Wrap an island in an ocean, and a maritime culture will emerge. Fill it with rivers, both wild and mild, and it becomes a place where water is life.
Tasmanians love and celebrate water, from the annual Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race to servings of some of the world’s finest seafood. And it’s all at its best in summer.
Tasmania is a dedicated sailing state – more than 10% of the population has a boat licence, and half of these sailors own a boat. On any summer evening you’ll see the sails unfurl like blooms on the River Derwent in Hobart, or kanamaluka / River Tamar in Launceston. Hobart anchors the summer scene as the yachts drift into town, boosting the festivities for the New Year’s Eve fireworks over the river. Don’t miss the waterfront Hobart Race Village throughout the event: check out the yachts, catch some live tunes and enjoy some top Tasmanian food and drink.
Ways to identify a Tasmanian: they kick around in a pair of Blundstones, have a black ‘puffer’ jacket (the Tassie tuxedo) tucked away ready for winter, and they drive a Subaru with a kayak strapped to the roof. Paddling is a way of life here. Kayak into Hobart’s docks for a floating feed of fish and chips with Roaring 40s Kayaking, or head up the River Derwent to spy a platypus on a paddle with Tassie Bound Adventure Tours. Drift below towering sea cliffs on Turrakana / Tasman Peninsula with Southern Sea Ventures, or savour the romance of Freycinet National Park as you glide ashore at Honeymoon Bay with Freycinet Adventures.
Snorkelling and diving
Strap on a snorkel and mask and find marine magic along sandstone reefs at Tinderbox south of Hobart, or in the crystal-clear waters off Maria Island National Park. Divers gravitate to the east coast for Australia’s largest sea-cave system, the century-old SS Nord shipwreck, and a selection of shore and boat dives in Bicheno. There are dive operators in Hobart, Launceston and Teralina / Eaglehawk Neck.
There’s really no such thing as cold water…just thin wetsuits. The big wave at Shipstern Bluff is legendary and featured in the opening scenes of Sir David Attenborough’s Planet Earth 3. The uninitiated will prefer to watch its power from the shores, but there’s more accessible surf across the state. Close to Hobart, Clifton Beach offers consistent left- and right-hand waves, while Park Beach is a family favourite. Bicheno exudes a salty surf vibe, with 1km-long Redbill Beach the heart of the scene; while Marrawah delivers long rides in a westerly swell. Top of the drops might well be remote Martha Lavinia on King Island, once named by Surfing Life magazine as one of the world’s 10 best waves.
Leading US adventure magazine Outside once rated Tasmania’s celebrated Franklin River as the world’s greatest rafting journey. Trips along its 100km length, running from seven to 11 days, will take you deep into World Heritage wilderness, gliding serenely through calm gorges and hanging on tight through wild sections of white water. Take to the rapids with Franklin River Rafting, Water by Nature or Tasmanian Expeditions. For a shorter blast filled with fun rapids, King River Rafting day trips head deep into a west-coast gorge lined with rainforest and Huon pines.
All that time on the water can create an ocean-sized appetite. There are oysters fresh from the racks at Melshell Oyster Shack, Tarkine Fresh Oysters and Freycinet Marine Farm, with the latter also serving up farm-fresh mussels. Find crayfish (and a school of other seafood options) at Hursey Seafoods in Stanley, and at Bicheno’s Lobster Shack Tasmania. And don’t even consider leaving the state without tucking into Tasmania’s most famous seafood treat: the curry-flavoured scallop pie.
The sea-salt flows in every Tasmanian’s blood, a result of the island’s long seafaring ways. Delve into the maritime stories at the Maritime Museum of Tasmania and Mawson’s Huts Replica Museum in Hobart; and in the north, Bass and Flinders Maritime Museum in George Town and Low Head Pilot Station. Out and about, see how many sightings of the state’s 25 lighthouses you can amass: Cape Bruny Lighthouse is open for tours, and you can spend the night in a lightkeeper’s cottage at Low Head Lighthouse. More than 1000 shipwrecks litter the Tasmanian coast. Follow the Maritime Trail on King Island to get a sense of the volume of tragedy. What the sea wants, the sea shall have…
Wellness on the water
Tasmanian summers are warm, but there are inviting reasons to get cold. Discover the icy intoxication of a cold plunge in a mountain river on a Fire and Ice Walk with Walk on kunanyi; or Wim Hof-style in the ocean or an ice bath on a weekend retreat with Wild Wellness Method. Startle your senses as you switch between hot and cold – from sauna sits to chilly lake plunges – in the Floating Sauna Lake Derby; or hop between natural pools on a hidden hike through Apsley Gorge. Stroll a Flinders Island shore, beachcombing for paper nautilus or maireener shells…though that’s really just an excuse for a swim on a world-class beach that you’ll likely have all to yourself.
Frequently asked questions
Is the water cold in Tasmania?
Well, this isn’t Bali... Even in summer the ocean here is cool, averaging around 17°C near Hobart – but a lot depends on which coast you’re on, the season you’re in, and the time of day. Jump in the sea near Swansea on a February afternoon and things can feel positively balmy; dangle a toe in the surf at Marrawah on a July morning and be prepared for some discomfort. But if summer is your season, you’ll be just fine.
When does the Sydney Hobart Yacht Race finish?
The Sydney Hobart fleet sails out of Sydney Harbour on Boxing Day (26 December), travels down Australia’s east coast, crosses Bass Strait, traverses Tasmania's east coast then sails up the River Derwent into Hobart. The race record set by the super-maxi LDV Comanche in 2017 is 1 day, 9 hours, 15 minutes and 24 seconds…but some little yachts don’t reach Hobart until early January.
Do I need to wear a wetsuit to go surfing in Tasmania?
If you want to stay in the surf for more than 10 minutes, yes. But in summer, you won’t need a hoodie, booties or gloves – a standard 3/4mm steamer suit will keep you comfortable, and keep the sharp southern sun off your back.