Five Days in Tassie
Nicole has asked me what to see on a spur-of-the-moment five-day trip to Tassie, starting in Hobart and ending in Launceston—me being the born and bred Tasmanian and all. Which puts me on the spot, because although it looks like a tiny place you could nip round in an afternoon, Tasmania is actually as big as Ireland (it even has the same North–South sectarian divide), and it’s impossible to see it all in a short trip. So it’s a case of deciding what sort of things you’d like to see the most.
Rather than just reply in an embarrassingly long email, I thought I’d turn it into an embarrassingly long blog post. So, read this while pretending you’re Nic (which if you are Nic should be a piece of cake).
Whatever you do, spend a day in Hobart, heading first for Salamanca Place for a browse and a coffee (it’ll be quieter in the morning, unless it’s a Saturday, in which case it’ll be packed). From there you could head up to Battery Point for a wander amongst the old cottages; then back towards the docks, where you can get some fish and chips for lunch and gaze at the Derwent. Have a look at the old IXL factory, now the University of Tasmania’s Centre for the Arts. Fairly close to the docks is the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, which I’m far too familiar with from years of school excursions to judge objectively, but it’s worth a visit (and a good place to see a Tassie tiger). The streets nearby are full of fine stone buildings of Victorian vintage, although they might not seem particularly unusual to Melburnian eyes; keep an eye out for the art deco Hydro building, too. Head to Elizabeth Street and Liverpool Street to see the commercial heart of the city. If you have time and daylight, the best places in town for views are the top of Mount Nelson (one of the buses near the GPO will get you there) and the top of Mt Wellington (that’s more of a trek; you might need a car, but there might be tour buses; but the weather’s probably getting pretty bad for it now, so stick to Mt Nelson).
Don’t bother with the Casino if you only have a day. The Cascade Brewery and Cadbury Factory tours are fun, but again not if you only have a day. And you do only have a day, because there’s so much more to see...
Option 1: Head South, then North
I grew up in the Huon, so I suppose I would say this, but you really can see a lot of terrific stuff by heading south of Hobart. Take the old road via Fern Tree to Huonville. From there to Port Huon you pass through the heart of the “Apple Isle”, through beautiful rural countryside and along the river I stared at every morning for eighteen years. Past Geeveston, turn inland to visit the Tahune Airwalk weaving through the treetops of the southern forests—Farmhouse Creek, scene of all those 1980s conservation battles, is nearby. And there’s the Hartz Mountain National Park, with some good walks through alpine terrain and views from the tops of waterfalls. Back at Geeveston and heading south takes you through the fishing town of Dover and on to Hastings Caves, which have limestone formations as good as you’ll find anywhere (and walking trails full of wasps). Even further south is Cockle Creek, a popular camping destination, where you could spend a day walking out to South East Cape... if you had a spare day, which you don’t, so keep that in mind for next time.
However far south you’ve gone, you’ll have to backtrack; from Huonville, follow the road around to Cygnet and on to Woodbridge and Kettering. From Kettering you could catch a ferry over to Bruny Island for a night; it’s one of my favourite parts of the state, quieter than the rest, with some great beaches and cliffs and a big population of raucous native hens. Penguins nest on the Neck, the isthmus joining the two halves of the island.
Having spent most of your time down in the south, you’ll have to take the Midlands Highway up through the middle of the state for the quickest route to Launceston. Don’t join it straight away—head towards the airport and turn north to Richmond, with its convict-built bridge and gaol turned museum, and then on to Oatlands, Ross (and another fine convict bridge), Campbell Town and Perth before reaching Launceston. These are all historic towns from the days of Van Diemen’s Land, which feel more like those you’d find in the UK or Ireland then the rest of Australia.
Allow about four or five hours for all that depending how often you stop, then spend half a day checking out Launceston at the end, making sure you don’t call it LAWN-ses-tun instead of LON-ses-tun. Lonnie isn’t a bad place, even if it doesn’t have Hobart’s dramatic location. It’s a while since I was last there, and that was the day after Martin Bryant went on his rampage, so I wasn’t in the best frame of mind for it. (I’d flown down from Canberra for a job interview, spent the night watching footage of a school friend who worked at the Royal tending to victims as they came out of ambulances, and spent the next 24 hours wondering if Mum and Dad had gone for that picnic at Port Arthur they were thinking of doing. Didn’t get the job.)
Option 2: Head East
Judging by how much property prices have rocketed on the East Coast, you’ll be following in the footsteps of every other mainland visitor of the past four years if you take this route, but with good reason. From Hobart, head first to Port Arthur on the Tasman Peninsula for the requisite dose of brutal convict history, stopping at the Devil’s Kitchen, the Blowhole and the Tesselated Pavement on the way out or the way back. There’s also a privately owned animal park where you can see some Tassie devils before their mysterious disease wipes them out.
Then it’s back north to Orford (OR-fud; there’s a less-travelled road nearer to the coast that’s worth taking) and up to Triabunna (TRY-a-BUN-na). Depending how your time is going you could take a ferry out to Maria Island (Muh-RY-uh), where no cars are allowed and you can stay in old convict buildings if you like. I once milked a cow there for the first and only time.
Up the coast it’s beautiful beaches all the way: Seymour, Swansea, Bicheno (BISH-uh-no), Scamander, St Helens. The highlight, though, is the Freycinet Peninsula (FRAY-sin-ay), with the Friendly Beaches and Wineglass Bay, a great place for walking. Coles Bay used to be a popular camping spot, but I hear it’s all been turned into hotels now. Still, that makes it easy to stay in one of them and spend a whole day here, doing the walks.
My favourite part of the East Coast is Anson’s Bay and Eddystone Pt, but you won’t make it there this time. Depending how your time is going you’ll turn inland at St Marys (where the road gets a bit hairy) or further north at St Helens, which would take you through the farming country of the northeast. Then it’s Launceston as before.
Option 3: Head West
The East Coast is certainly beautiful, but the West has the proper rugged landscape unlike anywhere else in the country. This route might involve a bit more driving, but it’s worth it. Head out of Hobart via New Norfolk and stop first at Mt Field National Park to see Russell Falls and Lake Dobson. Then drive up to Ouse (Ooze) and continue west to Lake St Clair, where you could spend the night. Great wallaby-spotting opportunities here (as in, when they’re standing a foot away it’s hard not to spot them).
After Lake St Clair drive through the mining moonscape of Queenstown and on to Strahan (Strawn), which has an excellent regional museum with curatorial input from Richard Flanagan (who was a historian of this area before he was a novelist and director). Here you can spend a day taking a Gordon River cruise and stopping off at Sarah Island in Macquarie Harbour for the lashings of convict history you’ve missed by not visiting Port Arthur. You won’t forget the mirror black waters of the Gordon in a hurry, either. While you’re in the area, drive out to the Henty Dunes and Ocean Beach to see what the Roaring Forties can do to an exposed coastline.
North of Strahan is Zeehan (ZEE-yun), a pretty mining town. If I thought you had time I’d recommend heading from here to Corinna and up through the Tarkine; the new road is a blight, but the landscape is amazing. (My family used to go camping out at Sandy Cape sometimes.) From there you would emerge near Stanley on the northwest coast, another fascinating area. But you’re better off heading in to Rosebery and making for Cradle Mountain, the northern half of the Cradle Mountain–Lake St Clair National Park. You could stay somewhere around there, then on your last day head past Mole Creek—more cave-visiting possibilities—through Deloraine and on to Lonnie.
As you can see, there’s no way you can see it all in five days, but any of these itineraries would give you an excellent taste of Tasmania [176K map]. Even if you headed for just one small area, like the Tasman Peninsula, Bruny or Strahan, you could spend a few days doing all the walks and not get bored. There’s a ton of good tourist sites if you need more info about any of these places before deciding.
Now I’ve made myself homesick.