Australia has long promoted its many treasures to the world while keeping the small state of Tasmania, 150 miles south of the mainland, all to itself. Now “Tassie,” as it is commonly known, is attracting the attention of those who seek an off-the-beaten-path departure from typical tourist spots. The island is relatively small―roughly the size of West Virginia―and home to fewer than 500,000 people. Thanks to its remoteness―after all, Tasmania is “down under” Down Under―the island is a wilderness wonderland, home to hundreds of miles of undeveloped coastline, rugged mountains, green valleys, and unusual wildlife.
• Getting there: Fly to a major Australian city and connect to Hobart; Melbourne is the closest mainland city. Alternately, nightly ferries travel year-round between Melbourne and Devonport on Tasmania’s north coast.
• Climate: Summer (December to February), with its warm days (averaging 70), is the best time to visit.
• Transportation: Tasmania is well-suited to a self-drive trip. Once you work out driving on the left side of the road, you’ll have few challenges.
Start Your Trip Here: Hobart
In Tasmania’s southeast, straddling the mouth of the Derwent River and backed by towering Mt. Wellington, is the island’s capital, Hobart. Australia’s second-oldest city (after Sydney), it’s home to 204,000 people where “rush hour” lasts all of 10 minutes. For a taste of old Hobart, take a walk among the Victorian cottages and rose gardens of genteel Battery Point, the city’s oldest neighborhood.
Eat smart: Chic, pier-side Marque IV is a regular on nationwide hottest restaurant lists. Its eight-course tasting menu sings the praises of the state’s fresh seafood and produce, which consistently hits high notes thanks to Tasmania’s agreeably mild climate and pristine air and water.
Be fit: Island Cycle Tours will drive you to the summit of 4,170-foot Mt. Wellington and lead a guided ride back to sea level. As you cruise down 12 miles of low-trafficked roads, each sense will be awakened, whether by the cool mountaintop air, fragrant eucalyptus, or awesome views.
Live well: The Saturday-morning Salamanca Market is a Hobart institution. Browse for a souvenir (items made from the island’s unique timbers are a good option), sample culinary goodies, and brunch like a local at a market-side café.
Where to stay: The waterfront Henry Jones Art Hotel has collected countless awards from national media since it opened in 2004. The hotel resides in restored warehouses that exhibit the wares of top local artists.
For Nature Lovers: Tasman Peninsula
Located 62 miles southeast of Hobart, Port Arthur is an intriguing relic of the era when Britain’s criminals were shipped to Tasmania. Between 1830 and 1877, approximately 12,500 convicts served sentences at Port Arthur. Today it’s like a cross between Colonial Williamsburg and Alcatraz.
To fully appreciate the peninsula’s spectacular 1,000-foot-tall sea cliffs, take a cruise with Tasman Island Cruises. You’ll likely spot albatross, dolphins, and fur seals, plus whales in season (from September to early December, and again in April and July).
For additional encounters with local wildlife, visit the Tasmanian Devil Conservation Park to admire these cute but fierce marsupials and learn of the threat of extinction they face. A mysterious disease has decimated the local population, and scientists are so far unable to pinpoint the cause or find a cure. Witness the raucous feeding habits of the devils from a safe distance, and hand-feed kangaroos, which have better table manners.
When you’re hungry, head to The Mussel Boys, open from September 1 through April 30. The oysters couldn’t be fresher: They’re plucked from Norfolk Bay, just across the road.
For Beach Lovers: East Coast and Freycinet Peninsula
The beaches of Tasmania’s east coast, particularly the Freycinet Peninsula, are towered over by pink granite outcrops known as the Hazards. Hobart to Freycinet is 120 miles on a winding road, so you’ll need an overnight stay to savor the surroundings.
The coastal views on the approach into Swansea, the region’s main town, are well worth a detour. Stop at Kate’s Berry Farm & Dessert Café (03-6257 8428) for an English-style scone, served with cream and homemade mingled-berry jam.
A well-marked turnoff from the east-coast highway takes you to Freycinet National Park. From the parking lot, hike to the Wineglass Bay lookout (one to one-and-a-half hours uphill) or further on to the bay itself (two-and-a-half to three hours). If you prefer a more leisurely approach, Freycinet Adventures operates a water taxi that can drop you an easy, flat, 30-minute walk from the bay.
Continue your reverie at Freycinet Lodge, the only accommodation within the park. The lodge aims to have you commune with nature―a task easily done, thanks to the serene setting.
For Wine Lovers: Coal River Valley
Tasmania has gained an enviable reputation for its crisp cool-climate wines, particularly chardonnay, pinot noir, and sparkling wine, but differing microclimates and soil types throughout the state make a range of grapes viable. The Coal River Valley is the state’s fastest-growing wine region, and driving through the rural splendor you’d hardly believe you’re only 15 minutes northeast of the capital city of Hobart.
At Meadowbank Estate, you’ll find a tasting room and first-class restaurant with a broad menu of appetizer-sized dishes, including half-shell scallops with Tasmanian truffle-infused butter and brioche crumbs. Try them with a glass of the estate’s Grace Elizabeth chardonnay, redolent of stone fruit.
Up the road from Meadowbank is Puddleduck, a small family-run vineyard. You’re welcome to bring your own picnic (stock supplies in Hobart, or in the nearby town of Richmond), or the friendly owners Darren and Jackie Brown can provide a platter of local cheeses. If there’s any of their sparkling wine to be sampled (the fabulous Bubbleduck is prone to selling out), consider yourself lucky; if not, the rosé (one of few made in Tasmania, with hints of strawberry) makes a fine and flavorful substitute.