The island-state of Tasmania, located 170 mi/275 km south of Melbourne off the country's southern coast, is known as "Tassie" by the locals. It is perhaps best known outside of Australia as the home of the Tasmanian devil—the whirling dervish of a marsupial that inspired the Looney Tunes cartoon character. But to Australians, it's a fabulous place to spend a week's vacation. Tasmania has long stretches of uninhabited beaches, jagged (and often snowcapped) mountains, slow-moving creeks and rivers, gorges, historical sites, forests and a rugged shoreline.
You can fly to the island from Melbourne or Sydney. But if seasickness isn't a problem, we recommend taking the ferry from Melbourne to Devonport. Then rent a car and drive to Queenstown for a boat tour up the Gordon River. On your return, drive to Russell Falls (a tropical waterfall decked with wild ferns) at Mount Field National Park, then go on to New Norfolk (eat at one of the restaurants along the Derwent River).
The next stop is Hobart, the largest city on Tasmania. Walk around this early-19th-century city to see old homes and buildings. Visit the dockside Maritime Museum or the Museum of Old and New Art. Browse through the arts-and-crafts galleries, coffeehouses and restaurants in the old sandstone warehouses of Salamanca Place (there's also a Saturday street market). At night, attend a performance at the Theatre Royal (Australia's oldest "legitimate" theater) or visit the Wrest Point Casino. Take half a day to climb 4,100-ft/1,250-m Mount Wellington for a great view, then drive to Glen Huon (great apples, if they're in season).
From Hobart, drive 60 mi/100 km past Eaglehawks Neck to Port Arthur, an old penal colony with another attractive view. For 57 years (1830-87), Port Arthur confined nearly 12,000 prisoners. Today, it has a museum displaying captains' logs that list the crimes of their passengers. Tasmanian Devil Park, located 12 mi/8 km to the north, is a refuge for the ferocious wolverinelike marsupials. Overnight at the Cascades at Koonya bed-and-breakfast in the old penal colony, or return to Hobart.
Hike up to Wineglass Bay in Freycinet National Park for a look at one of Australia's most beautiful beaches. Next, drive north through the center of the island to Launceston, the second-largest city on the island, to see the gorge and Tamar River scenery for two nights, then fly out.
Nature lovers will enjoy hiking through Cradle Mountain-Lake St. Clair National Park, near the center of the island, where some 70 mi/110 km of hiking trails cross jagged mountains, moors, streams and gorges. At night you might see Tasmanian devils, wallabies and other animals. During the day you can go canoeing, fishing and hiking.
Two islands in the Bass Strait between Tasmania and the Australian mainland will appeal to adventurous travelers who aren't solely interested in shopping, nightlife or the creature comforts of civilization. King Island has attractive beaches, good seafood and tasty cheeses; it rates up to a three-night stay. There's a variety of accommodations available, primarily in Currie, the main town.
Flinders Island, farther east (part of the Furneaux group), resembles King in that it has a rugged coast and good beaches. It's also a great place to hike and hunt for various precious gemstones (most of these are near the town of Palana).
No matter when you go, take a sweater—Tasmania is cold at night and may only reach the 40s F/3-7 C during the day. The Tasmanian summer in January seems to last for about two weeks. http://www.discovertasmania.com.
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