• Day 2: Port Arthur to Freycinet
• Day 3 (or 4): Freycenet to Launceston
The ultimate Hobart to Launceston drive, taking in Port Arthur and Freycinet
It’s a bit of a toss-up as to what’s the biggest attraction on the Apple Isle’s spectacular east coast between the natural beauty of its beaches and forests, the history of its colonial past intruding into the present at every opportunity, and its abundant fresh produce. You can choose on a leisurely four day drive from Hobart to Launceston.
Explore HobartThere is a lot going on in Australia’s southernmost capital. Top of your hit list should be what is possibly the nation’s most eccentric art gallery, the Museum of Old and New Art or MONA. It’s only 11km out of town, but it’s much more pleasant way to ride on MONA’s camouflaged (don’t ask) ferry up the Derwent River. If your wallet is feeling healthy, you can even stay on-site to live and breathe the art at the luxurious Mona Pavilions.
Another attraction worth a look is the Salamanca Market, every Saturday (8.30am-3pm) on the historic waterfront with all the usual suspects – art, craft, food, fresh local produce, music. Also check out Mount Wellington – you can’t miss it – for the view and/or exercise, and the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens, Australia’s second-oldest, to learn all about the hardy Huon pine, unique to Tasmania. Good spots to eat on the waterfront include The Drunken Admiral and the Lower Deck at Mures for seafood, Smolt for a Spanish/Italian-influenced menu and Ball & Chain Grill for a quality local steak. Cafes are everywhere including Pilgrim Coffee and Honey Badger Dessert Cafe. Republic Bar & Café is great for pub grub and live music.
Get a bed for the night (or two) on the waterfront at The Henry James Art Hotel, where the walls are a shrine to Tasmanian artists; the Salamanca Inn, Best Western Hobart, or The Old Woolstore Apartment Hotel or Hobart Cabins & Cottages, just a 10 minute drive from the city centre.
Day 1: Hobart to Port ArthurFollow the Tasman Highway out of Hobart and across the Tasman Bridge to Sorell, known for its fruit. Get some at Sorell Fruit Farm then turn on to the Arthur Highway for Port Arthur. The road winds through tiny hamlets, forest and farmland past pretty beaches. Stretch your legs at Eaglehawk Neck and if you’re up to venturing further into the Tasman National Park, an hour’s hike or a short drive will get you to the spectacular Tasman Arch, Blowhole and Devils Kitchen. Nature doesn’t get much more ruggedly imposing than this.
The World Heritage-listed Port Arthur Historic Site is a sprawling penal settlement dating back to 1833 (the prison was built in 1853). Australia’s most intact convict site, many of the buildings are in good repair and tours (starting at 9am daily) give visitors a feel for how harsh and brutal life here was for those early convicts. Check out the dockyard, museum, interpretive gallery and convict study centre then take a short boat ride to the penal cemetery on the Isle of the Dead. Site entry tickets cover two consecutive days so if you stay locally you can absorb the area at your leisure.
Stay… Port Arthur Villas offer self-contained apartments with a garden and barbecue, while Port Arthur Motor Inn has a restaurant.
Day 2: Port Arthur to FreycinetDrive back up the peninsula to Copping where you can turn right onto Kellevie Road, which takes you through forest and the hamlet of Nugent to join the Tasman Highway at Buckland. Stay on the highway through Orford to the port of Triabunna, where you can catch a ferry to Maria Island National Park, which has a convict settlement site, rugged scenery and an amazing collection of wildlife, including Tasmanian devils, wombats and little penguins. The fare includes park entry and you’ll need a good three hours to explore the island.
Driving along the coast with vistas over Great Oyster Bay towards Freycinet Peninsula and the Hazards, the next stop is Swansea, one of Tasmania’s oldest towns. The Bark Mill Tavern, Bakery and Museum is a good one-stop shop for food for thought and lunch/afternoon tea, while Kate’s Just Desserts offers coffee, delicious scones with jams made from her Berry Farm produce plus handmade chocolates.
On the right just past Freycinet Vineyard Cellar Door at Apslawn – which has a picnic area, food for sale and wines by the glass – is Coles Bay Road. Follow it along the shores of the Moulting Lagoon Game Reserve past Freycinet Marine Farm, which harvests Pacific oysters, blue mussels, abalone and scallops daily. Eat some there or take your “catch” away.
Just down the road is the entrance to Freycinet National Park. The granite peaks of the Hazards provide a dramatic backdrop to bluer-than-blue bays. Stroll on the postcard-perfect white sands of Wineglass Bay or hike through the bush. Go kayaking, swimming or wildlife spotting. There are wallabies everywhere and you might be lucky enough to sight a white-bellied sea eagle – or a southern right or humpback whale taking time out in the bay.
Stay… You’ll probably want to stay a couple of nights here. Freycinet Lodge has waterfront cabins and Richardsons Bistro. Big4 Iluka On Freycinet Holiday Park has cabins, caravan and camping sites. Saffire Freycinet is a luxury lodge with a superb restaurant. Tombolo Freycinet at Coles Bay has good pizza.
Day 3 (or 4): Freycinet to Launceston
Rejoin the Tasman Highway north of Apslawn and head for the coast and the fishing and holiday town of Bicheno. If you’re not suffering wildlife overload yet, East Coast Natureworld’s residents include Tassie devils, wombats and penguins. Bicheno also has a blowhole and great diving offshore in the Governor Island Marine Reserve. The Douglas Apsley National Park conservation area is just out of town and has still more wildlife and a waterhole.
It’s 60km north to Chain of Lagoons where you turn inland onto the A4 to climb over Elephant Pass. Perhaps reward yourself with a pile of Mount Elephant Pancakes – “the best in Australia – at the top of the pass. From the old coalmining town of St Marys, follow the A4 through the bucolic farmland of the Fingal Valley beside the South Esk River to hit the Midland Highway just south of Cleveland (no, not that Cleveland).
Heading north, make a short detour to the historic town of Evandale. Clarendon House is a beautifully restored colonial mansion set in 7ha of parkland on the banks of the South Esk River. Managed by the National Trust, it’s a choice spot for a Devonshire tea. The Ingleside Bakery Café in Evandale does a Swagman’s lunch.
From Evandale, it’s a paltry 20km into Launceston. Depending on your cultural needs, check out the Queen Victoria Museum & Art Gallery or the James Boag Brewery, which offers tours, tastings, and lunch. Have a relaxed stroll round Cataract Gorge just 15 minutes from town, or keep driving north for another few minutes to get intimately acquainted with the wine and cheese – and fruit, salmon, truffles, olives – offerings of the Tamar Valley, which stretches 50km from Launceston to the coast.
If you decide to eat in town, try Stillwater, Hallam’s Waterfront, Black Cow Bistro or Burger Got Soul.
Stay… Get your head down at Big4 Launceston Holiday Park, Peppers Seaport or Hotel Grand Chancellor Launceston.