It doesn’t take long after landing in Hobart, the capital, to grasp that Tasmania is a pocket version of Australia—if Australia had been preserved in amber like an insect a few generations back instead of having transformed itself into the state-of-the-art destination that it is today.
Indeed, everything that happens on “the mainland,” as Tasmanians call Australia, takes time to arrive on this hardy island. Australians endearingly refer to the island as “Tassie,” a place that not many calendar pages back was an afterthought to the neighboring island continent that draws visitors by the boatload and plane full.
It was a backwater spot, the small dot in the sea that eyed Australia covetously as the northwest tourism colossus often seemed to be running amok with polished suburbs, shopping centers and crowded beaches. Australians shrugged Tasmania off the same way that Canadians mock Newfoundland. No more.
Some travelers will find Tasmania as refreshing as the Antarctic winds that habitually blow up from the bottom of the world to give the island its exquisite weather. Tasmania is a destination of stunning, retiring beauty. It has raised the tourism ante with first-rate accommodations, alluring attractions, and exceptional cuisine. It’s where refinement coexists blissfully with a rugged natural ecosystem, although one of the more distinctive Tasmanian allures is its lack of crowds.
Upon landing, those with only a shallow understanding of Tasmania will, in all probability, scratch their heads and ponder the inevitable question: “Okay. I’m in Hobart. What do I do?”
According to John Fitzgerald, chief executive of Tourism Tasmania, visitors won’t lack for singular activities and adventures and will regularly leave wishing their stay had been longer.
“Tasmania displays the traditional character and special appeal of a remote island destination with friendly locals, a
creative spirit, unique wildlife and a range of world-class recreation and tourism experiences near the major cities,” he says.
On the surface, the island has that inimitable, patently rugged Australian quality and gives the impression of having been custom-made for the Field & Stream set.
“Tasmania is a hiker’s paradise, with around 1,800 miles of managed walking trails and a number of award-winning walking tours that take guests through rainforests, alongside alpine lakes and streams, across mountains or coastal cliffs or along white sandy beaches,” Fitzgerald adds.
Anglers will delight casting their lines after what Fitzgerald says is the “purest strain of wild brown trout on the planet”—descendants of dyspeptic trout relocated from the United Kingdom about 150 years ago and still thriving in icy Tasmanian streams.
Golfers will perk up when realizing that—according to Fitzgerald—Tasmania “is home to two of the top 100 golf courses that are often lauded as being the best outside Scotland.”
And if that weren’t enough, he adds, visitors “will enjoy our fresh produce, seafood, cool climate wineries, single malt whiskies, beer and ciders—all of which are achieving worldwide acclaim for their handcrafted quality.”
Hobart’s Museum of Old and New Art (MONA)—a cutting-edge complex in a cutting-edge city—has given Hobart a fresh reputation as a sophisticated destination of art and refinement.
The museum has helped spark interest in Tasmania by offering an unconventional display of the world’s most infamous and stimulating contemporary art and is regularly regarded as a “must-see.”
The outskirts of Hobart are dotted with out-of-the-way restaurants and inns in quaint farming villages like Woodbridge and Cygnet. Visitors wanting to get away from it all will delight in the remoteness of Tassie’s favorite escape hideaway on Bruny Island, a short ferry ride away from Hobart.
Those who prefer to drive will find a circuit around Tasmania to be one of the most scenic road trips anywhere, rivaling California’s Big Sur or Maine’s craggy coastline. Memorable historic sites along the way include the convict fort near Port Arthur, a UNESCO World Heritage site that crowns a bluff and is best appreciated during a hike or from the sea on a number of cruises from Port Arthur.
Places like Maria and Freycinet national parks on the eastern coast simply astonish with perfect half-moon bays and beaches so white they look like they were frosted with sugar.
Oenophiles will find the Tamar Valley, just beyond the mountains from Port Arthur, to be an undiscovered pinot noir dreamland. Beyond the valley lies Stanley, a village that gives new meaning to the word “lovely.” The most distinctive Stanley landmark is The Nut, the plug from a dormant volcano rising about 450 ft. to a flat top, accessible by a trail or a chairlift at the base.
And how does one go about selling this surprising destination?
Candice Heckel, product manager at Down Under Endeavours, an elite group of retail travel agents of the Premier Specialist Program for U.S. and Canadian travelers, based in Chicago, says, “Tassie is a great place for those interested in wildlife, outdoor activities, food and wine, local history and culture. Since it is a very diverse state, with a lot to offer, it is best suited for clients who have the time to explore. I recommend a minimum of four to five nights in order to get a good overview of what it has to offer.”
According to Heckel, Down Under Endeavours “specializes in FIT programs. Tasmania is wonderfully suited for this type of client. It is a great destination for self-driving. Beautiful scenic roads are easy to navigate. It is also very accessible, with multiple direct flights from Sydney and Melbourne to its two major hubs, Launceston and Hobart.”
Most travel books maintain that it’s possible to see the whole of Tasmania in one week, but locals chuckle and invariably ask, “Why the rush?” After only a few hours, travelers realize that Tassie doesn’t lend itself to a hectic pace—and that may be its strongest selling point.
Tasmania has no lack of accommodations that range from the humble to the sublime. Saffire Freycinet, about two hours removed from Hobart, is one of its most storied hotels. It’s a low-key, elegant property. The hotel offers a 2-night package (from approximately $1,400 dbl) that will appeal to those passing through while exploring the Tasmanian coast.
Nearby, Stewarts Bay Lodge (from about $330 pp dbl) is an award-winning property offering a small number of cabins, all with decks, consisting of one to three bedrooms. All the cabins face two dazzling bays, Stewarts and Ladies Bay, and have easy access to hidden coves below on the rocky beach. The view is to be expected—after all, the resort is almost hidden between a beach and a forest. It’s the preferred accommodation for those who come to enjoy classic Tasmanian hikes like the Cape Hauy Walk, from where one can see seascapes unlike any others.
Days spent in Tasmania seeking either adventure or sheer relaxation will be underlined by a stay at Dragonfly Lodge (from about $750 per night dbl), a luxurious base about one hour from Hobart on the island’s East Coast. Dragonfly is a boutique lodge of only three well-appointed suites. Its rural setting gives it a sense of privacy and isolation and it’s the preferred resort for those who seek wildlife viewing and astounding surroundings.
It is easy to reach Tasmania via flights from Sydney or Melbourne. Qantas, Virgin Australia and Jetstar all offer several daily flights from about $136 one-way.
family fun with adventures by disney
Andrae Gill, Adventures by Disney’s associate manager of marketing and sales strategy, says that Tasmania is “gaining in popularity because the destination has managed to capture the public’s imagination. We saw that trend about two years ago and managed to capitalize on it.”
Bruce Austin, regional manager, trip operations for Adventures by Disney, says the company “includes Tasmania as a core component, so that the price of all internal flights are covered on the price of the tour, making it accessible to guests touring Australia.”
Heather Killingbeck, director of program development and operations, adds that the company came upon offering Tasmania as a destination because “we listen to what our guests tell us and review that information every quarter and we realized Tasmania is a much sought-after destination.
“Since it’s close to Antarctica, Tasmania has weather similar to Northern California’s,” she says. “Of course, we cater to a different clientele, as we are the only tour company offering family travel to Tasmania. One must bear in mind, however, that since Tasmania lies in the Southern Hemisphere, its seasons are reversed. An excellent time to travel is during Christmas vacation. Summer is in full bloom down there and children are out of school in North America.”
Adventures by Disney offers the 12-day Australia tour featuring Tasmania. Dates run June through December in 2014 and rates are from approximately $7,749 pp; children rates are slightly less.
The tours include activities that delight travelers of all ages, including kayaking on Coles Bay past pristine sandy beaches over crystal-clear waters, to guided hikes in Wineglass Bay, one of Tasmania’s most scenic spots. There are visits to berry farms, lawn bowling and wildlife viewing at Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary to catch sight of rare and exotic creatures like the Tasmanian devil and the shy Tasmanian bettong. Wallabies, koalas, echidnas, wombats and others abound.
tour operator intel
According to Ian Swain, president of Swain Tours, “Tasmania is one destination in Australia that offers its visitors a complete experience. Whether you’re looking for a dynamic adventure, a colorful city experience or a more laid-back getaway, Tasmania is home to it all.” He emphasizes that Tasmania is not all wilderness adventure, as it “also caters to the luxury market with Saffire Freycinet.”
Swain adds that this property is a spectacularly designed lodge nestled among pure natural beauty, “providing an experience you wouldn’t expect to find within such uncharted landscapes.”
He also likes Villa Howden, another luxury boutique property about 15 minutes from Hobart. “It has breathtaking overwater views and stunning manicured gardens. It is a beautiful and ideal base for exploring the region.”
Swain offers the 10-night Discover Tasmania (from about $1,765 pp), which showcases the abundant wildlife, deserted beaches, rugged mountains, wild rivers and beautiful rainforests of Tasmania.
“As clients self-drive through Tasmania, they’ll get a taste for all the iconic cities like Strahan, Hobart and Freycinet.”
In addition, Swain offers a variety of unique experiences such as wilderness flights into Southwest Tasmania, coastal wildlife eco-adventures to Bruny Island, national park touring in Cradle Mountain and treks into the Tasmanian forest.
According to Swain, Bruny Island is notable for the artisan cheeses and sweets produced there, as well as for the fresh seafood gleaned from its waters. “The dining experiences in Hobart and the luxury lodges are unmatched,” he adds.
(800) 227-9246; swaintours.com
Cathy Holler, Travcoa’s v.p. of business development and product innovation, calls Tasmania “the quintessential vacation destination—featuring spectacular coastal scenery, rainforests, mountains, indigenous wildlife, authentic rural culture, a fascinating history including old penal settlements, exceptional wineries, and wonderful, hospitable locals.”
She adds that the island “can easily be enjoyed as a stand-alone vacation destination, or as an extension to an Australian vacation.”
Travcoa features three independent journeys spotlighting Tasmania, each including luxury accommodation and private guides.
One is Tasmania, Authentic by Nature (from $6,695 pp dbl), a 7-day itinerary combining the history and topography of the island with wildlife and nature experiences. It also includes visits to wineries and interactions with locals. In March 2014, Travcoa will offer Oceania & the Southern Seas by Private Jet, a magnificent tour that includes Tasmania. The journey is a 22-day escorted private jet itinerary that includes iconic destinations in Oceania traveling in utmost luxury. The tour is priced from $69,950.
(800) 992-2003; travcoa.com