A to Z of Adventure Travel: T is for Tasmania

29 05 2009

Port Arthur

If there is one place that could justifiably be called the single most underrated destination for soft adventure, my vote would go to Tasmania.

Australia’s only island state is located 150 miles south of eastern Australia, separated from the mainland by the Bass Strait. Roughly the same size as Ireland, Tasmania is a superb destination for anyone who likes natural beauty, a touch of history and unspoiled wilderness. Its size also makes it easily accessible for anyone with limited time and a variety of accommodation from well-appointed campsites to luxury lodges makes it ideal for every budget.

Tasmania is easily reached by regularly scheduled flights from most Australian cities or by overnight ferry from Melbourne. Once there, getting around is easy by self-drive, organised tour or local transport with no more than a few hours travel between most key sights.

Hobart is the state capital and the island’s largest city. It not only offers culture and history from the island’s European discovery by Dutch explorer Abel Tasman in 1642 and first European settlement in 1803, but also boasts many wonderful restaurants, cafes and wine bars with plenty of fresh, succulent local produce. For the best samples of local cuisine, beer and wine, head to Salamanca Place’s restored 19th century waterfront warehouses which hearken to the city’s whaling days. Not far from Hobart sits the quaint the quaint village of Port Arthur, site of the former penal colony around which much of the island was first settled. Today, the site has been preserved and tells the story of its first inhabitants.

As wonderful as Hobart and the island’s other population centres are however, it is the wilderness that draws most visitors. With a mild climate, rugged coastline and immaculate secluded beaches encircling the state and the coast never more than a few hours drive, Tasmania is the ideal destination for anyone who likes the crash of breaking waves and the scent of salt air.

Wineglass Bay in Freycinet National Park, is one of the most idyllic spots on earth with its perfectly curving beach and pristine surroundings. The best views belong to those who make the effort to climb to the lookout, although small environmentally-friendly cruises are now offered for anyone less energetic or with less time. Another site in the Tasmanian World Heritage Wilderness Area is the magnificent Cradle Mountain which attracts one quarter of all visitors to the island. The mountain also forms the start of the 40 mile Overland Track for those who want to stretch their legs and properly experience the region’s distinctive flora and spectacular scenery.

Bruny Island has some of the most breathtaking coastline in the world and award-winning three-hour cruises are a popular way to explore the crashing waves, towering cliffs and the local wildlife. Recently voted one of the greatest day trips in the world, Bruny Island is an unforgettable destination for any visitor to Australia.

Thanks to Looney Tunes, most people are familiar with the Tasmanian Devil but many more may have forgotten the island’s other eponymous creature, the now extinct Tasmanian Tiger. The last known example died in captivity in 1936, but many people claim sightings of this large striped carnivorous marsupial every year. Even if you don’t see the Tiger, there are always devils, wombats, platypuses and plenty else to keep wildlife buffs happy.

For active adventure seekers, Tasmania also offers plenty of hiking, mountain biking scuba diving, wreck-diving and sea kayaking in some of the most spectacular surroundings anywhere. Tasmania makes a wonderful addition to any visit to Sydney or Melbourne, but is truly a perfect destination in its own right.

Posting by: Simon Vaughan © 2009

Photographs by: Discover Tasmania

Wineglass Bay

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Special Spots, Magical Moments: No. 2 – Cape Tribulation

1 10 2008

Cape Tribulation, North Queensland, Australia

The wide, white sand sweeps in a gentle curve from one end of the cape to the other. Lush, rich green jungle embraces it along one side while the clear surf breaks from the reefs beyond. There is a clear blue sky overhead and a bracing wind from the sea that provides a delicious reprieve from the tropical sun. Despite its pristine perfection, there is not a single other person in sight. I could be on Robinson Crusoe’s desert island searching for the footsteps of Man Friday, but instead of Daniel Defoe, this spot is rich with the history of Captain Cook.

 

This is Cape Tribulation: a magical spot in tropical North Queensland, Australia several hours from Cairns. Separated from the south by narrow winding coast roads and a ferry journey across the wide Daintree River, it is a magnificent place where the World Heritage listed ancient Daintree Forest meets the Great Barrier Reef. By conscious choice, it is blissfully devoid of huge hotels, casinos or sprawling complexes of shops and nightclubs. Instead, accommodation is tastefully hidden amidst the trees and barely visible from the sea or the air and the few shops and restaurants are low-key and casual.

 

It is quite clear that humans are the guests here. Signs on the beach warn of box jelly-fish in season and advise against swimming around the point because of crocodiles. Visitors are told to be aware of the cassowary: Australia’s endangered but aggressive large bird which lurk in the woods and can surprise walkers. The verdant jungles resound with the symphony of unseen insects, reptiles and birdlife. A stream winds its way from the jungle, across the beach and into the ocean. Its crystal clear shallows look idyllic if it were not for the signs warning of crocodiles. But for all the untamed wildness, this truly is a blissful spot and one of the best beaches in the world.

 

Not far from shore lies the Great Barrier Reef, and a trip out to its wonders from Cape Tribulation is guaranteed to be one of the highlights of any trip to Australia. Instead of queuing at a cement dock along with hundreds of other day-trippers, you simply stroll through the lapping surf, climb aboard a small zodiac and head out to your intimate dive boat. As you head away from land, you glance back and see the unchanged view that mesmerised Captain Cook hundreds of years ago when he first explored Australia’s east coast.  Once at the reef, you may well not see another boat during your whole day, but you will see the magnificent coral, the colourful fish, the stingrays and reef sharks.

 

As wonderful as daytime is at Cape Tribulation however, it is in the evening and at night that I truly appreciate and relish its isolation. A stroll for dinner takes you down sidewalk-free dirt roads where the only sounds are from the trees and perhaps the very occasional car. The jungle-clad hills above are invisible except where they blot out the millions of stars. Restaurants are relaxed and laid-back, but serve excellent meals including the freshest seafood imaginable. By day, you can be as active as you like but at night it’s time to relax and drink in the magic of unspoiled solitude.

 

Back in our hotel room in the middle of the forest, I hear the wind pick-up through the trees. Rain soon begins to lash the windows and roof and builds to a tropical downpour. The water streams from the roof in torrents and splatters on the tiled walkway outside, lulling me to sleep. The next morning, sunlight streams through the windows and I can hear the gentle drip of water falling from the leaves to the damp forest floor below and the call of birds. Outside, everything is lush and green again and the sky a perfect blue. I’m ready for another day in paradise.

 

 

Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan