The island state of Tasmania is located 150 miles south of mainland Australia across Bass Strait. This new mecca for outdoor enthusiasts with its ample hiking and cycling trials can be reached by plane or ferry. Hobart, a bustling harbor town and island capital, is the gateway to the Tasmania Peninsula; to its southeast is Port Arthur, one of the most notorious penal colonies established by the British in the 1800s.
The Huon Peninsula and Bundy Island are also in striking distance from Hobart, home to 40 percent of the island population of five million. I allotted myself one week in Tasmania to hit the top sites of Cradle Mountain National Park, the Cataract Gorge in Launceston, and Wineglass Bay in Freycinet National Park on the sunny east coast.
I was eager to hike the trails in Eagle Hawk Nest (Tasman Peninsula), a series of easy tracks tracing steep cliffs with sea caves and arches eroded by crashing waves and fierce winds.
The intoxicating perfume of wildflowers drifting on a sea breeze in a meadow overlooking the azure Tasman Sea livened my senses. The Waterfall Bay Walk was a perfect amble through the forest overlooking the craggy rock formations and aquamarine coves far below. I continued to Pirate’s Bay, a blustery strip of white sand that is a viewing station on the Antarctic Whale Trail.
A three-hour drive south of Hobart through the arid middle of the country, brought me to my friends’ home in Launceston. Proud of the rich heritage of their city, they pointed out the many Victorian structures and remnants of the convict days and gardens that grace their city. They took me to a gracious restaurant overlooking the Cataract Gorge, famous for hikes into the dramatic canyon carved by the Esk River that is traversed by a striking suspension bridge.
From there I headed to Cradle Mountain, stopping in Deloraine for a “toastie” (a grilled/panini-like sandwich) and tea. A Wind in the Willows-like river walk in drizzling rain reminded me of the Mother Country. Its tidy patchwork quilt of pastures on rolling hills dotted with sheep completed the picture; the difference being this bucolic scene is framed in ragged spires.
The country lane soon turned into a corkscrew affair that spiraled upward through mountains sheathed in thick forests. No one had mentioned to me that Tasmania is one of the most mountainous islands in the world. Accidents on the narrow lanes are common. You are advised not to drive after dusk as that is when the wombats, wallabies, and pademelons come out to graze causing accidents as people swerve to miss them. All this is added to the drama of driving on the other side of the road. The good news is there was little traffic and I had the roller coaster ride through gorgeous country to myself.
Cradle Mountain National Park is home to the highest peaks in Tasmania with wild, unpredictable weather. Even though it was raining the day I arrived, I attempted to hike the 4-mile Dove Lake Circuit. The trailhead is also where the challenging six-day Overland Track begins. Sheets of water shut out the view of the mountains framing the lake and forced me to turn back. I was, however, able to enjoy the Enchanted Woods track in the gloom of a haunting forest ensconced in moss and algae to Knyvet Falls.
I was glad to get back to the sunny East Coast of Tasmania where endless miles of white sand beaches are kissed by turquoise rollers off the Tasman Sea. Sailboats dot the marinas and summer cottages line the shore of coastal villages. My charming airbnb in Bicheno was a skip away from a blow hole, and a walk on granite rocks covered with orange lichen that brought me to a tiny marina where I enjoyed a zesty seafood bouillabaisse.
Unfortunately, the warm current coming from mainland Australia is heating up the waters, killing the kelp forests. My guide on a glass bottom boat tour informed us that the marine creatures here, like squid and seahorses that depend upon the kelp for survival, are endangered—yet another imbalance in nature caused by global warming.
Freycinet National Park, home to the spectacular Wine Glass Bay, is the most popular attraction on the east coast. I took the spiraling road up to the Tourville Lighthouse where an easy loop affords mind-expanding views of the blue veil of the Tasman Sea. The marine preserve below the surface, established in 2007, begins three miles offshore and extends for 200 nautical miles to protect migrating whales and all manner of sea life in the submerged mountain range.
The easiest way to experience Wine Glass Bay is to take the water taxi out of Cole’s Bay. It takes you around the peninsula, drops you off on a flat trail across the isthmus to Hazards Beach where you are picked up for the return ride.
I wish I had given Hobart at least three nights to explore surrounds.
If driving on the other side of the road seems too daunting, I suggest the Overseas Adventure Travel extension to their Enhanced Ultimate Australia experience. You will see more of Hobart, enjoy the scenery from a comfy van, and stay at the exclusive Cradle Mountain Lodge in the center of the park. There are bus trips out of Hobart to the east coast, Cradle Mountain, and Launceston, and there are many adventure companies offering hike, and biking tours.
Whatever you choose, I don’t think you will be sorry you visited this peaceful island state overflowing with natural beauty.