Our trip began in Launceston in Tasmania’s North, and criss-crossed the island from Cradle Mountain, to the east coast, to the historic southern site of Port Arthur, before finishing in Hobart.
Launceston - 2 nights
After a 45 minute flight from Melbourne aboard a tiny Dash-8, we flew into Launceston around sunset over the fertile Tamar Valley – the region we would be exploring for the next day or so.
Our bed for the next couple of days was at the Leisure Inn Penny Royal. Although not the plushest of hotels, it is located within an interesting historical building and convenient to town, and excitingly for me, just across the road from the famous Stillwater Restaurant, where we enjoyed breakfast one morning.
Speaking of notable pubs and restaurants – Launceston has its share. We enjoyed a lovely evening when we wandered into town to Dickens Cider House – a cosy hole in the wall establishment where the drink of choice was self evident, but came in a range of delicious varieties. We followed this up at the posh Black Cow Bistro (bookings recommended) with great steak and even better side dishes.
With a full day for sightseeing, we began the day at Cataract Gorge. Within city limits, this reserve has been a playground for the good folk of Launceston since the 18th century and I still feel like I have stepped back to a more genteel time when I take a turn about the gardens amongst the hydrangeas and peacocks beside the rotunda…
The rest of the day we spent at spots outside the city in the Tamar Valley that we fancied the look of. It is possible to drive along one side of the Tamar River and explore the varied offerings before crossing the Batman Bridge at and doing the same on the other.
On the western side of the Tamar River, we included a couple of wineries on the Tamar Valley Wine Route including Ninth Island, lunch at the cosy Rosevears pub, and a visit to Platypus House at Beauty Point for a peek at some very sweet monotremes – both platypuses and echidnas are housed in the facility and you are able to get up close to both curious animals.
While there are perhaps less attractions on the eastern side of the Tamar River, in season the Bridestowe Lavender Farm is an incredible sight, with intense purple rows as far as the eye can see.
Afternoon tea, or second lunch as it might have been more appropriately termed was a pie and selection of goats cheese at the recommended Yondover Goat Cheesery – if you love goat cheese, Yondover is one of the loveliest producers I have come across – and the range is excellent, from fresh cheese through to blue and other matured varieties.
We also enjoyed spot of berry picking at Hillwood Farm and picked up a tub of the thickest double cream imaginable at nearby Meander Valley, which we polished off at Lilydale Falls in the picnic spot before turning back to Launceston.
Overall, I rate this region as a fantastic introduction to Tasmania. Although a small city, Launceston has a charm and character all its own, including some fantastic restaurants and provides a gateway to some delightful travel experiences around the Tamar Valley.
Day three saw us on the road to our next stop, Cradle Mountain. While driving there without stops would take about 2.5 hours, that would entirely miss the point as there are plenty of great discoveries to be made along the way, especially in and just out of the pretty town of Deloraine.
A couple of favourites not far from the town are the Christmas Hills Raspberry Farm. There is no fruit picking but a lovely café and grounds.
Also worth a detour is the wonderful 41degrees South Salmon and Ginseng Farm, an ecologically sustainable farm producing the most delectable hot smoked salmon and other salmon-y treats. We fed the fish in the pond and stocked our cooler bag for our night of self-catering at Cradle – it was well worth the trouble.
A little further along in Chudleigh is the Melita Honey Farm, stocking an overwhelming array of honey products. One for the kids for sure. We perked up with one of the honey icecreams and weren’t sorry for stopping.
Last stop for provisions before Cradle Mountain is the Mole Creek General Store. Had we been better organised we could have arranged more elaborate provisions, but a packet of pasta and sauce was just the ticket for preparing easily in our cabin.
Arriving at Cradle Mountain mid-afternoon, we checked into our cosy wooden cabin at Cradle Mountain Highlanders. There are fancier digs about, but for my money, this was the very best and had the perfect feel for a stay at Cradle. Great value, as were the Country Breakfast provisions we ordered – there were enough eggs, amazing local bacon, mushrooms, tomatoes, bread and so on to eat for dinner AND breakfast, and all were truly delicious.
No need to leave the cabin for meals with that kind of fare – though Cradle Mountain Lodge had pub meals which we availed ourselves on the first night after a few tramps on the short trails that start from the Lodge. These are lovely, easy rainforest walks (around 30minutes each) and the perfect introductions to the park.
Throughout our stay we were visited by lovely wildlife – including a pademelon with a joey in her pouch at the cabin, and an absolute menagerie as we were leaving Cradle Mountain Lodge – a gorgeous wombat, kangaroos and echidnas.
All accommodations on Cradle Mountain are located outside the National Park, except the walkers’ huts of course which are for folks doing the Overland Track from Cradle to Lake St Clair of vice versa, which require a stay overnight in the National Park. Hats off to those folks – we aren’t quite rock and roll enough for overnight trekking at this point – other places to see and all.
That said – some of the day walks are not for the faint hearted, and they are spectacular. It is possible to do one big day-long walk from the start of the National Park to the picture perfect Dove Lake – or to do this walk in stages – which is what we tackled, doing the more epic sections earlier in the morning, and the more leisurely boardwalked sections later in the day. Each section takes you through the incredibly varied terrain of the park.
There is a shuttle bus that runs between the start and finish of various stages, and driving a car on the narrow roads of the National Parks is not recommended. Some of the drivers are local characters – one of whom managed to recite all the species of venomous snake in the Park – after we had completed the walks.
We are by no means the fittest people, but we felt pretty proud of ourselves for completing quite a few of the sections, and we had the most gorgeous cool summer day in which to undertake our expedition.
In the longest drive of our journey, we headed east from Cradle Mountain to the sea. Probably not the most ideal route to be taking, but it set us up nicely for the remainder of our travels.
If I had my time again, I probably would have broken our journey somewhere else but was keen to get to the Bay of Fires area, where I hadn’t been before. In addition, our night in St Mary’s turned out to have a few unexpected gems despite it being a very small town which is, I think it fair to say, well past its prime as a former mining town.
After checking in to our accommodation, we headed to St Helens and Binnalong Bay, about 30 minutes out of St Marys, for fish and chips at Captains Catch and sightseeing.
The Bay of Fires area is reknown for the beautiful colour of the water on sunny days – the opposite of our day – which was overcast and while we were at the beach a thick sea fog rolled in – in what seemed like only a few minutes. This actually made for a beautiful atmosphere and some gorgeous photos, particularly of the characteristic rocks covered in red lichen.
Back in St Marys we stayed in a very pleasant B&B – Addlestone House – run by an avid photographer and former West Australian, Peter Troode. Peter offers free portrait photography as part of a night’s stay at the B&B, which is lovely and he and Alok traded plenty of tips and stories during the evening.
Unfortunately the best café in town, the Purple Possum, was closed for the Christmas period when we visited, so had to content ourselves with the local pub. Suffice to say it wasn’t the best meal we ate in Tasmania, but we shared a bottle of wine and a few laughs with another couple who were staying at our B&B – so the evening wasn’t a total loss. Details
A short drive down the coast on Christmas Eve delivered us to our Christmas destination – the beautiful Freycinet coast and our accommodation was our ‘splash out’ for the trip – delightful cottages by the sea at Eagle Peaks. Our appreciation of the beauty of the area was immediate, with the gorgeous view of the Hazards from the town of Coles Bay, where we were staying.
Arriving early in the day, we promptly set about collecting the fixings for Christmas feast on a pleasant drive around the area and to the nearby town of Swansea. Oysters and freshly cooked crayfish from Freycinet Marine Farm were to be our centerpiece, with local wines and of course, raspberries from Kate’s Berry Farm for dessert.
Before sunset, we headed to Freycinet National Park for a walk to the lighthouse, and after dinner at the Freycinet Lodge, Alok enjoyed a guided Whiskey tasting which allowed for scholarly (or not so scholarly) study and comparison of three Scottish whiskeys with some Tasmanian boutique varieties – very worthwhile for the whiskey lover.
Christmas Day dawned and it was our plan to tackle the walk to renowned Wineglass Bay in the morning before tucking into our fabulous looking lunch. Arriving at the start of the walk – we registered and began what signs warned as one of the more strenuous walks one can do in Tasmania.
First stop – Wineglass Bay Lookout. Not being a mountain goat, this was a bit of a challenge with plenty of steps – but after a relatively short but intense climb we were at the lookout with other hikers, for our first glimpse of the perfect white arc of the bay.
We decided to take the downhill stretch to the Bay itself – although downhill, there isn’t the best path down to the bay and also requires some stamina, but it was certainly worth it for the glaring white powdery sand and kangaroos bouncing around.
We were about to trek back, when on cue, a pod of dolphins frolicked and played with swimmers as they made their way across the bay – a great sight.
We then had a choice to make. Struggle back up the path we came down on – a shorter but steeper route, or take the four hour round trip back to the carpark on the longer walk of several beaches. Seemingly less steep, we chose the latter – completely unprepared for how arduous that walk would be.
While there were some lovely sights on that walk, none compared to Wineglass Bay. When we arrived back at our vehicle, we were well tired, hungry and deserving of Christmas Lunch – which we enjoyed all the more for having endured what could only be described as an epic trek.
The following day we were due to drive down to Port Arthur, but not before our final view of Wineglass Bay – this time from the air. Freycinet Air is a rather indulgent but fabulous way to get the full appreciation (and the best photos!) of Wineglass Bay. Affording spectacular views of the Bay and the Hazards, the flight includes some informative commentary about the indigenous and pioneering history of the Freycinet coast. We chose a 45 minute joyflight over the peninsula and Schouten Island.
Continuing down the east coast with great views of Maria Island, we arrived early enough in the day at Port Arthur to take our time at the historical site.
I have been to Port Arthur a couple of times and both times have been unsettled by the beauty and eeriness of the place. The site of one of Australia’s first penitentiaries – it has a devastating and violent history. Admittance includes a brief walking tour with one of the excellent historians and there are a range of other tours available throughout the day where stories of the site and personal histories are shared.
While possible to do on a day trip from Hobart, staying overnight in the area allowed us to have a meal at the restaurant on site, and then do the famous ghost tour, complete with lanterns.
Overnight we stayed at some clean, good value villas with waterfront access, Abs By The Bay.
After an early departure from Port Arthur, heading toward Hobart we called in to the Sorrell Fruit Farm, in – you guessed it – Sorrell. We enjoyed plum fruit picking weather (boom boom) – with a bounty of different varieties of cherries, berries and apricots ready for our baskets. Laden with fruity goodies, we rolled into Hobart and our accommodation very close to Constitution Dock so that we could enjoy the festivities there over the forthcoming days.
We were not disappointed – our first walk the following morning saw us in the thick of the Sydney-Hobart winning action as the winner, Wild Oats XI came in. Over the days that followed we enjoyed the fantastic Taste of Tasmania festival – with its celebration of the island’s food, from Tempura mushrooms, to seafood, to local wines and beers with tasty bar snacks.
We were also in town for the Salamanca markets, full of crafty and tasty goodies from around the island in atmospheric Salamanca Square.
After our shopping we took a drive through the fertile Huon Valley – famous for its orchards, the Tahune Airwalk and some cute towns.
See also our ‘Must Do’ list for Hobart here. We stayed at the Old Woolstore Apartments -
With accommodation a little tight in Hobart around this time of year, we broke up our stay with a fantastic stay at a B&B in Kettering, about a 45 minute drive from Hobart. Rosefield is a beautiful small farm with gorgeous gardens and geese, donkeys and llamas bobbling around. The owners of Rosefield, having previously lived in Asia, have decked out the gorgeous rooms with antiques from their travels and do a great breakfast spread. We liked the place so much we decided to spend the whole afternoon there relaxing, before heading to nearby Peppermint Bay for dinner.
Kettering is the departure point for the Bruny Island Ferry – a vehicle ferry which we took the next day to Bruny Island. Bruny Island is actually more like two islands joined by a narrow isthmus known as ‘The Neck.’
Bruny is known for a range of beautiful produce, and not least Bruny Island Oysters which were probably the best I have tasted, and Bruny Island Cheese which, as well as a range of unique cheeses sells other providore-y type goods beloved of foodies.
We also joined a Wilderness Cruise involving inflatable speedboats which head out into the Southern Ocean in search of rough cold seas, wildlife and spectacular coastline. We found all three. But a pretty hair-raising ride saw us up close with a Sea Lion colony straight out of the pages of National Geographic.
After our ferry back to Kettering, we headed back to Hobart for our final two nights. This time we stayed in Rosetta at one of the older motels in the suburb. Although the motel had seen far better days, it was convenient to the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) in the nearby suburb of Berriedale.
We set aside all of the following day to check out MONA, including a lovely breakfast at the restaurant there, Source. MONA is an extraordinary building – unlike any other art gallery I have ever been to and perhaps not for the claustrophobe – given it is largely built underground. We worked our way through this underground maze, exploring the provocative collection for several hours.
Being New Year’s Eve, we returned to the city for the evening – again to Constitution Dock – where we spent a couple of hours wandering and watching the early “kids” version of the fireworks as we had our early flight to catch the following day.