Written by: Matt Newkirk
Destination: Tasmania, Australia
Visited: March 2019
The island of Tasmania is located just 150 miles south of mainland Australia, separated by the Bass Strait. If you are planning a trip to Australia to see the natural wonders of the continent down-under, Tasmania is a stop that is not to be missed. The Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Areas include virtually all of the western portion of the island state and encompass nearly 20% of Tasmania as a whole.
We picked up a cheap rental car in the Hobart, the capital city, and headed to the Kmart to gear up for some tent camping on the cheap. For around USD $50, we managed to pick up a 4-person tent, air mattress, two camp chairs and a soft-sided cooler. Camp stoves were available for about twenty bucks, but we opted out, knowing that there were many great day use areas that we could cook our meals at for free.
From what I’ve seen over the past eight days we have spent exploring Tasmania, a tent is the way to go. The tent camping sites in Tasmania have been some of my favorites in all of Australia so far. Tent sites are secluded and scenic, especially compared to many of the caravan sites which tend to be in big gravel parking lots, where you get to know more than you care to about your neighbors. Some facilities have been lacking at times, but this has been more than made up for by the stunning natural beauty around our camp.
Do be sure to gear up for cold weather, as we quickly learned, Tasmania tends to be significantly colder and wetter than the mainland of Australia. With the addition of a couple extra pairs of long socks and some cheap beanies, we managed to sleep comfortably in our cheap 20-degree mummy bags that we brought from home. There were also decent bags at Kmart for around USD $30 if you need to buy one on-the-spot.
You can reach Tasmania by taking an eleven-hour ferry from Victoria Australia, but we opted to catch a cheap flight from Melbourne to Hobart on Tiger Air for around USD $50 each to save some cash, as we were only going one way.
Sunrise near Mole Creek, Tasmania
About 40% of Tasmania’s population lives in Hobart, which is the least populated capital city in Australia, with only around 225,000 people calling it home. It was originally founded in 1804 as a British penal colony, but today it is a charming city with a small-town feel, situated right on the estuary of the Derwent River.
Hobart is the best place to gear up for your Tasmanian adventure, with no shortage of wilderness outfitters, grocery stores, and retail shops. As we soon discovered, most of Tasmania can be a bit remote and you can go a while without seeing a good place to buy supplies, so it is a good idea to stock up before heading out of town.
Mount Roland, Tasmania
If you are looking for a cheap place to camp while visiting Hobart, check out Eldee Camp Spot which offers nice camping with excellent facilities, including a plush indoor camp kitchen and a dam for swimming for only $10 per person per day.
The Echidna is a close relative of the platypus, Mount Field National Park
Located just 65 kilometres northwest of Hobart, Mount Field National Park was our first overnight stop in Tasmania. The small park offers some great hiking trails, and great opportunities to see some of Australia’s unique wildlife.
This Tasmanian Pademelon was hanging out in our campsite
The campground in the park was hands-down our favorite spot to stay during the six weeks that we spent in Australia. Sites are located along a beautiful river, which supposedly is home to several platypus, although we did not spot them during our stay. In the early-morning and late-afternoon, Tasmanian Pademelons (the smallest member of the kangaroo family) wandered freely through the campsites nibbling on the grass, and bushy-tailed possums patrolled the area for food once the sun went down. The camp-kitchen and toilets were well-maintained, and there was even a coin-operated laundry. Bill and Kathy, the campground hosts were friendly and welcoming, while maintaining an orderly camp.
Once the sun goes down, be sure to take the short walk to the Glow Worm Grotto from just behind the visitor center. The short 1 km walk, guarded by scores of ornery possums, leads into the dark forest where you will find a small information sign and a railing to follow in the dark. You will need to turn off your flashlight and give your eyes a few minutes to adjust to the darkness while following the wooden railing by feel. Before long, you will be able to see the long strands of light shining from the glow worms that hang from the ferns and trees. The “glow worms” are not actually worms at all, but rather the larval stage of fungus gnats, who build long strands of silk which they can illuminate at will. The walk only takes about an hour and is a truly magical experience.
One of our favorite hikes at Mount Field National Park, this 4-hour walk takes you past three different waterfalls, and through the “Tall Trees” grove. The trail is lined with tall ferns and ancient eucalyptus, making it look like a set from a Jurassic Park movie.
The Tall Trees circuit, located about halfway along the trail, leads through some the oldest and tallest swamp gum eucalyptus trees in Australia. Reaching heights of over 300 feet, the swamp gum eucalyptus is the world’s second tallest tree, and are only surpassed in height by the California giant redwoods. Some of the tallest trees in the grove were alive in 1642 when Tasmania’s name sake, Abel Tasman, first sighted the island.
Ferry terminal at Lake St. Claire
Covering an area of 17 square miles, and with a depth of over 500 feet, Lake St. Claire is Australia’s deepest lake. The Lake St. Claire National Park is a great stop as you work your way north to Cradle Mountain. The park features a nice old lodge, built in 1930, on Cynthia Bay and adjoining campgrounds. The tent sites are a bit pricey at AUD $30 per night, but the facilities are clean and comfortable.
We hiked the Shadow Lake Circuit from the visitor center. The 7.5-mile trail winds through moss-covered forests over rough and rocky terrain to Shadow Lake. It is a nice walk, but the rocky trail can be a little hard on your ankles.
Almost every camper that I met in Tasmania was either coming from, or going to, Cradle Mountain National Park. Located in the central highlands region of Tasmania, the park encompasses roughly 625 square miles of alpine meadows, jagged rocky outcrops, and vast fields of buttongrass, giving visitors a huge variety of landscape to explore. It is also the start of the world-famous Overland Track which allows experienced hikers to traverse the park’s wilderness over six days in the bush. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time, or the right equipment, to do the full Overland Track, but we were still able to get some great day hiking in while visiting the park.
You can’t drive your car directly into the park without special permission. From the Visitor Center, busses which run every ten minutes from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm shuttle hikers to four stops within the park to access the trailheads. The shuttle is included with purchase of a multi-day Tasmanian National Park Pass.
Hikes in the park range from short nature walks, to the 6-day Overland Track. For more information to assist you with planning your Cradle Mountain visit, check out the trail planner.
View of Crater Lake on the way to Marion's Lookout
The hike to Marion’s Lookout offers some stunning views of the jagged peaks of Cradle Mountain. It takes about three hours round-trip and departs from Ronny Creek Parking Lot. The steep walk starts out deceivingly easy as you walk through vast, gently sloping, hills covered in buttongrass on an elevated boardwalk, but quickly changes pace as the trail makes its way up to the mountain pass, past alpine lakes and up steep steps carved into the rock. The view from the lookout makes the challenging climb worthwhile. This is also the start of the Overland Track, so you will be sharing the trail with a lot of hikers heading into the bush.
From Marion’s Lookout, you can continue to the steep summit trail which passes along high alpine grass meadows, and eventually veers straight up the side of cradle mountain, where the trail disappears and light bouldering is required to reach the top.
The Tasmanian National Park Service does not offer car camping inside of Cradle Mountain National Park. There are a few private cabins available, but they were out of our price range. We opted to stay just 30 minutes away at Mole Creek Karst National Park Campground. The campsites at Mole Creek are beautifully secluded in the thick vegetation surrounding the creek. The only facilities are a single, seedy-looking, pit toilet, so it is pretty much just bush camping. There are better toilets and a nice camp kitchen at the nearby King Solomon’s Cave Day Use Area. If your are feeling up to it, the creek offers a great swimming hole.
King Solomon's Cave
The highly decorated cave gets its name from the abundance of calcite crystals that cause the walls of the cave to sparkle like the legendary treasure that give it its name. First discovered in 1906, the cave quickly became a tourist sensation. In the early days, visitors were lowered down a narrow entrance by rope, where they could marvel at the stalagmites and stalactites formed over centuries by trickling, mineral rich, ground water as it dripped from the cave’s ceiling. In those days well-to-do socialites would tour the cave in full formal attire and finish with a roast dinner. Today, there is a small doorway which leads visitors into the cave from the surrounding forest, and no meals are provided. The 1-hour tour is AUD $20, and well worth a look.
Camping on Coles Bay, Freycinet, Tasmania
Located midway along Tasmania’s east coast, Freycinet National Park features scenic bay overlooks, surrounded by bumpy red granite rock outcroppings. The surrounding area is home to several wineries and even an oyster farm, making this a great place to spend a few days during your visit to Tasmania.
The 5-6 hour hike begins by climbing through the rocky red granite rocks surrounding Cole’s Bay. Once you reach the top of the pass, if weather permits, you are rewarded with sweeping views of the bay below (we were not so lucky, and thick fog obscured the bay when we reached the summit). From the Summit, the trail loops around to Hazards Beach, where shell mounds provide evidence of the aboriginal village that was once located there. The hike continues along the ocean through thick forest, and back to the car park.
Devil's Corner Winery
Offering an ample selection of pinots, chardonnays, and even two sparkling wines, Devil’s Corner Winery is just a short 20-minute drive from Freychinet National Park. The cellar door offers free tastings of each of their delicious wines, a variety of snacks for sale, and a lovely view of Moulting Lagoon, which is located just below the vineyards. Bottles range from AUD $20 all the way to $65.
Pick up some oysters at Freycinet Marine Farm
The oyster and seafood farm is a great place to stop for some fresh and delicious seafood. Oysters are available shucked for AUD $22/dozen. They also offer a tour of their oyster farm for AUD $80/person. We picked up some oysters to enjoy with the wine we bought from Devil’s Corner, but the tour seemed a bit pricey just to watch them pull oysters out of the bay.