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. The bushwalking here is brilliant. Longer hikes include the three-day, 30km Freycinet Peninsula Circuit; shorter tracks include the up-and-over saddle climb to Wineglass Bay. Ascend the saddle as far as Wineglass Bay Lookout (one to 1½ hours return, 600 steps each way) or continue down the other side to the beach (2½ 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; national park fees apply. The park has a host of wildlife – black cockatoos, yellow wattlebirds, honeyeaters and Bennett's wallabies flap and bounce between the bushes, and you might catch glimpses of white-bellied sea eagles, dolphins or even whales.
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. Also at MONA is the cellar door for Moorilla, a winery established here in 1958. Duck in for a wine or Moo Brew beer tasting, or have lunch at the outstanding adjoining restaurant, the Source. You can also catch a summer concert on the lawns, grab a more casual feed at the bar-restaurant inside the museum's new Faro wing, or maybe splash out on a night in the uber-swish Pavilions. MONA is the driving force behind Launceston's annual MONA FOMA arts and music festival, and Hobart's disquieting Dark MOFO winter festival. At the end of 2018, MONA also unveiled plans for a striking new five-star hotel – Motown – on the premises; it's expected to open in 2024.
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. Behind the warehouses, Salamanca Sq fills an old quarry, while at the eastern end of Salamanca Pl, the conversion of four old wheat silos into plush apartments has also been a hit. Operating behind the scenes is a vibrant and creative arts community. The nonprofit Salamanca Arts Centre occupies seven Salamanca warehouses, home to around 60 arts organisations and individuals, including shops, galleries, studios, performing-arts venues and versatile public spaces. Check the website for happenings. To reach Salamanca from Battery Point, descend the weathered 1840 Kelly’s Steps, wedged between warehouses just east of Salamanca Sq.
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. The preservation of this region as a national park is due in part to Austrian immigrant Gustav Weindorfer and his wife Kate, who built a chalet out of King Billy pine here in 1912 and called it Waldheim (German for ‘Forest Home’). Today the area around their chalet, which was demolished and rebuilt in 1976, retains the name Waldheim. Changes introduced in 2018 mean that private vehicles can no longer drive to Dove Lake from Cradle Valley between 8am and 6pm from October to March, and from 8.30am to 4.30pm April to September. Frequent park shuttle buses provide access during those hours.
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. Good short walks include the Franklin River (just a few minutes along the Frenchmans Cap trail) and the fanned cascade of Nelson Falls (20 minutes return). The park also contains the major Indigenous archaeological site at Kutikina Cave, which can only be reached by rafting down the Franklin River.
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. Inside the main entrance is a daytime cafe, the 1830 restaurant and a gift shop, which stocks some interesting convict-focused publications. There's also a cafe at the Visiting Magistrates House inside the site. A guided 40-minute walking tour of the site and a 25-minute harbour cruise are included in admission prices. Additional tours include those to the Isle of the Dead Cemetery and Point Puer Boys' Prison, and the Escape from Port Arthur, Commandant's Carriage and after-dark ghost tours. Buggy transport around the site (10am to 3.30pm) can be arranged for people with restricted mobility; ask at the information counter. The ferry plying the harbour is also wheelchair accessible.
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. Hacked out of the mountainside during the Great Depression, the summit road winds up from Fern Tree through thick temperate forest, opening out to lunar rockscapes near the summit. If you don’t have wheels, local buses 448 (weekdays) and 449 (weekends and weekday evenings) stop halfway up the hill at Fern Tree, from where it’s a five- to six-hour return walk to the top via Fern Glade Track, Radfords Track, Pinnacle Track and then the steep Zig Zag Track. The Organ Pipes walk from the Chalet (en route to the summit) is a flat track below these dolerite cliffs. Download a series of walking and mountain biking maps and brochures at www.wellingtonpark.org.au/maps, or pick up the detailed Wellington Park Recreation Map ($11.95) from the visitor information centre or Service Tasmania.
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. Two walking tracks straddle the gorgeous gorge ( Cataract Walk is level; the Zig Zag Track is steep), leading from Kings Bridge up to First Basin. You can also drive to the First Basin car park – follow the signs from York St to Hillside Cres, Brougham St and Basin Rd. Just upstream from First Basin is the Alexandra Suspension Bridge, from where another walking track (45 minutes one way) heads further up the gorge to Duck Reach, the earliest municipal hydroelectric power station in Australia (1895). You can also explore the gorge on a guided walk or a boat trip with Tamar River Cruises.
Standing in startling, Gothic isolation next to the clean-running Hobart Rivulet, Australia’s oldest brewery (1824) is still pumping out superb beers. The daily one-hour tours involve plenty of history, with tastings at the end. Note that under-16s aren't permitted on the main brewery tour (take the family-friendly Beer School tour instead), and that brewery machinery might not be running if you're here on a weekend (brewers have weekends too). To get here, take bus 446, 447 or 449. If you prefer to skip straight to the liquid stuff, the attached Brewhouse has a restaurant and bar looking onto the brewery's finely figured sandstone facade.