Being Australia’s smallest state is both Tasmania’s blessing and its curse. Many travellers simply bypass the Apple Isle, thinking it’s too far “out of the way,” or simply better saved for its own vacation rather than as part of a longer trip to Australia. Yet this compact size also makes “Tassie” particularly tempting for travellers wanting to see a lot of great sights in a short time.
Far from the congestion of mainland big cities, Tasmania’s biggest asset is perhaps its national parks. Hobart and Launceston are both great spots at which to base your outdoor adventures, conveniently located at either end of the state. But to see Tasmania proper, you need to get out into the wilderness, meaning Freycinet National Park on the eastern coast, and Cradle Mountain–Lake St Clair National Park in the state’s northwest.
Freycinet National Park and Wineglass Bay
One of Australia’s better kept secrets, Freycinet National Park occupies most of the Freycinet Peninsula, halfway up Tasmania’s east coast. It follows the granite mountain range known as The Hazards, stretching on either side, down to a series of beaches including the region’s most famous beach, Wineglass Bay. This unspoiled corner of Australia is popular with Tassie locals, but still considered somewhat out of the way for international and even mainland Australian visitors. You can visit as a day trip from either Hobart or Launceston, but the two hour drive in either direction can make for a long day. If you’d prefer to linger, it’s worth looking into at least one night’s accommodation closer to the park. On the flip side, this remoteness makes a visit to Freycinet an excellent way to immerse yourself in nature, on your trip to Australia, without feeling like too much of a tourist.
The top attractions are on Freycinet Peninsula itself, starting at the Coles Bay Conservation Area. If you plan on visiting Wineglass Bay (and you surely didn’t come all this way to miss it), you’ll want to pay attention to timing. The only way to reach this seemingly flawless beach – at least by land – is via a walking track that climbs into the saddle between two of The Hazards – Mount Amos and Mount Mayson. It’s steep, but short, reaching a lookout with picture-perfect views of the bay. Just doing the climb is about a 90 minute round-trip walk from the carpark.
If you plan on descending the saddle to Wineglass Bay beach, add another hour to your walking time, plus whatever time you plan to spend on the beach itself. We visited the park as part of a “Big 3 Tasmania” trip, which takes in both Freycinet and Cradle Mountain, plus a day on the Tasman Peninsula including Port Arthur. Long story short, we were on a group’s schedule. But if you have the benefit of an early start, or are spending the night at Freycinet, you’ll be able to avoid the sizeable group that gathers around the lookout. You might even get the beach all to yourself, at least for a little while. A short, mostly flat walk across the peninsula takes you to less famous, but similarly unspoiled Hazards Beach.
Another popular spot easily reached by car is Honeymoon Bay. Befitting the name, the Bay offers gorgeous views of the Hazards, and in warm weather is a great place to stop for a picnic or to simply relax for a while. Less befitting the name, the calm, shallow waters here make it a popular paddling spot for families. Don’t be surprised if the local birdlife and perhaps the odd wallaby takes an interest in you (or at least, your picnic) as well. Their natural curiosity and fearlessness can create some great photo opportunities.
These are the highlights, on your trip to Australia, you can realistically fit in if travelling to Freycinet on a day trip from Hobart or Launceston. You can also – as we did on the “Big 3” itinerary – use Freycinet as a picturesque and active “connecting” day trip, departing one of Tassie’s two main cities, and arriving late into the other. If you’d prefer to overnight, Freycinet Lodge offers well priced four-star accommodation, with a Wineglass Bay cruise included if you book Goway’s Freycinet Lodge package. Those really looking to indulge might consider Saffire Freycinet, an exquisite boutique property set on 12 hectares of private land with views of Great Oyster Bay.
Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park is probably the best known of Tasmania’s parks and offers plenty of variety when it comes to both wildlife and self-guided walking tracks. The Cradle Mountain region is one of the best preserved natural habitats in Tasmania, offering a chance to see many of teh country’s most famous native creatures in the wild, on your trip to Australia.
Wallabies and stout pademelons are routine sightings, as are wombats and echidnas. Though these two burrowing marsupials are a touch on the shy side, we managed to see a few of each, often quite close to walking paths or the roadside. Sharp eyes might even spot a platypus near the shores of the park’s waterways. Tasmania’s cute nocturnal carnivores are even more elusive, though they are here. Naturally, those staying overnight will have a better chance of seeing a quoll, or perhaps the infamous Tasmanian devil. If you’re just in for the day or would rather not leave it to chance, you can always hang out with the cheeky [email protected] sanctuary to catch all the action of a devil feeding!
Cradle Mountain’s hikes are its main attraction. There are over 20 to choose from, including the world-famous six-day Overland Track. If you don’t have that much time to spare (or don’t have the mandatory permit), the tracks for a single-day visit range from a breezy twenty minutes to challenging nine hours. Arguably the most popular is the 6km Dove Lake Circuit, and it’s not hard to see why. Set on an easy graded path accessible to any able-bodied walker, the Dove Lake Circuit is a two hour hike in the unmistakable shadow of spectacular Cradle Mountain itself.
The track is clearly marked and well maintained, with many beautiful lakeside views. Most hikers stop at the boathouse for photos, with the rustic 1940s structure bringing a charming contrast to the mountain’s craggy peaks, which are often mirrored in Dove Lake’s magnificently unspoiled waters. Perhaps no single image better captures why this is considered of the best easy bushwalks in Australia. On our visit, we completed this, along with two other short walks well worth doing for any one-day traveller on a trip to Australia. One is an easy, wheelchair-friendly twenty minute circuit from the visitors’ centre, while the Weindorfers Forest Walk departs from alongside the Weindorfer chalet, now a small museum devoted to Cradle Mountain’s first visitor accommodations. The road to the chalet is a particularly good place for spotting wild wombats, and we came away with some fantastic photos – right before the rain arrived! More on that in a bit.
Those seeking more of a challenge can add a trek up to Wombat Pool. This adds about one hour and two and a half kilometres to the circuit, but the views (of the pool, not actual wombats) are particularly rewarding after all those stairs. Tougher still is the diversion to Marion’s Lookout, which offers spectacular views over Dove Lake. Some intrepid hikers may even want to tackle Cradle Mountain itself, but the six to eight hour return hike isn’t always clearly marked as you near the summit. As such, it’s recommended only for advanced, well-equipped bushwalkers. In addition, remember what I said about rain? This part of Tasmania sees rain nine days out of ten, which shouldn’t put you off at all. Just be prepared and know that a clear day over Cradle Mountain is a gift. A thick blanket of snow on the mountain is also business as usual during winter. Still, the views from both above and below are pure magic, even to hikers from mainland Australia, who rarely see winter snow.
As it does with Freycinet, the Big 3 Tasmania itinerary devotes a full day to Cradle Mountain, typically including the visitors’ centre walk, and a choice of walks available from the Dove Lake carpark, including the Dove Lake Circuit. The itinerary may be adapted depending on numbers and interests, but it is generally up to individual passengers to choose the walks that match their own level of fitness, and can be done in the allotted time. Those wishing to overnight near the park might opt to stay at Peppers Cradle Mountain Lodge, located on the edge of the park and ranked among Australia’s top lodge resorts. You can even take a night viewing tour to increase your chance of a quoll or devil sighting!
3-Day Peppers Cradle Mountain Lodge