Tasmania: a hidden gem

After a long stint of farm work I was itching to get back to travelling. While waiting on my visa to come through my only option was to stay within the country. Tasmania never initially appealed to me until a German girl at the farm showed me pictures and told stories of her time there. She couldn’t speak highly enough about it. Although Tasmania is a small state by Australian standards it’s actually the same size as Ireland, so do not underestimate the time it takes to get around. There are no train services in Tasmania leaving travellers to rely on buses and of course car hire to get to and from cities and regions. After discussing in length with a friend Hannah (made while travelling the east coast) she advised that the best way to explore Tasmania would be a traditional group tour. ‘Under Down Under’ provided extensive year round multi day itineries for budget travellers. I booked my tour through Hannah at STA travels as I figured getting from A to B on a self drive road trip always takes longer than you think! An 8 day ‘lap of the map’ is the well known classic Tasmanian road trip circumferencing the island via Hobart, the East Coast, Launceston, and the West Coast, adding the midlands and the Southeast to the mix to really do the isle in style.

Having previously travelled completely alone this trip was somewhat different. I’ve loved all my adventures travelling in a group tour. It completely depends on the group you end up with, but with a positive attitude and a sense of fun you’ll definitely meet like minded people. You’ll share a wealth of memories and moments you could only experience during that trip, you’ll return home with a new found network of friends from all over the world. Everyone brings different backgrounds and learning experiences to the table. My group consisted of 15 of the most amazing individuals ranging in age from 18 to 65. Each person offered a different level of banter and a unique insight and perspective on the sights seen throughout the trip.

Tasmania, while sparsely populated is rich in wildlife, natural reserves and national parks with a very strong sense of community. Many travellers make the voyage to enjoy isolation and a calm and laidback lifestyle, while the locals look beyond the islands shoreline for different adventures. Tasmania is undeniably one of Australia’s premier tourism destinations – a hidden gem. Otherwise known as ‘little New Zealand,’ this gem is known for a lot more than just home to a cute looney tune Tasmanian devil. Did you know that Tasmania has the worlds cleanest air, crazy right! Tasmania is the most mountaneous state of Australia with nearly 50% protected in national parks.

Many travel from the ‘mainland’ of Australia bringing their vehicles across the Bass Straight. I chose to fly from Sydney to Hobart, a short 3 hour flight. Summer is the obvious preferred season to visit with the state coming to life with many planned events. The Sydney to Hobart yacht race in late December being one of the most popular, also coinciding with the Taste festival, a 7 day celebration of Tasmania’s culinary talent. Summer is also the best chance to tackle some of the best hikes and take a dip in some of the popular beaches.

My Tasmanian adventure began with a late night skybus from Hobart airport to the Brunswick hotel, my accomodation for the night. A damp, cold, sleep and I was away the following morning. It is true what they say about Tasmania experiencing all four seasons in one day. I was picked up by a bubbly tour guide named Matt and introduced to the rest of the crew. We headed an hour north west of Hobart to Mount Field National Park. Russell falls is arguably one of Tasmania’s prettiest waterfalls, probably one of the most photographed as it’s the easiest to get to with a 40 minute round trip hike. The walk passes through towering swamp gums and species typical of wet forests. To be honest I didn’t take too much heed as it was lashing out of the heavens. We powered on to visit Lake St Clair, a natural freshwater lake located in the Central Highlands. The lake forms part of Cradle Mountain Lake St Clair National Park. While beautiful and similar to many lakes in Ireland it wouldn’t make the top of my ‘to see’ list. We then made our way to Strahan for the night.  Strahan pronounced ‘Straw-n’ a small town and former port on the west of Tasmania. A cute, homely village with a dark fascinating convict past. The small picturesque fishing village and harbour town offers exploration of the Gordon River world heritage area by cruise. There’s plenty of opportunity for activities in this tiny town, riding a jet boat up the King River, four wheeling or sand boarding down the sand dunes. A locals secret and not far from Strahan are the Henty Dunes, dunes reaching a height of up to 35m, covering a vast expanse of powdery white sand. It’s a climb and a half up the deep dunes but the view well surpasses the trek. Run, jump, slide, fall, have a blast; toboggans are available to hire at very little cost in Strahan village.

We made our way towards Roseberry to discover Montezuma Falls, my all time favourite waterfall and hike of the trip. Montezuma Falls is Tasmania’s highest waterfall at 341ft. A 3 hour return hike guided us straight to the base of the falls. There must have been a storm previously as the flora and fauna looked somewhat dischevelled! I reckon Montezuma Falls would be extremely impressive no matter what the day. We were lucky to see it on a wet day as it’s even more spectacular after heavy rainfall, not that we prayed for rain or anything!

Cradle Mountain in Lake St Clair National Park was amazing. The landscape consisting of rugged mountain ranges, glacial lakes, Dove lake, and Crater lake. On our arrival the snowfall was heavy resulting in us delaying our hike until later on in the day. Wildlife was abundant here with many encounters with wombats and wallabies. Due to varying hikes, lengths and difficulties, there’s something for everyone, hikes range anywhere from 20 minutes to 6/8 hours if you are brave enough to take on the challenge. With snowballs flying in every direction and finally a clear sky we couldn’t have wished for a better day with a hike to Dove lake. Just an hour outside Cradle Mountain lies a little town known as Sheffield, the ‘town of murals’. This resulted from a population decline in the 1900s when the town decided to reinvent itself by combining art with tourism. Today over 60 murals depicting the towns history and scenery remain, it attracts over 200,000 tourists yearly. Sheffield is home to the finest homemade fudge, we sampled all they had to offer between us, we left no fudge sample untasted, I’m pretty sure they were fit to kick us out!

After a fun filled day, drowned rats and sopping wet clothes we fell upon Launceston, Tasmania’s capital and second largest city. Launceston has many preserved and Victorian and Grecian style buildings along with Art Deco and a bulging harbour giving it an authentic, interesting vibe. Launceston’s most popular tourist attraction is without a doubt the Cataract Gorge, mainly due to its close proximity to the city centre. A 308m high chairlift stretches across the river gorge, making it the longest single span chairlift in the world, wowza. You can also opt for cable hand gliding giving a birds eye view of Tasmania’s forest during summer months.

We set off for the next town just north of Swansea, Bicheno. A coastal holiday town  with so many great places to check out. The Bay of Fires to the north and the Blowhole to the south. The Bay of Fires is one of Tasmania’s hottest destinations in Australia! Picture this… crystal clear blue water with white sandy beaches surrounded by burnt orange lichen covered with giant boulders, absolutely epic. The hike up Whalers lookout is also a must with a breathtaking view of the town. We stayed in Bicheno backpackers, a cosy anex style hostel with a big common area. A few of us weathered the harsh cold conditions and booked a penguin tour. While we only came across 5 blue penguins it was a great tour for checking out penguins in their natural habitat. Our guide was fantastic, knowledgeable and extremely passionate about his job. While in Tasmania we took the opportunity to see the native Tasmanian devil , made famous by Taz, the Werner Brothers cartoon character. Most wildlife parks have Tasmanian devils as part of the captive devil breeding program. There were plenty of other native animals: kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, possums, kockatoos, emus and koalas.

Almost every tourist visiting Tasmania will have Wineglass Bay on their itinerary. It simply is the postcard image of Tasmania, absolutely stunning. It is nestled in Freycinet National Park along the East Coast. Wineglass Bay lookout hike leads to stunning panoramic views over Wineglass Bay. We were lucky to escape the rain as this trail is very exposed, with a constant incline and steps for days. I would urge you to bring water and if you are a god awful sweater like me… a towel!! For the adventurous and avid  hikers you can continue from Wineglass Bay to Wineglass Beach, following the Isthmus track around to Hazards Beach. The decline to the beach is extremely steep, meaning, yes you guessed it, the incline is rather daunting. Wineglass Bay Beach is rated one of the top 10 beaches in the world. Without a doubt I can see why, the white sand, red rocks and turquoise waters with very few people to spoil the view due to the difficulty in accessing it. For all you thrill seekers in search of that Instagram worthy photo Mount Amos would be suitable for you with  panoramic views of Oyster Bay and Freycinet Peninsular. It’s suggested for the physically fit and experienced hikers but I’m sure you can crawl up if needs be. For me, Wineglass Bay was the crown jewel of Freycinet Park.

On our journey back to Hobart we did a few short scenic walks, Cape Tourville circuit and Oyster Bay lookout. While in Hobart we stayed at Hobart backpackers YHA. I loved this hostel, it was warm (a huge plus), clean, cosy and friendly. It catered for individuals making new friends with organised events every night, from movie nights with popcorn to trivia nights with beers.

Port Arthur, one of the main attractions in Hobart was recommended highly. Having no interest in history or historical sites I went with very little expectations, but oh how wrong I was. Port Arthur is known for its rich history and significance in the state of Tasmania. What was once a convict settlement on the Tasman Peninsula, Port Arthur is now one of the country’s most prominent tourist attractions. With over 30 buildings to explore as well as ruins, there’s plenty to learn. Visitors are often blown away by its extensive history and many take part in ghost tours and paranormal investigations to connect with the past in the area (you would definitely not see me there). I owe my pleasant experience here to our tour guide who was concise and to the point, like most Brits, no beating around the bush!

It would be impossible not to mention MONA, arguably Australia’s best known and most controversial art gallery. Here you’ll find a wall boasting 150 moulded vaginas of all shapes and sizes and grooming practices, it’s named ‘cunts and other conversations’.(I couldn’t decide if the guy deserved a pat on the back or a cold one to the face!)It houses a machine that eats and defacates like clockwork, farting quite regularly, causing those sensitive to leave the room, many holding their nose with disgust, and two goldfish swimming around a carving knife in a crisp white bowl. 17 metres below ground in a cavernous space this gallery was extremely strange in the most fascinating way, a unique experience.

Walk, pedal or drive – there are many ways to get to Wellington Park, however, Pinnacle Road is the only vehicle route to the summit of Mount Wellington. Access may be restricted at times over the winter months due to an accumulation of snow or ice. This was the case on our journey. An hour walk to the springs lookout was as far as we got unfortunately. The view still outstanding, walks range from easy strolls to difficult climbs, beautiful springs, waterfalls, and exquisite plants. If I was to do it again I’d release the daredevil within and take a mountain bike up for a spin!

My final day in Tasmania was spent on Bruny Island, a treasure trove of fresh produce and artisan producers. With so much hiking on the cards, you’ll be pleased to know Bruny Island is home to some of Australia’s best food. In order to get to Bruny Island it’s a 40 minute drive from Hobart to the ferry crossing at Kettering, the crossing is a mere 20 minutes on the ferry. There is no public transport on the island so your own vehicle or a tour is a must. Bruny is roughly 100km long, a spectacular island of stunning vistas and contrasts from hay and cattle, to beaches and wildlife. Bruny North and South Island are separated by a narrow isthmus known as ‘the neck’.

The first stop was Bruny Island honey, a family venture. They’ve been collecting honey on the island for over 20 years with over 800 operating hives. We had an opportunity to taste, compare and contrast many different types including honey based skincare. We stopped off for cheese and bread on our quest to find the lighthouse. Nick Haddow began cheese making and is the first cheese maker in Australia to make raw cheese. The raw milk C2 is mouth wateringly delicious. We sampled the cheeses while sheltering from the wind and rain at Bruny Island lighthouse. Bruny lighthouse is the longest continually staffed lighthouse, charging $15 per person to explore the views. On a summers day it would be glorious to have a picnic on the nearby beach with windswept coastlines, rolling hills and wide beaches, a truly beautiful spot. Getting caught in the wind and rain here was one of my favourite memories of Bruny Island.Cloudy Bay made my day, the beach was perfect for a long walk with sightings of local surfers and little to no signs of man made interruptions to nearby landscapes. The best being the long drop loo, it may just take the award for the best ‘loo with a view’. The one way angled windows frame the views superbly right from the toilet seat! Cringe if you will but I bet when you visit your curiosity will take over and you’ll have a pee’k! With little time to spare we rushed back to make the return ferry stopping off at Get Shucked in Great Bay. One of the easiest places to sample Bruny Island oysters at a locally owned and operated oyster farm. We enjoyed oysters that were freshly shucked and au natural, opting for the drive through oyster pick up  and indulging and appreciating their creaminess. About 3 million oysters are harvested on Bruny Island every year, the cold, clean waters are said to result in sweet, plump oysters with a lasting briny tang.

I could quite literally harp on and on about Tasmania, I really fell hard for the hidden gem of an island. A mini australia with all the fun packed into one tiny island rich in scenic views, surf, epic hikes, crystal blue bays, history and good food. If it is not on your bucket list it should be, go on, book a trip to Tasmania and start a love affair of your own.