Touring Tasmania - Essential Things to See and Do
Tasmania is often overlooked as a holiday destination by foreign visitors, which is a pity as it is a charming island with plenty to see and do. It's also very easy to navigate by yourself, because nothing is very far from anything else. If you love breathtaking views, unspoilt landscapes and unpolluted air, Tassie is a must-visit destination.
I made my first visit to the island state by booking a bus tour, and frankly it was a mistake. It was frustrating to find we made fleeting stops at places I wanted to see more of, and lingered far too long at places I had no interest in! So on my second visit, my friend and I decided to do a self-drive holiday instead. Tasmania is such a compact country and most of the roads are wide and quiet, so we found it a real pleasure to drive around.
You can take your own car to Tasmania by catching the ferry from Melbourne to Devonport, but you need to time your visit carefully: travel at the wrong time of year and it can be very expensive indeed. You can save money by booking a seat on the ferry instead of a cabin – but it is an overnight trip so that means sitting up all night, not the best way to start your vacation. We did consider it, but soon worked out that it was cheaper to leave our car at home, fly to Hobart and hire a car.
If you've ever picked up a car at an airport, you're probably imagining a spaghetti junction of roads and a rather scarey introduction to driving in Tasmania – but Hobart is not like that at all. Traffic was light and road signs were easy to follow. Tasmanians do drive fast, though!
We had booked into a hotel near the airport, purely because of cost. I don't recommend that because although it wasn't far from Hobart town, it was just far enough to be irritating, there were no cafes, restaurants or shops nearby - and at night, there was also the constant worry of kangaroos and other wildlife on the road. Next time, we'll pay the extra for a city-based hotel!
Hobart itself is a pretty town and there are several places you could visit – Mount Wellington, the Signal Station, the Shot Tower, MONA, to name a few. However there is so much to see in the rest of Tassie that we didn't want to spend too long in town. We enjoyed the Salamanca Markets, but my favourite spot was Mures Cafe and Restaurant on the Franklin Wharf. I don't know if there is any other city where you can sit right on the waterfront and enjoy your breakfast or a succulent barramundi and chips at cafe prices (they also have humongous gelato cones, so try to leave some space!).
From Hobart, you can visit Port Arthur in a day, though there is so much to see you might like to allow an overnight stay. Even though it's now a ruin, there is a real feeling of sadness about the place, but it's also an absorbing insight into history.
The Freycinet Peninsula with its spectacular scenery and stunning beaches is also a day trip away – but again, it's much better to stop there for a night or two, this time on the way to Launceston, so you can linger and enjoy the pristine wilderness – perhaps do some kayaking or walking.
I didn't find much of interest in Launceston apart from Cataract Gorge, but there are two must-see locations not far away. The first is Bridestowe Lavender Farm. That may not sound very exciting, but it has a particular special attraction – Bobbie the Lavender Bear. I defy any girl, big or small, to resist this cuddly lilac teddy! It takes just a few seconds in the microwave to turn him into a warm, beautifully-scented bedtime companion. Each one is hand made at Bridestowe – no Made in China here! I have seen some copies by other lavender farms but they're not the same quality.
Beaconsfield Mine is the other essential stop. The mine is closed now, but of course it's famous for the amazing rescue of two miners who were trapped for days after an explosion. The museum features a reconstruction of the tiny space where they were trapped, and you can even crawl inside it to experience for yourself how claustrophobic it must have been.
North West and Western Tasmania
On the opposite corner of the island is the quaint little town of Stanley with its the famous Nut – a large rock jutting out into the bay. You can take a chairlift up to the top, where there's a lookout, cafe and barbeque area. I was foolish enough to try it and was terrified all the way, but then I am not good at heights - I opted to WALK down. The best thing about Stanley was the delicious Devonshire tea which we had in one of the many cafes. Tasmanian double cream is amazing!
As you proceed down the Western side of Tasmania you really start to enter the wilderness. You may want to stay several days in the Cradle Mountain area. You can decide whether to rough it on a long trek or treat yourself to some pampering at one of the luxury spas! Also don't overlook treats like the Wilderness Railway and the cruises from Strahan.
One thing I am really sorry that I missed is the Wall in the Wilderness, sometimes called “Tasmania's Sistine Chapel”. We enjoyed Freycinet so much that we'd stayed longer than we planned, so by the time we left Strahan we were short of time. By all accounts it's a very impressive wall carving created by a local sculptor, depicting the history of the area.
By the time we got back to Hobart I'm sure we had both gained several kilos, because all through our trip the food had been one of the highlights, especially the fresh, locally caught seafood. It didn't stop me going back to Mures for another of those big gelatos, though!
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