Fresh reasons to go wild about Tasmania
Untouched wilderness, sophisticated dining and iconic cultural sights – this small island packs a big travel punch.
- September 2018
With landscapes just as spectacular as those of New Zealand’s South Island, a Melbourne-level food scene, wine tourism to rival the Barossa, Australia’s most powerful historical sites and a world-class contemporary art attraction, Tasmania is a little island that performs well above its weight.
A small step to wilderness
Packed with gorgeous landscapes – endless coastline, thousands of highland lakes, glaciated peaks and wild rivers – Tassie packs a lot into a tiny (by Australian standards) space. You’re only ever a short drive away from knockout natural beauty.
The Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area covers almost 20 per cent of the island, stretching up from the southwest coast almost to the north coast.
World-class walking tracks, river cruises and luxury guided walks mean you can experience one of the world’s last temperate wildernesses without roughing it.
But be sure to keep your eyes open. Creatures that once roamed the mainland and can’t be seen anywhere else are abundant here, like the Tasmanian devil, spotted-tailed quoll and Tasmanian bettong.
Surrounded by the Southern Ocean, Tasman Sea and Bass Strait, the state enjoys clean air, pure water and fertile soils that provide the clean, green environment generating a bounty of quality produce. It’s justly famous for its apples, but just as distinctive is the surge of sweet berries that overflow from roadside stalls in summertime.
Dedicated small producers create award-winning cheeses, boutique honey and all manner of artisanal delicacies; while along the coast, lobsters are pulled from wooden fishing boats handed down through generations and oysters grow in cool, pristine estuaries.
This delicious abundance inspires the inventive chefs who’ve made Hobart and Launceston into gourmet hubs, and given destination-dining status to many Tasmanian wineries and rural hamlets. Make reservations at Stillwater near Launceston, Franklin in Hobart and the Agrarian Kitchen Eatery in New Norfolk.
Tasmania’s cool-climate wines – especially Pinot Noir and Riesling – are the darlings of wine connoisseurs, their unique terroir producing distinctive, delicious expressions of the grapes. Wine touring here is a scenic experience, with most wineries having views out over rolling, vine-covered valleys to the ocean beyond.
There’s a humming cider scene, and the island’s proud brewing history is being renewed by a surge of passionate craft beer brewers. And if that weren’t enough, there’s whisky. Tassie’s climate, peat bogs and pristine water are the perfect recipe for a quality drop – proved when Hobart’s Sullivan’s Cove became the only distiller outside Scotland or Japan to take the title of best single malt at the World Whiskies Awards.
Lessons in living history
Here, like nowhere else in Australia, you can take a vivid journey into the nation’s dark colonial past. Of the five UNESCO World Heritage Convict Sites in Tasmania, the magnificently preserved penal colony at Port Arthur is justifiably the most famous, giving a stark glimpse into the brutal reality of life for thousands of convicts transported here in the 19th century.
At other sites, like Darlington Probation Station on isolated Maria Island and the stately Woolmers and Brickendon Estates near Longford, where prisoners toiled as convict labour, you’ll listen to tales of immeasurable despair while immersed in striking natural landscapes.
Strolling the beautifully preserved sandstone waterfront of Hobart’s Salamanca Place, it’s easy to sense the atmosphere of the days when it was the stomping ground of sailors, whalers and workmen, despite its modern trappings of hip cafés and edgy galleries.
Fast-forward to the 1930s and the perfectly preserved former hydro village of Tarraleah in the Central Highlands, with beautifully crafted timber cabins and a stunning art deco lodge. On east coast beaches, you can even see discarded whalebones from the whaling era, testament to Tasmania’s wild frontier days.
Contemporary art pilgrimage
It’s not that Mona (the Museum of Old and New Art, just outside Hobart) is the only museum in Tasmania. Far from it. Hobart’s Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery is a family-friendly discovery palace, with fauna and flora displays, historical artefacts and colonial painting.
Launceston’s Queen Victoria Museum has a great collection of Australian colonial art and natural science. Also in Launceston, Design Tasmania celebrates good design and reliable craftsmanship – plus, you can purchase locally made examples in the adjoining shop. Across the island are the workshops, studios and boutiques of local artists and artisans making paintings, jewellery, craft, and more.
It’s just that Mona is so audacious and amazing that it tends to overshadow the rest of the island’s cultural attractions. A private museum created by a local eccentric billionaire gambler, it’s a unique and thought provoking mix of contemporary art and antiquities, cheekily curated and stunningly displayed. As well as the museum itself, an imposing structure built into sandstone cliff on the River Derwent, the complex includes a winery, brewery, restaurants and grounds where seasonal music festivals are held. It’s a crazy one-stop cultural playground, and there’s nothing like it anywhere in the world.
So, come for Mona. It’s worth it. And stay a while to explore all Tassie’s other wonderful, less-hyped museums and galleries.
Beyond the (little) big cities
The further you get from Hobart or Launceston, the deeper you go into untamed Tasmania, the Tasmania of wilderness lovers, adventure seekers and those really looking to get away from it all.
In the heart of the North West is Cradle Mountain, a rugged alpine area and the starting point for the iconic Overland Track, a magnificent six-day hike through mountain peaks, alpine plains, myrtle forests and raging waterfalls. Along the coastal road are historic fishing villages and hidden holiday towns, in a region hosting an artist population that’s Australia’s highest per capita.
The West Coast is one of Australia's last true wilderness frontiers. Remote and untouched, its ancient rainforests shelter plants descending from the Gondwana period, unknown anywhere else in the world. There’s a rich convict and mining history here too; discover it in inland towns like Strahan, where it sits comfortably side-by-side with artisan studios and cosy cafés.
The East Coast boasts one of the country’s best scenic coastal drives with 220 kilometres of spectacular coastline and white sandy beaches. Amongst it is the iconic Bay of Fires and stunning Freycinet National Park, with its pink granite mountains. Coastal walks, kayaking and sailing are amongst the activities on offer above sea level; while below, keen divers can explore the world-famous kelp forests.