Tasmania might seem like the ends of the earth, but it’s really the beginning of your adventure. The island state could not have been better designed for lovers of the outdoors. Its 5400km coastline features perfect white-sand coves and deserted, wind-swept beaches that can be reached by kayak or boat. In the centre stand granite mountains, which are the stuff of hikers’ and climbers’ dreams. Forests thick with moss, ferns and waterways are a maze to explore on foot or by raft, and mountain-bike trails attract those looking for a hit of adrenalin. If this isn’t enough to pique any nature enthusiast’s interest, over all of this washes a refreshing breeze that seems to energise anyone with a zest to explore. Here’s our pick of Tasmania’s top outdoor adventures.
1. Rafting the Franklin River
Crashing for 125km through steep gorges, the Franklin River, west of Hobart in the Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park is one of Australia’s iconic rivers and a vital part of Tasmanian history. First run by a pair of canoeists in 1958, today fewer than 500 people attempt it each year. Guided rafting trips, such as those with outfitters Water by Nature Tasmania, put in at Collingwood River and finish at Sir John Falls on the Gordon River. In between, expect to be immersed in the wilderness of this World Heritage Area for up to 10 days. Submitting yourself to the whims of wild water and weather is a potentially life-changing experience.
2. Feeding time with the devils
The Tasmanian Devil Conservation Park, just outside Hobart on the road to Port Arthur, is a key site for the protection of these small, black-furred whirlwinds, which are threatened by a serious disease in the wild. They’re housed in pairs in separate open-air enclosures that visitors can walk between while taking in displays of other marsupials, like a welcoming paddock of kangaroos. Try to be there when the devils are fed to experience the cacophony of shrieks and growls filling the air as they live up to their ferocious reputation. Stick around for kangaroo-feeding time, which is a much more relaxed affair.
3. Sunset kayaking
Swap a glass of something chilled in your hand for the paddle of a kayak as you watch the sunset over the idyllic setting of Coles Bay on Tasmania’s east coast. Take the twilight tour of Freycinet National Park’s coastline with Freycinet Adventures, and view the turquoise waters and white sand while gliding on the gin-clear sea. It’s an easy-going excursion lasting three hours; more experienced paddlers can take a two-day trip along the coast or rent their own kayaks from Freycinet Adventures.
4. Mountain biking on Mt Wellington
Hobart’s North-South mountain bike track uncoils from the parking lot at the Springs, on the way to the summit of Mt Wellington, the state capital’s ever-changing backdrop. It sweeps past eucalypts, wraps around volcanic rocks and blasts through giant fallen tree trunks, descending a thrilling 10km to Glenorchy Bike Park where there are further trails to explore. You can rent a bike from a bike shop in town, but operators such as Vertigo MTB can provide a state-of-the-art mountain bike and, better still, a lift to the start.
5. Boating around Bruny Island
Spot wildlife large and small on an award-winning boat cruise around Bruny Island, just off the southeast coast of Tasmania, with Pennicott Wilderness Journeys. From seabirds to fin-slapping humpback whales, there’s a world-class array of animals to look out for from the boats. You can motor for three hours along the rugged coastline, or take the boat from Hobart for an all-day excursion. Waterproof clothing is provided, but bring something warm.
6. Pedalling a penny farthing
In this sport-loving nation, the tiny town of Evandale in northeast Tasmania can claim one of Australia’s most unusual and closely fought competitions. On one weekend every February, thousands of spectators and 100 foolhardy competitors converge on this unassuming community for the National Penny Farthing Championships – and a superbly entertaining Village Fair (www.evandalevillagefair.com). While the experts ride their big-wheeled bicycles in the 30km road race to Clarendon, you can try out a penny farthing and enjoy a slice of Tasmanian country life.
7. Hiking the Overland Track
Pull on your hiking boots for arguably Australia’s most famous trek. The 65km Overland Track, which kicks off in the Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park, skirts the saw-toothed Cradle Mountain and Mt Ossa, the island’s highest peak at 1617m, and ends at Lake St Clair, Tasmania’s deepest. On the way, expect to see wallabies bouncing through a beautifully isolated landscape that dates back to the ancient landmass of Gondwana, many millions of years old. The hike takes around six days and is best in the summer when wildflowers are in bloom; book ahead with Tasmania’s Parks and Wildlife Service for space in a hut or campsite from October to May.
8. Sailing the west coast
The Sydney-to-Hobart yacht race might have the glitz, but sailors seeking a less-crowded adventure on the open waves should head to the west coast port of Strahan. Step aboard the 20m yacht Stormbreaker and set sail across Macquarie Harbour to the mouth of the Gordon River on an overnight trip with West Coast Yacht Charters. After a night on board and breakfast, guests can spend a few hours fishing or kayaking on the river before setting sail for port.
9. Bushwalking in the Tarkine
The Tarkine is a very special corner of northwest Tasmania, being one of the last and largest expanses of cool-temperate rainforest in Australia, if not the world. The best way to explore this primeval paradise is to take a multi-day hike deep into the forest with Tarkine Trails, who will guide you through the ancient, moss-covered trees from one camping spot to another. There’s no better way to switch off from the modern world and get back to nature.
10. Looking for lobsters
If you like lobsters – and not just the buttered and grilled variety – this is the trip for you. In the tannin-stained rivers that run beneath huge ferns and myrtle trees in northwest Tasmania lurk giant lobsters, the largest freshwater crustaceans in the world. These gnarled, dark-shelled giants have been known to grow up to 80cm in length and live for several decades. But they’re an endangered species and numbers need to be carefully monitored – which is where you come in. Join an expedition bashing through the bush, to find and count the lobsters. It’s hard going and – huge, pincer-wielding crustaceans aside – creature comforts are few and far between. But the reward is in exploring this remote and wild corner of Tasmania and contributing to the conservation of this remarkable beast.