Taking in Tassie: six things you never knew about the Apple Isle
October 14, 2018 • Jaclyn Riley-Smith
9 min read
Brace yourself. I have some shocking news. Tassie has been keeping a few secrets from the rest of Australia. Having explored this island for the last six months, during summer and winter, I can tell you that there are few things you might not have known about that ‘little’ island down under, the land down under.
It’s cold…but it’s not that cold
Really! It’s just not. Sure, hike to the top of Mt Wellington in July and it’s not balmy (and you may get blown around a bit) – but the way most Australians carry on about freezing old Tassie, you would think it was Antarctica. It is true that is closer to icebergs than say – Darwin… but it’s not that close. Even at the southernmost point of Tassie, at the 43rd parallel – you are still – marginally - closer to the equator than to the south pole.
It’s colder in the Blue Mountains and Southern Highlands (just out of Sydney) and Canberra than it is most places in Tassie. Plus – it’s also colder in lots of North America, Europe, Asia (ie a pretty large chunk of the populated world).
What you do get in Tassie, is a crisp (mostly clear) and cosy winter, and lovely mild summer. Far from being an icy wasteland, it is actually great weather for getting outdoorsy – hiking, biking, riding, camping, kayaking – with the added bonus in some of the mountainous areas, of getting to throw a snowball now and then.
Sunrise at Bruny Island
And even when it does get a little bit chilly…well, enjoy it! All the better for cosying up in front of a fire and drinking some Tassie pinot noir, and wearing uggies. Some perks of life down at the end of the earth.
It’s not that wet either
I had always pictured Tassie as drizzly and cold. Now that I have seen it through the changing seasons, I have realised the colder months are nothing to be feared. And it’s not all that rainy either. In fact, Hobart is the second driest capital city in Australia. True, as I am typing this it is bucketing down and I have just had to rescue things flying around outside in the gale force winds. But it’s not like that every day – and generally, there are far more clear blue skies than there are doom and gloom.
Bay of Fires
It’s also not that small
I had always thought Tassie was tiny. I mean – look at it on the map, it’s dwarfed by that colossal mainland. Sort of like – do we even need a car? Couldn’t we walk around most of it in a day? Ah no. Definitely not. Tasmania is just a bit smaller than England. In fact - the tiniest state in Australia is still bigger than more than half the countries in the world.
It’s just small enough that you can base yourself down south, or on the east coast or up in the north and get plenty of day trips in from the one spot. But you also wouldn’t be short of things to do and see, and eat, and drink, if you stayed here for a month, two months – or just decided to pack up and ship your family down here for good (I say from personal experience in the whole family relocation situation).
Also, the twisty, turn-y, windy and often steep and narrow roads mean it takes longer to get 100kms than it would on a four-lane highway on the mainland. Which is great - because why would you want to rush this?
The beaches are incredible
Huh? You don’t necessarily associate Tassie with beach lounging, pina colada sipping, island paradise – but let me bust let another myth. Not only is it not extremely cold in winter, but it’s also truly magical in summer. And jumping into the turquoise water isn’t too much of a shock to the system (between November and March that is…I’d say you’d get a few goosebumps/hypothermia going for a paddle in July), with the water temperature not (much) noticeably colder than the bottom of WA or far South East NSW coast beaches.
It’s a bit more rugged than other island paradises. The beaches aren’t developed, resort-y or crowded (though unfortunately, this means they are also usually lacking in readily available tropical cocktails). Many of the best beaches require a fair hike to get to, but then – with all that delicious cheese and wine on offer down here, it’s nice to get those leg moving.
Some are wild and end of the earth. Great for walking along and feeling windswept and free (Bruny Island, the North West coast, and Stanley are good for this). Others are white sand and turquoise water perfection (Freycinet, Bay of Fires, Tasman Peninsula and Boat Harbour are some of my faves for this kind of idyllic beach action).
The top of The Nut
It’s kind of like one big national park
About 40% (heaps right?!) of Tasmania is reserved as national parks. And about one-fifth of the island is world heritage listed wilderness. World heritage basically means that some of the most important people in the world have decided that somewhere is one of the most special places in the world and needs to be protected so it can stay special for the whole world to enjoy for even longer. Yep, that’s a big chunk of Tassie. World class awesome-ness.
Best free camping in Australia
Whether you’re in a caravan, campervan, camper trailer, tent, or carrying everything on your back – up a mountain, by a river, on the beach, in the bush, on a farm, or at the pub (especially at the pub actually – many town pubs have space out the back for campers) there are plenty of camping options all over Tassie. And a lot of them are free! Even at the campgrounds where you do pay, you generally get value for money, with cosy camp kitchens and great facilities. It is a camper’s delight.
Pack some warm clothes and sleeping bags though. When I said it wasn’t that cold – it still gets quite chilly at night. Which makes the campfire that extra bit cosy.
Hobart from the top of Mt Wellington
So why aren’t there more people down here? It’s partly an indication of what an incredible country this is, where such an incredible part of that country can so easily be overlooked – sometimes in the shadow of the (slightly) warmer spectacles. But mostly I think that Tasmanians have been perpetrating this whole desolate outpost at the end of the earth myth… so they can keep it all to themselves! Well played Tasmanians, well played.
Confession: I may be a little biased here. After having sold our house and quit our jobs in Sydney, we travelled around Australia for a year, on the lookout for a new home. We did a pretty thorough investigation and have decided, in all the wonderful places in this wonderful country, that Tasmania was THE most wonderful. It had never been on our radar, due to the superb Tasmanian efforts of keeping all these treasures so well hidden behind myths of cold, desolate, end of the earth-ness. But once we got here and discovered it for ourselves, we realised there was no better place for us to pull up stumps.
But even though we have decided to stay put a while – the great thing about Tassie is that we still get to feel like we’re travelling because most weekends we’re out exploring and discovering even more of the island’s secrets.
Ok – so now you know all that, and just how lovely a spot Tassie is generally – what is there to do, specifically?
You have probably heard about Cradle Mountain, Port Arthur and Wineglass Bay. These are definite highlights. Absolute must dos. But there are other more hidden treasures to enjoy.
First of all – get yourself a decent feed. Which isn’t hard to do with so much locally produced organic dairy, seafood and meat products, fruits and vegetables often sold at the local farmers’ markets. Not to mention the wineries and growing (and award-winning) whisky and gin industry. YUM
Then – go exploring!
If you’re into vertigo, drive up Jacob’s Ladder in the Ben Lomond National Park for some ear popping action as you ascend Tasmania’s highest road…and try not to freak out as you look what’s outside your car window. Nothing - that’s what. Nothing but air…and clouds. It is high. And steep. And amazing when you get to the top.
Stroll around the historic village of Stanley, and trek to the top of the ‘Nut’ (or catch a chairlift – if you’re feeling a bit lazy after all those fish and chips you gorged on down at the jetty), a sheer-sided bluff – which is the remnant of an ancient volcanic plug. Check out the spectacular views across Bass Strait beaches and over the town, and you may just spot some seals or penguins.
The Edge of the World
Peer over the “Edge of the World” (that’s its actual name) on the west coast. Named because after this stretch of coastline there is nothing for the next 15000 kilometres except the wild Great Southern Ocean. Enjoy some true end of the earth-ness in this untamed and rugged landscape.
Visit the clear mirror waters of Lake Pedder, which together with neighbouring Lake Gordon have the largest inland freshwater storage in Australia (about 30 times bigger than Sydney Harbour). At the end of the road in Strathgordon, walk across Gordon Dam. If your knocking knees will let you – it’s very, VERY, high. Or even abseil down if you’re brave enough – and claim bragging rights to having conquered one of the highest rappels in the world.
Walk to the southernmost point in all Australia – South Cape. Actually, walk anywhere – check out the 60 great short walks or some of the more epic multi-day treks through the wilderness. Work off some of that wine and cheese!!
It would take more than one little article to cover all the amazing-ness of Tassie – 6 months in and we’re still discovering more delights. The mountains, the coast, the rivers, the bush, the waterfalls, the hiking, the kayaking, the fishing, the history and the natural beauty. You may just have to hightail it down here and check it out for yourself. But do it quickly – before the rest of the country catches on to Tassie’s secrets!