South of Australia’s mainland is Tasmania with its wild nature. Literally. Almost half of the island is wilderness where plants have been growing freely since ancient times, creating a complex ecosystem. The farther west you go, the more primeval forest-like it will get. It is a place where roads cannot penetrate the humid rainforests. Where vines hang like drapes and dark-green moss cover the ground like a rug. Especially the southwest part of the island is dominated by this wild nature. Tarkine Wilderness is an outstanding fairy-tale world of greenery that you can discover by driving along the Wilderness Explorer Highway. The gravel road cuts through the forest and lets you get close to this nature’s wonder. Forest meets mountain tops and seas. As if that weren’t enough, Tasmania is said to have the cleanest air in the world.
The West Coast has a more varying weather than the East Coast and this side of the island has more rain and storms due to its location. Tasmania is located around the 40th latitude and is thus affected by the Roaring Forties, where the westerly winds sweeps in with full force. Visitors quickly become aware of the importance of dressing according to the weather. Thick sweaters and a cap are a natural part of the dress code. Agriculture is an important source of income for the north-western part of the island. Tasmania is famous for producing many delicacies. Dairy cows and beef cattle roam the fields and vegetable fields form a beautiful patchwork a’ la mother nature. Tasty cheeses, sweet honey and fresh seafood are some of the specialties produced on King Island, located between the mainland and Tasmania.
Devonport and Burnie are two of the larger cities in the northeast. None of them is particularly charming, so instead, travel towards the smaller towns of Stanley and Wynyard with their cosy British-style houses. The Table Cape is adorned with long lines of tulip fields. Seen from above, it looks like a colourful flag placed over the inactive volcano. In the spring, wildflowers in abundance are popping up. A little further east lies the lavender fields that adorn the hills in its shades of soft purple. There are many small roads to zigzag your way through. The sea is refreshing and crystal clear. Nature equals a rich wildlife, with laughing kookaburras in the trees, waddling wombats and one or two Tasmanian devils hiding in the forest. Tasmania’s many large national parks are exciting places where to relax or study the local wildlife.
Northwest of Tasmania lies the islands of Robbins, Hunter and Three Hummock. But the farthest out of them all is King Island. The island is located remotely but is inhabited by nearly 2,000 permanent residents. King Island is famous for its fantastic local produce. Among these are different kinds of cheese, honey, fruit and vegetables. But also, a rich supply of shellfish. Around the island you will find some good surfing beaches popular thanks to their strong winds. There are many hiking trails and a golf course too. Getting here is tricky. There are no passenger ferries despite demand, and as for now you must take the plane. However, there are a lot of flights to the island.
If you come to Tasmania with the ferry Spirit of Tasmania, Devonport is your first stop. The city is not very inspiring, so you don’t have to stay for long. Instead, travel to the nearby Narawntapu National Park (parks.tas.gov.au/?base=3665). Here you will see kangaroos, wombats and wallabies roaming around seemingly without any worries whatsoever. It is one of the island’s best places to study the wildlife. The beaches are long and clean and there are plenty of campsites.
Just over 70 km to the south is Mount Roland, next to the city of Sheffield. This is not a common stop for tourists, which makes it even more exciting. Climbing up the mountain can be a challenge in the rugged terrain, but don’t let it stop you. To hike up and down takes between five and seven hours. Choose the easier hiking trail that starts from Gowrie Park Village. From the top you can see all the way to Cradle Mountain and Bass Strait.
Stanley is a picturesque small-town west of Devonport. It is located on a narrow cape. The houses are charming and many in a most colourful way. Stanley feels like it is lying at the end of the world. However, it is not quite as dramatic. High above the houses rises The Nut, a volcano that was active millions of years ago. You can hike or take a lift to the top at 150 meters height. There is also an art gallery to visit in town.
For just over 100 years ago, Gunns Plains Cave was discovered (gunnsplainscaves.com.au), about 300 km south of Ulverston. From the entrance, 54 steps are leading down below the surface. The cave is full of imaginative limestone formations. Glow-worms looking like lit stars are sitting in the ceilings. The cave has been shaped by an underground river that still flows through the cave system. In the river lives fish, eel and lobster. If you are lucky, you can also get a glimpse of a platypus. Guided cave tours are arranged daily.
Table Cape forms a colourful platform near Wynyard. Tulips are cultivated in straight lines on the 180-meter-high cape. Spring is an excellent time to come here, when it looks like a patchwork of colourful flowers. Like Stanley’s Nut, Table Cape is an inactive volcano. There is a lighthouse nearby. From Rocky Cape National Park (parks.tas.gov.au/?base=3698) you have a beautiful view of the sea. The coast is rocky and dramatic. Perfect for photo shooting. There are some shorter hiking trails to embark on. And sandy beaches to swim at if the temperature allows, such as the Sisters Beach.
If beautiful surroundings are one of your weaknesses, head to the Bridestowe Lavender Estate. Here, long rows of lavender are cultivated which are then hand-picked and converted into oil, soap and other products. Between the beginning of December and the end of January, the fields blossom in strong purple shades, covering the rolling hills like a blanket of soft flowers. The associated café sells, among other things, purple lavender ice cream. If you want a challenge, you can drive through the forests of Tarkine Wilderness. The road is called the Western Explorer Highway, also known as the Road to Nowhere. The road is not paved but you can manage with only a two-wheel drive. Western Explorer stretches between Arthur River in the northwest to Corinna and Zeehan in the southwest. You drive through the temperate rainforest and get a real glimpse into this unspoiled part of Tasmania.
Planning and preparation
Tasmania is not like other parts of Australia. The temperature rarely rises over 30 degrees Celsius. The island has a temperate maritime climate that is like Spain, southern France or central Italy. During the winter there may be snow in the mountains and the temperature is below zero. Therefore, pack proper warm clothes. It is also common with plenty of rain along the West Coast unless it does not snow. Summer and Easter are popular times to visit Tasmania, so book your accommodation in advance (hotelscombined.com/Place/Tasmania.htm). This also applies to campsites.
The ferry called Spirit of Tasmania journeys through the ferocious waters of the Bass Strait between Melbourne and Devonport (spiritoftasmania.com.au). They offer one to two departures per day. However, the ferry company is now competing with low-cost airlines. Affordable flights are offered to Hobart and Launceston (wotif.com/Flights). In addition to the fact that the ferry is more environmentally friendly, you can also bring your own car onboard.
It is wise to rent a car on the island (wotif.com/Car-Hire). It will simplify your trip significantly. It is difficult to see Tasmania by means of public transport, so if you don’t want to drive yourself you are better off booking in on a guided tour (wotif.com/discover/australia/tasmania.d11200).
If you arrive by ferry, your Tasmanian journey starts in Devonport. Do not stay for long here, instead, go to Narawntapu (parks.tas.gov.au/?base=3665) to look for wild animals. You can spend the night in tents here at one of the campsites if you wish. Slow down if you are driving through the park during the evening when there often are lots of animals in motion. Scout for wombats and kangaroos. Then drive west towards Table Cape near Wynyard. Drive up to the top of the high rising promontory. If you come during the spring, you will be welcomed by a spectacular sight. The tulip fields are in full bloom, forming long colourful rows. No matter when you arrive, you get a cool view from the inactive volcano.
Then head to the nearby Rocky Cape National Park (parks.tas.gov.au/?base=3698). This small national park is beautiful and has several places that are important to the Aboriginal community. Swim at one of the beaches if you dare or settle with a wander over the sharp rocks. There are several shorter trails to follow. Then continue to the picturesque town of Stanley. Visit one of the restaurants for a bite to eat and something to drink. Check out the local artworks. Then go up to The Nut on foot or choose the cable car if you don’t have any energy to spare.
The road continues west along the coast for a bit. At Smithton, the road leads into the inland, past Marrawah and further towards Arthur River. There you turn onto “The Road to nowhere” or Wilderness Explorer Highway as it also is called. Despite the name, the road leads somewhere. You pass Tarkine Wilderness’ beautiful forests on your way. This is an unspoiled part of Tasmania with dense rainforest and wild nature. At the end of the road you will arrive in Corinna. Here you can take a trip on the river of Pieman. Glide slowly and scout for animals. From Corinna you drive to Zeehan. From there you can continue up to Cradle Mountain (parks.tas.gov.au/?base=3297) if you have any time left to explore the island.