Separated from mainland Australia by the 240 kilometres (150 miles) stretch of Bass Strait, Tasmania is a land apart - a green island of wild, mountainous and beautiful landscapes; friendly, welcoming people; temperate climate; quality cool-climate wines and food; a spirited history; and a creative arts community - all wrapped up in a relaxed lifestyle. More than 40 per cent of the island is protected as World Heritage Area, national parks and reserves. And because Tasmania is so compact it is easy to walk through an ancient alpine meadow in the morning and be on a pure white beach in the afternoon.
Tasmania’s population of less than 500,000 supports a world-class symphony orchestra, a festival of island cultures, and a mid-winter festival that celebrates their Antarctic connections.
Tasmania is never crowded, and its historic towns and seaside villages are dispersed across an area about the size of Ireland or West Virginia. The average summer temperature is a comfortable 21degrees Celsius (70 degrees Fahrenheit), while winter’s average is a mild 12degrees Celsius (52 degrees Fahrenheit).
Greater Hobart and its surrounding towns of Richmond to the north-east and Kettering, to the south, is an intriguing blend of heritage and lifestyle, scenery and vibrant culture. It’s a city defined by the river and sea. Take a harbour cruise, or drive to the summit of Mount Nelson or Mount Wellington, and you’ll understand our maritime focus - suburbs hug the Derwent River, city buildings cluster around the docks and the estuary broadens into Storm Bay and the distant sea.
Twenty-five kilometres and 100 years from the busy city is the historic town of Richmond - in the narrow cells of the old Richmond Gaol, Tasmania’s convict past seems just a clink of chains away. Close by are the neat vineyards and wineries of the Coal River Valley, home of superb cool-climate wines.
The Tasman Peninsula is a land of farms, forests, sheer dolerite cliffs, sweeping views across the Tasman Sea and the place of the world’s southern-most historic prison. It is almost an island apart.
As you travel past Hobart International Airport look out for Barilla Bay, where you can sit in the sun overlooking the oysters beds that produce the succulent oysters they serve up on the half shell.
Turn right at the historic town of Sorell (look out for the signs to the Sorell Fruit Farm) and begin your journey into a land of scenery, wildlife, heritage and adventure.
At Copping you will find small vineyards and cafes selling local specialities - octopus, oysters, quail and venison.
Just near Dunalley is Potters Croft craft shop where you will find the works of some of Tasmania‘s best crafts people. Nearby is the Dunalley Waterfront Cafe and Antiques, and the Dunalley Fish Market.
As you head down the long hill into Eaglehawk Neck, a narrow isthmus, you are entering an area once guarded by a line of half-starved hounds waiting to attack any convict trying to escape.
The area offers you a number of choices: take some short or multi-day walks in the Tasman National Park, with its sweeping beaches and forest walks beside 300 metre sea cliffs, or head to Port Arthur Historic Site.
At Port Arthur Historic Site you step back 150 years as you explore a prison once feared and reviled. Today, that is hard to imagine as you stroll beneath graceful old oak and elm trees, through 19th century-style gardens and cruise the bay to Point Puer, the boys’ prison, and the Isle of the Dead.
The township of Port Arthur overlooks the water and is a good place to stay when exploring the area.
Returning north, turn off to visit the Wielangta Forest, where rare parrots flash through the blue gums. Beyond the trees is the gentle landscape of the east coast.
LAUNCESTON & TAMAR VALLEY
Launceston and the Tamar Valley blend history, scenery, creativity, adventure, entertainment and the superb flavours of fine food and wine.
Winding 58 kilometres (36 miles) north from Launceston to Bass Strait, the Tamar River’s quiet waters are navigable for its entire length, while its sheltered shores are a perfect environment for many species of waterbirds.
At Tamar Island, eight kilometres (five miles) from Launceston, you can take a boardwalk stroll over the wetlands and see the birds in their own habitat. Notley Gorge has deep fern glades, dense rainforest and waterfalls. Fairy penguins nest in the coastal scrub farther north at Low Head where you can visit Australia’s oldest continuously operating pilot station that still guides ships into the River. From George Town you can take a boat trip along the coast to an Australian fur seal colony on Tenth Island.
The Tamar Valley Wine Route is our most productive and best-established wine region. Vines grow on gentle, sloping hills and long mellow autumn days ripen the grapes, adding unique cool-climate flavours to the widely acclaimed wines.
The Tamar River was discovered by Bass and Flinders in 1798, during their circumnavigation of the Island. In late 1804, William Collins and William Paterson set up a settlement near the River’s mouth. In 1806, they moved south to what is known as Launceston today. The rich valley flats were used for farming and forestry until gold was discovered at Beaconsfield in 1877. Later came orchards and in the 1970s a few vineyards and today the Valley is famous for its cool-climate wines.
DEVONPORT & CRADLE MOUNTAIN
From the city of Devonport, port of the Spirit of Tasmania, to the rugged country towards Cradle Mountain, is a region of farming hamlets and historic buildings, beaches, forests, mountains carved by glaciers and fertile farmland.
The backdrop to your travels is the Great Western Tiers, known to the Aboriginal people as Kooparoona Niara. Behind this enormous escarpment sits the protected World Heritage Area of mountains and valleys, lakes and forests. Beneath the surface are extensive limestone caves in the Mole Creek Karst National Park and right nearby is Mole Creek with its giant statue of the Tasmanian devil.
Many artists have chosen to live in this area, and each year Deloraine holds the southern hemisphere’s largest working craft fair link to Tasmanian Craft Fair.
In Westbury, Deloraine and Latrobe there are also well-preserved reminders of earlier days with each offering antique shops where you can search out treasures. Latrobe’s Australian Axeman’s Hall of Fame and Timberworks, celebrates its timber industry heritage. This is a land of milk and honey, sweet berries and fresh vegetables, grass-fed beef and superb farm cheeses.
Mount Roland looms magnificently over fertile pastures around Sheffield, the town of murals, and nearby is the international rowing course at Lake Barrington.
From Sheffield the road winds deep into wilderness. Just beyond Middlesex Plains, you turn left into Cradle Valley, and in the distance is the craggy profile of Cradle Mountain.
From Cradle you can follow country roads through Wilmot’s dairy country and croplands towards the Leven Canyon and Gunns Plains Caves before reaching Bass Strait’s shores and the seaside towns of Ulverstone and Penguin.
Take your time travelling along Tasmania’s historic Heritage Highway - from Launceston to Hobart. Slow down - perhaps not to the pace of the horse-drawn coaches that once rattled through the wide grazing lands.
Today, the highway follows the route pioneered in 1807. Those first explorers took eight days to traverse the island. Soon afterwards, the fastest horse-drawn coaches were pounding their way between Hobart and Launceston in 15 hours, changing horses every 10 miles.
These days, you can drive from Launceston to Hobart in a couple of hours. But if you do, you’ll be missing some of our most stunning pastoral scenery, bypassing colonial towns and villages – such as Perth, Oatlands, Ross, Campbell Town, Kempton and Pontville, where sandstone church spires overlook English oaks, elms and chestnuts, Georgian cottages line quiet streets and stone bridges are reflected in leaf-dappled water.
You will hear the stories of the people who shaped the landscape we see today – the convicts who hauled and hammered stone for bridges and churches; the bushrangers who stole from unsuspecting travellers; and the farmers and graziers who opened up the new land, making their fortunes from bushels of wheat and bales of wool.
You can stay in a bed and breakfast cottage that once housed indentured servants; or enjoy a leisurely meal at a country pub where generations of travellers have been served at the mellow timber bar.
All along Tasmania’s Heritage Highway’ time moves at a leisurely pace. To add an element of mystery to your journey try a game of Skullduggery.The game leads you with a series of clues to learn more about our early settlers.