DAY 1: Launceston Eager to explore “Lonnie”, as Tasmania’s second largest city is affectionately known, I quickly head into town on foot.
Be sure to include the grand, Victorian-era City Park – especially the mesmerizing Japanese macaque monkeys who live there – in your reconnaissance mission.
For a bird’s eye view of Launceston and a top photo op, head to Freelands Lookout. The Old Launceston Seaport on the Tamar River is a great choice for a waterfront coffee experience.
DAY 2: Bicheno (two-hour drive) A couple of clicks west of Lonnie’s city centre, on the banks of the South Esk River, is Cataract Gorge, where friendly peacocks and divine vistas await. A variety of walks are on offer and the view from the restaurant is gorge-ous!
Now drive south-east for a couple of hours until you get to lovely, low key Bicheno (pronounced Bisheno), where you can bed down for a reasonable price but not before hunting down a Tassie scallop pie and taking a self-guided (or paid) little penguin-spotting tour.
Ever the cheapskate, I opted to seek out the critters formerly known as fairy penguins by myself after getting the local lowdown on where they tend to hang out – namely around water and rocks – and quickly discovered they’re bloody good at hiding. Doesn’t help that they’re also really small and the best time to see them is late at night. But I’m a patient gal, so was eventually rewarded by a glimpse of one of the sweet waddlers – which, when captured on camera, came out looking like a… tiny, dark blob. Luckily the mental photographs I took that night remain crystal clear.
DAY 3: Coles Bay (30-minute drive)
On today’s agenda, following brekky in Bicheno, is the 30-minute drive to Coles Bay. This tiny township is dwarfed by giant, pink granite boulders known as the Hazards and is the gateway to Freycinet National Park. After you arrive, dump your gear at one of Coles Bay’s numerous hostels, stock up on muesli bars and water, and unearth your walking shoes from your backpack.
Of the numerous Freycinet walks, which are so well signposted that not even the most directionally challenged should have a problem, the must-do for those with limited time is Wineglass Bay.
Two options are available – one for the reasonably fit, the second for the slightly less so. The good news is, both Wineglass hikes are equally rewarding – indeed, the shorter one actually provides the more awesome view of the area in all its sweeping, jagged glory. The longer trek, however, means you get to feel the sand between your toes, take a dip and maybe even spot dolphins frollicking in the surf. You can always do both walks – you might even meet a wild wallaby on the way.
There’s no denying Wineglass Bay’s postcard beauty and this was enhanced even further by the drawn-out challenge of getting there under my own steam… after slogging it out on foot for two-and-a-half hours and arriving on the photogenic beach, breathless and chuffed to have conquered Freycinet’s legendary hike, I decided that delayed gratification was definitely underrated.
After all that exercise, you’ll need a good feed – there’s a variety of choices at Coles Bay and if you get in early, you might just score a possie where you can watch the sun set over the heavenly Hazards.
DAY 4: Port Arthur (2.5 hour drive)
Enjoy a final gawk at the pink-hued Hazards over brekky, then get back behind the wheel and head south for about two-and-a-half hours. Today’s first destination is Port Arthur, accessed by the curiously named Eaglehawk Neck down on the Tasman Peninsula.
Once you arrive in Port Arthur, visit the inspiring memorial garden (at the Port Arthur Historic Site) that has been installed around the shell of the Broad Arrow Café, where 35 people were killed in 1996.
Then head back up to Eaglehawk Neck, an idyllic isthmus with a rather hellish history that connects the peninsula to the rest of the state.
A line of vicious dogs was once chained across the “neck” to deter convicts imprisoned at Port Arthur from escaping up into mainland Tassie.
DAY 5: Hobart (one hour drive)
If you’re not prone to seasickness, finish your Eaglehawk sojourn with a mind-blowing boat trip guaranteed to be a holiday highlight. The startlingly turquoise waters can be pretty choppy, but getting up-close-and-personal with seals in the wild as they frolic off huge, ancient seacliffs tinged purple and orange with lichen in this utterly untouched part of the world, make the rough ride worthwhile.
In the afternoon, head for Hobart – an hour’s drive to the north-west – and find a bed for the next two nights, then go for a wander and get acquainted with Tassie’s capital.
DAY 6: More Hobart
If you like The Rocks in Sydney, you’ll love Hobart’s Salamanca Place – and if you’re there on a Saturday, the outdoor Salamanca Market is well worth a look.
Just north of Hobart in Claremont, the Cadbury Visitor Centre is fun if you’ve a Willy Wonka fetish. It’s open year-round and you get to sample the chockies… There are more free samples to be had at the nation’s oldest brewery, Cascade, a ten-minute drive from the city centre.
DAY 7: Cradle Mountain (four hour drive)
You can’t come to Tassie and not see the Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park. Even the briefest visit enriches the spirit and soothe frazzled nerves.
You mightn’t have the time or inclination to hike the famous Overland Track – which takes up to six days and is the Holy Grail of the serious bushwalker – but there are countless other options (starting from 20 minutes in length) to inspire even the most grudging exerciser, such as the easy but magical Enchanted Nature Walk that really does live up to its name.
There’s a great chance you’ll spot wombats up close, but just remember, if you happen to stumble upon a Tassie devil (not to be confused with Tasmanian tigers, which many believe extinct, but some swear still live on), stay away from the end with the fangs!
DAY 8: Launceston (two hour drive)
On your way back to Lonnie, pop in to Sheffield – a town with an intriguing mural fetish – then wave goodbye to Tassie’s natural wonders, one of which is its polite parking cops… On my first day here, instead of a fine, I just got a cautionary note that ended with: “Enjoy your stay!” And I did.