By: Mike Argyle
For most people, the only knowledge they have of Tasmania is of the devils that share its name, but there is so much more to this small island off the southern tip of eastern Australia. Yes, I said Australia. Not to be confused with Tanzania, the African country home to Mount Kilimanjaro, Tasmania is home to some of the most natural, breathtaking and unspoiled scenery in all of Australia – so different that you may think you are in a different country, and youwouldn ’t be too far wrong. Unlike most of the mainland, Tasmania is not as plagued by desertification, savage bush fires and droughts but enjoys a cooler climate with a rugged, forested terrain that inspires everyone who visits. Peppering the side of the road are signs alerting you to the possibility of emerging wildlife, such asechidnas, wallabies and wombats, but as opposed to most other places with similar signage, you will see these animals.
Alongside its animals, the diversity of the Tasmanian landscape lends itself to many recreational activities, ranging from the leisurely to the hyper-intensive. Looking for a peaceful adventure with little physical activity? Take a drive to any number of wineries in the northwest region, taking in all that the Tamar Valley has to offer. Is it hiking you crave? The Cradle Mountain route is one that will challenge your physical ability and reward you with spectacular sights as you cross the Tasmania countryside.
For most tourists, going to Australia means diving the Great Barrier Reef, visiting the Sydney Opera House, driving the Great Ocean Road, trekking to Uluru and Kata Tjuta or just relaxing on a beach, catching some surf and turning that famous Aussie gold. This is where most of the people will be and there will be a lot of them. The advantage of choosing Tasmania as a destination is not for soaking up rays on the beach, although that is not to say it cannot be had, but for a place few people bother with for no better reason than itdidn’t cross their minds. Well, it’s their loss.
Below is a short list of some of the best sights worth seeing in Tasmania – use it as a planning guide or just read it to get an idea on what you’re missing out on.
Port Arthur – Without a doubt the most famous location on the entire island (and home to Australia’s worst gun massacre in 1996) is this former penal colony turned historic site. From 1833 until 1877, the most hardened criminals in the colony were sentenced to Port Arthur and the drive should signal to you the severity of this punishment, as the location is very remote. Visit during the day to get the full effect of the buildings and grounds or at night on a ghost tour where the deceased supposedly still lurk. Tickets range from $30-$100 depending on the time of day and package you choose.
Freycinet National Park – Along the east coast are many beautiful scenes but none are more photographed than Wineglass Bay, located within Freycinet National Park. Driving to the park will afford you the chance to spot echidnas scurrying along the shoulder, but the real beauty is after parking and walking to Wineglass Bay lookout, where the beach forms the namesake of this spectacular locale. If you’re feeling more adventurous and have extra time, hike down to the beach or to the other side to take in the full majesty of the bay. Upon reaching your car, don’t be surprised if a few wallabies looking for dinner greet you.
Little Penguins – If you make your way north of Launceston to Devonport (the departure and arrival point of the Spirit of Tasmania Ferry that connects Tasmania to Melbourne by sea) and head west, you’re sure to encounter the smallest penguins you’ll ever see. Arriving after sunset from the ocean, the penguins march back to their burrows to feed their young after a long day of swimming and eating. Getting a picture of them is nigh impossible as it is late and the bright lights scare them, so just sit back and enjoy being a few feet from the tiny flightless birds. Why would you do this in Tasmania when you could do it in Melbourne? Because here, it costs nothing.
Hobart Royal Botanical Gardens – One of the most peaceful places in Hobart is located just past the Tasman Bridge and ideally visited on a weekday. Spend a few hours walking around the grounds and just take in the wide array of flora from all over the world, including desert, arctic and Asian inspired gardens.
Mount Wellington – Looming over Hobart is Mount Wellington, a good hours drive that will give you remarkable views of the city below and the coast. Be prepared for high winds and possible road closures due to rock slides and snow, but have your camera ready for majestic panoramic scenes.
Tasmanian Devil – Ahead of Port Arthur is the carnivorous marsupial made famous by the Looney Toons. If you’re heading towards Port Arthur from Hobart, stop off at a Tasmanian Devil sanctuary, home to numerous birds, kangaroos and wallabies, as well as the devils themselves and witness the insanity that is feeding time. You’ll understand how the facial tumor that threatens to make them extinct spreads when you see them fight for food with their ‘friends’ and shake your head at just how slow they run.
Richmond Bridge – Right up there with Wineglass Bay and Port Arthur, the convict-built bridge in Richmond is worth taking a quick drive to see and one of the most photographed things in Tasmania.
If you find yourself in Australia, be sure to find time for Tasmania. Rapidly becoming a popular tourist destination, the best way to see Tasmania is to rent a car, pick a direction and drive, as most spots can be reached in a short day’s drive from the capital city of Hobart. Or better yet, don’t go, as too many tourists would destroy what makes Tasmania the awesome place it is.