Tasmania is a wild place, in the most literal sense of the word. About 20 per cent of the state is World Heritage-listed wilderness and 40 per cent of the island is protected by national parks and reserves.
Curious wildlife wanders the parks, including endemic species such as the Tasmanian devil, and the state's hiking trails are among the most famous and fabulous in Australia. There's diverse wilderness wherever you look – but the compact nature of the state means even the most remote corners are remarkably accessible. Here are a few of Tasmania's finest national parks and wilderness areas.
Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair
This World Heritage-listed park is a stand-out among the state's 19 national parks. It has seven of Tasmania's 10 highest mountains, including spectacular Cradle Mountain at one end and Australia's deepest lake at the other end – also the location of the wilderness retreat Pumphouse Point.
Among a network of hiking trails in the park is the six-day Overland Track, regarded as Australia's best-known hike. Shorter walks include the six-kilometre Dove Lake circuit, which passes directly beneath Cradle Mountain, or you can simply sit on the shores of Lake St Clair and hope to spy one of its resident platypuses.
Maria Island National Park
Once a convict prison, this mountainous island off Tasmania's east coast is once again under the rule of nature. There are few places in Australia that provide such an effortless parade of native wildlife – wombats, wallabies and even Tasmanian devils crowd the clearings across the car-free island.
"The island is a Noah's Ark for rare and unusual Tasmanian birds and animals," says Ian Johnstone, owner of the Maria Island Walk, a four-day guided gourmet hike along the length of the island. "It's a superb experience on a fascinating island whose only other inhabitants are four park rangers."
From the convict penitentiary at Darlington (where the ferry docks), trails radiate to a variety of striking natural features: the swirling patterns of the Painted Cliffs; the prehistoric graveyard of the Fossil Cliffs; and the summit of the island's highest point, 711m Mount Maria, for a view over the narrow sand isthmus that somehow holds the island together.
Southwest National Park
Tasmania's largest national park sprawls along the state's southwest edge, forming the bulk of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. It's home to the state's wildest mountain range, the Western Arthurs, and Australia's most daunting mountain, Federation Peak. It's best known, however, for the South Coast Track.
This week-long, 85km hiking trail follows the island's southern shores between Cockle Creek (Australia's southernmost road end) and remote Melaleuca, connected to Hobart by an hour-long light aircraft flight.
Along the way are a string of wild Southern Ocean beaches and a crossing of the steep and slippery Ironbound Range.
A gentler way to explore Southwest National Park is on day trips or three-day Southwest Wilderness Camp tours with Par Avion, flying into Melaleuca and then exploring the waterways of Bathurst Harbour by boat.
Australia's largest tract of cool-temperate rainforest smothers Tasmania's north-west coast. The forest is split by dark and reflective rivers, with some of the world's oldest trees growing from their banks. CNN once labelled takayna/Tarkine one of the world's last great wildernesses – step into its green embrace and it's not hard to see why.
At its northern end, the Tarkine Drive loops through the rainforest, taking in features such as Trowutta Arch, a collapsed cave among vibrant lakes and the Edge of the World, where the Southern Ocean storms ashore at Arthur River.
Along takayna/Tarkine's southern edge, the Pieman River flows past Corinna Wilderness Experience, a former gold-mining settlement turned remote tourist village. From here, take a cruise on the Arcadia II to the river mouth at wild Pieman Head or set out in a kayak at dawn for nearby Lovers Falls – you might never again paddle over water so calm and reflective.
Top Tassie Walks
More than 2800km of walking trails means the best way to explore Tasmania is on two feet, writes Kendall Hill.
Australia's best-known walk traces a 65km trail over six days through the World Heritage Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park via timeless rainforests, glacial plains and lakes, waterfalls and pademelon sightings. Hikers overnight in purpose-built huts, either public or private – the latter equipped with hot showers, cooked dinners and island wines. Either way, this track is very popular so book well ahead.
The campfires of the indigenous palawa people lent this north-east coastline its name, so it's fitting to have Tasmanian Aboriginal guides interpret the spectacular landscape of larapuna/Bay of Fires while you walk. wukalina is run by palawa who share their 10,000-year-old creation stories and cultural insights against a backdrop of orange-lichened boulders, crystal waters, and seafood banquets sourced straight from the sea. Another option is the guided fourday Bay of Fires Lodge Walk.
Freycinet Peninsula Circuit
The east coast Freycinet Peninsula is home to Tasmania's first and favourite national park and its most captivating coastal scenery. Wineglass Bay is the star attraction but there's a parade of heart-stopping beaches and sculpted granite peaks on the 27km Freycinet Peninsula Circuit. Allow three days; BYO water and swimsuit.
Three Capes Track
Tasmania's newest multi-day walk follows the dramatic ridgelines of the southern Tasman National Park for almost 50km. The walk starts by boat from the World Heritagelisted Port Arthur Historic Site; highlights include lofty outlooks from the highest sea cliffs in the southern hemisphere and the most stylish public huts in Australia. Seasonal scenery ranges from migrating whales in autumn to blazing wildflowers in spring.
South Coast Track
Tackling the Southwest Wilderness is not for the faint-hearted. Accessible only by light plane, this 85km, eight-day trek involves river crossings, rugged trails and the odd leech. It's best suited to hardy, self-sufficient types with a hunger for windswept beaches that rarely feel human footprints.
60 Great Short Walks
Don't have time to tackle a big walk? No problem. The Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service (parks.tas.gov.au) has compiled 60 Great Short Walks, a list of day walks ranging from family-friendly gorge strolls to rainforests and lakes in the heart of the wilderness.
Where the wild things are
Puggles, platypuses and pademelons – charismatic wildlife are a huge part of Tasmania's appeal, writes Kendall Hill.
The Tasmanian devil
Who's a handsome devil? Despite their fearsome reputation, the world's largest surviving carnivorous marsupial is a striking study in black and white, its powerful head housing bone-crushing jaws. Nocturnal devils feast on carrion and weak animals and scream like banshees while doing so (that's how they got their name). They're also rather lazy, preferring to scavenge than hunt and, when threatened, they yawn.
Where to find them: Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary, Devils@Cradle, Trowunna Wildlife Sanctuary.
These big furry units – part excavator, part lawn mower – are distant cousins of the koala but come equipped with special superpowers. They're champion burrowers (complete with backward-facing pouches to prevent dirt getting in) with a cartilagehardened rump used to block burrow entrances from intruders and, in extreme circumstances, to crush predators' skulls.Imagine: a bum of steel and cube-shaped poo.
Where to find them: Maria Island is wombat central.
When British researchers first studied the platypus in the 18th century, they suspected a hoax. Duck-billed, beaver-tailed and with otter-like fur, sceptical scientists cut them open to find the join marks. Perhaps it was the male's poisonous ankle spurs that convinced them to accept this bizarre creation at face value (the venom's not fatal to humans, just unbearably painful). These wonderful creatures even glow at night but, given it's hard enough to spot one during the day, few are likely to witness this awesome sight at night.
Where to find them: Warrawee Forest Reserve, Latrobe; Platypus Walk, Geeveston.
Australia's most widespread native mammal is also one of its most loved. The sloths of the marsupial world still manage to be voracious feeders – their long (15cm) tongues hoover up about 40,000 ants and termites a day. One of only two egg-laying mammals (the other is the platypus), the hatchlings are called puggles, a word almost as cute as these charming little animals.
Where to find them: Bruny Island, for echidnas and abundant birdlife.
The name suggests a delicious tropical fruit but the pademelon is the smallest member of the kangaroo family, looking a bit like a squat wallaby. They can be found from Papua New Guinea down the east coast of Australia – but the Tasmanian or rufous-bellied pademelon is unique to the island. Shy forest dwellers by nature, they can't resist the lure of a grassy meadow so encounters are easy to come by.
Where to find them: Common across Tasmania.
With its polka-dot coat and wet pink nose, Tasmania's (and the world's) second largest marsupial carnivore is hardly fearsome to look at. But don't be fooled by appearances; the spotted-tail quoll kills its prey – mainly small mammals and birds – by biting them behind the head. The only thing more aggressive than their hunting style is their mating rituals, so strenuous the male often dies afterwards. Quolls are solitary and nocturnal, like many Tasmanians.
Where to find them: Mount Field and South Bruny national parks for eastern quolls; Arthur-Pieman and Central Plateau conservation areas for the spotted-tail variety