The first people to set foot on these grassy plains were Aborigines, hunting summer game for the bitter winter months.
Next came the sailors in search of safe haven after crossing the tempestuous Bass Strait; then the graziers, looking for tender green shoots to feed their sheep. Then came the loggers with their cross-cut saws and their eyes on the plentiful eucalyptus timber. They were followed by the miners in search of gold and minerals and the fur trappers seeking possum and wombat pelts. Between them, they wiped out the thylacine — better known as the Tasmanian tiger — last seen alive here in the 1930s.
Now it is the turn of the tourists, who arrive by plane and by ship.
Cruise ships traditionally hove to in the island state's capital, Hobart, on the southern side of Tasmania but the Queen Elizabeth shares the love, mooring at the active port city of Burnie. We woke after a smooth passage from Melbourne with a view out the window of piles of wood chips destined for a new life as paper.
We'd set sail the evening before, watching from the top deck as the Melbourne Star Observation Wheel faded into the golden sunset. Our three-day journey would take us via Tasmania and end in Sydney.
Everything about the 294m QE liner whispers elegance. It gleams with the hushed and assured style that only confidence in a rich heritage and luxury affords. As you wander the plush bespoke carpets and wood-panelled passageways of the ship, you know you need to mind your Ps and Qs. Having said that though, I was in the very awkward position of having no luggage (thanks, Virgin Airlines) so only had my comfy travel clothes of light trainers, casual top and pants. I hurriedly Ubered into central Melbourne and picked up a black dress and pink sandals from Cotton On and grabbed basic toiletries from a corner convenience store to do me for my three days on board. No makeup, no jewellery, no strappy heels or smart evening dresses. But despite my own self-consciousness about my scruffy plight, none of the well-dressed and manicured cruisers seemed to care.
Once Melbourne's skyline had dwindled to nothing in our phosphorescent wake, we officially started the cruise with a pre-dinner drink in the gleaming Midship Bar — gin, of course — before tripping off to the Britannia restaurant for dinner. Menus change on the QE every few weeks so there's no guarantee that the clam chowder or the Louisiana steak or the poached figs we enjoyed as we ate our way around the ship will be there next season. But I can guarantee that whether you dine in the silver-service Britannia or enjoy the grilled steaks done "as madam likes it" in the Veranda or relish the Asian-inspired flavours of Bamboo — or even just fill your plate in the Lido buffet — there will be a party in your mouth at every meal. And the ever-so-elegant afternoon tea, with its little cakes and cucumber sandwiches to nibble to the background strains of a string quartet, is a QE must.
Short trips are known among the ship staff as "party cruises" because everyone onboard is determined to eat and drink their fill, keeping the 150 chefs — yes, 150 — on board fully occupied. Going behind the scenes into the great galley of the QE is a glimpse into the choreographed chaos behind the artfully arranged meals that arrive so unobtrusively — and regularly — in front of you. From the rows of shiny stainless steel countertops and quietly humming fridges come 700 different dishes for 600 passengers over the day's three meal sittings. It's a ballet in which every person knows their precise part, whether that be arranging the carrot batons to go with the plaice fillet or serving the sauce anglaise on the chocolate brownie.
The trainers that felt toe-cringingly out of place on QE's polished decks were a godsend for a day excursion to Cradle Mountain, in the central highlands of Tasmania. Personally, I thought it took much imagination to see the eponymous cradle in the mountain but it didn't take much to imagine glaciers grimly creaking and squeaking a swathe through the solid dolerite, scouring the rock into in a Clan of the Cave Bear-like landscape. The retreating tongues of ice left dark, still, corrie lakes edged with rounded, lichen-topped rocks as they withdrew back into the Tasmania's distinctive mountains at the end of the Pleistocene era.
It was in the Lake St-Clair-Cradle Mountain National Park that Gustav and Kate Weindorfer built their romantic chalet under the trees. The pair deeply loved Cradle Mountain, its reflective lakes and its heaths of alpine plants. Their legacy is the national park that now protects their old home.
Their Waldheim chalet tucked under the trees was a welcoming candlelit haven to many visitors who made their way on foot and on horseback to the remote valley more than 100 years ago. Less cosy, though, would have been the icy spring-fed "bath", in which the Windorfers' guests washed off the mud from the long journey.
We turned up the heater of our little tourist bus at the thought of those shivering bathers as we headed back to the ship for the final leg to Sydney.
The previous day's exercise and invigorating fresh air had to be balanced with a full massage in the Mareel Spa as we ploughed north on our final day aboard the QE. Freshly refurbished Mareel, named for the phosphorescence of the ocean, brings in the colours and sounds of the Tasman Sea surrounding us. In scented near-silence, the masseuse's hands ease through the last remaining knots and muscle strains a few days of cloistered luxury haven't yet soothed. It's a grey day outside but we barely feel the surging currents. Inside all is warmly lit and calm.
It was a wrench to leave the cosiness as the QE berthed on a rainy Sydney morning. She is far from the biggest cruise ship on the seas, but the Queen Elizabeth brings a heart and personality that sets her apart.