There’s no wrong place to begin a journey in Tasmania. Start from anywhere you like and in no time at all, you’ll reach curious destinations, each with its own attractions and appeal.
Most fly into Hobart, where I’ve lived my whole life. Tasmania’s harbourside capital, with its eclectic mix of 19th century heritage buildings, cutting-edge bistros and restaurants, contemporary art and culture and laidback island lifestyle, wedged between the River Derwent and blue-grey bulk of Mt Wellington, is a cosmopolitan gateway to exploring the state.
No mention of Hobart is complete without a nod to the place that put the city on the global stage, Mona – the Museum of Old and New Art. A vision of wealthy and idiosyncratic owner David Walsh, Mona is an underground museum dug deep in the sandstone of a grapevine-covered peninsula that juts into the River Derwent. Once you descend into the depths of the museum itself, prepare to be amused, amazed, delighted, disgusted, shocked and shaked by Mona’s weird and wonderful collection of artworks.
Journey on in search of the things that make the island one of a kind: wildlife and wilderness, food and wine, history and heritage, and art and culture.
Follow the Heritage Highway north
From Hobart, the highway north run through Tasmania’s colonial heartland where the sandstone cottages in heritage townships along the Midland Highway recall the days of convicts, bushrangers and pioneer graziers.
Stop at Redlands Distillery in Kempton for a whisky tasting and a tour of the distillery, and then hit Oatlands, home to perhaps Australia’s best 19th century architecture. A highlight is Callington Mill, still producing stoneground flour after more than 180 years. Further north is Ross village, where the sandstone bridge features carvings by a convict sculptor, including an unflattering portrait of the colony’s governor – best explored with a scallop pie from the bakery in hand.
Launceston, Tasmania’s second city, has preserved many of its finest Victorian-era buildingl cool cafes and bistros hide behind manuy of the heritage facades. Beer lovers shouldn’t miss a tour and tasting at the city’s famous James Boag’s Brewery, a must-visit on the Tasmanian Beer Trail.
Pinot and pedals in the North East
Launceston is the gateway to the Tamar Valley Wine Region, where vineyards stripe the hillsides on both sides of the rier. When you can tear yourself away from the cellar doors, cross the river on the Batman Bridge to explore the island’s North East and East Coast regions.
In recent years, the sleepy little North East town of Derby has experienced an amazing transformation – where Chinese miners once sluiced the gravelly soils for tin and gold, today’s adventurous mountain bikers explore some of the world’s best downhill trails, with tracks for every ability.
Seafood, wine and beaches on the East Coast
The Bass Highway from Derby leads to the sea at the sunny fishing port of St Helens, then continues south alongside a string of ocean beaches before branching off to the Freycinet Peninsula and Coles Bay.
Here, the softly rounded pink granite peaks of The Hazards overlooks a shapely crescent of squeaking white sand – the walk to the Wineglass Bay is one of Tasmania’s Great Short Walks. It’s an easy half-day return walk – better to make a day of it. Watch the wallabies on the beach and complete the circuit across the isthmus to Hazards Beach, then back along the shores of Great Oyster Bay.
The crisp, clean water is the source of some of the state’s best seafood; try the oyster at Freycinet Marine Farm in Coles Bay, a reward for your sea kayaking efforts.
It’s a scenic couple of hours’ drive south from Coles Bay back to Hobart, after completing the Midlands East Coast loop.
Another touring choice takes you in the footsteps of convicts along the Tasman Peninsula to Port Arthu, one of Australia’s most significant post-colonisation historic sites. Other touring options from Hobart include venturing across the D’Entrecasteaux Channel to the food paradise of Bruny Island on a cruisel or through the Huon Valley to the tall forests around Geeveston and the splashy thrills of rafting at Tahune Adventures.
Stores of mining and convicts on the wild West Coast
There’s still the West Coast of Tasmania to explore, so hit the Lyell Highway, passing hopfields and farmlands before climbing to the Central Plateau, following the route forged by the workes who built Tasmania’s hydro power stations in the mountains.
Soon the highway reaches Derwent Bridge and the serene waters of Lake St Clair, source of the River Derwent and the end-point of the famous multi-day Overland Track bushwalk in Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park.
Headung westward, the road plunges into the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage area, then climbs the slopes of Mt Lyell, descending into historic mining town Queenstown on a total of 99 bends, many of them hairpins (count them as you go).
The West Coast Wilderness Railway runs through dense rainforests from Queenstown, crossing trestle bridges on its way to Strahan, a fishing port on the edge of the wilderness. Board a boat for the voyage across Macquarie Harbour and into the lower reaches of the mighty Gordon River, where you’ll see ancient Huon pines reflected in the dark water, stained amber by buttongrass tannin.
Climb to natural heights
North from Strahan is one of Tasmania’s most recognisable sights – the jagged skyline of Cradle Mountain. If it’s a clear day, take the challenge of climbing the peak – it’s a full-day walk, with soime rock scrambling near the top, but sensational views to reward your efforts.
An easier option in any weather is the circuit walk around Dove Lake. Nearby, keep an eye out for wombats in the valley near Waldheim, once the home of Cradle Mountain pioneers Gustav Weindorfer.
Cradle Valley is a wonderful pace to see Tasmanian devils up close on a fascinating evening tour with Devils@Cradle.
The North West food trail
From the valley, it’s a winding one-hour drive throgh the mountains and down to the string of North West coastal towns and cities on Bass Strait shores; local flavours including cheese wine and whisky create the ultimate paddock-to-plate experience.
Devonport is the home port of the Spirit of Tasmania, the ferry that sails between Tasmania and the mainland, while further west is the vibrant city of Burnie, the tulip-striped fields across Wynyard and the quaint town of Stanely, nestled beneath The Nut, a plug of volcanic rock.
From north to east, south to west, and Hobart, wherever you travel in Tasmania, you’ll be surprised by the wide variety of experiences on offer.
By: Chris Viney.