It’s not the southernmost vacation destination on the globe. Not counting Antarctica, that honor would go to a few settlements at the southern tip of South America or perhaps the South Island of New Zealand. But still, Tasmania is way down there — and worth a visit.
The island of Tasmania, one of the six Australian states, is located just 150 miles south of the mainland. Sadly, many tours to Australia don’t include this beautiful island in their itinerary. The short flight from Melbourne to the state’s capital city of Hobart adds both time and cost to a typical jam-packed trip Down Under. But, for those who can arrange it, the Tasmanian experience is indeed memorable.
The history of Tasmania is particularly fascinating. Speculation prevails that the island was once attached to mainland Australia and later separated by rising oceans. It was first sighted in 1642 by a Dutch explorer named Abel Tasman and only inhabited by aboriginals until European settlers began colonization in the late 1700’s. In a historical context, that’s almost a current event.
In school, I learned that Australia was originally settled by convicts sent there by the British government. The first prisoners arrived in 1788 with the start of the settlement at Sydney. As more convicts arrived, other penal colonies were established throughout Australia — including Tasmania.
The penal system is such an important part of Australia’s history that the colony at Port Arthur, near Hobart, is one of the island’s top tourist destinations. The compound comprises more than 30 structures.
As I toured the landscaped grounds, I had plenty of time to contemplate the fate of the estimated 12,500 prisoners who had been incarcerated in the sprawling facility. In the museum, I read about the lives of some of the prisoners and I learned that hearty Australians consider it a badge of honor to be a descendent of a convict.
Close to half of Tasmania’s population lives in Hobart, so it’s a given that you will spend time there. This little city vibrates with multiple personalities: arts and culture — check; old European architecture — check; waterfront embarcadero — check; access to stimulating terrain — check; interesting flora and fauna — check; gateway to Antarctica — check. You get the idea.
For nature lovers, approximately 40% of Tasmania is designated as a national park, reserve or other protected area. Almost a quarter of the island is included in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area Management Plan.
Of course, no trip to Tasmania would be complete, if you didn’t see a Tasmanian devil — apart from symbols and logos on just about everything. Devils run free, but they’re mostly nocturnal, so the best place to see one is at the Tasmanian Devil Conservation Park.
These feisty little carnivorous marsupials are about the size of small dogs and only found on the island of Tasmania. If you see them in action, you’ll agree the Looney Tunes cartoon character “Taz” is a spot-on depiction. When you hear their screech, see their teeth bared, and or get a whiff of their foul odor — trust me — you won’t want to meet one in a dark alley somewhere.
There is much more to see in the Conservation Park than just devils. You are free to roam among a complete menagerie of Australia’s most unusual animals. Personally, I got a kick out of playing with the kangaroos.
Considering all Tasmania has to offer, it’s no wonder Lonely Planet ranks this region as number four on their list of the world’s top ten regions to visit. It should be on your list too.