Why wouldn’t you take a Tasmania road trip? I know it’s sometimes seen as Australia’s footnote, but really it’s where the Australian landscape, animals and lovely people come together.
I’m not going to lie – Tasmania is quiet and laid back – especially for those used to fast-paced city life. But you don’t go on a Tasmania road trip for the hustle and bustle. You go to enjoy scenery that you can’t get anywhere else in the world, great hospitality, to indulge in wine country and be outdoors.
Having never been to the Apple Isle before, Third Brother (henceforth to be referred to as TB) and I took a two week jaunt south to explore National Parks, food, beaches, wine and to whale watch. We were not disappointed.
TASMANIA ROAD TRIP
If you zoom into a map of Tassie and study it, you’ll notice that a large portion of the western half is made up of National Parks.
In fact, the island’s “protected” natural areas span more than 3.4 million hectares of land, which is about half of Tasmania. So while we did venture Westard Ho, most of the driving was done down the east coast and on Bruny Island.
Main roads are in great condition, although you’ll notice that describing some roads as “highways” is taking liberties with the term. Once you get into National Parks or smaller towns, you’ll notice the road conditions deteriorate quickly. Drive slowly, try to avoid the potholes as best you can (not always doable) and remember to watch out for wildlife and you’ll be fine.
We kicked off proceedings in Launceston, Tasmania’s second largest city and the island’s only inland city. Affectionately known as Lonny to locals, Launceston is one of Australia’s oldest cities and features a wealth of historic buildings.
It’s a quaint city with plenty to see and do, both in the city and outside of it.
The gorge is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Launceston, with walking paths, a chairlift, cable hang gliding and Victorian gardens complete with strutting peacock. The natural wonder is best viewed from the King’s Bridge-Cataract Walk, which winds its way around the reserve.
The gorge has been carved out by water coursing through the South Esk River for thousands of years. The chairlift is the longest single-span lift in the world, and I was suitably freaked out while hanging onto my camera for dear life. I highly recommend having a brother with you to play “Spot the Peacock” in order to take your mind off the height. And slight bounciness.
Wander around the Victorian Garden of ferns and exotic plants, take a cruise along the river or go cable hang gliding from the cliff top.
Tamar Valley Wine Tour
This is one that you’re going to want to leave your car at home for. We booked the Coach Tours Tasmania afternoon wine tour so that we could both enjoy a little tipple without having to worry about driving back to the hotel.
David picked us up from the hotel and we were lucky enough to have the trip to ourselves, so we spent it learning about Tasmania and the best local spots to see.
We visited (and shipped wine home from) a bunch of great wineries, before stopping at the last vineyard for a cheese plate and a glass of wine. A perfect afternoon!
James Boag Brewery Experience
They’re proud of their James Boag beer in Launceston so it stands to reason that the brewery is a big draw card. It’s been wetting the whistles of beer lovers since 1881 and a tour of the brewery gives you a look into the process and allows you to taste three different beers with some Tasmanian cheese.
Boag built the brewery on the bank of the Esk River and ran it with his son, claiming the Tasmanian water was what made the beer special.
Architecture and Heritage
From the Old Post Office to the Victorian Albert Hall, Launceston has its fair share of historic architecture, mixed with more contemporary design. You’ll see it all here, especially if you take Heritage Walk.
Stroll past all 26 stops on the list or just find a few, either way you’ll witness some breathtaking architecture. If shopping’s more your thing, visit the Old Umbrella Shop – built in the 1860s and still functioning today.
A 40-minute drive west of Launceston sits Deloraine. A riverside town in the foothills of the Great Western Tiers mountain range, with a National Trust-listed historic main street.
We were lucky that our trip coincided with the annual craft fair. It’s Australia’s largest working craft fair and runs over four days in November, bringing in 29,000 visitors. You can see everything from glassware, woodwork, painting, knitting, dressmaking and anything you can think of really.
Over the fair weekend accommodation can be scarce so be sure to book in well in advance. We were lucky enough to
get a room at the Blue Stone Grain Store B&B, which was built in 1860. You don’t get any prizes for guessing that it
was used for storing wheat. It’s had an interesting history, but now that Ron and Helen Tweedale own and run it, it’s
a gorgeous place to stay. They didn’t even bat an eyelid when I showed up in butterfly face paint (the craft fair got to
Once you’ve had your fill of Deloraine, it’s time to greet the great outdoors head on. An hour and a half’s drive west is the entrance to the Cradle-Mountain/Lake St Clair National Park.
I can’t stress enough just how beautiful Cradle Mountain and this National Park is. We stopped here and did a six-day camping trek from Cradle Mountain down to Lake St Clair, which you can read all about in separate Overland Track posts.
We didn’t do it alone though. If you book with a group tour company, such as we did with Tasmanian Expeditions, they organise food, equipment, park permits and guide you on the trek.
Even if you’re not the type to go camping, drive to Cradle Mountain and do some exploring. It really is a gorgeous park filled with ancient rainforests and is part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage area.
The terrain switches from grassland to rainforest to traditional Australian bushland to flat plains. And if you’re looking for Australian wildlife, be very quiet and keep your eyes peeled for echidna, wallabies, quolls, Tasmanian devils and pademelon. Just keep your food secure – they like to scavenge for human food.
Back to Launceston
After six days without showers, we headed back to Launceston for a good wash, to get all the mud out of our clothes and eat a few good meals before we were off to explore the rest of Tasmania.
Back in the car for a two-hour drive south-east to Coles Bay. We spent three days in the Coles Bay/Freycinet area and I wish we’d had time to stay longer and detoured up to the Bay of Fires first.
Cole Bay is the village by the sea that you imagine existed forty years ago. That’s not to say that it isn’t a modern place. It just has the laid-back, seaside feel that comes with being outside from dawn to dusk and then some.
It was such a great stop on our Tasmania road trip that I’d go back in a heartbeat.
Climb The Hazards
The pink granite mountains of Freycinet National Park rise straight out of the sea and afford climbers a spectacular view of the beaches and towns below. We decided to tackle Mount Amos, one of the three pink granite mountains that make up The Hazards.
My fear of heights non-withstanding, I was keen to scale the smooth granite mountain, thinking it wasn’t very high. I was so very wrong. The smooth granite made me feel unsteady on the inclines to begin with, and the track to the summit is steep.
And so TB and I were metres from the summit. I could see it from where I sat cowering on a bit of mountainside that seemed too steep to get up without slipping. It was only wide enough for one person and I was blocking traffic, sobbing into the crook of my arm.
It took the guide from another group to hold my hand and slowly coax me back down to safety. Embarrassing to say the least, BUT, the views were worth the tears. A panoramic view of Wineglass Bay is not something to turn down.
Just remember to bring sturdy walking shoes or boots that will tackle steep climbs over slippery sheets of rock.
The bay that gets its name from its near-perfect curve of white sand lapped by turquoise ocean, is world renowned for its beauty. Wineglass Bay should probably also be known for the long walk to get there and out again.
But it is one of the top 10 beaches in the world, so it makes sense that you have to work for it. I may be embellishing a little. The bay is a short walk from the Coles Bay camp grounds, but if you’re going through Freycinet National Park, you climb to a lookout before walking half an hour down to the bay.
Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife on the walk. I saw a wallaby, amongst the birds that perched in the bushland trees.
I wanted a bit of adventure to break up the Tasmania road trip so we opted for a few side activities to keep things interesting. And so we found Freycinet Adventures, which offers a three-hour morning or twilight sea kayaking trip.
We’d worked out our legs with all that hiking so it was probably time that our arms got the same treatment. We went with the twilight paddle, and even though TB and I were novices at best, it was a pleasant paddle along the coastline.
The tour took us amongst the oyster farms and over to a secluded beach for tea and coffee. I got to sample my first taste of fresh oysters from a local who had worked the oyster farms. We returned just in time to enjoy the sunset.
It almost seems a shame to sandwich Bruny Island into this post, it’s such an experience in itself. But it’s an important part of the Tasmania road trip. The three and a half hour drive south to the Kettering Ferry Terminal is a scenic one, surrounded by mountains, rolling hills, sheep and livestock.
This is where the “highway” comes in. A winding dual carriageway does not make a highway, I can tell you that. The ferry to Bruny Island departs on the hour, and you’ll have to drive past Hobart to get there.
My biggest tip to drivers is don’t try to race to get to the ferry. If you’re anything like me you’ll panic for nothing, get flashed by a speed trap and arrive at the port 20 minutes early anyway.
Bruny Island is not a rental car company’s best friend. To be more specific, the roads on Bruny Island are nobody’s friend.
Where they are paved, they are potholed. Where they are just dirt tracks they are also potholed. And covered with tiny stones that fly everywhere.
When you’re booking your hire car, check their policies on unpaved roads and what sorts of damage your insurance covers.
The island is just 362 square kilometres and is a haven for wildlife like fairy penguins, fur seals and the white wallaby.
Bruny Island Smokehouse & Tasmanian House of Whisky
Just a measly 3km (2 miles) from where the ferry drops you off is the Bruny Island Smokehouse and Tasmanian House of Whisky.
Get the mixed plate, a glass of whisky or wine, sit on the verandah and enjoy. You’re welcome. Unfortunately I can’t show you the food, since I was more interested in the view it seems.
Where to Stay
There are a few accommodation options on the island – book a self contained cottage, camp or bring your own caravan to stay in.
I was really impressed with our self-contained space though and wanted to recommend it. 43 Degrees Bruny Island offers environmentally friendly accommodation.
The apartment was beautifully decorated, had a patio to sit out on in the evenings, board games to play and the owners delivered a fantastic breakfast each day.
Fairy Penguins and The Neck
Bruny is made up of a North and South island, joined by “The Neck”, a long thin strip of land with beaches on either side.
A wooden staircase with more stairs than I’ve seen in a long while, leads up to Truganini Lookout. From there you get views of both parts of the island, as well as out to sea.
If you look closely at the photo, you’ll notice a wooden boardwalk leading to the left. That’s to protect the natural habitat. It’s also where you’ll gather with other visitors at dusk to watch the fairy penguins.
You have to hope that everyone’s quiet and still as you huddle in the Neck Game Reserve. That’s when you’ll spot the short-tailed shearwaters and fairy penguins waddling up the shore in groups, to bed down in their burrows amongst the sand dunes.
Bruny Island Cruises
This was the most spectacular part of our Tasmania road trip, although I’ve thought that about every single part as I’ve written about it.
Bruny Island Cruises takes you on a three hour jaunt from Adventure Bay to show you all manner of natural wonders. From the deep sea caves, to a rock that “breathes” water to The Monument that looks like a king.
You’ll see (and smell) seal colonies sunning themselves on rocky outcrops and sea birds skimming the ocean for their next meal.
Be warned, if you’re sitting in the first few rows, you’re likely to get splashed- but you’re also afforded the best views. And you get to borrow a poncho for your trouble.
The best part though, is spotting dolphins and migrating whales if you’re in the right place at the right time. And we sure were.
A mother whale and her baby were feeling particularly sprightly as we quietly floated a safe distance away. The whole boatload of passengers were mesmerised watching them breech and backflip through the water.
Be warned, prices for the cruise are a little steep, but worth the knowledge of the guide and ship’s sailor, and the amount of time you’re out on the water.
Once you’ve had your fill of National Parks and the great outdoors, it’s time to get back on the ferry and drive up to Hobart.
It should only take about two hours, as long as you’re on time for the ferry ride back to Tasmania. Hobart is bigger and busier than Launceston, and as far as Tasmanian cities go, this is where the action happens.
Get to the Museum of Old and New Art, aka MONA, for mind blowing displays and a beautiful building to boot.
Try to get there for MONA FOMA (the Museum of Old and New Art: Festival of Music and Art) or Dark MOFO, the winter version. The annual festivals showcase art, music, theatre, dance and new media.
If it just doesn’t work with your itinerary, there’s plenty of art and new media to soak up at MONA. Oh and contraptions like the wind powered drawing machine above.
The weekly Salamanca Market is part Farmer’s Market, part art and craft fair and part entertainment festival. You’ll find musicians, artists and farmers all in the one square each Saturday.
Held close to the waterfront, Salamanca Market celebrates Tasmania’s history as one of the world’s biggest apple producers.
The market sits in front of Georgian sandstone buildings housing art galleries, homewares, jewelry and craft shops. There are plenty of places to grab a bite to eat or sit with a drink and watch the world go by as well.
To get a taste of snow, even sometimes in the summer months, head to Mount Wellington. Hobart sits in the mountain’s shadow, in the foothills, making it a great place to visit.
Apart from its walking tracks, you can BMX down its slopes if you’re brave. Otherwise, visit the dolerite columns known as the Organ Pipes. From there you’ll get a view of Hobart.
TASMANIA ROAD TRIP
That was our Tasmania road trip in a nutshell. A long-winded nutshell, but if I could leave you with one impression about Tasmania, let it be this: Tasmania’s natural wonders are only matched by the hospitality and friendliness of its inhabitants.