Drive Off To Holiday Isle

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With national parks, serene lakes, picturesque bays and luscious rainforests, the stunning island-state of Tasmania is best explored by road,says Rishad Saam Mehta

Imagine an island where festivity and quietude are woven seamlessly into each other. Where you can drive along vast stretches that alternately boast stunning scenes, bustling activity and delicious nibbles across a landscape dotted with picture-perfect bays, quaint villages, busy markets, spirited musicians, awe-inspiring rock formations and so much more… welcome to Tasmania, a beautiful, multifaceted island-state in Australia.

Any trip to Tasmania should begin on the Spirit of Tasmania, a 29-tonne ferry that you can board at Melbourne or Sydney for a tantalising preview to the island. It’s considerably longer – 10 hours from Melbourne or 21 hours from Sydney – but Tasmania is Australia’s Holiday Isle, and what better way to travel to a vacation island across the Bass Strait than aboard a luxurious ferry with lively bars, gourmet restaurants, chilled-out lounges and gaming areas? Tasmania is known for its fickle weather and we arrived to an overcast day. Our first day’s drive to Strahan via the Cradle Valley National Park remains a soggy memory, but the next day more than made up for it. I awoke to a beautiful sunny day and stepped out on to the deck of the yacht we were staying on. We had to get to Hobart, the capital of Tasmania, 300 km away, because it was Saturday and the Salamanca Place market – reputed to be the most happening street market in the entire continent – would be waiting for us there.

The drive firmly reassured me that if you like being at the wheel of a car, driving holidays are the way to go.The route to Hobart takes you along the boundary line of Cradle Mountain and Franklin–Gordon Wild Rivers National Park. The road itself is smooth and grippy tarmac that winds itself across the hills. As a bonus, if you do the drive early in the morning and on a weekend, there will be no traffic to slow you down.

When I think of Tasmania, my mind most often goes back to those delightful twisting roads, multi-hued rainforests, shimmering lakes and the crisp morning air that were all part of that fantastic three-and-a-half hour drive. When we arrived at Salamanca Place, it was bustling with an infectious buzz as shoppers browsed and bargained at an array of stalls set up by locals. The market has its central focus on organic produce, from fruits and vegetables to breads and pastries. There are also handicrafts, sandwiches, toys, tea and more, not to forget the buskers – hobby musicians ranging from an eight-year-old girl playing her clarinet to an eight-man band delivering a concert – who add a delightful charm to the overall feel of the place.

As I made an exit from the market and began to roam the streets of Hobart, I realised that the city had an old-world charm with a strong colonial touch. Bruny Island, a short distance away, is home to Adventure Bay, the landing point of Captain James Cook, before his voyage to Hawaii. And it is simply too pretty for words. The road on it runs through the middle of a narrow neck of land, which means there are stunning views of the blue sea on both sides.

When we drove from Hobart to Port Arthur, our first stop was Richmond, about 25 km away. This town’s most famous construction is the Richmond Bridge, Australia’s oldest bridge across the Coal river, dating back to 1823. As you drive on, you can sample strawberries at the Sorell fruit farm, stop for a quick walk at the Tasman Peninsula National Park and then at the Tessellated Pavement, a natural floor of volcanic rock tiles tempered by the ocean through the ages. Further on, as you cross the narrow isthmus of Eaglehawk Neck, you can get yourself a delicious lunch of hot Tasmanian pies and blue, creamy Boysenberry ice cream near Devil’s Kitchen and Tasman Arch, both erosion-formed rock wonders.

Port Arthur was once a prison colony and today, its ruins look their dramatic best when the setting sun gives the yellow stone a golden hue. If you are a believer in spirits and the afterlife, the 45-minute lantern-lit ghost tours held late in the evenings may fascinate you. I have no qualms about stating that the conviction and authenticity with which our tour guide spoke about the ghosts that have been seen in the vicinity made me move to the centre of the group, so I was safely surrounded by souls still trapped within a physical form.

Tasmania’s West Coast

Tasmania’s West Coast is a heady cocktail of terrific roads that alternate between running along the Tasman Sea and rainforests, to lead you to stunning bays.

Our next two days were spent driving along Tasmania’s West Coast, a heady cocktail of terrific roads that alternate between running along the Tasman Sea and through rainforests, leading you to picture-postcard bays – the Wineglass Bay, Coles Bay and the Bay of Fires. Then there is the wholesome fresh produce from land and sea alike that will greet you at charming little pubs present in all the little towns the drive takes you through. By the time we drove into Launceston, our car had already clocked 2,000 km around Tasmania. We spent the remaining day-and-a-half exploring the Tamar river region, tasting cheese, sampling salmon and savouring the distinct taste of leatherwood honey at the Chudley honey farm. At the end of our journey, we beheld the brilliant colours of dusk, sipping on chilled Riesling and basking in the rustic ambience of Stillwater – one of Tasmania’s most rewarded restaurants housed inside a restored 1830s’ flour mill on the banks of the Tamar river.

We raised a toast to the setting sun as it brought to an end the eight fascinating days we’d spent on this stunning island that is one of Australia’s most underrated destinations – a magical place that richly rewards the traveller who takes the time to explore it at length.

The author is an acclaimed travel writer and the views expressed in the article are his own.

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