17 Highlights and Oddities From a Tasmanian Road Trip
A Tasmanian road trip should mostly definitely rank highly on the list of anyone visiting the land Down Under. It’s beautiful. There’s a tonne of stuff to do. And the island state just happens to be weird AF -in the most endearing way possible.
As far as secrets go, Tasmania has probably been the best kept one in Australia for decades now. Whilst the mainland largely ignored our island state, it has flourished and gained an almost unbelievable amount of street cred.
First, a little history.
Years ago, Tasmania was the butt of every joke. If you told anyone that was where you came from, you were guaranteed to get a comment along the lines of: “Where’s your second head?”, or other hilarious one-liners regarding interbreeding. Now when Tassie comes up in conversation, people will either rave about how beautiful it is or express just how much they wish to go there. What a turnaround that has been for the place!
In fact, Tasmania is rapidly becoming one of the country’s most sought after destinations, for both locals and travellers alike. Whenever I’m abroad and anyone tells me they’re keen on visiting my home country, I usually say something along the lines of: “OMG, DO A TASMANIAN ROAD TRIP.” Waiting for that job offer from Discover Tasmania, any day now.
Seriously. You should drop everything and go to Tasmania right now. Or, like yesterday.
A country as big as Australia is definitely best seen by car – particularly with our public transport being as bad as it is! Here’s a detailed list of what you should pack on your next road trip.
Recently, I took my own advice and journeyed to my country’s most southern state for the first time in six years. Oh man, were my expectations sky high. And did Tassie blow them out of the water and then some.
For a mainlander, Tasmania is a breath of fresh, pollutant-free air. It’s a strange place, there’s no doubt about that, but its quirks are what add to its charm.
I could probably write an individual blog post about each of these experiences, but for the sake of brevity (despite this being a pretty damn long blog post) here are a few of the highlights and oddities I encountered during a four day Tasmanian road trip.
If you’re thinking of doing the same and need somewhere to stay, check out this list of accommodation in Tasmania.
1. Taking the Spirit of Tasmania from Melbourne to Devonport
This was a personal highlight, being something I had wanted to do for years. You can take the ferry during the day or night, with night being the preferable option – particularly in the winter months, when the trip takes 11 hours (it’s 9 in the summer).
I boarded the ferry at around 6pm, with us setting off south at 730pm. I had dinner, grabbed a small bottle of wine and sat and read my book in the dining room for an hour, before the water started getting a bit choppy. Having booked a cabin, I was snuggled up in bed by 1030pm, with the rocking motion of the waves lulling me to sleep. I was up by 515am, with us docking and leaving the ship just over an hour later. From there, I picked up a car to start my trip around the island state. It’s best to compare car rental before you go.
Although it’s more expensive than flying, it made for a lovely and far less stressful alternative.
2. Seeing ALL THE MARINE LIFE during a cruise to Wineglass Bay
I’d not visited Wineglass Bay during my last trip to Tassie in 2011. As it is a regular feature on lists of the country’s best beaches, a trip out there became a priority for this trip.
Turns out, you can not only visit Wineglass Bay on foot – you can arrive there in style, via boat. So, I signed up for a four hour long boat ride with Wineglass Bay Cruises, which showed off a little bit of Tassie’s east coast, before arriving at the bay just in time for lunch.
We were blessed with phenomenal weather, cruised along relatively calm water and saw SO MUCH local marine life – albatross, sea eagles, cormorants, dolphins and seals, to name a few.
It was a wonderful introduction to the area.
3. Eating oysters at Oyster Bay
Driving back from Coles Bay to Hobart, I decided to drop in somewhere for a feed. That somewhere ended being a vineyard in Devil’s Corner (which was of the same family of the vineyard I had recently visited in Victoria’s King Valley). You could not only purchase wine at their cellar door, but enjoy a delicious meal whilst taking in the beautiful view that spread out before you.
The vineyard looks out on an area known as “Oyster Bay” and so I opted for half a dozen freshly shucked oysters as my afternoon snack. It was not a terrible decision in the slightest.
4. Stopping at any cellar door that takes your fancy
With a climate that is quite similar to Europe, Tasmania’s wine industry is flourishing. You could quite easily hire a car and spend a weekend driving from cellar door to cellar door, stocking up on delicious wines along the way.
Being pressed for time, I only made it to Devil’s Corner but I’d really love to go back one day for a wine trip, to sip on the best of what the region has to offer.
5. The roof of this tavern.
I actually drove past this and had a spirited argument with myself over whether I should bother turning around to take a photo or keep driving.
Luckily, common sense prevailed and I went back to take documented evidence of its existence, because I am if anything, dedicated to my work.
In the north of the country you will also find places such as the “Promised Land”. I spent at least half an hour following signs and my not so trusty GPS to “Nowhere Else”, which disappointingly ended up being just a collection of properties. Still. Imagine having people ask you were you lived and having either one of those names as your answer.
Other highlights included “Wye River”, which had a sign underneath it stating: “Because it’s bigger than a creek” and “Break-Me-Neck Hill.” Whoever was in charge of naming places in Tasmania should come back and rename everything in the entire country.
Maybe then I wouldn’t live in constant disappointment that the first Victorians chose the name “Melbourne” over the alternative of “Batmania” for John Batman, the founder of the village that became the country’s second biggest city.
6. Revisiting Tasmazia
Deep in the heart of the Promised Land lies the biggest maze in the southern hemisphere, the aptly named “Tasmazia”.
I’d visited some years ago and almost didn’t bother returning. However, I remembered the café next to the maze having exceptionally good grub, I was already in the area and well, I was hungry! Alas, when I arrived there at 930 in the morning, the café was still a half hour from opening. I killed time by going in the maze, instead.
Unlike the Museum of Old and New Art (which was pointless revisiting, within a six year span at least), Tasmazia was worth the return trip. I pretty much had the entire place to myself (until a family with kids arrived and the children started screaming) and there was a whole new section which hadn’t been there two years previously, featuring the “embassies” of countries around the world.
7. Truly friendly people
I don’t think I’ve quite shaken London off after over two years of living there, despite having been in Australia for six months now. When strangers start talking to me, my first thought is: “Why” and my second “What do you want from me?”
As it’s rural Australia, they quite simply just want a chat! I had many delightful yarns with people from all walks of life. A uni student who’d just moved to Launceston from Perth and was chasing the southern lights for the weekend. A middle-aged man, biking from Launceston to Hobart and was pitching his tent on the beach for a night so he could fall asleep to the sound of the ocean. A woman whose grandmother had grown up in the same suburb that I now live in in Melbourne. A staff member at Port Arthur, who shared my passion for both travel and books and moonlighted as an extra on film sets.
I’d quite forgotten how easy-going, friendly and interesting my countrypeople can be. It was nice to become reacquainted with that fact.
8. Popping into random towns on a whim
Doing a solo road trip with minimal concrete plans affords quite a lot of freedom. I arrived in Tasmania with only my Wineglass Bay Cruise and a bed for each night booked. The days, I could do what I wished with.
I saw this as a fantastic opportunity to really milk my time on the road, stopping anywhere that looked interesting and took my fancy. This led to some really neat sights, like seeing the murals in the town of Sheffield, or checking out the gorgeous Georgian architecture of Oatlands and Richmond (well, the latter was already on my list, but the former was a nice surprise).
9. Surprisingly, the weather
One facet of the trip that was unexpectedly good was the weather. Tassie’s can be quite unpredictable – four seasons in one day and this is the time of the year when the temperatures plummet and the rain (and often snow) rolls in.
On the flip side, the four days I spent there were unseasonably warm and sunny, with it finally breaking on the afternoon of my last day there. I really couldn’t have asked for better weather.
10. Encountering no one on the road for long stretches of time
This was undoubtably one of the perks of travelling in the off-season, but there were periods of time where I didn’t see a single other soul. This isn’t unusual for Australia and is indeed a factor of my country that I’ve always liked and appreciated.
As country roads are often quite twisty and dangerous, it’s a blessing to not have someone tailgating you in frustration. It is equally as pleasant to not get stuck behind someone who is determined to go 30kms below the speed limit, for no apparent reason.
My trip wasn’t immune from either of these things happening, but it wasn’t a recurring theme and for that, I was grateful.
11. Spending an entire afternoon at Cataract Gorge in Launceston
I hadn’t really warmed to Launceston the first time I visited and although I liked it a lot more this time around, it wasn’t so much the city that pulled at my heartstrings. Instead, it was Cataract Gorge, what is essentially a nature reserve just a short drive from the city centre.
One minute you’re surrounded by buildings, the next you’re face to face with a wallaby. And can you imagine doing laps in the pool in the summer, with that as your backdrop? Nope. Me neither.
12. The price of car hire
I do have to take a moment to appreciate just how little it cost to hire a car in Tasmania. I picked a car up from Budget Car Hire at Devonport and dropped it off at Hobart Airport four days later and paid less than $100 for it. The car was booked in advance, but only by three weeks. And it was entering the off-season… yet, still!
I hired one from the same company in Victoria for a weekend and paid $150 for it. If you wanted some sort of comparison, then there you have it.
13. Experiencing a piece of Australia’s modern history at Port Arthur
Port Arthur is a must-see for anyone visiting Tasmania. It has such a stronghold in the country’s modern and colonial history. Yet, I didn’t get the chance to go when I was last in the state, so you can bet your bottom dollar that I made it a priority this time around.
The port was once a gaol for prisoners who had committed grave offences, or who those in powers of position wanted to make an example of. However, you may know it as the site of a horrific massacre in 1996, where 35 people lost their lives and 23 were injured.
This was a monumental event in Australia’s modern history, which triggered the extremely strict gun laws that exist in the country today. Funnily enough, there hasn’t been a single massacre since these laws were implemented and I can’t help but feel that the two are related.
Either way, Port Arthur is an insight into Australia’s colonial history and is well-worth a visit.
14. Buying pretty much anything you could imagine, infused with lavender
Tasmania’s climate is also quite conducive to lavender growing. Time your visits right, when the flowers are blooming and you’ll be able to nab yourself some of those lovely, whimsical snaps of a girl in a flowing dress, frolicking amongst a field of purple (or boy. Down with gender stereotypes!). It’s definitely an image that hasn’t be overdone to death or anything. (Disclaimer: I totally would have capitulated to this, had it been the right time of the year).
Either way, farms around the state remain open, selling their delicious goods and sweet smelling products to anyone who may be interested. Here’s a shout out to the Port Arthur Lavender Farm where I had a delicious lavender hot chocolate and stocked up on both lavender tea and cheese. Food souvenirs may not be long lasting, but they sure do have a time and place.
15. Quite simply, the scenery
Tassie is gorgeous. I cannot put it more simply than that. I tried my best to avoid driving at night, partly because I was scared of hitting and killing the local wildlife, but also because because I didn’t want to miss out on any of the jaw-dropping views.
Many parts of the state weirdly reminded me of England, too. In fact, there were some moments where I had to remind myself of which country I was currently in. Maybe it was the architecture and the autumn colours, which seem to be in greater abundance down south.
It was a whirlwind trip with something having to be sacrificed – that ended up being time in the state’s capital of Hobart.
Whilst I did revisit MONA (which wasn’t really worth a return trip) and eat a meal at Aloft, a delicious restaurant in town, I spent next to no time in the city. It was a shame, because I fell for it hard the last time I visited and would have liked to see it again.
However, any time I spend there does tend to make my heart happy, hence why it’s snaked its way onto this highlights list. Keep doing you, Hobart. Keep doing you.
17. Driving from dawn ’til dusk
I wouldn’t have been able to fit in nearly as much as I did, if I hadn’t committed to driving from essentially dawn ’til dusk. In fact, I was telling someone from Tasmania about all I’d seen in my trip and she said “Oh, so you were there for what, two weeks?” And when I replied with: “Negative. Four days,” she told me I was crazy.
Maybe. Well, probably. But I did have a crazy good time. And I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
Have you been this state? Would you like to go? What do you think (or hope) would be a highlight of your own Tasmanian road trip?
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