Down amongst the greenery, straight roads are rare and most of the wiggly ones are just two lanes wide. Low population, a stop-start economy and untamable wilderness are to blame: there’s just never been enough money to bulldoze monster highways through the mountains. The upshot: getting from A-to-B on a self-drive road trip always takes a lot longer than you think! But, with a bit of planning, you can experience the best of the island state on a tight schedule. A 10-day ‘lap of the map’ is the classic Tasmania road trip – circumnavigating the island via Hobart, the East Coast, Launceston and the West Coast. And with two weeks to play with, add the Midlands and the Southeast to the mix to really do the isle in style.
Planes, trains or automobiles?
A rental car or campervan is definitely the way to go for your Tasmania self-drive road trip. There are no passenger trains on the island, and internal flights are pricey. Buses link the main centres and trundle through city streets, but they’re slow (see wiggly roads, above) and infrequent.
A far more cunning plan is to explore the island’s small towns and hidden wilds under your own steam. Chances are you’ll be clambering off a plane at Hobart or Launceston Airport. All the big-name car-hire companies are there: pre-book and save some dollars.
Spend a couple of days in the Tasmanian capital, checking out the waterfront and Salamanca Place. Don’t miss the Saturday morning Salamanca Market and a beer at the iconic Knopwood’s Retreat (knopwoods.com). Tour the Cascade Brewery (cascadebreweryco.com.au), drive to the top of Mt Wellington (mtwellingtondescent.com.au) and catch a ferry to MONA (Musuem of Old & New Art) (mona.net.au), a truly world-class art institution that’ll leave you gasping.
Tasmania’s southeast has some day-trip options from Hobart. Home to the Port Arthur Historic Site (portarthur.org.au), the Tasman Peninsula has a dark history, scarred by the sorrows of the convict era and the 1996 massacre. But the peninsula remains a beautiful place, with excellent walks by sheer sea cliffs, wild surf beaches and rampant native wildlife (Tasmanian Devils!). Roaring 40s Ocean Kayaking (roaring40skayaking.com.au) runs guided paddles around the dramatic coastline.
Less encumbered by white history is Bruny Island, a short car-ferry chug across the D’Entrecasteaux Channel from criminally photogenic Kettering. Spend a day enjoying empty beaches, tall forests and gourmet delights: Bruny Island Cheese Company (brunyislandcheese.com.au), Get Shucked Oysters (getshucked.com.au) and Australia’s most southerly vineyard, Bruny Island Premium Wines (brunyislandwine.com). Bruny Island Cruises (brunycruises.com.au) runs tours of the island coastline and wildlife.
Tracking up the East Coast, the holiday vibes start to sink in. Laid-back beach towns peel off in dreamy succession: Orford, Swansea, Bicheno, St Helens… Turn off your phone and wind down over a couple of days, with abundant beach time, fresh seafood and top-notch accommodation. The big-ticket item here is Freycinet National Park, defined by the Hazards, a craggy pink-granite range over which bound countless wallabies. There are almost as many camera-wielding tourists here, angling for the perfect shot of Wineglass Bay, a glorious golden goblet of sand with gin-clear water that regularly makes the list of ‘World’s Best Beaches’. Hike up over the rocks and down to the sand to make your own assessment.
Bay of Fires
Moving northeast, the Bay of Fires is another top-flight beach, which (if you have the time and the coin) you can experience on a Bay of Fires Lodge Walk (bayoffires.com.au), an all-inclusive, three-night guided gourmet trek along the sand. Inland, don’t miss Bridestowe Lavender Estate (bridestowelavender.com.au), a purple-hazed farm that’s become (bizarrely) famous for ‘Bobbie Bears’ – lavender-stuffed toys that sell by the thousands.
Launceston and the Midlands
Launceston – Tasmania’s second city – is worth a day or two. The domestic architecture here is amazingly well preserved: Victorian, Federation, Art Deco… And on the edge of town is Cataract Gorge (launcestoncataractgorge.com.au), a sheer basalt ravine at the bottom of which the ice-cold South Esk River runs seawards. Take a walk, do some rock climbing or have a swim (in summertime).
‘Lonnie’ is also home to the world-conquering James Boag’s Brewery (boags.com.au), a classy operation with daily tours. As you head south again via the Midlands, try to pick where the invisible north-south dividing line occurs: Boags in the pubs to the north, Cascade to the south.
The fertile, straw-coloured Midlands area was once Tasmania’s food basket, opened up by farmers and sheep graziers in the early1800s. The Midlands Hwy bypasses many of the old towns here, so detours are mandatory.
Ross is home to the convict-built Ross Bridge (1836), the third-oldest bridge in Australia, spangled with spooky carvings. Oatlands has the best-preserved Georgian main streets you’ll see anywhere in Australia (and arguably beyond). In between are church spires, Devonshire tea shops and country pubs aplenty.
West Coast and the Northwest
Before you get back to Hobart, jag northwest at Bridgewater and get set for some seriously bad-ass wilderness. The A10 highway follows the River Derwent for a while, then makes a break for Tasmania’s wild West Coast, heralded by snowy peaks, trout-filled mountain rivers and absolutely nobody within miles (maybe a Tasmanian Tiger or two?).
Strahan (westernwilderness.com.au) (pronounced ‘Strawn’) is the best place to base yourself and book a cruise of Maquarie Harbour and the isolated splendor of the Gordon River.
Emerging from the rain-soaked western wilds, Tasmania’s northwest is an agricultural and industrial heartland, mid-size cities of Burnie and Devonport offering just enough urban enticements to warrant a stop. Devonport is also where the Spirit of Tasmania (spiritoftasmania.com.au) car ferry from Melbourne arrives: from here you can float back to the mainland, or hop a flight from Launceston. Before ending your ‘lap of the map’ Tasmania road trip though, stop by Stanley (stanley.com.au), a charismatic old maritime village at the foot of a kooky volcanic formation called the Nut.
Charles Rawlings-Way and Meg Worby are freelance writers based in the Adelaide Hills. A Hobart native, Charles drags Meg back to Tasmania whenever possible, regaling her with stories of misspent youth and thylacines in the undergrowth. Follow Charles on Twitter @crawlingsway.