Tasmania is a very unique island, steeped in both ancient and modern history, embedded with dramatic and breathtaking scenery and housed by friendly locals. Off the beaten backpacker track it offers a different view on Australia, one that is not centred around gaudy tourist shops but natural beauty’s. A road trip is the best way to travel around Tasmania, we travelled for 5 days in a campervan, driving for 4 to 6 hours each day whilst mapping out the route described below. Descriptions, highlights and tips for each area are also documented within this post. Tasmania is a place where it is hard to know what to expect as it is not as well known as other places in Australia, it is a quiet, beautiful island with many quiet evenings spent in the camper and many days exclaiming ‘Wow, look at that’.
Tasmania was once joined with the Australian mainland via a land bridge but melting glaciers from the end of the last ice age flooded and buried the land bridge therefore cutting Tasmania off from the mainland. Despite this a large aboriginal population thrived and the island slowly developed into Tassie (as the locals call it), it is estimated 5000-10,000 aboriginals were settled on the island when the Europeans “discovered” Tasmania. Colonisation soon led to the unfortunate extinction of the Tasmanian aboriginals, a prison housed with convicts from England and a short mining rush. In the present day Tasmanians embrace their tumultuous history and place a lot of focus on both their history but also nature and the environment, 41% of Tasmania’s land is made up of national parks and the current largest threat to the island is logging companies and development.
The residents of Tasmania are the friendliest we encountered in Australia, eager to help in any way possible they constantly offered helpful advice as to where to go and what to see. However this could be in part due to their short working week; many businesses open at 10am and close at 3pm on the island. For those who are camping/campervanning the receptions for the sites generally close at 6pm, however they are generally relaxed if you arrive late, stay and then pay in the morning – a way round this is of course to book in advance via the internet or phone.
Hobart > Port Arthur
Most visitors arrive in Hobart, it is both the most populated city in Tasmania and it has the only international airport on the island. Port Arthur is located a 1 hour 30 mins drive from Hobart, a historic site of Tasmania it was a British penal settlement throughout the 1800s. Housing convicts and young offenders it became a place of rehabilitation and various industries – the most successful being ship building, however it was by no means a pleasant place. Tickets are $37 per adult, they provide access for two consecutive days, a 20 minute boat tour and a 1 hour guided tour of the site. From Port Arthur it is worth continuing the historic journey to the coal mines, a 25 minute drive away and free entry it is the final destination of many of the colony’s worst convicts. There are a range of walks available but be sure not to miss viewing the main mine shaft!
On your way out of the Tasman Peninsula be sure to take a drive through ‘Doo Town’ and pay particular attention to the house names. Three natural ‘wow factor’ sites to see near Doo Town are the Blowhole, Tasman Arch and thr Devil’s Kitchen. As you approach the Eaglehawk neck be sure to visit the Pirates Bay lookout for a quick scenery snap.
Port Arthur > Coles Bay
From Port Arthur head up to Coles Bay and the Freycinet National Park. You will have to allow 3-3 1/2 hours and if you are travelling in peak season be aware that many campsites book up early around this area so it is important to book ahead. Once at the Freycinet National Park there are a variety of walks available for a small park fee of $24 per car for 24 hours. Four of Tasmania’s ’60 great short walks’ are located in the Freycinet Park, if you are strapped for time be sure to do the ‘Wineglass Bay lookout’, the ‘Sleepy Bay (southern end) walk’ and in particular the ‘Cape Tourville walk’ – when on the Cape Tourville walk take binoculars with you and keep an eye on the sea, depending on the time of year whales, dolphins and seals are often seen. If you plan to stay the night in the park be sure to take lots of fresh water as the park supply cannot be relied upon.
Coles Bay> Bay of Fires
A 2 hour drive up the east coast from Coles Bay is the Bay of Fires. A fantastic midstop is the ‘Ironworks brewery’, located at the White Sand’s estate this “brewery” produces beer, wine, vodka, gin and soon whisky (it’s still ageing). An incredible two man operation they not only produce all of the above but they also hand label their bottles, have a separate company as a pottery maker and still find time to surf. Tastings are $5 (refundable on purchase) and their products are currently only sold in Tasmania – did I mention they were also environmentally friendly! Vodka and gin were initially produced as a means of cutting down wastage.
From Ironworks head to ‘Captain’s Catch’ in St Helens for a quick bite to eat, they serve fresh fish caught that morning. From here head to the Bay of Fires (a 10-15km drive away). When you get to the viewpoint be sure to check out the locals secret cove, the entrance is well concealed and it is located approximately 15 metres to the right of the viewpoint down a thin 5 metre track lined with bushes. If you are unable to find it then there is an equally nice beach to the far right of the viewpoint – although this one may be busier. A nice fact about the Bay of Fires is that it is not named this due to the red colour on the rocks but instead because the aborginal people used to light fires along the bay.
Bay of Fires > Lauceston
From the Bay of Fires head to Lauceston via Scottsdale which is approximately a 3 hour drive. If driving at dusk be sure to look out for kangaroos, wallabies, tasmanian devils etc, alot of wildlife come out onto the road from dusk which is both exciting and nerveracking when driving.
If you are looking for a place to stay on the left just before you drive into the lights of Lauceston is a free campsite which has fantastic facilities. We didn’t spend a lot of time in Lauceston but if you would like to spend some time there, there is the Tasmania zoo, where you have the chance to see a Tassie devil, there is also a fantastic coffee shop named ‘Sweetbrew’. Lauceston was previously considered a backwater but is now fighting back against this reputation and developing into a must see city.
Lauceston > Cradle Mountain – Lake St Clair National Park
Between Lauceston and Cradle Mountain is Elizabeth Town and Sheffield. Stop at Elizabeth town for cheese and jam tasting and Sheffield to admire the muralled buildings. Cradle Mountain is part of the Lake St Clair National Park, $16.50 entry per adult will get you access to the park for 24 hours and a shuttle into the park. Fill up on petrol before you get to Cradle Mountain as petrol is expensive and infrequent in this area. Be sure to check out the Lake which has a short walk to it and reflects Cradle Mountain;s majesty in the waters.
Cradle Mountain > Strahan > Queenstown
Once in Strahan be sure to visit the daily evening play of ‘The Ship that never was’ down on the esplanade, 90 minutes long it tells the story of convicts escaping from Sarah Island by stealing a boat they were building, double check the showing times in advance. Strahan is also a good place to stop for the night, there is a good selection of accommodation, a pub and a bakery.
Queenstown > Franklin Gordon Wild Rivers National Park
From Strahan head towards Queenstown, an old mining town there isn’t much to do here except admire wonderful scenery. Stop at the ‘Iron Blow lookout’ which is accessed via a walkway jutting out into thin air from the side of the cliff.
From earthy brown mountains to the green rainforest of the Franklin Gordon National Park, there is quite a difference in a half hour drive. The national park is an excellent place to go white water rafting, for the adventurer there are eight day rafting trips that visit places only accessible via water. There are also a range of walks; the Nelson Falls walk is an easy 20 minute return walk that visits the 35 metre high falls. Another great short walk is accessed from the picnic ground just before the highway crosses the Franklin river, this is a 25 minute return nature trail through the forest, where you can see spectacular trees and scenery.
Franklin Gordon Wild Rivers National Park > Hobart
A 2 -3 hour journey and you are back in Hobart. The Salamanca market is a must see if you are there on a Saturday as are the numerous colonial buildings and museums dotted around the city centre. MONA being the most popular museum to visit and noted by Lonely Planet as a ‘top choice’
If you are to do a road trip in 5 days around Tasmania there is a lot of driving and it is down to you what you would like to see and where you would like to go, as everyone has different interests one could not possibly place a strict itinerary on such a beautiful island. The information above is just a guide, of what I thought from experience was worthwhile viewing. If you have a night spare at the end of the trip it could be worthwhile visiting Bruny Island, accessible via a 30 minute ferry, the island is yet another experience of Tassies abundance of wildlife, scenery and locally made produce. Above all relax, enjoy the views and revel in the fact that you have made an excellent choice visiting this island!