The barren and heart-shaped island of Tasmania is located south of the Australian state of Victoria. Mainlanders often talk about the island as it was a country of its own, far from the Australian continent both in time and space. These comments are often delivered in a mocking tone with a hint of envy. And no wonder. Tasmania happens to be Australia’s equivalent of New Zealand, which would get anyone started. The island is varied and different to say the least. It is an outdoor paradise where sturdy hiking boots and knitted hats have an obvious place in each person’s wardrobe, it even seems to be a part of the obligatory dress code. The west side of the island is nothing for city people and technology nerds that fear the lack of 4G coverage and substandard roads. It is a wild and barren place full of adrenaline and a relaxed atmosphere. Large parts of the West Coast are pure wilderness with dense forests and cascading rivers with icy waters. Here are places that barely has been seen by anyone. Large areas are, to say the least, not easy to reach as vegetation has taken over. The lush forests, however, provide a good base for exploring the pristine nature. Try rafting for several days at the Franklin River or embark on the famous Overland Track trail, which cuts across Cradle Mountain-Lake St. Clair’s innermost essence. It is a rewarding hike of 65 km which is accomplished in a week and offers alp like landscapes. When the lactic acid and blisters slow you down, visit small port towns, take a trip to the ghostly industrial resort of Queenstown that exists thanks to its copper ore, or you can familiarize yourself with the little Tasmanian devil at the Tasmanian Devil Sanctuary.
The island’s West Coast consists mostly of lush national parks. Fill your lungs with what is said to be the world’s cleanest air and be fascinated by the climate resulting in icy winters with freezing temperatures and slippery roads. Western Tasmania is a place of contrasts. One second, you are among the snow-capped peaks, to soon end up amid the densest of rainforests with a canopy so wide it obscures the sky. All, however, is not peace and happiness. The island has a terrible background. During the 1800s, Tasmania was a last stop for prisoners and was for a long time considered to be the worst place to be sent to. Prisoners from the mainland travelled across the Tasman Sea to spend their last days under miserable conditions. The island’s terrible history may have faded slightly but the stories remain. Thankfully, the island is at present known for nice things. And perhaps most for its natural beauty.
The Tasmanian devil is synonymous with Western Tasmania, but there are some great concerns that the species will meet a sad ending. Over half of all animals are suffering from the deadly tumour disease Devil Facial Tumour Disease. At the reserve Devils@Cradle (devilsatcradle.com), they work to keep the species alive and the small animals are born here too. Make a stop here and go for a tour where you’ll see them up close and maybe even get to pet any of them. Tarkine Wilderness is an impressive piece of moss-green forest. With ancient tree trunks, hanging lianas and rippling streams. As the name implies, this is the wilderness. Getting around these areas on your own is not a given. Instead, stay at Tarkine Wilderness Lodge (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Tarkine_Wilderness_Lodge.htm), an eco-friendly rustic wooden accommodation located in the middle of the dense forest. The owners arrange guided tours of the surroundings and have a great knowledge of Tarkine.
All activities in this region worthy of the name contain a great dose of adrenaline and physical effort. Take on the challenge and hike the entire Overland Track through Lake St. Clair-Cradle Mountain National Park, (parks.tas.gov.au/?base=7771). During the hike you must carry all the equipment yourself. Be prepared for rainy days, sometimes with penetrating hail, but also amazing views that will take your breath away. Between 1 October and 31 May, pre-booking is required, and a registration fee must be paid. Book online in time since the hiking trail is very popular. While still on the topic of demanding activities, you should try white water rafting. Embark on an unforgettable tour along the wild Franklin River. Join the adventurous guides who love their fast-paced waters and become one with nature during journeys of eight or ten days. During the voyage, paddle pass shrouded hills through the Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park (franklinriverrafting.com). No prior experience is required, but this trip comes with a hefty price tag. There are of course other guided day trips that will take you to several places of interest and these are less demanding for both body and wallet (wotif.com/things-to-do/search?location=%20Tasmania).
Cradle Mountain is perhaps Tasmania’s most well-known place with its rugged cliffs and rough peaks that gleam in a soft snowy blanket during the winter months. In the northern part of Cradle Mountain-Lake St. Clair National Park, the stately Cradle Mountain is surrounded by scenic Dove Lake. Some shorter hiking trails start from here. For example, you can wander around the entire lake in a couple of hours or hike up the mountain. For those who prefer to come along on a guided day trip in the area, there are tours based in for example Launceston (wotif.com/things-to-do/search?location=Middlesex,%20Tasmania,). Strahan is a tourist destination with both rainforest and sea just around the corner. Strahan is aware of its special position as a quaint port town, making it far from cheap, but do not let this deter you from a visit. From here you can venture out on a peaceful boat cruise along the Gordon River. The isolated Southwest National Park (parks.tas.gov.au/?base=3801) is an emerald green national park full of grand waterfalls. It is a place that is only suitable for the seasoned outdoor lover with suitable equipment. There are several rewarding hiking trails through the park.
Planning and preparation
The western side of Tasmania consists of many national parks. If you want to visit several of them, and you most surely will want to, you can save money and reduce the risk of hassle by investing in a Holiday Pass. This includes entry to all national parks for a car with up to eight passengers over eight weeks (parks.tas.gov.au/index.aspx?base=914). All the island’s national parks take entrance fees, but some of them have no controllers, instead just trusting in that you are honest and pay when entering. If you come here during the autumn, winter or spring, it can be very cold and often you will experience snow and ice. Do not for one second believe that this is the Australia that is known for hot days and a baking sun. Instead, pack warming clothes, thick wool socks and rainwear.
Getting to Tasmania is not difficult, the means of transportation has increased significantly in recent years. The ferry, The Spirit of Tasmania (spiritoftasmania.com.au) runs between Melbourne and Devonport twice a day during the summer and otherwise once a day. The journey takes almost ten hours and you can choose between travelling during the day or overnight. There is a restaurant, bar and movie theatre on board. If you travel at night, you must book a cabin. You can also fly from Melbourne and Sydney to Hobart, Launceston and Devonport (wotif.com/Flights).
To explore the best parts of western Tasmania, you should hire a car. You can either rent a car in Melbourne and bring your car on the ferry for about 80 dollars, or simply rent a car in one of the island’s major towns (wotif.com/Car-Hire). Buses do not take you everywhere, but the bus company Tassielink (tassielink.com.au) run several trips a week between some of the island’s major destinations. Alternatively, you can book a guided tour (wotif.com/discover/australia/tasmania/west-coast-tasmania.d6052483). For example, Under Down Under Tours (underdownunder.com.au) specializes in travel up to nine days where you experience Tasmania in smaller groups with local guides that have great knowledge of the area.
For a historic experience you can embark on the steam locomotive that is puffing its way along the West Coast Wilderness Railway (wcwr.com.au) between Queenstown and Strahan. Follow the railroad that was built at the end of the 1800s for the transportation of copper ore and travel through the rainforests while enjoying a fantastic view, perhaps accompanied by a glass of wine.
Begin your journey through the wild Tasmania at hike-friendly Cradle Mountain, western Tasmania’s star, which annually attracts lots of visitors. Park at Cradle Visitors Centre where you take a Shuttle Bus out towards Dove Lake. Choose a moderately long hiking trail up the mountain. If you are lucky, you will come here on a sunny day and won’t need your rain gear, but the fog is usually dense around the mountains. Later in the evening, make a stop at the Devils@Cradle Tasmanian Devil Sanctuary (devilsatcradle.com) to watch as the Tasmanian devil is fed and learn more about these fascinating and ugly-cute animals.
Continue your trip to the cosy little port town of Strahan. Spend a day by slowly travelling along the Gordon River with family-run World Heritage Cruises (worldheritagecruises.com.au). You are served good food, can take part of local history and discover new sides of Tasmania. In the evening, it is time for some culture. In the amphitheatre at the information centre, the theatre called The Ship That Never Was (roundearth.com.au/) will tell the story of how some prisoners in the 1800s managed to escape from Sarah Island by building their own ship.
Next day you head towards the mining town of Queenstown where you can walk around among historic buildings and cliffs in all kinds of colours. The town rises in an eerie and barren landscape that is in strong contrast to the dense forests of the West Coast. Ever since copper was discovered here at the end of the 1800s, Queenstown has been an industrial town. Then drive along the Lyell Highway and turn off after the first bridge crossing the Nelson River. Just a few steps away from the parking area is the beautiful Nelson Falls (parks.tas.gov.au/?base=1568) that heave out its water at a frightful speeds. Continue driving to Lake St. Clair and visit Australia’s deepest lake with a depth of 200 meters, located in beautiful surroundings. Download a map from the information centre and follow one of the hiking trails that meander its way around the lake.