Tasmania is a wonderful place to do a road trip as the distances between places are not too large, there is a diversity of landscapes, the roads are decent and there are caravan parks in every small town. You can take your own vehicle from the mainland of Australia on the ferry, Spirit of Tasmania or you can hire a vehicle or campervan in Tasmania. Itineraries of various lengths are available online. We took a duration of 24 days to explore the state. As we have been to Tasmania before, we skipped a lot of the East Coast. Nevertheless, as you can see from this map, we saw a lot of the state.
Following is a day by day breakdown of our trip and the highlights of what we saw.
Day 1 – Melbourne to Devonport
The only way to get your personal vehicle over to Tasmania from the mainland is on the Spirit of Tasmania. The price for tickets however is eye-watering so before you go, consider the economics of your holiday to justify the price. For short trips, it may be cheaper to fly and hire a car or campervan than to take your own vehicle. We chose to take our van because it doubles as accommodation thereby reducing our travelling costs.
Money can be saved on the Spirit of Tasmania by timing your trip to avoid peak periods like the summer school holidays. This has the added advantage of avoiding crowds and reducing the chances of accommodation being booked out. Book your ferry ticket without the extra costs of a bedroom or a recliner. The hot tip is that if you head up to Level 9, there are couches! Make a bee-line for these when you get on the ferry and commandeer these so you can have a comfy snooze during the long 9 to 11 hour journey.
Food and drink is available for purchase on the long ferry ride but to save money, BYO your own food and drink. You can bring a flask of hot water or there was free hot water available at the coffee maker at The Pantry onboard. Quarantine restrictions on fruit and vegetables is strict on the way over to Tasmania but bringing our own food added only very minimal extra time and hassle to the trip.
Check the weather before you go and be prepared with seasickness prevention strategies. On both legs of our journey, we were lucky with reasonable weather. The sea was not too choppy.
The ferry ride to and from Tasmania takes a long! time It goes for about 9 to 11 hours and for most of the trip, there is no mobile data signal. There is a paid cinema onboard but you should be prepared with your own ways to pass the time e.g. a novel, movies, knitting, snacks etc.
When you get to Tasmania, consider if you need to buy a National Park pass. Visiting National Parks in Australia is usually an economical way to see some sights. The costs for most states and territories is about $15/vehicle/day. Most national parks in NSW and Victoria are actually free to visit. By contrast, the National Parks in Tasmania charge $40/vehicle/day. If you intend to visit a few, the cost will add up. We purchased a 2 month pass for $80. This was a worthwhile purchase as a significant proportion of Tasmania is considered National Parks and if you have made your way over for visit, it would be disappointing not to see all the natural sights.
Day 2 – Devonport
The Spirit of Tasmania docks in Devonport. Before heading straight off for your trip, take some time to explore this area. It’s hilly with dark, fertile soils. This productive farmland is perfect for growing vegetables, potatoes and poppies. These poppy fields are easy to identify when driving past as they are surrounded by barbed wire fences and stern signs. Tasmania is one of the world’s largest legal producers of poppies for pharmaceuticals. The vegetation and farm land gives this area a feel reminiscent of the UK.
Day 3 – Burnie
Burnie is an industrial town. It is not a pretty touristy town, but rather a practical town with a port focused on forestry and farming. Check out the Upper Burnie Lookout for an overview of the town or do the Fern Glade Walk in the hopes of spotting a platypus. No luck on the drizzly day that we went, but a lush, fern filled walk nevertheless.
Day 4 – Stanley
My favourite place in Tasmania was Stanley. This touristy town boasts some beautiful beaches, super cute little penguins and of course The Nut. The Nut is an ancient volcanic plug and it forms an imposing landmark to guide you into the town of Stanley. The town itself is located at the base of The Nut. It is super tidy and well kept with many charming and heritage style vacation rentals.
When in Stanley, getting to the top of The Nut is a “must do”. This can be done by chair lift or on foot. The view of the town and adjacent beaches is lovely from the top of The Nut. The beaches in Stanley are gorgeous but too cold for the usual beach activities for most of the year.
Our absolute highlight in Stanley and potentially the highlight of our entire trip to Tasmania was seeing the Little Penguins at night. These little cuties are called interchangeably Little Penguins, Fairy Penguins or Blue Penguins. In Stanley, there is a well set-up viewing area at Godfrey’s Beach where you can see these penguins come home at night from a day out at sea. The penguin viewing area is well set-up with boardwalks, informative signage and clear instructions.
It was surprising to see how many people were out to see the penguins as darkness fell. Be sure to rug up as the cold coastal winds were biting. Amazingly, despite the large number of people, everyone was compliant in using only red light to illuminate the area to spot for penguins. White light distresses them. There are similar penguin viewing set-ups in many of the coastal areas around Tasmania. They are definitely worth braving the cold to see as they are totally adorable! They also make a wide range of the most unexpected and bizarre noises. Our camping in Stanley was accompanied by the strangest variety of noises in the night due to these little creatures.
On the drive to Stanley, stop near the Table Cape to check out the views and stretch your legs on a hike to Dip Falls.
Day 5 – Tarkine Drive
From Stanley, reserve a day to do the Tarkine Drive. It’s manageable for a day trip and is a sealed road through diverse landscapes like dairy country, rainforests and wild coastal areas.
The crown jewel of the Tarkine Drive is the Trowutta Arch. The reason is obvious when looking at the photos below.
Day 6 – Waratah
Waratah is a sweet little town with a population of only 245. It was once a mining boom town but no longer. It has a friendly main strip. The picturesque Waratah River runs through it and claims to have platypus in it. There is also the spectacular Waratah Falls right in the centre of town. Due to it’s proximity to Cradle Mountain, the Tarkine Drive and Burnie, this little town is worth a visit.
Day 7 – Cradle Mountain National Park
Before dashing out of Waratah to head to Cradle Mountain, it is worth a small detour to see Philosopher Falls. It’s a multi tiered waterfall with a well maintained, lush, rainforest walking track.
No trip to Tasmania is complete without visiting the Cradle Mountain National Park. As it is the most popular national park in Tasmania, it has excellent signage and infrastructure throughout. It is probably experiencing a lull during the pandemic without busloads of tourists. Our visit was only for about 5 hours as camping in this national park books out early during school holidays and is very expensive. We drove in, tried to squeeze in as many hikes as possible and headed out afterwards to Tullah for the night.
Day 8 – Strahan
Onwards to picturesque Strahan, which is pronounced in a way that rhymes with lawn. On the way, stop off at one of the highest waterfalls in Tasmania. At 104m, Montezuma falls is quite a spectacle. When in Strahan, the Gordon River Cruises were highly recommended but were totally booked out. Visit the Morrison’s Huon Pine Sawmill for a free tour at 3pm for an interesting look at saw milling, the old fashioned way.
Day 9 – Queenstown
After so much natural beauty thus far on our journey around Tasmania, the areas around Queenstown provided a stark contrast. Queenstown was once a mining boom town. Unfortunately, these areas have been denuded by over-mining and copper smelting. The trees were cut down to fuel the mine’s furnaces and the sulphur fumes from the copper smelters caused plants to die. As a result, the area looks like a “moonscape” and the tops of the hills are sad and barren as a reminder of what can happen when mining is performed without care for the impact on the environment. These pictures don’t show how shocking the landscape looks. With time, the land will heal and signs of the nature creeping back is evident.
Day 10 – Mount Field National Park
Onwards to the most unexpected find of the trip, Mount Field National Park. On the way to this national park, stop off at Nelson Falls and Donaghy Hill Nature Trail for a stretch break.
Mount Field National Park is very close to the city of Hobart yet it feels like different planet. The highlight is the walk that boasts three impressive waterfalls, Russell Falls, Horseshoe Falls and Lady Barron Falls.
The camping at this national park is excellent. Serene riverside camping is available as well as hot showers! The whole area is lovely and picturesque.
Day 11, 12, 13, 14 – Hobart
Hobart is a very pretty albeit hilly city. The Tasman Bridge and the surrounding view looks magnificent on a fine day. The area around Constitution Dock is lovely. Their botanic garden is very orderly and well labelled. No visit to Hobart is complete without visiting the weekly Salamanca markets and the MONA art gallery. The markets are quite big and crowded but there are lots of interesting things to see and eat including local cherries which are super sweet.
The most spectacular way to approach MONA, the Museum of Old and New Art, is to approach by ferry. It is located in a beautiful coastal location with grape vines growing on the property. It’s a beautiful spot to sit out on the grass in the sun with a picnic listening to the live music.
This museum is privately funded and houses many bizarre works. It is definitely not safe to bring the kids! One of the highlights is Cloaca Professional, an art installation which replicates the human digestive system thereby turning food into faeces. Unfortunately, on the day we visited, we missed pooping time. Beware, the entire room smells……!!
Day 15 – Bruny Island
Bruny Island is a lovely daytrip if you are in Hobart with a car. Take the ferry across and go for a drive. The Neck is stunning and there are some beautiful views from the Fluted Cape Walk.
Day 16, 17 – Port Arthur and Eaglehawk Neck
Tickets into the Port Arthur Historic Site includes a boat tour of the bay. There are a bunch of historic buildings as well to explore at this convict site. We went there on a stunningly beautiful, blue sky day. The place looked lovely for a visit but it would not have been so nice to be imprisoned here.
On the way to or from Port Arthur, take the time to visit the sites around the Eaglehawk Neck area. There is lots to see.
Day 18 – Waddamana Power Station Heritage Site
An often overlooked and underappreciated attraction in the centre of Tasmania is the historic Waddamana Power Station Heritage Site. This old power station was too remote to be pulled apart during decommissioning so it was left. This means that this well preserved site exists for us to visit today. There is, unfortunately, a long unsealed road to get here but it was worth it.
Day 19 – Ben Lomond National Park
For some alpine scenery, we spent some time hiking and camping in Ben Lomond National Park.
Day 20, 21 – St Helens
For the locals of Tasmania, in the height of summer, they would head to St Helens for a beach vacation. Its a gorgeous little beach holiday town on a hill and it was busy during the recent summer school holidays despite the lack of interstate travelers. It was filled with domestic tourists who chose to holiday locally instead of heading interstate.
Nearby is St Columba Falls and the famous Bay of Fires, with its strikingly orange coloured lichen.
Day 22, 23 – Launceston
Ahh, the hilly Launceston! A city with a gorge located less than 4kms from the centre of town! It’s a great location for a walk or for those prepared to brave the chilly waters, a swim.
Day 24 – Devonport to Melbourne
Leaving Tasmania for Melbourne on the Spirit of Tasmania was mostly uneventful except when they insisted on confiscating our butane stove cannisters. It made no sense as they allowed us to have them on the way into Tasmania by ferry.
Tasmania is a great place to visit during summer when the rest of Australia is absolutely blisteringly hot. The weather in southerly Tassie at this time is perfect for walking in the day while cooling off at the night to allow a good sleep. The weather is more variable than other parts of Australia as not every day will be sunny. Most days will be good.
A large proportion of the land in Tasmania is considered national park or nature reserve so there is much natural beauty in this small island. It’s hilly topography and fresh water sources make it suitable in places for hydroelectricity.
The north of the island is farmland and dairy country. The west is mainly national parks and lush, fern filled rainforests. The south bears a striking resemblance to the South West of Western Australia as it is drier and the rolling grassland is less densely vegetated. Be prepared for some hilly, windy driving when in Tasmania. The usual 100km per hour rule of thumb for travelling in Australia (except for cities) does not apply in Tasmania due to the more hilly terrain.
Tasmania is perfect place for exploring by road and a “must do” for the holiday maker who wants to escape the fast city pace and enjoy some natural beauty.