The Tasmanian Highlands consist of a varying nature. From open farmlands in the east to the wilderness in the hilly landscapes of the west. The highlands are full of small lakes and the forests full of cypress trees. During the winter, the area is embedded in a blanket of snow. The guidebooks rarely call the area “Central Highlands”, but often divide the area into the four directions; the east, west, north and the south.
The highlands are 1,000 meters above sea level, making it the coldest place on the island. Sleet rain, hail and storms are frequent. It is said that there are four seasons in the space of 24 hours. So, if you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes. Come prepared with warm clothes, a protective shell jacket and bring a pair of sturdy boots. The central part of Tasmania is sparsely populated. Today, no more than a thousand people live here. Villages that were once thriving are now deserted. Wadamanna, Poatina and Tarraleah are names of locations that were built for the workers in the area. Dam construction and hydroelectric plants created jobs on the island. Many workers were settlers who came with their families from Europe. The villages expanded and got shopping malls, post office and church, but also cinema and school. At the end of the 1900s, jobs disappeared, and the workers moved. Today, many of these houses and buildings remain as a testimony of what life looked like in the towns of the Tasmanian countryside over a century ago.
The British heritage is clearly visible. Especially in the larger towns. The charming houses with lush rose gardens testify of the settlers plans to recreate their homeland in their new town. Perhaps it was a way of dulling the homesickness. Around the resort Bothell is the country’s oldest golf course with 18 holes. During weekends and long weekends, the population of the Highlands increases. There will be recreational fishermen who appreciate the fish-rich lakes, coming to try their fishing luck. There are plenty of cabins to rent if you want to stay for a weekend or longer. There are good opportunities for relaxation, hiking and bicycling.
Sights and experiences
Two kilometres east of Derwent Bridge lies the Wall in the Wilderness (thewalltasmania.com.au). For several years, sculptor Greg Duncan has been carving the history of the area into a 100-meter-long wooden wall. The work takes time and is at the time of writing not finished. Greg Duncan’s wish is for the wall to become a mixture of art and education. Photography is not allowed. Around 15-dollar admission for adults and five dollars for children. There are also staff who can tell you more and a nice little café here.
Just east of the iconic Cradle Mountain-Lake St. Clair National Park is another Tasmanian favourite – Walls of Jerusalem National Park (parks.tas.gov.au/?base=27104). The park with its biblical name is protected as a UNESCO World Heritage-listed site and is a part of the Tasmanian wilderness. Steep mountains of black granite stretch towards the sky in a sea of cypresses. Walls of Jerusalem is a challenge also for the experienced hiker. There is no road here. The only way in and out is on foot. There are only a few signs, so knowledge of how to use a compass and map is crucial. The weather can quickly change and offer a mix of hail, rain, freezing temperatures and a burning sun. But with the right conditions, the national park is extremely rewarding to experience. It is one of Tasmania’s most beautiful places, shaped by melting glaciers. The most popular hike can be done in one day. Start at the parking area at Mersey Forest Road and calculate the hike to take about nine hours back and forth. If you want to hike even further, you need to bring a tent. Read more at Tastrails (tastrails.com/walls-of-jerusalem).
Great Lake is Australia’s second largest freshwater lake and a well-visited destination for fishermen. The lake is located one kilometre above sea level and is also used for electricity production. The nearby small lake-town of Miena is a popular starting point for accommodation and camping sites. The area around the lake can get very cold, even in summer, so warm clothes are a must. There are plenty of trout in the lake and nearby streams, but permission is required to fish here. Read more at the Inland Fisheries Service (ifs.tas.gov.au) if you want to fish on your own. The easiest option is to follow a local fishing guide, such as Fish Wild Tasmania (fishwildtasmania.com/fishing-tours).
South of Walls of Jerusalem National Park is Lake St Clair (parks.tas.gov.au/index.aspx?base=3462) the last stop of the week-long hiking trail called The Overland Track. Lake St Clair is a water-filled valley and the country’s deepest lake, enclosed by majestic ridges. Visit Cynthia Bay’s Information Centre and embark on a day of hiking around the lake. Campsites are just around the corner. If you want to get to the other end of the lake you can book a seat on the ferry (lakestclairlodge.com.au/about-lake-st-clair/lake-st-clair-ferry) that operates three times a day.
The village of Bothwell is rich in history. In 1820, farmers came here, and many old buildings are still standing today. Just north is Ratho Farm (rathofarm.com) is the country’s oldest golf course that has been expanded and now offers 18 holes. The course is in an open landscape that for long has been trimmed down by grazing sheep and cows. The 18-holes-course is open to the public and costs from 40 dollars. Equipment is available for rent. Nearby is the whiskey distillery called Nant (nant.com.au), where visitors are welcome on a guided tour with or without a tasting.
Tasmania has many waterfalls. Liffey Falls (parks.tas.gov.au/?base=1380) is one of the most magnificent. The waterfalls are located within the Liffey Falls State Reserve, north of Great Lake. There are two hiking trails that lead to the Liffey, a shorter but tougher one, and a longer but easier one. The short trail is one kilometre long and starts at the parking area above the falls. The road is steep and rugged. You will see signs for the falls from road C513.
Tasmanian Trail (tasmaniantrail.com.au) is a 480-kilometre-long trail stretching across Tasmania, from Devonport in the north to Dover in the south. The trail suits those who walk, cycle or do horse riding and takes you along many smaller towns and villages, with accommodation options and other amenities available. The Tasmanian Trail is divided into three sections, some of which go through the Highlands. From Blackwood Creek, westwards towards Miena and then south towards Bronte Park, Victoria Valley and Ouse.
The small worker-town of Tarraleah was once full of life. The hydroelectric workers, however, left the area for other jobs and Tarraleah eventually got deserted. The little community was restored by Julian Homer, who spent 13 years fixing up Tarraleah. Now the town is a tourist destination where 33 houses in Art Deco style are available to admire. If you are interested in history, this is the place for you.
Good to know
There are no official Visitor Information Centres in the area around The Highlands. The nearest tourist office is in Launceston and Oatlands. But there are some good websites to check out. Central Highlands (centralhighlands.tas.gov.au) are more aimed at residents than visitors but are posting some information about what is happening in the area. If you are planning a hike, you should also take a peek at Tastrails (tastrails.com) that has lots of tips on the subject. Also, the webpage Discover Tasmania (discovertasmania.com.au) might be worth a visit.
Warnings and preparations
Come well prepared. The Highlands are the coldest place on the island, so warm clothing is key. The weather is fickle so expect a happy mix of rain and dazzling sunshine. The area is sparsely populated, and it may take a while to find somewhere to eat and stay for the night. But Tasmania is not a big island. If you are close to the main roads, both Launceston and Hobart are only a few hours away.
The bus company Tassielink (tassielink.com.au) drive between Strahan and Hobart and makes stop in between in Queenstown, Frenchmans Cap, Lake St Clair, Derwent Bridge, Bronte Junction, Tarraleah, Ouse, Hamilton, Gretna and New Norfolk. The bus company Derwent Valley Link runs between Hobart and Bothwell. But for more mobility, access to your own vehicle is required. Cars are available for rent in, for example, Launceston, Devonport and Hobart (wotif.com/Car-Hire).
Since the area is sparsely populated and lies outside the usual tourist destinations there are fewer accommodation options. On weekends and long holidays, it can be difficult to find a room anywhere, as fishing enthusiasts happily visit the Highland’s lakes. If you want to stay in one of the two major towns (with a population of just over 2,000 people) you should book accommodation in either Hamilton (hotelscombined.com/Place/Hamilton_Tasmania.htm) or Bothwell (hotelscombined.com/Place/Bothwell.htm). If you prefer a more desolate area, you can enjoy a view of the Great Lake in Miena with surroundings
There are many possibilities for camping around the Highlands. You can stay for free at the Behune Park Camping Area. The campsite is located right next to Lake Meadowbank. Here you can put up a tent or park your motorhome. Simple toilets are available nearby. Camping is allowed for up to seven days at a time.
As a rule, a spot at a campsite costs between a couple of dollars and up to 30 dollars for a spot with electricity. One of the most popular campsites is at Lake St Clair. It may be a good idea to book in advance if you arrive in late spring, summer or early autumn because many hikers are staying here before and after the Overland Track but there will also be a lot of visitors who stay over the weekend.
There are several nice budget accommodations in the inner Tasmania. One of them is Tarraleah Cottages and Cabins (hotelscombined.com.au/Hotel/Tarraleah_Cottages_and_Cabins.htm) located in the old worker-town of Tarraleah. Two people will pay from 110 dollars per night to rent one of the cabins available in different designs. Also, consider a visit to Bronte Park Village (hotelscombined.se/Hotel/Bronte_Park_Village.htm) where you have several accommodation options and price ranges to choose from.