Ten mildly convincing reasons to cross the Bass Strait
For a relatively small island, Tasmania has nearly every base covered. Only minutes separate the maze-like rainforests from the towering mountains; the sandy beaches from the animal sanctuaries; the rugged geology from the historic houses; the effervescent waterfalls from the bovine-rich countryside. The ‘cities’ are quaint, the national parks are diverse and the wildflowers are everywhere. And it goes without saying that coastal views are in abundance.
The only thing missing, really, is tourists. Sure, the summer season brings a banquet of foreign cultures into the backpacker joints. But Tasmania has enough on offer for it to be a year-long drawcard.
It deserves to be on every foreigner’s itinerary.
It deserves to be on every local’s itinerary.
For some reason, Tassie’s underrated scenery does not figure prominently in any of those calendars you get from the tacky Melbourne souvenir shops. Perhaps this explains why so many perceive the island to be a mere sideshow. For foreigners, Tassie is the side road one takes after they’ve seen the rest. Only after they’ve driven four days through nothing – to get to a sacred Aboriginal rock – do the tourists decide to breathe life into the Tasmanian section of their Lonely Planet.
Once they arrive, they immediately regret their foolish planning. They realise they are forced to cram three weeks worth of sights into five days. But it looks so small on the map, is their feeble and ironic reasoning. The irony, of course, being that Tasmania may just be the only place in Australia small enough to comprehensively uncover. Which probably makes it the most rewarding of all.
Below is a summary of my favourite Apple Isle attractions. I’ve ranked them in a trite top-ten countdown, but that’s merely to make it more readable and engaging. So, regardless of whether you’re a curious tourist or a loyal friend of mine, enjoy…
1. Bay of Fires
On paper, rocks with orange moss on them may not sound overly exciting. When confronted with the east coast’s long stretches of beaches, however, that perception is given a brutal shake-up. The snow-mimicking quality of the white sand is breathtaking, but it’s the colourful rocks that really capture your attention. There is an endless quantity of these remarkable geological features, of all shapes and sizes. The challenge of jumping from one rock to the next, in order to get the optimal coastal view, is an experience not unlike skipping puddles as a schoolchild. Except for the fact that those puddles are full of vibrant colour. And if you land in the puddle, you don’t get wet; you get a broken ankle.
2. Tasman Peninsula / Tasman National Park
The rough edges of Tassie’s south coast look hand-crafted. The rock faces take on eclectic appearances, eroding from all sorts of angles. If you’re imaginative enough, you may even see a face in the silhouette. Or you may see a bundle of sticks. Or you may see a rock. Either way, though, you see something remarkable. Nearby, at the infamous Port Arthur historical site, management are doing their best to ensure that the ’96 massacre remains a mere footnote. The buildings here are unexpectedly fascinating and beautiful.
3. Hobart / Mount Wellington
From a city perspective, the eventful municipalities of Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Perth, and even Adelaide reduce Hobart to a quaint little village. From a scenic perspective, Hobart gives them all a run for their money. The citizens of Cape Town may be inclined to file a lawsuit against Hobart for stealing their idea, because the whole mountain-dwarfing-a-city notion is just brilliant. Regardless of whether you’re looking up at the peak from ground level, or overlooking the winding Derwent River from the needle, Mount Wellington is a sight to behold. Today’s fun fact is that Mount Wellington used to be named Table Mountain.
Some may argue that the four or five mountains that surround Queenstown have turned the small mining town into an isolated dust bowl. I would tend to agree with that statement. But that’s doesn’t mean it’s not worth a visit. There’s something charming about the winding red roads of Queenstown. A drive up or down the man-carved highway may feel frightening – particularly if an impatient driver is stalking your tail – but it’s a unique experience that is unrivalled by any other Tasmanian attraction.
5. Freycinet Peninsula / Wineglass Bay
If I were to not include this national park – which is arguably the state’s tourist hotspot – travellers the world over (well, those you have been to Tasmania, at least) would be polluting this blog with disgusted comments. My experiences here were a tad clouded by… clouds, but the views of the beach and the Hazards were nevertheless pleasant. Scouring the Sleepy Bay beach for jellyfish or tempting fate along the rocky mountain edges will pull you away from the crowds of camera-wielding sightseers.
6. Cradle Mountain
As with Wineglass Bay, it would be a crime for me to sidestep this, the state’s feature landmark. Dove Lake reflects the Cradle’s fire-like structure from all angles, but the highlights of this national park stand lower than one foot. Spot platypus leave trails along the water, watch echidnas rustle through the shrubbery, sit down beside a unassuming wombat as it gobbles down its dinner, play games with pademelons as they educate their infants.
7. Leven Gorge
Only the best maps mark the route to Leven Gorge. Which means that only the most passionate tourists are treated to this magnificent wonder. A short walk takes one 200 metres above a winding black river. Above the river stands a potent rocky slope, which threatens to avalanche into the valley should the wind push it with enough force.
8. Hartz Mountains National Park
Most Hobartians prefer the moss-covered myrtles and picturesque waterfalls of Mount Field National Park when they set off for weekend getaways. What they don’t realise is that Hartz NP is closer, higher, and far more special. The colours produced by the high altitude reveal themselves with a full rainbow effect. The other obvious advantage of the elevation is the impressive lookouts on offer. Push yourself to the limits and count the trees.
9. The Western Explorer (C249) / Arthur Pieman Conservation Area
Crossing 123km of unsealed road at 40km/h is not my usual idea of fun. When the landscapes around you are constantly changing, though, the distance ceases to be an issue. The far north resembles the Nullarbor Plains. Corinna, the southernmost point of the highway, is a dense green forest. Everything else can be found in between. Except of course for other cars. You’ll probably be the only one.
10. Narwantapu National Park
This unpronounceable national park is only small, but that only makes wildlife spotting easier. Exclamation is greatest at the western beaches, where little crabs swarm along the sand. No travel guide, brochure, or visitors’ information centre makes mention of this unlikely population. And that’s exactly what makes this remarkable piece of fauna so special. Watch them burrow into holes and scamper away from your keen footsteps. Just don’t step on them. Regrettably Narwantapu now has one less crab as a result of my Merell’s.
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On second thoughts, ten isn’t enough. So below is a comprehensive A-Z list of recommendations. It’s probably only worth reading if you a) have been to Tassie, b) are currently in Tassie, or c) are going to Tassie. Otherwise, it’s fairly boring.
Please note that I have not seen everything in Tassie. Nobody has. For example, I didn’t visit Maria Island, Flinders Island or Bass Island. Nor did I enter the enormous Southwest National Park, or see the Walls of Jerusalem. And yes, I do find it ironic that if now search those above terms, you may be directed towards this blog. God bless the internet.
I regrettably also missed out on seeing a Tasmanian Devil.
Speaking of which, Tasmanian Devils apparently don’t look anything like the accompanying image. But, then again, how would I know?
Arthur River – At the ‘Edge of the World’ lookout, the winds are strong enough to blow you away to Argentina. Feel the tide splash your feet, as the blowing air gives you a severe ear ache.
Beaconsfield – It’s hard to believe that this remote town was the centre of worldwide media attention a couple of years back. Unless you’re interested in mining, don’t bother here; the locals have evidently moved on from the tragedy/miracle of 2006.
Bicheno – The Blowhole deserved to make my top ten. That alone is enough reason to detour away from the masses at Freycinet, to this medium sized coastal township.
Bruny Island – Almost as good as it’s mirror image, the Tasman Peninsula. 360 degree panoramas are available at the lighthouse, and come with a complimentary dose of awe. The island is deceptively big. By Tasmanian standards, that is.
Deloraine – One of the few places in the state with mobile coverage. That alone makes it a worthy tourist attraction.
Dip Falls – The best waterfall in Tasmania. Hands down. A bit out of the way, but well worth the extra few litres of petrol.
Geeveston – Hawkins St is the most remarkable feature of the town, unless you really like wood. More noteworthy is the fact that this is your best base for the ‘nearby’ Tahune AirWalk, which is surprisingly worthwhile, even for know-it-all bushwalkers.
Gunns Plains – The underground caves are amazing, and the scenery is lush. Deserves a few more tourists, but too many will spoil this agricultural heaven.
Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park – Plays host an endless supply of mountains, moss-laden trees and r ivers. Archetype Tasmania.
Lake Burbury – Nature at it’s best. Apart from the fact that it’s man made. The hilly surrounds make this dam a picturesque camping ground.
Lake St Clair National Park – The lower section of Cradle Mountain rivals its more popular sister for unique mountain scapes. If it’s not raining, snowing, or hailing, you may see the peaks. Otherwise you’ll just see the lake. And maybe even a platypus or two.
Launceston / Cataract Gorge – How many major cities in the world are situated beside a gorge? I don’t know. That can be your homework for the day. Excuse the one way roads and you’ve got yourself a pleasant stopover destination.
Mount Field National Park – The Russell Falls loop is the obvious drawcard, but exploring the high regions of Lake Dobson offers a stunning contrast in scenery.
Mount William National Park – If you like mountains, this isn’t the place for you. If you like kangaroos, then this is Serengeti.
New Norfolk – Offers one of the best lookout hills in the state. Unfortunately it’s more exciting from up high than down low. Try navigating yourself around the central roundabout. It’s hours of endless fun.
Orford – If it wasn’t for the five log trucks behind me, this would have been a nice drive. If you’re feeling brave, a stopover is worthwhile.
Penguin – How many penguin statues do you reckon you can fit into one tiny street? There’s only one way to find out…
Pyengana – Home to St Columbus Falls, one of the state’s better examples of falling water.
Railton – Whether it’s via an assortment of topiary animals or wacko fibre-optic galleries, the citizens of Railton are doing their best to make this tiny town a tourist area. It will take time, but I wish them the very best.
Richmond – Doesn’t quite house the MCG, but walking through historic Richmond town is like walking through another century. The closest thing you’ll get to old in post-colonial Australia.
Rocky Cape National Park – There is no shortage of wicked coastlines in Tassie, but a stopover at Rocky Cape takes you along some of the state’s most colourful and obscure rock formations.
Sheffield – Murals are everywhere. Even the local skate ramp has murals. Then again, something tells me that only old people live here. But I could be wrong.
Stanley – Charmingly old.
Strahan – The classy Gordon River cruise and the Queenstown railway will eat up all your life savings. The local theatre production and the ill-placed sand dunes, meanwhile, are a bargain.
Swansea – Old. But only charming if you like birds.
Tarraleah – A genuine ghost town. You can fill up at the mysterious petrol gauge, but determining who you are meant to pay is a little harder.
Zeehan – See Stanley. Except that no old lives here.
Please note that all photos are the intellectual property of Kevin Hawkins, 2010. If you wish to use high quality versions of these images, please contact me at kevinhawkinstrio [at] gmail [dot] com