Tasmania Road Trip: Planning Tips and Our Nine-Day Itinerary

Road Trip Tasmania: Planning Tips and Our Nine-Day Itinerary

Welcome to the updated post on our Tasmania road trip! If you aren’t already aware, Tasmania is the smallest and only island state of Australia, located 240km (150 miles) off the country’s southern coast; and its unique geographical situation means two things.

First, being cut off from the rest of the country has protected much of its wildlife from the evils of the dingo — an animal which has, according to most tour guides in Australia, destroyed everything that was ever good and pure on the mainland (though let’s be real, they had plenty of help from the European settlers).

Second, Tasmania is often overlooked by visitors, because people either forget about it entirely, or don’t feel like making the effort required to get there. And that’s fair enough. Australia is huge, spread out, and hardly inexpensive; if you’re on a tight budget or limited timeline, it makes sense that Tasmania would be one of the first things you’d drop.

But hey: that’s a decision you’ll have to make by yourself. All I can do is share why, when, and how *we* chose to visit Tasmania, and what we did during our time there.

After that, you’re on your own.

Click a heading to jump to that part of the post.

Our trip at a glance
Planning your visit to Tasmania
      – How to get there
      – When and how long to go
      – Renting a campervan + self-driving
      – The national parks pass
Our nine-day itinerary
      – Days 1 + 2: Tasman Peninsula, Port Arthur
      – Day 3: Freycinet National Park
      – Days 4 + 5: Bay of Fires, Liffey Falls, Deloraine
      – Day 6: Cradle Mountain-Lake St. Clair National Park
      – Day 7: Rosebery to Hobart
      – Days 8 + 9: Hobart

Exploring the Tasman Peninsula on a road trip around Tasmania

Our trip at a glance

• Time spent in Tasmania: 10 nights
• Transport used: Rented campervan
• Kilometers covered: 1,085 (1,746 miles)
• Accommodation used: Mostly camping (in a campervan), plus a few nights in a hostel in Hobart
• Places Visited: Tasman National Park; Port Arthur; Freycinet National Park; Bay of Fires; Liffey Falls; Cradle Mountain-Lake St. Clair National Park; Hobart.

Planning your visit to Tasmania

How to get there

We flew from Melbourne to Hobart, which takes around 75 minutes. You can also fly into Launceston, Tasmania’s second-largest city, though there are slightly fewer flights per day than there are to Hobart.

Another option is the ferry, which departs from Melbourne and arrives in the northern town of Devonport. That takes much longer (around nine hours) but is necessary if you want to bring your own vehicle from the mainland to Tassie. For more info, see the Spirit of Tasmania’s website here.

When and how long to go

Summer (Dec-Feb) is high time on Tasmania, for obvious reasons. Autumn and winter will be quieter, but do keep in mind that Tassie is probably the coldest part of Australia, and plan (and pack!) accordingly.

We visited in late April. The nights were pretty chilly, but the days were usually clear, sunny, and warm enough for a single layer. That being said, we also encountered snow in the west, so don’t let that fool you. Be prepared for conditions to change, sometimes very quickly.

Regardless of season, remember to consider holidays. Though the island was pretty quiet for most of our visit, our first weekend was rather busy due to Easter (which is a four-day event in Australia, with public holidays on both Good Friday and Easter Monday). Also, some of the more popular national parks require advance bookings depending on the time of year, so plan ahead if you want to be sure of having a spot.

Active and outdoorsy people could easily spend weeks exploring Tassie. As someone who appreciates nature in more limited doses, the nine days we spent were just about perfect. At minimum, I’d recommend a week (excluding the days you leave and arrive), but of course it depends on what, exactly, you’re looking to do. For a bit more guidance, check out our itinerary below.

White sand and orange-dappled rocks -- Bay of Fires, Tasmania

Renting a Campervan + Self-Driving in Tasmania

We rented from Tassie Motor Shacks, and had a great experience with them overall: friendly service, everything in proper working order, and no issues to speak of. They also provided transport from our accommodation to the rental office, and back again after we returned the rental (always a nice touch).

We chose a campervan largely because it was a bit too cold for us to camp in a tent in April. As it was, we just about froze our tails off most nights. The rental fees and fuel costs are higher than renting a car, but between national parks and free camping, I think we shaved a few bucks off our total cost. Camping in the national parks is far cheaper than in holiday/caravan parks, especially if you plan on visiting those anyway and purchase a pass. (See note on the National Parks Pass below.) There are also several places around Tassie for free camping, so bring or buy a shovel* if you want to take advantage of those spots.

Driving after dark is highly discouraged throughout rural Australia, largely due to the danger of hitting wildlife on the roads. If you’re traveling in the summer, that probably won’t hinder you too much (light lasts till 10pm in December); but during our trip, that meant we had until about 4pm to reach our destination before sunset. If you plan on covering a lot of ground in a short time, you’ll want to get an early start and plan accordingly.

In general, I would recommend planning short distances per day, to give yourself time for any unexpected delays and, of course, any spontaneous stops or detours.

* Yes, that’s to dig a hole for your poo. Make sure you know how to properly dispose of your waste if you plan on camping in areas without toilets. Actually, I recommend checking out this page on Leave No Trace even if you aren’t planning to free camp. It never hurts to be prepared, and some of the info also applies to other outdoor activities.

The National Park Pass

Tasmania is home to 19 National Parks, covering around 45% of its land area. If you plan on visiting a few — whether to hike, camp, or for any other reason — it might be worth purchasing a National Park Pass. As an example, the “Holiday Pass” gives you unlimited entry to all of the parks for 8 weeks at a cost of $30 per person or $60 per vehicle — actually a bargain when you consider the per-person day entry fee is $12. (Prices are current as of January 2018.)

You can learn more about the different passes available and how to purchase them here.

Trees and plant life below a mountaintop -- Dove Lake Circuit walk, Tasmania

What to Do in Tasmania: Our Nine-Day Road Trip Itinerary

Day One: Hobart to Tasman National Park (~80 km)

From Hobart, we set out south towards the Tasman Peninsula (they really got creative with that name, eh?). On the way, we made a stop at the Tasmanian Devil Conservation Park, which has apparently now rebranded as the Tasmanian Devil Unzoo.

Tasmanian Devil Tasmanian Devil

Unfortunately, the Tasmanian devil population is currently facing some very serious risks — namely, a fatal and highly contagious facial tumor disease. At the park, staff will provide more information about the disease, its effects, and conservation efforts being made. They’ll also share some basic facts about the animals and their way of life. (If you’re squeamish or a vegetarian, you might want to skip the feeding demonstration — a couple of devils play tug-o-war with a bit of wallaby to tear it apart, and they spend an extraordinary amount of time making sure nothing of the animal is left behind.)

Aside from Tassie devils, you can see a few other animals at the “unzoo,” including wallabies, kangaroos, spotted quolls, and more. (And then about half of you can cross “see Australia” off your list and go home satisfied. Safe travels!)

After a few hours at the center, we carried on towards the day’s destination: Tasman National Park. Since we were only traveling 80 km this day, we had plenty of extra time to spare. Luckily, the peninsula has some amazing lookout points and short walks worth stopping for, so we filled the hours quite easily.

Looking out over the blue sea and rocky coastline of the Tasman Peninsula

Brown, orange, and yellow rocks along the water's edge -- Tasman Peninsula

We camped this evening and the next at Fortescue Bay in in Tasman National Park (advance bookings highly recommended).

Day Two: Tasman National Park + Port Arthur

Warning: This section touches briefly on gun violence, though not graphically.

The next day, we explored the area and visited nearby Port Arthur — the site of one of Australia’s most notorious prisons back in the 19th century. Most of the original structures have been destroyed, but a few have been rebuilt to look “as they would have” back in the day.

Upon entry, a staff member gives you a brief introduction and overview of the site (about 10-15 minutes long). You are then free to roam about on your own. Various demonstrations and tours are given throughout the day, including play performances and a boat journey to an island cemetery.

Port Arthur Historic Site, Tasmania

Though an important part of Australia’s history, Port Arthur can be rather creepy and unsettling. After all, this was a place where people were very harshly imprisoned, and the stories shared there are bleak ones.

In addition, Port Arthur was the location of Australia’s deadliest mass shooting back in 1996. More than thirty people were killed, and dozens of others injured. (The site doesn’t focus on this event, but it may still come up at some point during your visit.)

You can learn more about visiting Port Arthur here.

Day Three: Tasman National Park to Freycinet National Park (~200 km)

From Tasman National Park, we headed north up Tasmania’s east coast to Freycinet National Park: home of the famous Wineglass Bay. (I originally had a comment here about how it looks nothing like a wineglass, but a commenter rightly pointed out the name actually comes from the color of blood in the water due to whalers — which may just be a different kind of bad naming.)

Wineglass Bay, Tasmania | Photo by Manuel Neumann via Flickr
Photo by Manuel Neumann

The walk to the top of the bay takes around 25-30 minutes at an easygoing pace. From there, you can either return to the start of the trail and the carpark, or head down to the beach. (This bit is rather steep and rocky, but the beach at the end is a lovely reward. If you visit in the off-season, there’s a good chance you’ll have the area all to yourself, like we did.)

After enjoying the beach, you can head back the way you came, or you can continue on the Wineglass Bay/Hazard Beach Circuit for a longer hike.

Heads up: from 18 December to 10 February (plus Easter), Freycinet distributes campsites using a ballot system. Learn more here.

Day Four: Freycinet National Park to Bay of Fires (~110 km)

The next day, we continued north to the Bay of Fires, which spans about 50 km from Binalong Bay to Eddystone Point. Along the coastline, you can see piles of large rocks splashed with a deep orange-red color, stained by an organism called lichen.

Boulders colored bright orange from lichen along the coast -- Bay of Fires, northeast Tasmania

Bay of Fires, Tasmania | Photo by Annie Oakley via Flickr
Photo by Annie Oakley

The Bay of Fires has crystal clear waters for snorkeling, and a wealth of rocky inlets and secret spots just waiting to be explored. Or you can do what we did: throw off your shoes and climb all over the giant boulders like a big natural jungle gym.

If you’re camping, there are a few different places you can stay for free, right by the beach. They even include toilets. (Eco toilets that don’t use water, but still: toilets. Pretty flashy for a free spot, if you ask me.)

You can’t pre-book the free spots, so if you’re traveling in the busy season, show up as early in the day as you can.

Day Five: Bay of Fires to Deloraine (~230 km)

Camping so close to the water gave us the perfect opportunity to catch a good ol’ Tassie sunrise over the sea. We awoke in the dark, brewed two steaming cups of tea, and dragged our cold, sleepy butts to the beach.

Catching the sunrise at Bay of Fires in northeast Tasmania

Sun coming up over the sea in Tasmania, Australia

Do I really have to tell you it was worth it? No one else was around; everything was still and quiet; and as the first rays of light spread over the sand, you could almost feel the earth coming back to life. (Or maybe that was just the numbness in my fingers wearing off.)

After breakfast, we packed up and got back on the road, now heading inland. Our first stop was Launceston, Tasmania’s second-largest city, with a population of just over 85,000. I can’t tell you much about Launceston, other than its location made it the perfect place to replenish our stocks of food and other supplies halfway through our journey. We stayed just long enough to hit the supermarket, then continued on our way.

From Launceston, we headed west towards Liffey Falls State Reserve. We drove a short ways into the reserve, then parked our campervan and took a short hike to check out the spectacular waterfalls.

Waterfalls of Liffey Falls State Reserve in Tasmania

We camped that night in nearby Deloraine, a town just outside the reserve.

Day Six: Deloraine to Rosebery (~150 km)

Though we didn’t stay overnight, the main focus of Day Six was Cradle Mountain-Lake St. Clair National Park. This park is probably best known for the Overland Track, which spans 65 km through the park and takes around six days to complete in full.

Of course, we didn’t have six days, so we did a slightly shorter walk around Dove Lake, which sits in the rather imposing shadow of Cradle Mountain. Luckily, the weather realized our time crunch: we got sunshine, cloud cover, and snowfall, all in the span of two hours. And to think, Simon laughed at me when I put on my hat before we left. (And every time since, actually. It’s kind of a funny-looking hat.)

Dove Lake, Tasmania

Cradle Mountain-Lake St. Clair National Park, Tasmania

Looking over Dove Lake in my funny-looking hat
Nice and warm in my funny-looking hat

Dove Lake Circuit Walk, Tasmania

This walk is a great option for a day visit. It’s long enough to experience the beauty of the park (and maybe get snowed on), but it’s short enough that you don’t need to rush, even in the short days of late autumn.

If you’re interested in hiking the Overland Track, be aware you need to book ahead and pay a fee if you go anytime from October to May. You can find more info on the track here.

After leaving the Cradle Mountain-Lake St. Clair, we continued westward without a destination in mind, and eventually stopping for the evening in Rosebery, a small town on the west coast.

Day Seven: Rosebery to Hobart (~315 km)

This day was fairly uneventful. We intended to drive most of the way back to Hobart, and wound up driving the entire way, instead. We didn’t even realize just how close we were till Simon looked at the map and said, “Uh, so…right over there is where we drop the campervan off tomorrow.”

(Did I mention we didn’t really plan this trip?)

That being said, please don’t go thinking there’s nothing to see in western Tasmania! If we’d had more time (and a little more forethought), I’d loved to have explored this area further.

If you’re familiar with this area of Tassie, please feel free to leave recommendations in the comments.

Days Eight + Nine: Hobart

Saturday morning, we cleaned out the rental and returned it to the Tassie Motor Shacks office. Back in Hobart, we celebrated our return to the “big city” with a proper coffee and breakfast that wasn’t packet porridge. It was unreal.

The harbor in Tasmania's capital city, Hobart

Boats in the harbor in Hobart, Tasmania

Later on, we headed out to the Salamanca Market, which is held along Hobart’s waterfront every Saturday. You can find a taste of almost everything Tasmania has to offer at the market’s 300 stalls — including fresh produce, artwork, handmade jewelry, and more.

Unfortunately, the afternoon was quite rainy, so we wound up heading indoors a bit earlier than planned. We used the time to check out the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, which covers natural and cultural history of the area and the people who live/d there. (Each state in Australia has a similar museum in its capital city.)

Salamanca Market Hobart
Salamanca Market in Hobart — Photo by eGuide Travel

The next day, we visited Mona — which, though it’s never all in caps, stands for Museum of Old and New Art. It’s Australia’s largest private museum, and it’s totally ridiculous. It’s weird, and awesome, and then weird some more. If you like art, you might like this museum. If you like weird shit, you might like this museum. If you like wine…well, there’s a wine bar, so you’ll probably be happy. Honestly, go to Mona, but don’t get mad at me if you hate it. I just blog here.

The museum is accessible by road, but taking the ferry up the Derwent River is definitely the more scenic and relaxed way to arrive. The trip takes around 30 minutes, and costs $20 for the basic fare. You can learn more about how to visit here.

Graffiti-style artwork on the ferry to Mona, an art museum in Hobart
Aboard the ferry to Mona

Boats on the Derwent River in the wake of our ferry, on the way to Mona

After we explored the museum, we visited that wine bar I mentioned, which features a gorgeous sprawling outside area. Despite the impending winter, the day was sunny, bright, and just warm enough (and if it wasn’t, the wine probably would have helped). It was the perfect way to end our visit to Mona — and our visit to Tasmania in general.

That concludes our itinerary. Did we miss your favorite spot in Tasmania? Tell us about it in the comments! (But don’t make it sound too great. I don’t know if I’ll ever get the chance to go back, and I don’t want to resent you.)

• • •

What to see in Tasmania, Australia: including Hobart, the Bay of Fires, Port Arthur, Cradle Mountain, Wineglass Bay, and more. Tassie is a bit out of the way for most visitors to Australia, but if you're into camping, hiking, or other outdoor activities, you won't want to miss it.

Tips and suggested nine-day itinerary for a road trip in Tasmania, Australia -- featuring the Tasman Peninsula, Bay of Fires, Cradle Mountain, Liffey Falls, Freycinet National Park, and more. Tassie is often ignored in favor of Australia's mainland; but if you're into camping, hiking, and wilderness, it should definitely be on your list.

Tips and suggested nine-day itinerary for a road trip in Tasmania, Australia -- featuring the Tasman Peninsula, Bay of Fires, Cradle Mountain, Liffey Falls, Freycinet National Park, and more. Tassie is often ignored in favor of Australia's mainland; but if you're into camping, hiking, and wilderness, it should definitely be on your list.

Tips and suggested nine-day itinerary for a road trip in Tasmania, Australia -- featuring the Tasman Peninsula, Bay of Fires, Cradle Mountain, Liffey Falls, Freycinet National Park, and more. Tassie is often ignored in favor of Australia's mainland; but if you're into camping, hiking, and wilderness, it should definitely be on your list.