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.
Image credit: Michael Treloar
Day 1: Hobart to Port Arthur
1hr 31min | 101km
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 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 Travelodge Hotel Hobart or the RACV Hobart Apartment Hotel, just a 10 minute drive from the city centre.
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 at NRMA Port Arthur Holiday Park at Stewarts Bay State reserve, which was awarded the Gold Medal in the 2017 Tasmanian Tourism Awards.
Day 2: Port Arthur to Freycinet
3hr | 206km
Drive 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.
You’ll probably want to stay a couple of nights here. Freycinet Lodge has waterfront cabins and Richardsons Bistro. Saffire Freycinet is a luxury lodge with a superb restaurant. Tombolo Freycinet at Coles Bay has good pizza.
Day 3: Freycinet to Launceston
2hr 9min | 167km
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 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. Then take a rest at Peppers Seaport located in the Seaport Precinct, in the heart of Launceston or stay at Hotel Grand Chancellor Launceston located in the historic district.