Abroad: Tasmania, Australia

“There was this different quality to the light even only four days past the shortest day; the shift, the reversal, from increase of darkness to increase of light, revealed that a coming back of light was at the heart of midwinter equally as much as the waning of light” –– Ali Smith, Winter

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Tasmania is Australia’s southern-most state. Separated from the mainland by the Bass Strait (named after British explorer George Bass after he and Matthew Flinders passed through it circumnavigating the island) and nestled safely in the Tasman sea, it is the home of fauna, flora and natural attractions as unique again as those found in Australia.

It’s the land of the screaming devil, of stocky four-legged creatures that seem to have outlived prehistoric times, of rocks as red as fire and of seas as clear as to be beyond imagination.

Spanning 364 kilometres (226 miles) from north to south, and 306 kilometres (190 miles) from east to west, it is Australia’s second-smallest state (bigger only than the Australian Capital Territory, which was contrived in the early Twentieth Century to house the nation’s constructed capital) and tempts us to leave a mere weekend to tick it off our list of Australia must-sees.

It’s the land of the screaming devil, of stocky four-legged creatures that seem to have outlived prehistoric times, of rocks as red as fire and of seas as clear as to be beyond imagination.

We recommend visiting for longer than that, however. For our recent road trip, we afforded ourselves five days: this is our guide to discovering the best of Tasmania in just under a week.

Day 1: Hobart, Freycinet & Bicheno

Having flown into the capital the night before, we wake early on Saturday for a taste of the treats offered up by the well known Salamanca Market in Hobart. We taste juicy locally-grown apples, drink strong freshly-ground coffee and pick up trinkets to impart the joy of travel on our nearest and dearest. With little time to spare, we’re back in our hire car within a couple of hours and ready to set off towards the east coast. If you’re not planning to head away from the capital as hastily as us, we can’t recommend enough Hobart’s Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), a dazzling wonderland that travels through some of the most striking and controversial art ever made.

Next on our itinerary: Freycinet National Park, a two-and-a-half-hour drive north-east from Hobart. We pick up an entry pass for $24 (£14), park up, and walk for just over an hour to the Wineglass Bay lookout to grab a coveted snap of one of the most picturesque beaches in the world. Feeling adventurous, we opt to take the two-hour tumble down to the white sand beach itself, marvelling at the fineness of the sand and the clarity of the water we find there. An encounter with a relaxed wallaby makes the tough pull back up to the main path all the more worth it.

Exhausted but happy, we jump back in the car and head north up the coast to check into a beautiful A-frame cabin at Bicheno By The Bay in the seaside town of Bicheno. We still have time to experience Bicheno Penguin Tours, meeting a dozen nesting fairy penguins in their natural habitat, and indulge in some tasty local food and wine before heading to bed.

Day 2: Bay Of Fires & Launceston

Bicheno Blowhole is as good as any wakeup call as any when you’re planning to get back on the road early. After exploiting the exhilarating photo op, we head north up the coast to visit Binalong Bay and the Bay Of Fires, named for the Aboriginal fires spotted by English naval officer Captain Tobias Furneaux when he sailed past back in 1773. This area of national park is characterised by rocks as fiery in colour as the area is in name and, like Freycinet, the sea here is crystal clear and the scenery nothing short of breathtaking.

We’re aiming for Launceston today, so around lunchtime it’s time to turn west and head inland for three hours to get to Tasmania’s second city (named after Launceston in Cornwall, but pronounced Lawn-cess-ton rather than Launston, as we would at home). Our stomachs rumble, and we stop at Pub In The Paddock in Pyengana for a bite to eat on the way. We’re only half full, so can’t resist paying a visit to Pyengana Dairy Company to peruse at the local cheeses and indulge in a sneaky cream tea at their Holy Cow Cafe. It’s a must for self-professed foodies and anyone wanting to get a sense of the area’s best produce.

Launceston is all old architecture, trendy bars and small city vibes.

Launceston is all old architecture, trendy bars and small city vibes. We revel in catching a folk music session at Royal Oak Hotel, delight in trying local craft beer and irresistible fried chicken at Saint John and are pleased to stay at Ashcroft Apartments, taking comfort in the spa bath and homely touches they offer.

Day 3: Liffey Falls & Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park

It’s a three-hour drive from Launceston to Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park in the centre of Tasmania. After an early morning visit to Launceston’s Cataract Gorge (highlight: its Victorian playground), we head to Liffey Falls and, gaining distance from the sunny coast, find ourselves in increasingly snowy conditions as we head towards the mountains. Well before darkness descends, we pull up to our accommodation for the next two nights: Pumphouse Point luxury wilderness retreat in the heart of the Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park. Snow is sprinkled on top of the mountains surrounding the lake and sets off magnificently the industrial Pumphouse and Shorehouse buildings that make up the retreat. We’re greeted by Pumphouse Point staff, purchase entry to the national park ($24/£14) and are shown into our beautiful room in the Shorehouse. After a walk around the edge of the lake where we meet a (very nearly) friendly wombat, we enjoy free mulled wine followed by a shared-table dinner with fellow guests ($55 pp) and local wines, before a much-needed early night.

Day 4: Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park & Pumphouse Point

We are lucky to be staying in the Shorehouse at Pumphouse Point so we’re able to just tumble downstairs to the dining room below for a delicious highland breakfast of fresh toast and marmalade, bottomless hot tea and coffee, and assorted rustic mueslis and artisan meats and cheeses.

We’re able to just tumble downstairs to the dining room below for a delicious highland breakfast of fresh toast and marmalade, bottomless hot tea and coffee, and assorted rustic mueslis and artisan meats and cheeses.

Stomachs full, we pack ready to embark on a walk around Lake St Clair, ordering hot crusty bread from the Pumphouse Point kitchen to add to our picnic of Tasmanian cheese, prosciutto, herby olives and dry cider. Pumphouse lends super backpacks for just such a jaunt, complete with enamel plates and cups, and any cutlery we might need. The walk takes us over snowy tracks and on frosty walkways over which we can discern fresh prints left by small animals.

The view of Pumphouse Point seems unbeatable from any angle, and we marvel at the wonderful immersive experience of this beautiful mountain landscape the place has afforded us. The rest of the afternoon is dedicated to playing scrabble in front of the fire, plucking Tasmanian Wine from the honesty bar and concocting a feast of bread, cheese and meat for a rustic dinner later on.

Day 5: Tahune Forest Airwalk

We can’t leave Pumphouse Point without experiencing the brief tour that’s on offer to let us in on a bit of the history of the place (after that generous breakfast, of course) and learn of the Pumphouse’s original use and how it became the retreat it is today. The five-story pumphouse was built in the 1930s to harness the energy of Lake St Clair for Tasmania’s Hydro Electricity Scheme, engineered to pump water from the lake to the nearby St Clair Lagoon and feed Tarraleah Power Station as required. An example of money thrown at a soon-to-be-redundant project (all too common in recent Australian history, it seems), the pump quickly fell out of use but was protected out of historical interest. Seven decades later, and Australian tourism developer Simon Currant looks across Lake St Clair and imagines the site’s potential for hosting unique wilderness accommodation. The rest, they say, is history.

Before long, we’re back on the road, and determined to make the most of our last day in Tasmania. We drive south through Tasmania for nearly four hours to Tahune Forest AirWalk, which promises ‘spectacular views’ in a wander through secluded tree canopies. It’s quite the detour, and only just worth it, but does give us relief in the form of a leg-stretch and opportunity for fresh air.

We drive a further hour-and-a-half north east back to Hobart, with a bit of time to spare (we wash and vacuum the hire car after braving those snowy passes) before returning to the airport for a late night flight to Sydney.

Tasmania leaves a sense of wonder in us: we had found ourselves leaving sunny beaches to travel through snowy passes, and traversing road after road to eventually find some winter sun again.

Find out more ☞ discovertasmania.com.au

–– Rosie PentreathAugust 2018.

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Tasman Bridge, Hobart © Rosie Pentreath
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Salamanca Market, Hobart © Rosie Pentreath
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Hobart scenes, Tasmania © Rosie Pentreath
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Hobert harbour, Tasmania © Rosie Pentreath
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Hobart, Tasmania © Rosie Pentreath
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Wineglass Bay, Freycinet National Park © Rosie Pentreath
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Wineglass Bay, Freycinet National Park © Rosie Pentreath
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Bicheno Penguin Tours, Tasmania © Bicheno Penguin Tours
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Bicheno Blowhole, Tasmania © Rosie Pentreath
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Bay Of Fires, Tasmania © Rosie Pentreath
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Bay Of Fires, Tasmania © Rosie Pentreath
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Cataract Gorge, Launceston © Rosie Pentreath
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Liffey Falls, Tasmania © Rosie Pentreath
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Pumphouse Point, Cradle Mountain-St Clair National Park © Rosie Pentreath
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Wombat at Pumphouse Point, Tasmania © Rosie Pentreath
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Picnic at Pumphouse Point, Tasmania © Rosie Pentreath
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Pumphouse Point, Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park © Rosie Pentreath
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Pumphouse Point, Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park © Rosie Pentreath
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Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park, Tasmania © Rosie Pentreath
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Tahune Adventures AirWalk, Tasmania © Rosie Pentreath

Soundtrack To This Post: ‘Big God’ By Florence + The Machine

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