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Tasmania: An Introduction

Claire Ellis

Tasmania: An Introduction

Claire Ellis

Tasmania, actually an archipelago of more than 300 islands, is ideal to explore by ship. As one of the world’s most mountainous islands it has a breathtaking rocky coastline that shows its dramatic role in the separation of Australia from Antarctica many millions of years ago. Also, because the island is relatively small, in contrast to mainland Australia, journeys from port to port are overnight.

Expeditions via ship to Tasmania will often include the northwest coast and the picturesque fishing village of Stanley, the beautiful east coast and Freycinet Peninsula, Maria Island, the Port Arthur Historic Site, and Hobart and the chance to see the island’s unique wildlife, including the rich array of endemic bird life.

A new experience in the far northwest corner is the Dismal Swamp, an intriguing ecotourism adventure. Travelers can explore one of the largest sinkholes in the world, formed over thousands of years by dissolving dolomite. The forest within the sinkhole is thick with endemic Tasmanian timbers—blackwood, myrtle, tea tree, sassafras, native laurel, and giant man-ferns. Walk a maze or take a 160-yard slide into the sinkhole.

In the hills behind the tiny city of Burnie are lush meadows and hidden streams where the elusive platypus can be spotted. Within Burnie have the chance to visit the Creative Paper Mills and see artists at work, or to learn the story of the local Aborigines at the Tiagarra Aboriginal Center.

The journey east and south down the coastline passes unspoiled and uncrowded beaches with names such as Bay of Fires, The Gardens, Binalong Bay, Chain of Lagoons, and Friendly Beaches, until reaching the pink-granite peninsula of Freycinet National Park and the aptly named Wineglass Bay. This perfect half-moon beach is listed as one of the top ten beaches in the world by Outside magazine. Go ashore and walk this beautiful bay and coastal region. Later, in nearby Coles Bay, kayak or explore the beaches and the national park’s interpretation center.

From Freycinet the journey heads farther south to Maria Island. The whole island is now a national park, and its history is a microcosm of Tasmania. French explorers first documented Aboriginal customs here; the British created one of Tasmania’s first jails; and then in the late 19th century an Italian entrepreneur tried to create a Southern Hemisphere Arcadia with vineyards and a silk factory. Now Maria Island is one of the foremost places in the state to see wildlife, including Cape Barren geese and Forester kangaroos.

Continuing south, the views change to steep, dark dolerite cliffs that form narrow, cathedral-like columns, and the cliffs at the mouth of Port Arthur Harbor are said to be some of the tallest in the world. To sail into the harbor is to relive the journey made by thousands of convicts transported to Van Dieman’s Land almost 200 years ago. Today, Port Arthur Historic Site is a picturesque village set on manicured lawns, and tells a fascinating Australian story.

The coastline from Port Arthur to Hobart shows a different beauty, and the wide Derwent Estuary frames the path up the river to Hobart, guarded by Mount Wellington. Hobart is much more than Australia’s second oldest city. As the capital, it offers the best of amenities, but with a relatively small population, it is free of a larger city’s usual woes. It is unpolluted, easy to explore by foot or car, and it takes only 15 minutes to be out in the countryside. It also has some of Australia’s best colonial architecture, which makes for a beautifully proportioned city profile. Salamanca Place is right beside the harbor and is a perfect spot to wander and stop to browse for anything from fine crafts to fine wines. From Hobart there are many exploration opportunities, including a local wildlife park where resident naturalists present such species as wombats, possums, and endemic birds.

Photos: Copyright, Zegrahm Expeditions