Tips for a Vacation in Tasmania
Tip #1 - Just Go!
Many visitors to Australia never visit Tasmania, 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.
Tip #2 - Hire a Car
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!
Tasmania is a compact country. Most of the roads are wide and well maintained, and traffic is generally quiet, so we found it a real pleasure to drive around.
Tip #3 - Fly, Don't Drive
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! Even though we live in Australia, we 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 scary 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!
Tip #4 - Plan Your Trip
The following itinerary suggestions assume you fly to Hobart and hire a car
Like most capital cities, Hobart's hotels and holiday apartments are expensive. You'll find several cheaper options slightly out of town, and near the airport. I can't recommend them because although they aren't far from Hobart town, they are just far enough to be irritating, The cafes, restaurants and shops are all in town - and at night, the roads aren't well lit and there''s the constant worry of kangaroos and other wildlife on the road.
Sights to See
Hobart is a pretty town, with Mount Wellington rising high above it. You can drive almost to the summit (wear something warm!). Also worth visiting are the Signal Station, the Shot Tower, the Salamanca Markets and if you like modern art, MONA.
Places to Eat
You'll find plenty of eateries around Salamanca and in North Hobart, but my favourite spot is 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 café prices (they also have humongous gelato cones, so try to leave some space!).
Day Trips from Hobart
From Hobart, you can visit Port Arthur in a day, but there is so much to see, I recommend an 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
You can visit the Freycinet area on a day trip from Hobart, but you will enjoy its pristine wilderness much more if you take your time. It's a good place to stop for a night or two on your way to Launceston. Drink in the spectacular scenery and stunning beaches, and perhaps do some kayaking or walking.
Launceston is Tasmania's second city, but has few interesting sights in town. Base yourself there for a day or two so you can enjoy a picnic or lunch at Cataract Gorge, and visit two must-see locations not far away:
Bridestowe Lavender Farm
A lavender farm 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.
The mine is closed now, but it's famous for the incredible rescue of two miners who were trapped for days after an explosion. Many Australians will remember watching the rescue unfold on television. 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.
Northern and Western Tasmania
On the opposite corner of the island is the quaint little town of Stanley with its 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!
The Wilderness Railway
As you proceed down the Western side of Tasmania you really start to enter the wilderness. Also don't overlook treats like the Wilderness Railway and the cruises from Strahan.
Cradle Mountain is famous but you can do much more than just admire the strangely-shaped peak. You may want to stay several days in the area. You can decide whether to rough it on a long trek or treat yourself to some pampering at one of the luxury spas!
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!