts to save the devil and preserve other endangered species on the island by paying a visit to the excellent Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary — located 30 minutes’ drive north of Hobart. The sanctuary operates a 24/7 wildlife rescue service across the island and much of that work is funded by entry proceeds. As wildlife attractions go, this one is pretty inspiring and clearly has a big heart. Guided tours (included in the cost of your entry ticket) are offered at various times throughout the day. If you specifically want to learn more about the plight of the devils, there’s a daily presentation at 10am on these furry, feisty oddballs.
Continuing east from Bonorong, you’ll eventually reach the island’s east coast. Hang a right and head down the idyllic Tasman Peninsula to the once infamous/now famous Port Arthur Historic Site — a World Heritage-listed site and one of Australia’s most intact records of convict life. During its time as a penal settlement, more than 12,000 convicts did time at Port Arthur, and the ‘rehabilitation’ of re-offenders was one of its grim specialties.
Today there are some 30 buildings to explore. The fully restored Separate Prison is a real eye opener. Tickets to the site include an excellent introductory guided walking tour and a short harbour cruise. Your ticket actually entitles you to two days’ entry. If you decide to stay overnight on the peninsula, the Fox and Hounds Inn offers an atmospheric mock-Tudor setting, an excellent wine list, and an open fire to enjoy it by.
Stunning vistas and spectacular natural attractions are the trademarks of Tasmania’s east coast. Freycinet National Park’s Wineglass Bay Lookout and Cape Tourville Lighthouse walks are popular with day trippers, while the 50-kilometre-long Bay of Fires attracts plenty of extended walking holidaymakers. The coastal town of Bicheno makes a great base for exploring the area. It has some natural attractions of its own, including a resident colony of super-cute little penguins. Join Bicheno Penguin Tours on their nightly visit to the rookery, which is located on private property and can’t be accessed by the public. A concerted cull of feral cats in the area has seen the colony flourish in recent years. The penguins come exceptionally close, and you’re quite likely to have a youngster tugging at your shoelace as the rest of the birds go about their business.
Departing the coast and heading west, you’ll have the chance to see how the other half lived during the convict era at the fabulously preserved, World Heritage-listed Woolmers Estate. Located just outside the town of Longford, Woolmers was built by Thomas Archer I in the early 1800s. Its history is entwined with that of convict deportation to the island; much of the estate was built using convict labour via the assignment system (which operated until 1840). Today the estate is a fascinating time capsule and one that will take you the best part of a day to do justice to.
Leave enough time for a mosey through the Rose Garden, which was modelled on the French formal garden style of the 17th century. The garden blooms in late spring and early summer.
You are going to eat well throughout your Tassie trip and chances are you will have blown your holiday calorie count well before reaching the island’s North West region. So push the boat out and drop by the House of Anvers Chocolate Factory, which is located just a short drive from the region’s hub city of Devonport. Do the self-guided tour and watch churning vats of chocolate being transformed into dainty sweet treats, before heading over to the Chocolate Tasting Centre (which is where the fun really begins). Anvers is one of 30+ food producers that are featured on the Cradle to Coast Tasting Trail. Download a map and let your taste buds do the walking.
As you travel across Tasmania’s North West towards Cradle Mountain, you are going to encounter plenty of picturesque towns, but probably none quite as colourful as Sheffield. This once industrial centre has reinvented itself as an arty enclave and around 140 life-size murals adorn the fronts, backs and sides of many of the buildings in the town centre. The town’s annual International Mural Fest (held at Easter) sees artists competing in a six-day ‘paint off’ to take out the grand prize of $15,000. Wander down to Mural Park at any time of the year to view the works of the previous year’s finalists.
It’s at the top of just about every visitor’s Tassie ‘to-do’ list, and majestic Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park doesn’t often disappoint. Dove Lake at the northern end of the park is a focal point for many day visitors, and on a good day the view of Cradle Mountain rising behind the lake is truly sublime. Leave your car at the visitor centre and take the shuttle bus (included in the cost of your park access fee) up to the lake. There’s a stunning six-kilometre walk around the lake and you’re quite likely to encounter contented wombats grazing on the windswept open grassland.
It’s also worth paying a visit to the Cradle Mountain Wilderness Gallery (which is connected to the excellent Cradle Mountain Hotel). The gallery houses a wonderful collection of nature-based art works, including paintings, photography, ceramics, sculpture and more.
Continuing west from Cradle Mountain will take you deep into Tasmania’s wild and woolly west coast region, a swathe of which makes up the vast Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. The remote coastal town of Strahan once served as a shipping port for local industry, and as the drop off point for troublesome convicts headed for the notoriously harsh Sarah Island penal settlement.
Today, Strahan is all about tourism, and there are two experiences you shouldn’t miss during your visit. The first is a Gordon River Cruise. Board the Spirit of the Wild for the cruise south through Macquarie Harbour and up the Gordon River, which winds its way through thick temperate rainforest. The mist rising from the forest in the morning light is truly something to behold, as are the famous water reflections on a still day. There are two stops on the cruise — one at Heritage Landing for a short walk through the rainforest, and one at Sarah Island to see the remains of the convict settlement. The cruise includes a buffet lunch.
In complete contrast to the natural splendour you will see around you on the Gordon River, it’s almost impossible to comprehend the devastation inflicted on the environment in parts of Tasmania’s west by copper mining in the late 19th and 20th centuries. You’ll see what I mean when you pass through mining centre Queenstown on your way back to Hobart. As the mining industry grew, a rack-and-pinion rail line was constructed between Queenstown and Strahan to transport the smelted copper through mountainous terrain to the coast. The line fell into disrepair in the second half of the 20th century but was reopened in 2002 to carry a tourist service. Now known as the West Coast Wilderness Railway, a steam locomotive hauls passenger carriages through lush rainforest along the course of the once decimated by mine tailing pollution/now slowly regenerating King River.
For more information, please visit www.discovertasmania.com.au.
Do you have any suggestions to add to our list of the best things to do on a Tasmania road trip? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Adam Ford is editor of The Big Bus tour and travel guide and a travel TV presenter, writer, blogger and photographer. He has travelled extensively through Europe, Asia, North America, Africa and the Middle East. Adam worked as a travel consultant for a number of years with Flight Centre before taking up the opportunity to travel the world himself as host of the TV series Tour the World on Network Ten. He loves to experience everything a new destination has to offer and is equally at home in a five-star Palazzo in Pisa or a home-stay in Hanoi.