PRINT HEAD: The truth about Tasmania
PRINT BLURB: Australia's island state is distinctively different from NZ and full of riches whatever your preferences, writes Pamela Wade
"Tasmania. Isn't it quite cold there?"
That's a not unusual response to the suggestion of visiting this overlooked state of Australia, now accessible by direct flight from Auckland to Hobart. To gauge its accuracy as an indication of how desirable Tasmania might be as a destination, let's try an equally valid version of that question:
"New Zealand. Isn't it quite cold there?"
The answer to both questions is yes, it can be, certainly in comparison with, say, the Gold Coast — but should that put anyone off coming here? Of course not. And the same applies to Tasmania.
Next common question: "Isn't Tasmania rather like New Zealand?
Again, yes. Tasmania is more like New Zealand than the rest of Australia: it has proper mountains with snow, dense forests with tall trees, challenging bush walks, quieter people and — well, that's it, actually. In every other way, Tasmania is distinctively different from here and full of riches whatever your preferences.
If nature is your thing, then Tasmania has that in spades. You can do multi-day walks or a half-day ramble, through bush, over mountains, along rivers, around lakes, or along beaches. The four-day Bay of Fires walk is a stunner, along silica-white beaches lapped by turquoise sea and separated by headlands of ancient rock draped in a lichen that grows only in the purest air. Stay at glamp sites and in a lodge.
There's something similar on Maria Island, with added wombats by the score.
Take the chairlift up to do the circuit of The Nut in Stanley in the north. Stroll around Dove Lake in the centre and get multiple views of Cradle Mountain, before adjourning to the lodge for a comfortable reward.
Go kayaking, rock climbing or mountain biking — even a novice like me can tackle the thrilling seven-switchback, 1050m vertical drop of the Ben Lomond descent.
Tasmania's past is darkly fascinating and comes to life at Port Arthur, the best-preserved convict site in Australia. These elegant buildings are where enforced immigrants were sent for punishment if they misbehaved, and the story is chillingly well presented.
Sarah Island over in the west was even more brutal. You needn't even leave Hobart to explore this subject — a tour of the Female Factory there is horribly thorough. More positive convict stories can be found at places like Brickendon and Woolmers, beautiful estates to the north; or simply by admiring the lovely stone buildings and bridges built by convicts throughout the state.
If you're into art, you'll be spoiled. Little Sheffield up north is literally covered in it, with 60-plus colourful murals. Most people have heard of Mona, the Museum of New and Old Art, but did you know you can get there along the river from Hobart's gorgeous port on a suitably arty ferry? Once there, you will be both delighted and confronted: you certainly won't be bored.
There is more conventional art back in the city, and you can even sleep surrounded by it at the Henry Jones Art Hotel. Strikingly colourful Aboriginal art is well represented too, and the Saturday market at Salamanca Place is full of arty and crafty delights.
That includes food — and nobody ever left Tasmania thinner than when they arrived.
Throughout the state, there are excellent restaurants and enthusiastic growers and producers of everything from chocolate to wine, all of it mouth-wateringly memorable. From food trucks to chef's tasting menus where you lose count of the courses, from boutique breweries to world-famous wineries, fresh local produce deservedly takes centre stage.
History buffs are well served by a number of absorbing museums. You can see the last ever Tasmanian tiger in a glass case — or was it? Rumours persist. There are separate museums to learn about whaling, Aboriginal people, Mawson's Antarctic explorations; and you can visit a beautifully preserved old home, a former military jail, the Convict Penitentiary. Or you could simply stroll around the delightful waterfront at Constitution Dock and gaze at all the lovely historic buildings there. And that's just Hobart — there's much more to discover elsewhere on the island.
To see some of the teeming wildlife, you can go to Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary outside Hobart — or you could see them for free, on any drive you might take. Most of them will be dead, though: the roadkill in Tasmania is astonishing, and an indication of how well-populated it is with wombats, devils, wallabies, kangaroos, koalas, quolls… the list goes on.
A wildlife tour like Pepperbush Adventures in the north will take you off-road to see the animals in their natural habitat, in daylight and spotlit in the dark; although you could find it awkward to be tucking into a wallaby kebab hot off the barbie as a wallaby hops past.
There's every sort of accommodation available, right up to the fanciest of lodges: Saffire Freycinet is one you won't forget. Glamorous yet unobtrusive, it's perched above Coles Bay with perfect views across to the Freycinet Peninsula where you'll find perhaps the world's most perfectly picturesque beach — Wineglass Bay. Or you can stay in a historic stone cottage, a farmhouse, an inn, a seriously modern glass construction, a back-to-nature campsite.
Let's finish with two more questions: After my — so far — six visits to Tasmania, what is the best bit? It's too hard to choose, but up there has to be kayaking in the early morning on the still, tannin-stained waters of the Gordon River in the west, watching the reflections of the trees dissolving into ripples as a platypus swims past me.
And the worst? No question: hitting a wallaby on the drive back from Port Arthur after a night-time tour of the prison. I wasn't kidding about the roadkill.
Air New Zealand flies twice-weekly direct flights from Auckland to Hobart. airnz.co.nz