Best road trips in Tasmania
Each bend in the road brings new surprises in Tasmania, whether it’s waterfalls pouring through ancient rainforest or dazzling white-sand beaches. From wine to whisky, farm-fresh produce to history, see where the detours take you.
Driving in Tasmania
Tasmania’s compact size and diversity makes it the ideal destination for a road trip. Roads on the island are typically winding and wonderful, so allow extra time when estimating driving times and distances, and be sure to keep your eye out for that next enticing detour – there are no wrong turns here, just chances to explore and immerse yourself in local life and landscapes.
Bring your own vehicle on the Spirit of Tasmania ferry from Melbourne, or hire a car or campervan once you’re here – just be sure to book well ahead.
About 40 per cent of Tasmania is protected as national parks, reserves and UNESCO World Heritage areas. A Tasmanian national parks pass is required for entry to national parks – daily passes and two-month holiday passes are available online from the Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service, at national park visitor centres, and at most accredited Tasmanian visitor information centres.
And watch out for our wildlife. Slow down. Native animals often wander onto the road, particularly between dusk and dawn, so take extra care at these times.
Choose a road trip
Pick a region or an interest and you’ll find road trips to explore island life. Steer your way around food trails and wine trails, whisky trails and cider trails, beer trails and history trails. Or set out to explore the island’s distinctive regions on five well-defined journeys.
Wind down the windows. That’s (officially) the world’s cleanest air you’re breathing. The coastline and the cuisine vie for attention on the Northern Forage drive journey across northern Tasmania. Some of the state’s finest beaches are tucked behind quiet coastal towns and, as you follow your food from paddock to plate, you’ll find the farmers and makers on hand to add stories to the flavours. You’ll be hard pressed to decide which is fresher: the food, the scenery, the welcome, or that air.
Great Eastern Drive
Just when you’ve seen the longest, loveliest beach, the road sweeps around and another sparkling coastline stretches ahead. On the Great Eastern Drive on Tasmania’s east coast and hinterland, holiday towns and national parks sit side by side, and cellar doors are open to the salty sea air. Furnished with the perfect arc of Wineglass Bay, and with islands ruled by wildlife, a drive along the coast and into the hinterland is about the simple pleasures – sea, sun, a sip of wine and detours that lead to long stretches of empty beaches and oyster shacks.
There’s a thrilling edge to life in Tasmania’s south, and it's thrillingly accessible on the Southern Edge drive journey. The trees are among the tallest in the world, the caves are deep, the sea cliffs are high and when you hit the coast, Antarctica looms somewhere over the horizon. The vast and empty Southwest Wilderness stretches away to the west as you drive from Hobart, after you’ve stopped in at cider houses and farm gates in the Huon Valley and crossed by ferry to Bruny Island for freshly shucked oysters, farmhouse cheeses, cliff-skimming cruises and postcard beaches. The journey ends where the road ends at Australia’s southernmost edge – the only thing beyond here is ocean and ice.
Tasmania’s west is where things truly get wild. Cool-temperate rainforests fringe the roads before they climb to alpine plains and glacial valleys around the likes of Cradle Mountain. The Western Wilds drive journey is special, be it a detour to a windswept lookout where the Southern Ocean thunders ashore, riding the Fatman vehicle barge through perfect reflections on the Pieman River, or winding down the 99 Bends to Queenstown. Out here there’s a tale around almost every bend – of grand visions and follies, and in haunting ghost towns swallowed by forest.
The past merges with the future on the Heartlands drive journey in central Tasmania. Georgian-era towns offer movie-set images, but peek behind the sandstone facades and there are stylish wine bars and award-winning distilleries. Country lanes are hemmed by hedgerows, and convict-built roads meander far from the highway, leading to relics of colonial and convict life. This is the hub of Tasmanian agriculture, but venture up into the Central Highlands and the landscape is transformed into a moody maze of lakes, mountains and moors.
Drive any direction in Tasmania and you’ll find cellar doors dotted along wine trails with views as impressive as the tastings. Loop out from Launceston on the Tamar Valley Wine Trail to more than 30 cellar doors, or choose a few from a cluster of laidback wineries along the Great Eastern Drive. The Southern Wine Trail features the closest vineyards to any Australian capital city, while the Cradle Coast Wine Trail mixes wine and wilderness in the north west.
Tasmanian Whisky Trail
Tasmanian whisky is top-shelf and highly prized - recent global awards include the world's best single malt and best single cask single malt. Head to the source on the Tasmanian Whisky Trail, taking in more than 14 distilleries across the state. Stay for a tasting, take a distillery tour, and meet the makers at distilleries that range from waterfront shacks to convict-built barns.
The toil of convicts can be seen across Tasmania, and their legacy remains indelibly printed on almost any road trip. The Convict Trail journeys through the state’s south east, taking in some of the most impressive and evocative relics of the 19th-century convict era. The beautiful town of Richmond features Australia’s oldest bridge, built by convicts, and as you cross to the Tasman Peninsula, make a stop at Eaglehawk Neck where a sculpture commemorates the “dog line” – fierce dogs were chained across the isthmus here to prevent convicts escaping inland from Port Arthur. Finish at Port Arthur Historic Site, the most beautiful and brutal of prisons, where about 12,500 convicts were exiled between 1830 and 1877.