In Australia’s tropical northern regions, summertime means scorching heat, humidity and wet season rains - not the ideal time to travel. However, in the more temperate south the warmer months are perfect for a road trip: warm, sunny and a great opportunity to see a region that might be a little less appealing during the wintertime.
Tasmania is as far south as you can go, and makes for a fantastic road trip destination. The island’s relatively small size gives you defined borders for your explorations, but there is no end of things to do and see in this most wild and wonderful of Australian states. It’s an especially good destination for those with an affinity for the great outdoors, however Tasmania is no slouch on the city front either, and has plenty of more sedate activities on offer too - wine tasting in the Tamar Valley, anyone?
The best way to get started on a Tasmania road trip is to pick up a car hire at Hobart airport
, the island’s primary travel hub. From there, it awaits discovery. Here’s a suggested itinerary to help you do it - but as always, the best part of renting your own set of wheels is that you can set your own schedule.
Day 1: Hobart to Strathgordon: 171 kilometres, 3 hours driving time
You could easily spend a day or two picking up what Hobart is putting down. Situated at the base of Mount Wellington and on the shores of the Derwent River Estuary, the city is home to much heritage and history, loads of natural beauty and some awesome restaurants, microbreweries and art galleries.The Salamanca Markets in the old sandstone warehouses is the place to be on a Saturday morning, and a tour of breweries like Cascade (Australia’s oldest) will easily keep you busy for a morning or afternoon. Climb Mount Wellington for some exercise and great views, and then get a little urban and explore the laneways and boutiques of the city’s CBD.
Once you have seen everything you’d like to see in Hobart, it’s time to hit the road and head west towards Tasmania’s great wilderness. The Lyell Highway, Glenora Road and Gordon River Road will take you through New Norfolk, the heart of the Derwent Valley, and into the massive area of national parks which take up the southwestern corner of the island. Keen fisherpeople should make a stop at the Salmon Ponds and Museum of Trout Fishing which is found just off Glenora Road, an interesting facility with heritage buildings, hatcheries, parklands and all kinds of memorabilia which tell the story of Tasmanian trout fishing.
The winding Gordon River Road leads into the heart of the Tasmanian wilderness, to Strathgordon. Take your pick of places to stop along the way - scenic lookouts, picnic spots and trailheads where you can use your feet to get a closer look at the vegetation. The drive itself is also quite stunning offering views of lakes, mountains and forests.
Camping and chalet accommodation is available in and around Strathgordon, and we recommend booking well in advance to ensure you have a bed for the night or two you stay here. The tiny town makes a great base for adventures in this most untouched part of Tasmania: hiking is the main activity for visitors, and a great way to get acquainted with the wilderness. Boating and fishing are also an option on Lake Gordon and Lake Pedder.
Day 2: Strathgordon to Derwent Bridge: 207 kilometres, 3.5 hours driving time
Today’s travels will take you to some more northerly stretches of wilderness, including the beautiful Cradle Mountain - Lake Saint Clair National Park. Make the reverse journey along the scenic Gordon River Road to Westorway, and from there go north on Ellendale Road before rejoining the Lyell Highway.
The road will take you through some small villages like Ellendale and Ouse, as well as across Meadowbank Lake which is part of the Derwent River hydro scheme and well-stocked with trout; if you have planned ahead with a fishing license, this is a great place to stop and try your luck.
The road becomes mountainous around Tarraleah, a highland village with lovely cottages restored from a period during which hydro-electric workers lived there in the 1930s. It has a great pub which is the perfect place to stop for lunch, and plenty of spots where you can stop and stretch your legs. Continue on over the hills to Brady’s Lake and the nearby chain of three hydro lakes which are also great for trout fishing.
Derwent Bridge isn’t much of a town, but we have included it as an overnight spot as it does offer some fantastic accommodation options: the Derwent Bridge Wilderness Hotel, the breathtaking Pumphouse Point retreat on the waters of Lake Saint Clair, and the cozy Lake Saint Clair Lodge. Enjoy a spot of luxury in any of these and from there you can foray into the gorgeous wilds of surrounding lakes and hills.
The Wall in the Wilderness is a must-see in the area, a wall created by sculptor Greg Duncan. It tells the history of the Tasmanian Highlands via depictions of people, animals and nature carved into the three-metre high wall which will stretch 100 metres when finished.
Day 3: Derwent Bridge to Burnie via Murchison Highway: 250 kilometres, 3.5 hours driving time
If you can tear yourself away from the idyllic Saint Clair, get back on the Lyell Highway and head through the mountains towards Lake Burbury and Queenstown. It’s a very scenic drive, but steep and windy in places, so take your time and drive carefully. The Franklin River Nature Trail lies along this section of road, and is the perfect place to stop for an early break, with picnic facilities and toilets. A little farther along the road, the Nelson Falls Nature Trail is another great spot to stretch your legs, offering a 20-minute return stroll to the spectacular waterfall.
Queenstown, not to be confused with the town of the same name in New Zealand, is a bastion of civilisation compared to many of the places on this road, and a place of much history. It was once a very rich community, a centre for copper mining and logging. The stark, cratered hills surrounding the town are a testament to these industries, and although both have slowed down there is still a decent population and plenty going on here. Take an hour or two to visit Queenstown’s historic Empire Hotel, Galley Museum and restored heritage buildings, or if you have the time to spare hop on the classic steam-powered West Coast Wilderness Railway for a 4 hour return trip through some spectacular rainforest from Queenstown to Dubbil Barril and back.
From Queenstown it’s a long journey on the Zeehan Highway and Murchison Highway around the foothills of the West Coast Range and through a series of small towns - Renison Bell, Rosebery and Tullah. All have their own charms, and Tullah especially offers some fun shopping opportunities with unique shops and artisan boutiques.
As you continue northwards, the route leaves the mountains and runs through farmland towards Burnie on the coast. This port city has shed its industrial atmosphere to become a creative place of artists and craftspeople. There’s no better place to experience this firsthand than at the Makers’ Workshop, the city’s newest visitor attraction which combines a museum, market, information centre and gallery with the opportunity for hands-on papermaking experiences. There are plenty more galleries around the place, as well as boutiques selling handmade products and the Hellyers Road Distillery where you can watch single malt being made.
You’ll find a full range of accommodation options in Burnie, along with restaurants, entertainment and supermarkets to stock up on any road trip necessities.
Day 4: Burnie to Launceston: 146 kilometres, 2 hours driving time
With less time spent on the road today, you’ll have the chance to stop at any of the sights and places which catch your eye. Head east out of Burnie on the Bass Highway and make your way to Devonport, where the red-and-white ferries connect Tasmania with mainland Australia. Here you can walk beside the River Mersey, or head up to the Mersey Bluff for views over Bass Strait.
The Bass Strait Maritime Centre is an interesting place to stop, a museum in the former harbourmaster’s residence which has a dozen exhibitions about the famous stretch of water and the people who have sailed it, covering topics from shipwrecks to shipbuilding.
From Devonport it’s an easy drive through valley farmland to Launceston. You should have plenty of time to spare here, and it won’t go to waste. The city is the second biggest in Tasmania, and boasts elegant architecture, lovely parks and a lively food scene. While Hobart has breweries, Launceston is all about the wine: gateway to the Tamar Valley, it’s the perfect place to sign on for a wine tasting tour. Hand over the driving responsibilities to someone else and enjoy the fruits of the region!
Nature lovers shouldn’t leave without a visit to Cataract Gorge and First Basin. In fact, anyone will appreciate this spectacular spot just a short drive from the central city. It offers bush walks, a free outdoor swimming pool, the world’s longest single-span chairlift and peaceful parklands. Be sure to traverse the Alexandra Suspension Bridge for great views over the whole shebang.
Consider starting this roadtrip from Launceston with an airport car hire.
Launceston has a wide range of hotels, motels, holiday parks and more, so you should have no issues finding a place to lay your head for the night. If you’re planning a nice meal out, this might be the place to do it. It’s renowned for good dining. Stillwater or the Black Cow Bistro are both good picks, and plant-based eaters will love the Garden of Vegan.
There is no need to do this itinerary in the order suggested here, some may find it easier to start the journey with a car rental from Launceston airport
Day 5: Launceston to Freycinet (Coles Bay): 174 kilometres, 2.5 hours driving time
We suggest you leave early and get the driving out of the way in the morning for this day’s itinerary, as you’ll want as much time as possible to spend in the beautiful Freycinet National Park. The Midland Highway will get you as far as Campbell Town, and from there it’s onto the Lake Leake Highway then the Tasman Highway for a pretty forested drive towards the coast.
Blink and you might miss the tiny communities along this road, but wine lovers will want to stop at the Freycinet Vineyard near Apslawn, a family-owned establishment with award-winning wines. Turn off onto Coles Bay Road for the last stretch to the town, where you will find a decent-sized tourist centre with many options for accommodation and the rest.
Once you’ve settled in Coles Bay, it’s time to see what this region has to offer. The jewel in the Freycinet crown is undoubtedly Wineglass Bay, a perfect curve of white sand which will take your breath away. The walk from the carpark at the end of Freycinet Drive takes around two and a half hours return. There is also a track to the lookout which takes approximately one hour return and rewards hikers with incredible views.
There are walking tracks all throughout Freycinet, from short and sweet strolls to a 3-day Freycinet Peninsula Circuit route. Other activities on offer include snorkeling and swimming, day cruises, kayak tours, birdwatching at Moulting Lagoon and scenic flights. Don’t be afraid to schedule a few days here!
Day 6: Freycinet to Port Arthur: 236 kilometres, 3.5 hours driving time
Take Coles Bay Road back to the Tasman Highway, and head south to Port Arthur. The first town along the way is the pretty seaside village of Swansea, a laid-back spot with many historical buildings - a lovely place for brunch if you’re on the road early!
From there, the Tasman Highway sticks to the coast for a stretch, providing some scenic driving with views over Great Oyster Bay. Triabunna, a little further south, is the main civic centre for the east coast and holds some interesting history. There you can visit preserved convict-era buildings, pay respects at the Seafarers Memorial and even take the ferry across to the unforgettable Maria Island National Park if you have the time.
Carry on through Orielton and Screll, where the road becomes the Arthur Highway and takes you out to the Tasman Peninsula. This corner of the state has some spectacular coastal scenery, so take a few moments to stop here and there and enjoy it.
Port Arthur is a small town well-used to hosting visitors, so you’ll have no issues finding a place to stay. The major attraction here is the Port Arthur Historic Site, once a major penal colony. The site is World Heritage listed and includes more than 30 buildings, ruins and restored period homes in immaculately landscaped grounds. Site entry tickets allow two days’ access, so history buffs should certainly plan an extra night here.
Day 7: Port Arthur to Hobart: 95 kilometres, 1.5 hours driving time
Today’s journey is just a short hop back to Hobart - so you can spend some more time at Port Arthur or exploring the beautiful Tasman Peninsula. One great way to get acquainted with some of the diverse sea life in the area are the eco-cruises which frequently encounter whales, seals, albatross, dolphins and more. As always, your own two feet are an excellent way to explore and there are plenty of walking tracks including a spectacular clifftop trail from Devil's Kitchen to the pretty Waterfall Bay.
Retrace your route along the Arthur Highway and return to the Tasman Highway for the short drive back into Hobart. Conveniently, the airport is found on this road before you reach the city, so returning your car is trouble-free. Staying a bit longer? Hobart is certainly willing and ready to entertain.