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Things to Do in Tasmania

Good food, great wine, and more than three million acres of UNESCO World Heritage–listed wilderness beckon travelers to Tasmania, a place that was once considered a form of punishment to visit. While Port Arthur’s 19th-century penitentiary ruins evoke an eerie sense of Tasmania’s convict past, those who visit the island today have a great amount of freedom, especially when it comes to planning an itinerary—or choosing from numerous tours that expertly explore the Island of Inspiration. Want to experience the island’s natural beauty? Hike up or bike down Mount Wellington, the landmark of capital Hobart; cruise past ancient rain forests on the Gordon River from Strahan; or day trip to Freycinet Peninsula National Park, home to Wineglass Bay’s white-sand beaches and pristine waters. If you’re feeling cultural, head to the Hobart waterfront for a taste of its up-and-coming culinary and craft-beer scenes; visit the Salamanca Place weekend market; spy cute colonial buildings along Battery Point; or admire Aboriginal artwork at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery. No matter your home base, opportunities for day tours abound: Bushwalk through the unspoiled wilderness of Cradle Mountain from Launceston or Devonport; head offshore to wild Bruny Island from Hobart for surf, sun, and the chance to spot wallabies, penguins, and migrating whales; or head to the Tasman Peninsula to witness the Tasmanian Devil Unzoo’s namesake critters, kangaroos, and native birds.
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Freycinet National Park
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One of Tasmania’s most popular coastal holiday spots, Freycinet National Park is backed by the pink-tinged granite outcrops known as the Hazards.

Low-lying coastal heathland frames views of blue sea and sand throughout the park, with the Hazards looming large in the distance. Bushwalkers head here to follow coastal trails along the peninsula’s secluded coves, and the park is a popular holiday camping spot for families. The park’s white-sand beaches are beautiful but top marks always go to perfectly formed Wineglass Bay, which often appears in travel top 10s as one of the world’s most gorgeous beaches. It really does have a circular wineglass shape, fringed by white sand and untouched bushland.

Birdwatchers come to Freycinet to spot seabirds, and you might see cockatoos, wattlebirds and wallabies on the two-hour return walk to the lofty lookout over Wineglass Bay.

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Port Arthur Penitentiary
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There was once a time when visiting Port Arthur was akin with a sentence to death. Isolated on a scenic peninsula and facing the Tasman Sea, the famous and feared Port Arthur Penitentiary was where the worst of the worst of Britain’s convicts were sent to live out their days. Though not all convicts were sentenced to death, the harsh working conditions and manual labor were enough to drive convicts to literal insanity and commit murder for an early, death sentence exit.

For all of its grisly history, however, Port Arthur today is a sprawling historic site that’s been restored and preserved as the best example of Australia’s convict past. At the iconic Penitentiary building, gaze upon the concrete ruins where 480 convicts and prisoners spent days filled with toil and misery. The penitentiary ruins are rumored to be haunted, and with the eerie, abandoned exterior that the penitentiary exudes, it’s an historic, authentic representation of the darker days of Port Arthur.

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Cataract Gorge Reserve
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Launceston’s ruggedly beautiful Cataract Gorge is a popular highlight for visitors, combining dramatic natural landscapes and Victorian-era landscaping right on the edge of the city.

The reserve is surrounded by wild natural parklands, and near-vertical cliffs soar alongside the South Esk River as it enters the Tamar River.

Hikers and rock climbers head here to follow picturesque walking trails along the gorge’s northern bank, and the open-air swimming pool becomes a mini lido in summer, surrounded by beach umbrellas and sunbathers.

With picnic grounds, restaurant, kiosk, cafe, wandering peacocks, scenic lookouts, a lofty suspension bridge and walking trails, you can easily spend a day here. At night the gorge is beautifully floodlit, and a chairlift whisks visitors over the river to West Launceston.

Before Launceston’s hydro dam was completed in 1955, the waters here were channeled to create electricity.

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Bruny Island
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Outdoor activities, fishing and relaxing are your reasons for coming to Bruny Island, off Tasmania’s south-east coast. Two north and south islands joined by a long narrow isthmus, Bruny is a favorite destination for weekending Hobart residents and visitors wanting to escape the rat race.

Along with surfing and exploring the wild windswept coast, spotting wildlife is a highlight of a visit to Bruny Island. If you’re lucky, you might spot penguins, echidnas, mutton birds and cormorants.

The vibe is low-key on Bruny, with no resorts just holiday homes and guesthouses. There are a few shops for supplies and a museum detailing the history of the island and the explorers who came here, from Bligh to D’Entrecasteaux. The lighthouse is one of the island’s few landmarks.

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Cradle Mountain
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Cradle Mountain is a world-famous wild and beautiful World Heritage area of glacial mountains, pristine lakes and legendary hiking and bushwalking. This unique slice of Australian wilderness also protects ancient rainforest and alpine heathlands.

Day visitors can take day walks at Cradle Valley and Cynthia Bay, but it’s the 65km (40-mile) Overland Track that gets hikers especially excited by Cradle Mountain. The six-day, five-night epic walking track winds through eucalypt forests and across alpine moors. December to April is the optimum time to walk the track, providing wonderful glimpses of alpine wildflowers.

Shorter walks include the two-hour Dove Lake Loop Track through rainforest, an eight- to 10-minute stroll along the Visitor Center boardwalk rainforest walk, and the 20-minute exploratory walk to historic Weindorfer’s Chalet, once home to the park’s founder Gustav Weindorfer. Rangers also lead guided walks and provide talks and kids activities.

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Port Arthur
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Tasmania’s number one visitor attraction is the former convict settlement of Port Arthur, a ghostly and eerie heritage area just outside Hobart. Built to reform and rehabilitate convicts, Port Arthur was a key part of convict discipline within the Colonial system whose philosophy was "a machine for grinding rogues into honest men." Today, the site is part of the Australian Convict World Heritage Sites and UNESCO World Heritage Site listed.

Covering about 100 acres (40 hectares), the crumbling ruins of the penal settlement include the Penitentiary, the Separate Prison, the Dockyard, the Port Arthur gardens, the Coal Mines Historic Site, Cascades Female Factory and Gothic church.

The stories of Port Arthur are told in many different ways. Interactive displays tell the tragic story of the 12,500 convicts who served time here from 1830 to 1877, and after-dark ghost tours reveal the presence of the site’s many ghosts.

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Cascade Brewery
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For beer tastings and a glimpse inside a historic brewery, book a tour of the 180-year-old Cascade Brewery, the oldest in Australia. The 1.5-hour tours of this Gothic brewery include tastings and insights into the brewery process, plus lots of stair-climbing to work up a thirst.

Dress comfortably but safely to tour the brewery, wearing long trousers and flat shoes, rather than sandals. After the tour, take a wander around the brewery’s large landscaped gardens or relax in the cafe. Cascade brews premium lager, barley blonde-style beer, stout and pale ale, and the label features the trademark Tasmanian tiger.

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More Things to Do in Tasmania

Mt. Wellington (Kunanyi)

Mt. Wellington (Kunanyi)

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Standing sentinel over Hobart, Mt. Wellington is known by locals simply as ‘the Mountain.’ A visit to the Pinnacle is an essential Hobart experience.

At the Pinnacle you’ll find a glass lookout building and boardwalks. In every direction the views of Hobart, all the way to the sea, are incredible.

The weather can change very abruptly up here, and it’s often freezing or can even be snowing when fair Hobart Town is experiencing mild weather.

If you’re feeling active, come to Mt Wellington to go bushwalking, bike riding, horse riding or rock climbing, or pack some lunch to enjoy at the sheltered Springs picnic area.

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Gordon River

Gordon River

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The Gordon River is as beautifully remote as one could hope a river would be. Beginning in the highlands of the central plateau that dominates inland Tasmania, the riverbank is devoid of any residents along its 117-mile path. Instead, the entire length of this tea-colored river is part of the Tasmanian World Heritage Wilderness Area, a forested expanse of raw wilderness found on the western side of the island. Many of the trees set along this riverbank are nearly 2,000 years old, and as if the beauty couldn’t get any more stunning, the rolling profile of the surrounding hills is often reflected in the river waters.

When visiting Strahan on Tasmania’s west coast, one of the most popular activities is to spend a day on a Gordon River cruise. Plying the waters of the lower reaches of the river, it’s easy to imagine what it must have been like in the early 1800s, when the nearby prison at Sarah Island housed some of Australia’s most fearsome convicts.

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Cape Bruny Lighthouse

Cape Bruny Lighthouse

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Cape Bruny Lighthouse is situated on Bruny Island in Tasmania and is the second oldest lighthouse tower in the country. Commissioned by Governor George Arthur following a series of mishaps and shipwrecks just off Bruny Island, the lighthouse took two years to build by convict labor and was first lit in 1838.

Technological advances in the 1980s and 1990s meant that the Cape Bruny Lighthouse was lit for the last time on 6 August 1996 and replaced by a solar powered light nearby. In December 2000, the lighthouse was declared part of the South Bruny National Park. Visitors should be prepared for rough roads and a steep walk to reach the lighthouse, although you’ll be well rewarded on arrival; with some fantastic views out to sea, migrating humpback and southern right whales have been spotted from this vantage point.

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Lake St. Clair

Lake St. Clair

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Reaching depths of nearly 700 feet, not only is Lake St Clair the deepest lake in Australia, it may very well be the most beautiful. Set at an elevation of 2,400 feet, this cobalt lake and its forest-lined shores make up the aquatic pearl of Tasmania’s Cradle Mountain-Lake St. Clair National Park. The distant peak of Mt Olympus towers above the shoreline as visitors dip their toes in the cool waters,. Though not as tall as the park’s Mt Ossa (which, at 5,400 feet, is the tallest mountain in Tasmania), the jagged spire of Mt Olympus manages to dominate the lakeshore’s skyline.

Besides the lake, the entire area is famous for housing some of the best hikes on the island. The six-day Overland Trail has its southern terminus here at Lake St Clair, and hikers who have just completed the 40-mile trail are often found on the ferry that crosses from Narcissus Bay to Cynthia Bay

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Hummock

Hummock

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Whether it’s settling in for a sunset viewing of Bruny Island’s Little Penguins, or climbing the 273 steps up towards the Truganini Memorial, visiting the famous Hummock Lookout is a highlight of Bruny Island. At this windswept promontory overlooking Bruny Island Neck, visitors can get a panoramic view of the thin isthmus of white sand that connects the two parts of the island. Penguins are most commonly sighted on this shoreline between the months of September and February, and since they’re officially the world’s smallest species of penguin, there’s an undeniable cuteness factor to watching them waddle ashore. During sunny periods in the middle of the day, it’s possibly to make out the Tasmanian Mainland across the D’Entrecasteaux Channel, and visit the memorial at the top of the stairs that’s dedicated to the last known, full-blooded Tasmanian aborigine to live on the island.

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Hobart Salamanca Market

Hobart Salamanca Market

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What was once a rundown warehouse and storage unit on the waterfront of Hobart has since become one of the most-visited destinations in the city. More than 600,000 people visit Salamanca Market for its fresh fruit, organic produce, and handmade craft stalls each year. Its trendy bars, quiet cafes and inventive restaurants attract food-lovers from around the area, making it a uniquely Tanzania experience. Salamanca’s popularity has caused it to grow rapidly from 12 vendors in 1972 to more than 300 in 2010. As a result, there’s something for everyone at this once-a-week market that brings the best of Hobart together.
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Gunns Plains Caves

Gunns Plains Caves

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You can thank a possum for introducing humans to Gunns Plains Caves, which were discovered by a local Tasmanian hunter when he chased the possum into a hole and instead emerged in a cave. While we’ll never know if he actually found the shrewd, cave-dwelling possum, what we do know is that in only 12 years it went from being an unknown cave to a popular Tasmania State Reserve, established in 1918. When you first descend down into the cave, the subterranean , water-carved beauty is instantly seen in the calcite shawls and large, shimmering flowstones. The sound of water trickling across limestone can still be heard in the cave, and crayfish, eels, and even platypus still splash in the underground river. During daily tours of Gunns Plains Caves, guides will point out the different formations that have slowly formed over time—from the Wedding Cake and Golden Fleece to others with comical, spot-on names that closely fit their appearance.

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South Bruny National Park

South Bruny National Park

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Cascades Female Factory Historic Site

Cascades Female Factory Historic Site

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This all-female prison is one of 11 places that make up the Australian Convict Sites World Heritage Property. Between 1788 and 1853 approximately 25,000 women—and even some of their children—were held in one of Cascade’s five structures. High rates of illness and infant mortality, as well as grim conditions led to tragic ends for many of the inmates who were forced to sew and mend to repay their debts to society.

Three of the five original buildings are open to the public, so visitors can see the heavy stone walls and thick metal bars that held so many women captive. The Matron’s Quarters in Yard 4 provides travelers with details about the lives of civilians who were charged with punishing and reforming Cascade’s wayward women. This female factory is a fascinating introduction to Tasmania’s role in convict transportation for Great Brittan.

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Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary

Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary

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Experts at Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary have been nursing some of Australia’s most-beloved creatures back to health since 1981. When the park first opened, its team of passionate volunteers worked tirelessly to provide orphaned wildlife, like its family of 17 Tasmanian devils, with a safe home and adequate care in a near-to-natural environment. For more than 20 years the sanctuary has continued to promote its mission of reducing rates of extinction by raising community awareness.

Visitors to Bonorong get a guided explanation of the sanctuary’s rehabilitation efforts, as well as a real-life lesson on the impact of wildlife conservation while on a tour of the grounds. Guests of the park can also get up close and personal with Australian animals by feeding one of the largest mobs of free-range kangaroos and wallabies in the world.

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Russell Falls

Russell Falls

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Richmond Village

Richmond Village

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In the Coal River Valley, the historic town of Richmond is one of the most popular visits in Tasmania. Known for its 19th-century Georgian buildings and cottages that are today home to galleries and teashops, boutiques and museums, the small town is half an hour from Hobart by bus. Richmond began life in the 1820s as an important military staging post and convict station that linked Hobart with Port Arthur. Known for its excellent restaurants and for its wines grown in the fertile soils nearby, wine-tasting tours of the surrounding vineyards are a popular daytrip. The town’s most popular photo stop has to be the picturesque Richmond Bridge. The oldest stone bridge in Australia, it looks straight out of Stratford-upon-Avon, but it was actually built by Tasmania’s convict workers in 1825.

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Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens

Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens

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The Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens opened in 1818 and its impressive collection of indigenous plants, trees and unique Asian-inspired gardens span some 35 acres of scenic countryside. Perhaps the garden’s most unusual exhibit is the Subantarctic Plant House, which displays plants from the remote Macquarie Island. In addition to environmental conditions that mimic the wild, audio from the island—like sounds of Elephant seals and penguins—is also piped throughout the space, giving visitors a full sensory experience.

After wandering the grounds, relaxing by the lily pond or exploring the French Memorial Garden and Fountain, stop by the Royal Tasmanian’s restaurant, which sources produce from its very own vegetable garden for a truly Tasmanian farm-to-table experience.

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