Tasmania is still Australia, but beguilingly and bewitchingly it’s just that little bit different. It’s compact enough to ‘do’ in a few weeks and layered enough to keep bringing you back. The island state produces gourmet food and wine, and a ﬂourishing arts scene and a burgeoning urban cool point to a positive and vibrant future. Tasmania’s past incorporates an often tragic Aboriginal and convict history, much of it vital to understanding the story of Australia itself.
Tasmania has been battered by bushfires earlier this year, but most of its prime attractions are open for business and tourists will, as ever, get a warm welcome. Whether you’re an outdoors buff, a foodie or culture enthusiast, there’ll be plenty to keep you busy: straight from Lonely Planet’s Australia guide book, here are our top experiences in Tasmania.
1. Experience artistic enlightenment at MONA
Occupying an improbable riverside location a ferry ride from Hobart’s harbourfront, Moorilla Estate’s Museum of Old & New Art (MONA) is an innovative and truly world-class institution. Described by its owner, Hobart philanthropist David Walsh, as a ‘subversive adult Disneyland’, three levels of spectacular underground galleries showcase more than 400 often challenging and controversial works of art. Visitors may not like everything they see, but it’s guaranteed that intense debate and conversation will be on the agenda after viewing one of Australia’s unique arts experiences.
2. Meander through Salamanca Market, Hobart
Colourful hippies and craftspeople have been selling their wares at Salamanca Market on Saturday mornings since 1972. They come from all over the state’s southern reaches with their fresh produce, second-hand clothes and books, tourist souvenirs, CDs, cheap sunglasses, antiques and bric-a-brac. See www.salamanca.com.au to download a handy guide and map of the market, and get planning to maximise your time in this labyrinth of bargains, buskers, ethnic food, and arts and crafts.
3. Negotiate the archetypal Tasmanian bushwalk, the Overland Track
Australia’s most famous trek is usually tackled as a six-day, ﬁve-night epic, walking 65km between Cradle Valley in the north and Lake St Clair in the south. The scenery is breathtaking and takes in some of Tasmania’s highest peaks, through tall eucalypt forests bursting with wildlife, and across exposed alpine moors and buttongrass valleys of unsurpassed beauty. The Overland Track is at its most picturesque in the summer months when the alpine wildﬂowers are blooming. This December-to-April period has more daylight hours and warmer temperatures, but there are fewer walkers in the spring and autumn months. Only very experienced walkers should tackle the track in winter. All walkers must register the start and ﬁnish of their walk at either end of the track.
4. Contemplate the melancholy silence and beauty of Port Arthur
Guided tours (included in admission) leave regularly from the visitor centre of this world-famous convict site. You can visit all Port Arthur's restored buildings, including the Old Asylum (now a museum and cafe) and the Model Prison. Admission tickets, valid for two consecutive days, also entitle you to a short harbour cruise circumnavigating the Isle of the Dead. Extremely popular is the 90-minute, lantern-lit Historic Ghost Tour, which leaves from the visitor centre nightly at dusk. (Bookings are essential.)
5. Admire the natural beauty of the Mt Field National Park
Declared a national park in 1916, Mt Field is famed for its spectacular mountain scenery, alpine moorlands and lakes, rainforest, waterfalls and abundant wildlife. It’s 80km northwest of Hobart and makes a terriﬁc day trip. The park’s visitor information centre (www.parks.tas.gov.au) houses a cafe and displays on the park’s origins, and provides information on walks.
6. Pack a picnic and hike into photogenic Wineglass Bay
Brilliant Freycinet Peninsula is one of Tasmania’s principal tourism drawcards. Long hikes include the two-day, 31km peninsula circuit, and shorter tracks include the up-and-over saddle climb to Wineglass Bay.
Ascend the saddle as far as Wineglass Bay Lookout (one to 1.5 hours return, 600 steps each way) or continue down the other side to the beach (2.5 to three hours return). Alternatively, the 500m wheelchair-friendly boardwalk at Cape Tourville aﬀords sweeping coastal panoramas and a less strenuous glimpse of Wineglass Bay. On longer walks, sign in (and out) at the registration booth at the car park.
7. Bounce along on a Bruny Island boat cruise
Bruny Island is almost two islands joined by a narrow, sandy isthmus called the Neck. Famous for its wildlife (fairy penguins, echidnas, mutton birds, albino wallabies), it’s a sparsely populated and undeveloped retreat, soaked in ocean rains in the south, and dry and scrubby in the north. You need a few days to appreciate Bruny’s isolated coastal communities, swimming and surf beaches, and the forests and walking tracks within the South Bruny National Park (www.parks.tas.gov.au) – don’t try to cram it into a day trip, especially on holiday weekends when there are long waits for the ferry.
8. Go sea kayaking on the crystalline waters of Bathurst Harbour
The Southwest National Park, Tasmania’s largest national park, is one of the planet’s last great isolated wilderness areas and home to some of the last tracts of virgin temperate rainforest. It’s a place of untouched primeval grandeur and extraordinary biodiversity, and part of Tasmania’s World Heritage area. In summer, picture-perfect alpine meadows explode with wildﬂowers. Untamed rivers charge through the landscape, rapids surging through gorges and waterfalls plummeting over cliffs. One of the best ways to experience the region’s raw natural beauty is by kayak. Kettering’s Roaring 40s Ocean Kayaking runs three- and seven-day guided kayaking expeditions out of Melaleuca, exploring the waterways around Bathurst Harbour and Port Davey.
9. Take a lazy, lingering lunch in the Tamar Valley wine region
The broad Tamar River ﬂows north 64km from Launceston and empties into Bass Strait. Along its ﬂanks are orchards, forests, pastures and vineyards. This is Tasmania’s key wine-producing area, and the premium wines created here have achieved international recognition. See Tamar Valley Wine Route (www.tamarvalleywines.com.au) for touring information.