With just one month to see as much of the world as possible, I couldn’t resist a quick stop in Tasmania while visiting Australia. After a painless one-hour flight from Melbourne, I touched down on this beautiful island. Just under 200 miles south of the Australian mainland, the country’s only island state - nicknamed “Tassie” - has a unique and compelling history.
For more than 25,000 years, Aboriginal tribes lived here in isolation. The estabishment of a British penal colony in 1803 shattered that peaceful isolation. In the years that followed, more than 700,000 men, women and children were forced to migrate to Tasmania. In addition to the convicts, hundreds of penal administrators, civil and military officers and their families arrived and made a lasting impact on the island. Tasmania’s settlements prospered from the forced labor of the convicts who suffered brutal conditions at Port Arthur. Most of the convicts shipped here worked hard and eventually won their freedom, going on to establish new colonies as free citizens. In 1856, Tasmania was granted self-government and the convict era finally came to an end. A period of economic growth followed, fueled by exports like wool, meat, fruit and timber shipped from the bustling port of Hobart.
Today, in addition to specialized exports, tourism plays a vital role in Tassie’s economy. Visitors come here for the spectacular natural setting, adventure activities and the history. The restored ruins of Port Arthur have been converted into a peaceful visitor attraction and remain a stark monument to Australia’s convict era.
For many of us who don’t know the story of the island’s difficult history, the word Tasmania first brings to mind the famous Tasmanian devil. But unless you visit the Tasmanian Devil Conservation Park, you’re unlikey to get a look at the world’s largest carnivorous marsupial. Since the 1990′s, devil tumor facial disease has drastically reduced the devil population in the wild leading them to be listed as endagered. On my last trip to Sydney, I’d learned a lot about the Tasmanian devils and even seen a few at the Taronga Zoo. They’re about the size of a small dog and actually kind of cute…until you see their teeth, of course.
I’d left a lot of planning for this stop until the last minute including where I would stay for my one night on the island and what I wanted to see. Luckily, fate intervened in the way of alert Tassie reader, Rachel, who saw on my site that I was visiting Tasmania and couldn’t have been more helpful with hotel suggestions and sightseeing advice. For a one-day trip, I really had two options: the Port Arthur Historic site where I could delve into Tassie’s troubled history or Freycinet National Park, one of the island’s most spectacular natural wonders. Deciding I wanted my brief visit to focus on the natural scenic beauty of Tasmania more than its history, I opted for the park.
Since time was short, Rachel recommended renting a car and making the drive to Freycinet National Park directly from the airport. She wanted to come with me and show me some of the sights but unfortunately she couldn’t get the day off work. So instead she gave me driving directions and even suggested all the best places to stop along the way.
After landing at 9:30am, by 10:00am I was in a rental car and on my way! The drive north to the park wound through softly rolling hills and vineyards and along the coastline. It was incredibly scenic and I stopped several times to get out and take pictures.
Thanks to all the stopping, it took me a full 3 hours to reach the gorgeous Freycinet Peninsula. Dominated by the 1500ft-high granite peaks known as the Hazards, it’s easy to see why Freycinet is so popular with visitors. Once inside the park, I stopped at the Visitor Center, paid my entrance fee and picked up a map. With miles of pristine sandy coves and dramatic rocky outcroppings, Freycinet is a nature lover’s wonderland.
The peninsula is home to abundant wildlife including road-crossing marsupials and a large variety of birds. In addition to numerous camp sites, there are dozens of hikes available ranging from short 10-minute walks to a lookout point to full day or overnight hikes with camping. One of the most popular hikes is up to the lookout point for the perfect arc of white sand known as Wineglass Bay.
Obviously, any bay involving my favorite type of glassware sounded like the perfect spot for me so I started my exploration of the park with the 90-minute roundtrip hike up to the lookout point. I was lucky again with absolutely perfect weather and my efforts to get to the top of the steep trail were rewarded with a postcard-perfect view of the bay…absolutely spectacular.
From there, I hiked back down the mountain and drove around to some of the starting points for the short hikes indicated on my park map (since the longer hikes weren’t realistic with my time constraints). I spent the afternoon visiting several of the other beaches and lookout points including Cape Tourville, Carp Bay, Sleepy Bay and Richardsons Beach and then spent a little time in the town of Coles Bay before getting in the car to head back toward the main town of Hobart. I was hoping to get there in time to see a little of Australia’s second-oldest capital city before dark.
With Rachel’s help I’d booked a room at the Salamanca Inn in Hobart which was in a lovely part of the city right near the harbor. Historically home to a generation of whaling clipper ships, Salamanca is lined with a long row of sandstone former warehouses along Sullivan’s Cove. Today, the neighborhood is the trendy home to art galleries, cafés, restaurants and a terrific Saturday market (which unfortunately I would miss).
I made it to the hotel and checked in with just enough time to take a walk around the harbor before sunset. Since it was Valentine’s Day, the restaurants along the water were packed and couples walked hand-in-hand everywhere I looked. I walked around the entire waterfront from Victoria Dock to Constitution Dock as the sun set behind the mountains casting a pinky-orange glow over the sailboat-filled marina. It was completely gorgeous.
Next, I wandered into a wine bar near my hotel to sample a little Tasmanian wine since I hadn’t had time to stop at a winery during my sightseeing that day. The bartender let me sample a few varieties before I decided on one and ordered a glass. It was quite good but I was surprised at how expensive Tassie wines are (compared to the nearby New Zealand wine region, anyway). I suppose the smaller number of wine producers – versus larger markets like Australia and New Zealand – leads to the higher prices.
After that, I headed back to my room…I had a big night planned. The main reason I’d selected my hotel from the choices Rachel had given me was because the website said they had washers and dryers on each floor. I really needed a washer and dryer! It’s one of those little things on a RTW trip that can just make your day. So, at the hotel that night I did two loads of laundry and washed every single thing in my suitcase. Now I feel like I’m traveling with a whole new wardrobe.
The next morning I met Rachel for breakfast in Salamanca before she headed to work. It was great to finally meet her and we had a lovely time talking travel and comparing notes on places we’d been. She and her boyfriend are planning a two-month tour of Europe this summer (or winter for her) and while she was researching places to stay in Mykonos she came across a link to my blog on Marietta’s apartment site (where I always stay when I’m there). When she realized Tasmania was on my upcoming itinerary, she decided to reach out with an email. And I’m so glad she did! She was so great to help me out with my last minute planning and it’s always so exciting to meet people around the world who are reading and enjoying my little blog.
I thoroughly enjoyed my 24 hours in Tasmania and I can definitely see why it’s been referred to as “Dazzlin’ Tassie.” There’s plenty to do here to fill an entire week and I’d love to return someday and see more of the eastern coastline and especially to explore the convict trail and Port Arthur. So much history amongst all that natural beauty.
But alas, later that morning it was time to head back to the airport. I had a full day in transit ahead to get to Vanuatu including a 5-hour layover in Sydney. I decided to make the most of my layover in Sydney and hopped on the train to Circular Quay for lunch at Sydney Harbor. It was another beautiful summer day and I couldn’t help but think my lucky streak with weather would have to come to an end soon. Hopefully, it will hold until I get home.
Next stop, Vanuatu!