Revelling in isolation, Tasmania is busting out with fab festivals and sensational food and drink, riding a tourism-fuelled economic boom that’s the envy of all Australia.
To understand Australian colonial history you first need to understand Tasmanian colonial history…and before that Tasmanian Aboriginal history. Tragic stories of the island's past play out through its haunting, Gothic landscape: the sublime scenery around Port Arthur only reinforces the site’s grim history. It’s just as easy to conjure up visions of the raffish past in Hobart’s Battery Point and its atmospheric pubs. Elsewhere, architectural treasures include convict-built bridges at Ross, Richmond and Campbell Town. Meanwhile, the state's obsession with the (probably) extinct Tasmanian tiger continues – are you out there, thylacine?
Tastes of Tasmania
First it was all about apples…but now the Apple Isle's contribution to world food extends to premium seafood, cheese, bread, honey, nuts, truffles, stone fruit, craft beer, whisky, gin and intensely flavoured cool-climate wines. Many smaller producers are owned and operated by passionate foodies: Tasmania is seemingly custom-built for a driving holiday spent shunting between these farm-gate suppliers, boozy cellar doors and niche provedores. After you’ve sampled the produce, book a table at a top restaurant and see how the local chefs transform it.
From wine, beer and food festivals to hot-ticket arts and music events, Tasmania packs a lot of parties into the calendar. Hobart’s photogenic docks play host to many, from Taste of Tasmania over New Year to the heritage glories of the Australian Wooden Boat Festival. Art and culture get their game on during Ten Days on the Island, while winter's brooding, edgy Dark MOFO is building to rival the New Year party procession. MONA FOMA and Festivale bring the celebrations to Launceston, and The Unconformity unearths Queenstown's character. Escape for a long weekend – how many more reasons do you need?
Into The Wild
From the squeaky white sand and lichen-splashed granite of the east coast to the bleak alpine plateaus of Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park, Tasmania punches well above its weight when it comes to natural beauty. Hiking opportunities range from short, waterfall-punctuated forest trails to multiday wilderness epics with no one else in sight. You can explore the island's craggy coastlines and wild rivers by kayak, raft, yacht or cruise boat. Tassie's native wildlife is ever present: spy Tasmanian devils after dark, share the Southern Ocean swell with seals and dolphins or watch penguins waddling home at dusk.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Tasmania.
Framed by some of the state's finest beaches and rising into spectacular low mountains, Freycinet incorporates the southern end of Freycinet Peninsula, people-free Schouten Island and the lesser-known Friendly Beaches north of Coles Bay. A photogenic assembly of pink granite mountains, azure bays and white-sand beaches (including Tasmania's most famous beach, Wineglass Bay), the park was named after French navigator Louis de Freycinet and proclaimed in 1916, making it (along with Mt Field) Tasmania's oldest national park.
Twelve kilometres north of Hobart's city centre, MONA is burrowed into the Triassic sandstone of a peninsula jutting into the Derwent River. Arrayed across three underground levels, the $75-million museum created by local philanthropist-owner David Walsh mixes ancient antiquities among contemporary artworks. It's sexy, provocative, disturbing and deeply engaging – don't miss it. To get here, catch the MONA ferry (return standard/posh $22/55) or MONA Roma shuttle bus ($22) from Hobart’s Brooke St Pier.
This picturesque row of three- and four-storey sandstone warehouses is a classic example of Australian colonial architecture. Dating back to the whaling days of the 1830s, Salamanca Pl was then the waterfront – goods were winched from the upper levels of the warehouses directly onto ships. By the mid-20th century many of the warehouses had fallen into ruin, before restorations began in the 1970s. These days Salamanca hosts myriad restaurants, cafes, bars and shops, and the unmissable Saturday Salamanca Market.
Part of the World Heritage–listed Tasmanian Wilderness, this 1614-sq-km national park incorporates the state's most famous mountain (the eponymous Cradle Mountain), two of its best-known lakes (Lake St Clair and Dove Lake) and seven of its 10 highest mountains. It is effectively a park in two parts: the northern section around Cradle Mountain, and the southern section wrapped around Lake St Clair. The famed six- or seven-day Overland Track stretches between the two sections.
This World Heritage–listed national park came to prominence when the wild Franklin River was very publicly saved from hydroelectric immersion in the 1980s. The park embraces the Franklin and Gordon Rivers – two of Tasmania's most famous and fabulous waterways – and offers exceptional rafting, bushwalking and climbing areas. Its highest point is the hulking white quartzite summit of Frenchmans Cap (1446m), which can be scaled on a challenging four- to five-day bushwalk.
Contains the state’s four largest national parks – Southwest, Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers, Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair and Walls of Jerusalem – plus the Hartz Mountains National Park, Central Plateau Conservation Area, Adamsfield Conservation Area, a section of Mole Creek Karst National Park, the Devils Gullet State Reserve and part of the Liffey Falls State Reserve. Together they cover around 20% of the state. National park entry fees apply.
This amazing World Heritage–listed convict site is one of Tasmania’s big-ticket attractions. The dozens of structures here are best understood via guided tour (included with admission). The feared Separate Prison was built to punish prisoners through 23-hours-a-day isolation and sensory deprivation. The 1836 church burned down in 1884, and the penitentiary was originally a granary and flour mill. The shell of the Broad Arrow Café, scene of many of the 1996 shootings, has been preserved as a memorial garden.
Ribbed with its striking Organ Pipes cliffs, kunanyi/Mt Wellington (1271m) towers over Hobart like a benevolent overlord. The view from the top stretches over Hobart and much of the state's south, and the slopes are laced with walking trails. Mountain bikers come for the North South Track, descending from the Springs to Glenorchy, while you can also coast down the sealed summit road on a bike with Mt Wellington Descent. The Hobart Shuttle Bus Company also runs daily two-hour tours to the summit.
At magnificent Cataract Gorge, right at the city centre's edge, the bushland, cliffs and ice-cold South Esk River feel a million miles from town. At First Basin there’s a free (chilly) outdoor swimming pool (November to March), the world’s longest single-span chairlift (adult/child one way $13/8; 9am to 5.30pm, to 4.30pm in winter) and Victorian-era gardens where peacocks strut. Elsewhere there are walking tracks and various lookouts. Eating options include a cafe and the Gorge Restaurant.