TASMANIA: Local friends plan a great 6-day itinerary

Dove Lake boatshed in Cradle Mountain National Park, Tasmania

I’ve been offline for some months, enjoying down-time with family and friends between travels. We wandered so much in 2019 (7.5+ months in total, including 12 countries and a couple of extended U.S. roadtrips) that I got behind on blogging. Also, I wasn’t sure I had much to add to the sea of info out there, and if I don’t think I can add something meaningful, I don’t feel compelled to blog just for the sake of it. That said, I do feel remiss about not sharing the awesome Tasmanian itinerary laid out for us by native-Tassie friends, Gail and Lyndon.

Wombat in Cradle Mountain National Park

We met Gail and Lyndon on our around-the-world odyssey celebrating a big birthday for David. When we told them we planned to visit Australia the following spring (2019), they convinced us to add Tasmania to our itinerary. When I emailed them later to ask for some practical pointers, they immediately wrote back, inviting us to stay a night on either end of our Tassie stay and laying out a 6-night itinerary for us. We were blown away, and ended up following nearly all of their suggestions, constrained only by time and weather. We had a wonderful time and I wish the same for anyone else considering a visit to Tasmania. It’s a unique place, and we were surprised to find that the vast majority of Australians we met had never made the journey. So without further ado, here you go, Gail and Lyndon’s Taste of Tasmania itinerary in their words:

“…As you can imagine there are many and varied things to see and do in this wonderful island state of Tasmania. Local produce, beers, wines, whiskeys and gin are also a must try. So we have focussed on some highlights for your visit.

We have put our thinking caps on and come up with the following suggestion for a “Taste of Tasmania” visit.

Day 1: Arrive in Launceston, travel via Sheffield to Cradle Mountain, Dove and Crater Lakes. Distance 122 kilometres, travelling time 1 hour and 40 minutes. Sheffield is known as the Town of Murals. The first town mural was painted in Sheffield in December 1986. Since then over 60 murals depicting the area’s rich history and beautiful natural scenery have been painted on walls throughout the town and buildings along the roadside. Cradle Mountain is 1545metres high and is surrounded by stands of native deciduous beech, rainforest, alpine heath lands and button grass and is rich in wildlife and is one of the principal tourist sites in the state. The area around the mountain has a large number of day walks. Cradle Mountain offers a variety of accommodation styles available for an overnight stay.

Day 2: Depart Cradle Mountain via Waratah to Strahan. Distance 207.4 kilometres, travelling time 2 hours and 33 minutes. Waratah is a small, scenic town on the edge of the Tarkine wilderness with a rich mining past, a magnificent town-side waterfall and a unique lakeside setting. Call into the Tarkine Interpretation Centre, entry is free. Strahan is nestled on the shores of massive Macquarie Harbour, Strahan is the gateway to the World Heritage listed Franklin–Gordon Wild Rivers National Park and is full of stories from the days of convicts and pioneers toughing it out in Tassie’s wild west. Visit Ocean Beach and smell the freshest air in the world, take a Gordon River Cruise or a ride on the West Coast Wilderness Railway. Stay overnight in the accommodation style that suits you.

Day 3: Depart Strahan via Derwent Bridge to Hobart. Distance 301 kilometres, travelling time 4hours 25 minutes. At Derwent Bridge you will find the Wall in the Wilderness, a carving of 100 metres in timber which depicts the history of the highlands, most of the timber is our rare Huon Pine. Hobart is a beautiful city on the banks of the Derwent River nestled under the imposing Mount Wellington. Points of interest in Hobart would be the Museum of Modern Art (MONA) and Salamanca home to converted colonial warehouses and waterfront buildings which house some wonderful artisan shops and restaurants. Stay in Hobart city or any of her suburbs.

Day 4: Travel from Hobart via Freycinet National Park to Bicheno. Distance 219.8 kilometres, travelling time of 3 hours. Freycinet National Park is loaded with natural assets, including the pink granite peaks of the Hazards Range that dominate the Peninsula and the iconic Wineglass Bay. The short trek to Wineglass Bay lookout is a bit of a scramble, but it’s well worth it for one of Tasmania’s most photographed views. There are many more short walks across the park that are suitable for all abilities and that lead to secluded bays, clean beaches and bird-filled lagoons. Located north of the Freycinet Peninsula, Bicheno sits on Tasmania’s beautiful East Coast. Offshore, the Governor Island Marine Reserve has some of the best diving spots in Australia, with kelp-covered reefs and spectacular sponge gardens. This water wonderland can also be experienced by glass-bottomed boat. There’s plenty to do on dry land as well, with popular penguin tours that let you get up close – really close – to fairy penguins at dusk and scenic walks to Rocking Rock, the Blowhole and along the sandbar to Diamond Island Nature Reserve. At Bicheno you will also find good accommodation.

Day 5: Leave the lovely East Coast via St Marys and the Fingal Valley to Launceston. Distance 170.9 kilometres, travelling time 2 hours and 20 minutes. St Marys is 600 metres above sea level, the township is surrounded by mountains, forests and valleys. It’s also full of colour, creativity and stories of its former days as a convict working station. There are some lovely old buildings along the main street including the original railway station, now a quirky museum of local relics and oddities. The Fingal Valley stretches from Conara through to St Marys, linking Tasmania’s Heritage Highway with its sunny East Coast, and is bounded by Ben Lomond National Park to the north and the St Pauls Valley to the south. The Fingal Valley includes the towns of Avoca, Fingal and St Marys and the smaller villages of Rossarden, Royal George, Mangana, Fingal, Mathinna, Upper Esk and Cornwall. Lovely city of Launceston feels more like a big town and is a vibrant hub for food, wine culture and nature. One of Australia’s oldest cities, Launceston has one of the best-preserved early cityscapes in Australia with its elegant Colonial and Victorian architecture and century-old parks. Just a short walk from the city centre, Cataract Gorge is a slice of wilderness right in the heart of town and Launceston’s star natural attraction.

A good website for exploring Tasmania is www.discovertasmania.com.au

There are of course places of historical significance such as Port Arthur and Maria Island that you may prefer to see. Tasmania is only a small island but has so much to see and do depending on your interests and the time you wish to travel or relax. I hope what we have suggested helps in some way to you planning your visit….”

So, there you have it: A great Tasmanian itinerary laid out by a couple of locals. We had fun following their suggestions, and found that other locals along the way were super enthusiastic when we told them what we were doing. Tassies are a friendly bunch and proud of their island. They really made us feel welcome.

On our first day in Tasmania, Gail and Lyndon picked us up at the Launceston airport after our short flight from Melbourne, then took us on a driving tour of the surrounding countryside, including a glimpse at the ranch where they’d lived and raised harness racing horses and cattle up until their recent retirement. In the evening, we visited Cataract Gorge in Launceston where we saw our first wallaby before we’d walked ten yards from the car. After walking the trails of Cataract Gorge, we had a first class dinner at The Gorge Restaurant. When we returned from our roadtrip, they again took us touring. This time we headed north to the coastline where we had tea at the Lost Farm Restaurant perched atop a large dune with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the sea and the highly-ranked golf courses of Barnbougle, a drive through a region of Tassie known for its red earth, and a final “champagne” tasting at Clover Hill Winery before dropping us off at the Launceston airport for our flight to Melbourne and on to Uluru and Ayers Rock. (I was nervous about all this touring on a flight day, but Gail and Lyndon assured us that we’d have no problem with a late arrival and breezing through the small Launceston airport. Thankfully, they were right.)

We booked lodging online on my phone from the car each day of our self-drive through Tasmania and were very happy with where we ended up each night:
Cradle Mountain Hotel (We booked a standard room and were given a handicapped room overlooking the parking lot. Disappointing. Asking to be moved to a non-handicapped room and explaining it was David’s birthday found us upgraded to a chic 2-story suite overlooking wilderness. So worth it, even if you have to pay.)

Pademelons on a Cradle Mountain National Park path

Strahan Stables Rough-Luxe #1, an AirBnB find in Strahan (This 2-story place, across the road from the harbor, and a block down from a park, was totally charming and we’d have loved another night there.)

Strahan, just across the road from our AirBnB stay

La Riviera B&B on the River Derwent in Granton, a suburb of Hobart, ranks at the top of all the B&B’s I’ve stayed at. Lovely rooms, a warm hostess, an incredible breakfast feast and a water view. She’s thinking of selling, so if it’s still available, go!

Just the beginning of the breakfast feast at La Riviera B&B. So much more to come!
Inside Hobart’s unique underground MONA, Museum of Old and New Art [And it’s free from 5pm to closing at 6!]

• Bicheno’s Ocean View Retreat (We had a huge two-bedroom apartment with an enormous balcony overlooking the sea across the road. It’s a tad dated, but clean, comfortable and really spacious. At night, we came home to several kangaroos hopping about in the front yard.)

Bicheno coastline
Endangered Tasmanian Devils at Natureworld in Bicheno
Fun with kangaroos at Natureworld in Bicheno
Wineglass Bay: Hiking on Freycinet Peninsula yields some amazing views

Melbourne is the nearest mainland airport to Tasmania. That worked perfectly for us since we arrived in Melbourne from Delhi, a non-stop route on Air India. There are daily flights from Melbourne to both Launceston and Hobart, the capital of Tasmania. Launceston is closer. Virgin Australia, Jetstar and Qantas all fly non-stop Melbourne to Launceston and Hobart. Google Flights is now showing Tigerair flying non-stop Melbourne to Hobart. We flew non-stop (1h5m) between Melbourne and Launceston on Virgin Australia. There are flights from other Australian cities as well to Tassie. Look for those flights on Google Flights or using the FlightConnections interactive map, one of my favorite travel-planning tools.

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