Isle of plenty – the Tasmanian Circuit
Looking for a destination that is clean and green with great scenery and friendly people who operate at a more relaxed speed? Perhaps it’s time you took a trip to Tasmania.
Because Tassie is delightfully compact, it lends itself to a circuit of the island. This allows new highlights each day and progress that you can readily track on a map. While the list of highlights is great – from Hobart’s Salamanca Markets to cruising the Gordon River – the distances aren’t vast, so you can pack a lot into every day.
Consider a coach tour, starting at Launceston, Tasmania’s second largest city and well served by air services from many Australian cities. Launceston is a historic city of about 100,000 people in a spectacular setting on the Tamar River.
And, unlike most cities in Australia, it still has many of its historic buildings – including the Batman Fawkner Inn, where John Batman and friends met in 1835 to plan the establishment of the village that became Melbourne. It’s also a centre for Tasmania’s artisanal food industry so there are some exciting foods and wines to be found locally.
Travelling clockwise, the historic atmosphere extends to the town of Ross, best known for its stone bridge constructed by convicts in 1836, but the whole place is a remarkably well-preserved Georgian village.
Over on the picturesque East Coast, Bicheno has a pretty beach and great coastal views from the adjoining hill. It’s also the perfect launching pad for the Freycinet Peninsula, which is the outstanding promontory of Tassie’s east coast, from the holiday village of Coles Bay around to the spectacular white sands of Wineglass Bay.
Just south of Hobart, it is certainly worth visiting Port Arthur, a beautiful place of mown lawns, colourful gardens and imposing ruins.
The gorgeous setting belies a violent past, both distantly when it was the site of a brutal penal colony and in 1996 when a lone gunman killed 35 people here – most at the Broad Arrow Café, now a memorial garden. In December 2014 the main building, the penitentiary reopened after a year of conservation that has set new standards in Australian historic management.
The pristine Coles Bay
If you haven’t visited Hobart before, you may be surprised by its natural beauty – a glorious harbour and charming sandstone buildings. Australia’s second oldest city has a lot to see and do, from the new replica Mawson’s Hut to the enticing craft shops of Salamanca Place.
And, of course, there’s MONA the Museum of Old and New Art that is both inspired and confronting. This new building is certainly worth a visit and will have you talking and thinking about its exhibits for many a month afterwards. Tasmanians are rightly proud of this latest addition to their city and it has brought a whole new group of visitors to the city.
It’s worth venturing south of Hobart into the Huon Valley. The rural scenery is grand, but the highlight is the Tahune Forest Air Walk that allows you to see the forest canopy up close.
Head west and you will find Strahan, a small Tasmanian fishing community that resembles communities that existed elsewhere in Australia, before they were modernised and gentrified. Here the main street has a dock on one side, with fishing boats and tourist boats bobbing alongside, and historic Hamers Hotel on the other.
Take some time to discover charming Launceston
It’s a tranquil scene at odds with history. First it was an outpost for tough miners and prisoners and later it was the front line of the battle to save the Franklin River, a dispute that divided Tasmania – and the nation.
Expansive Macquarie Harbour was discovered by Europeans in 1815 and by 1821 the penal colony of Sarah Island was established to harvest Huon pine for boat building; the ruins are visited on Gordon River cruises. These cruises also pass the challenging narrows of the harbour entrance that retain the name given by prisoners: Hells Gates.
Strahan is the accessible face of wild Tasmania. Drive into town and then you have to walk no further than the jetty or the Wilderness Railway train station out at Regatta Point to start your adventure.
At Regatta Point, head over the hill to Letts Bay where you’ll find what must be Australia’s most perfectly preserved fishing village. It’s a confusion of tiny shacks clustered along the coast with not a fence to be seen.
There’s another trend that no visitor to the island state can fail to notice. The air that blows across Tasmania is the world’s freshest and the state has worked hard to make itself into the cool climate gourmet food basket of Australia. It’s difficult to devise an itinerary that doesn’t include at least one Tasmanian wine and cheese tasting.
Getting the best out of Cradle Mountain requires more walking than Strahan. Of course, one of Australia’s best alpine hikes is the Overland Track, the complete 6-day traverse south to Lake St Clair. The whole 161,000 hectare park is within the grand Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area however, you don’t have to cover it all.
The stunning scenery of Cradle Mountain (Image: William Patino Photography, via Facebook / Australia.com)
The two best day walks is the circuit of Dove Lake, a two-hour circuit of alpine exploration under the spires of Cradle Mountain, or the hike up to the summit of Cradle Mountain, a good solid day of clambering over large rocks to a spectacular viewpoint.
There are several excellent short walks, too. Of course, there’s the walk to Dove Lake, the iconic viewpoint of the park. Alternatively, the walk through the rainforest to a waterfall from the visitor centre is wheelchair accessible.
There are probably two main attractions on the north coast on the way back to Launceston. One of those is the Tarkine Wilderness, where the glory of Tasmania’s temperate forests is on full display. The other is The Nut at Stanley – it’s a strange coastal volcanic plug that can be visited by chairlift for a great view of the town and coastline.
Of course, Tasmania lends itself to self-driving but if you wish to take all the stress out of your travel, and capitalise on the views, consider a coach tour. The Tasmanian Experience trip takes in all of the four highlights covered here and has guaranteed departures over the summer from now until April. If you book by December 20 there are discounts to the already reasonable package prices that include airfares.
Where is your favourite spot in Tasmania? Share your experiences here.
(Feature image: Florain Perret Photogrpahy, via Facebook / Discover Tasmania)