With its incredible natural beauty, unspoilt beaches, and nature reserves that cover almost half the state, it’s no wonder Tasmania promotes itself as the Island of Inspiration. But for the two intrepid travellers who drove, cold and disoriented, from the deck of the sturdy Spirit of Tasmania onto the streets of Devonport earlier this year, it was an unknown entity.
Having hired a car and driven down from sun-soaked Queensland, we weren’t quite ready for the crisp autumn air of Tasmania, 240 kilometres south of the Australian mainland. However, with the afternoon sun blazing down, we were soon back in T-shirts and shorts.
Launceston, Tasmania’s second city, was our first stop after leaving the ferry terminal in Devonport. Named after a town in Cornwall, it’s among Australia’s oldest cities and replete with beautiful 19th-century buildings. It’s also just south of the Australian Maritime College on the spectacular Tamar River, where many aspiring sailors study for their skipper’s licence.
If you fly to Launceston and don’t have transport, head to the Visitors’ Centre on St John Street and pick up some bus schedules, then stop at the café next door for a slap-up breakfast (one of the best in town). From here you can walk to the marina and into one of the city’s parks or grab some fish-and-chips while watching the boats.
We were lucky enough to catch the annual wooden boat show, which offers the chance to mingle with the locals and pick out your dream boat – fun to do, even if you’re not a major enthusiast. There were some real characters here showing off their engine collections and their boats, some of which, like their owners, boasted a colourful history.
On the day we arrived in Launceston, two AFL teams from Melbourne were playing at the Aurora Stadium. Even if, like me, you have no idea what’s going on, it’s a great way to get a real taste of Australia and soak up the stadium atmosphere (along with a few cheap beers). The other must-do is the spectacular Cataract Gorge, formed by earthquakes centuries ago and now a beautiful place to walk around and spend the day. Take the chairlift to fully appreciate its natural splendour.
The best way to see Tasmania is by car. You’ll miss too much if you’re stuck on a bus, unable to get off and enjoy the breathtaking scenery.
There is plenty of the latter along the island’s east coast. With an understanding that we’d stop “every time we see something good”, we were hopping in and out of the car every ten minutes for wineries, forest walks, beaches and, one time, an echidna (a bit like a hedgehog) loitering by the side of the road, dangerously close to becoming another statistic. You never get used to seeing all the dead wildlife strewn over Australian roads.
Launceston to Hobart can be done in a four-hour drive. To get the real flavour of the place, use roads closer to the coast rather than the central highway. This invariably means taking some rough and hilly routes, but that’s half the fun. Allow plenty of time on your schedule and aim for some overnight stays.
At the Bay of Fires, the temptation to jump out and clamber over the unusual orange-coloured rocks proved too strong for my companion and me. In any case, it’s a photo-opportunity you won’t want to miss. Just around the corner, we stopped the car yet again, running like two teenagers into the crystal-clear – and, we quickly discovered – freezing-cold waters of Binalong Bay, one of the most beautiful, unspoilt beaches I’ve ever seen: powdery white sand and not a building in sight. It was hard to tear ourselves away and keep driving, but there was much more to come. Indeed, Freycinet National Park, further south, is home to Wineglass Bay, voted by several travel authorities as one of the world’s top-ten beaches.
Head inland and you’ll discover waterfalls as beautiful as the beaches. One rainy day, we turned onto a gravel road off Lake Leake Highway to get to Meetus Falls on the Cygnet River. Soon we were driving though low-lying cloud to find the start of the forest walk. After a misty, 20-minute hike, we arrived at the falls. What a sight! The spectacular waterfall flows down from a cloud-covered canopy, almost ethereal in its beauty.
The Tasmanian capital Hobart is more developed and cosmopolitan than Launceston. It’s also a richer historical and cultural experience, being the second-oldest Australian city after Sydney.
If you’re craving a taste of home, the popular Salamanca Place near the waterfront offers an array of cuisines from around the world and a buzzy, bohemian atmosphere. A short taxi-ride away, you’ll find the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens. Be sure to check their website while you’re in town – we caught a travelling production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream being performed in the gardens. Armed with wine and a picnic, it was a great way to enjoy a night in the city after so many beaches and so much rainforest.
Despite the rumours (perpetuated by mainland Australians) of people with, ahem, extra appendages, Tasmanians are, of course, perfectly normal, extremely friendly, and obviously proud of their beautiful island. Brian Inder sums it up perfectly in a poem we found engraved on a plaque on the island’s northern coastline:
I cast my pebble onto the shore of Eternity
To be washed by the Ocean of Time
It has shape, form and substance
It is me
One day I will be no more
But my pebble will remain here
On the shore of Eternity
Mute witness for the aeons
That today I came and stood
At the edge of the world
Qantas and Tiger Airways both fly to Launceston or Hobart from Melbourne or Sydney. The Spirit of Tasmania sails from Melbourne to Devonport, departing most days at 8pm and arriving at 7am the next day. There are daytime trips during peak periods. (Tip: go for the Cabin rather than the Ocean View Recliner.)
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