As your plane begins its descent into Hobart you will wonder where the vast wilderness ends and civilisation begins as your eyes drink in snow-capped mountain ranges, lakes, rivers and forests stretching to white beaches and the far horizons.
Hobart is undeniably the prettiest state capital in Australia. More akin to a village than a city, it has a distinctly Bohemian feel. Arts abound and the food scene is the envy of Sydney, both of which are showcased by the weekly Saturday morning Salamanca Markets – a fifty-year-old attraction. The easy laid back ambience has the air of a summer’s night out all year round, whatever the weather - noting that Hobart is one of the driest state capitals in Australia.
Those short of time or unable to drive can take some excellent day trips from the city’s waterfront. Some of Tasmania’s most extraordinary landscapes can be experienced with ease if not total decadence by small group tour, private guide, boat or plane. If you only have a week or so, these options mean pre-empt the agonisingly difficult decision of whether to head east or west on your self-drive journey. Unless you have a good two or three weeks plus in which to explore Tasmania, it is unlikely that you can do it all.
If you are going to make the effort to go to one of the world’s southernmost cities, then do continue your journey as far as you can go in that direction. Southern Tasmania – the Huon Valley and the Far South - are some of the most beautiful parts of the island and like the far north, mostly empty of visitors. Travel through farmland and orchards, the fertile land that gave Tassie its nickname the Apple Isle, into deep forested valleys, filled with huge blankets of mist, tannin-stained rivers, some crashing furiously through rapids, others meandering, deep and slow with reflections that have to be seen to be believed. The road becomes a track and eventually peters out into the pristine wilderness: Gondwanaland – as the world existed millions of years ago.
If you go far as Cockle Creek you will be rewarded by views into the Hartz Mountains and the remote South West National Park, which is accessible only by a ten-day traverse across unforgiving mountain ranges and gorges with wildly volatile weather. Also south of Hobart are the islands of North and South Bruny – joined by a narrow Isthmus – and the Tasman Peninsula which is joined to the mainland by an even narrower neck. Neither are ideally suited to a day trip unless with a guide. Many still do but in doing so they miss out on most of what these wonderful land masses have to offer.
The Tasman Peninsula is best known for the Port Arthur Historic Site, the most feared penal colony in Australia, where repeat offenders were sent to experience the ‘cat o’ nine tails’ flogging and in later years the horrors of psychological torture through isolation punishment.
Bruny Island is a national park, and like the Tasman Peninsula has the highest sea cliffs in the Southern Hemisphere at 300 metres. Known for its birdlife – all 12 endemics reside here – and its abundant wildlife including Australia’s only colony of white wallaby, Bruny is wild, exhilarating and unspoilt. Accessed by 15-minute car ferry and upon disembarking onto unsealed roads, it is like entering another world. For more see island hopping of Tasmania.