I won’t deny my tendency to over-plan my days and trips. That’s why it was rather out of character for me to hardly plan a thing for my Tasmania trip this past January. My Aussie friend Teresa and I had been chatting about traveling together once I arrived in Australia and almost immediately decided on a Tasmania roadtrip. Here’s how our planning went down:
- Teresa booked her flights before we had even picked our dates
- I said, well ok I guess this is happening!, and booked my flights too
- We reserved a rental car for 5 days
- We exchanged messages the week before, deciding we definitely wanted to do Wineglass Bay, the east coast beaches, and the Tamar Valley vineyards
- I downloaded the WikiCamps app on my iPhone while waiting for Teresa at the Hobart airport (since we had zero accommodation booked and would be camping most nights, I figured this would be good to find nearby campsites on the fly)
That’s it. We actually had no idea where we were going when we hopped into our rental car.
This was our makeshift kitchen one night. Camping is SO glamorous!
But you know what? It felt really great to have total freedom over our 5 days roadtripping around Tasmania. We never felt the pressure of having to be at a certain place at a certain time. Each morning we’d wake up and see what we felt like doing before deciding where to drive to. It was laidback and spontaneous and just so much fun!
We ultimately ended up doing a counterclockwise route around eastern Tasmania. 5 days felt like just the right amount of time for it!
Day 1: Richmond & Coal River Valley
Located a mere 20 minute drive north of Hobart International Airport, historic Richmond makes for a no-brainer stop on any Tasmania roadtrip. We rolled through town expecting more… town, you might say. Richmond’s got more of a village feel to it, though, so I’d recommend parking your car and wandering through on foot.
If you’re pressed for time, hit the Convict Bridge first. Technically (and unoriginally), it’s called the Richmond Bridge – but it was built by convicts in 1825 and is the oldest bridge still in use in Australia. You could easily wile away an afternoon in Richmond by touring the Richmond Gaol (jail) or navigating the Richmond Maze (a lifesize outdoor timber maze). Side note: Richmond, what’s with the names of all your tourist attractions? #snoozefest
The roads leading to/from Richmond are dotted with vineyard signs, enticing you to sample wines from the Coal River Valley region. Teresa and I were deadset on getting our wine touring on in the Tamar Valley later in our Tasmania roadtrip, but being fresh off the plane and not having any concrete plans for our 5 days in Tasmania, we had no reason NOT to stop for some wine early on Day 1. Puddle Duck Vineyard does a stellar Pinot Noir; I wasn’t overly impressed with their famous sparkling Bubbleduck, however.
The grounds of Puddle Duck Vineyard
Vineyards and cellar doors tend to close by 5pm in Tasmania, so around this time we made the executive decision to head toward the east coast and hit Freycinet National Park the next morning. We didn’t anticipate all the campgrounds in the area being fully booked out in advance, though, which sent us into a last minute scramble to find affordable accommodation outside of Coles Bay and Swansea. By some stroke of luck, we nabbed the last free campsite at the holiday park in Bicheno. Still, I highly recommend booking ahead for accommodation near Freycinet National Park, as it’s a very popular region with limited options for affordable places to stay.
Day 2: Freycinet National Park
We only spent a morning at Freycinet National Park, but if I could go back and do it again I’d devote at least a full day to this glorious place.
First thing’s first: hitting the Wineglass Bay lookout as early in the day as possible. You definitely want to go before 10am to avoid the crowds and tour groups. Ironically, we arrived at 9am to overcast skies and had to wait it out until the clouds cleared – which of course was well after loads more people arrived. Ah well! ’twas still a beautiful sight well worth the wait and crowd.
From the Wineglass Bay lookout (1-1.5 hours return from carpark), you can hike down to the beach and back (2-3 hours return from the carpark), or continue hiking in a loop that takes you through both Wineglass Bay and Hazards Bay (4-5 hours, 11km loop). Had we not killed the whole morning driving and waiting for the sun to come out (and, lets be real, if we hadn’t needed to use the bathroom so badly), we’d have been keen to do more hiking from Wineglass Bay, but instead we went straight back to the carpark.
Before we bid adieu to Freycinet, we made a couple of stops at some lookout points at Thouin Bay on the east coast of the park. This turned out to be a great move because WHOA is the Freycinet coast stunning! We caught our first glimpse of the bright orange rock that pops up all along Tasmania’s east coast (especially in the Bay of Fires further north). Super beautiful, and doesn’t require much time to see, so don’t miss it!
Later in the day, we started heading up the coast toward the Bay of Fires and stopped for the night to camp (for free!) at Dora Point, just near Binalong Bay. And so began a very windy weather pattern that would haunt us for the rest of our time in Tasmania!
Day 3: Bay of Fires
I have to say, Tasmania really surprised us with its stunning east coast beaches. With their white sand and azure waters, they looked like they were straight out of the Caribbean (minus some palm trees, of course – no palms in Tassie!). And best of all, even during summer we were practically the only ones on any of these beaches.
Binalong Bay is arguably the stunner here. The beach itself is gorgeous, of course, but I think I enjoyed the orange rocks scattered on the perimeter even more. I automatically associate that orange and blue combo with Australia as a whole (I mean hellooooooo, the Outback!).
But oh my gosh, the wind on Tasmania’s east coast is INSANE. Between the wind and the perpetually cold water, Tasmania’s beaches are not exactly fit for swimming at any time of year. Binalong Bay was so windy we could only manage to stay on the beach for a few minutes in our hoodies and cropped pants before running back to the car for shelter.
A bit further up the coast, we stopped off at a couple random beaches, sat in the sun and sand, and had ourselves a little picnic lunch. Tasmanian beaches are seriously gorgeous!
Cosy Corner Beach
Finally we made our way to the Bay of Fires, which has the highest concentration of those orange rocks in Tasmania. My google-fu has ascertained that the orange color on the granite rocks comes from lichen. This area is more rocky than beachy, but still worth a frolic.
By late afternoon, we headed inland toward the north-central coast, intending to get as close to the Tamar Valley as possible so that we could wake up the next morning and get right into the wine tasting. We didn’t quite make the 5pm close time at the vineyards we passed en route, but Teresa found something even better for us to do on the fly: stop for some cheese tasting at Pyengana Dairy Company. We emerged with a large chunk of their creamy cheddar cheese – easily some of the best cheese I’ve ever enjoyed.
Low Head, Tasmania
Around 6pm we reached Low Head, a small town on the mouth of the Tamar River, right on the northern coast of Tasmania. We figured it would be a good launching point for the next day’s wine tasting extravaganza, and enthusiastically went to pitch our tent at the tourist park there. What we hadn’t counted on, however, was the ridiculous heavy winds that whipped through town 24/7. We mulled it over at dinner nearby, then mutually decided that camping in a wind tunnel was not on our list of things to do on this Tasmania roadtrip. It actually worked out well because we were able to upgrade our accommodation there and stay in an old trailer that had been converted into an 8-bed dorm, with a couple of older folks who were in town for the folk festival.
Seriously though – Low Head has got to be one of the windiest towns in the world. I opened my car door once and one of our maps flew out into the windy vortex, never to be seen again.
Day 4: Tamar Valley & Launceston
Wine tasting in Tamar Valley is a must-do on any Tasmania roadtrip. The wine route is very clearly marked along the roads surrounding the Tamar River, making it very easy to just drive around the area without a plan and stop at any of the 32 vineyards that sparks your attention. Here are the 6 that we somewhat randomly visited:
- Holm Oak Vineyards
- Goaty Hill Wines (I had the best Chardonnay of my life here!)
- Moores Hill (we had a great cheese platter here)
- Marion’s Vineyard (owned by a quirky American hippie!)
- Tamar Ridge (super professional and mega award-winning)
- Velo Vineyard
The Tamar Valley in Tasmania is known for its exceptional Pinot Noir, so if you’re going to try anything – go for that. I also found the Chardonnay to be consistently great at each vineyard we visited.
I’ve gotta hand it to my roadtrip partner-in-crime, Teresa: not only did she drive my ass around for 5 days, but she also eagery sampled wine at 6 different vineyards with utmost discipline (i.e. she didn’t actually swallow most of what she tasted, and only took a few sips of each since she was driving). I hardly made it through Vineyard #4 before I felt like calling it quits on the vino.
The Tamar Valley vineyards have this cool program where you can pick up a cardboard box at your first vineyard, fill it up with your purchased bottles, then request the last vineyard you visit to ship the box home to you. Teresa had a box of all her favorite Tassie wines shipped to her house in Toowoomba. Since I was traveling and had no extra money to spend, I couldn’t really justify buying any bottles to take home with me, but man – if I’d had a more stable work and living situation, I’d have been all over this!
With its close proximity to the Tamar Valley, Launceston makes for a sensible stop along the way – or even a place to base yourself for a night. We didn’t stop at Tasmania’s second-largest city during our roadtrip, but I returned before hiking the Overland Track and paid a visit to Cataract Gorge. I highly recommend it on a hot summer day, specifically for the cliff jumping and swimming. There are also some short hikes you could do there, should you fancy that.
Instead of visiting or staying overnight in Launceston, we opted to do some berry picking at the nearby Hillwood Berry Farm. We walked out with a carton full of the freshest strawberries and raspberries I’ve ever eaten in my life! (I did not, however, walk out with my credit card – which I realized a half hour later when I went to pay for fuel. Oops!)
That evening, we drove south towards Hobart with the intention of kicking off the next morning hiking at one of the inland national parks. We camped for free at some random parking lot in a tiny town whose name I can’t recall, about an hour northwest of Hobart (thank you, WikiCamps!).
Day 5: Tasman Peninsula
On our last day, we made a gametime decision to head south of Hobart to explore the Tasman Peninsula rather than hike at a nearby park. This turned out to be an excellent choice because WOW is this coastline beautiful. There are several touristy stops you can make when you first enter the peninsula, most of which are collapsed caves, blowholes, and other rock formations, all swarmed by Asian tourists and/or local families.
After these, you’ll soon arrive at Port Arthur. We snuck a peek at this old convict site through the fences, but opted for a hit of natural scenery instead of shelling out what we felt was a bit too much money on admission here. I’ve heard great things about Port Arthur though, so it’s definitely worth a stop on your Tasmania roadtrip if you’re into history and open air museums.
We continued driving into Tasman National Park, and that’s where things got really good. This park is chock full of coastal walks, ranging from an hour to several days long. I’m already contemplating a return trip later this year once the Three Capes Track opens in November!
But this time around, we just had a taste of the park via scenic lookouts and short walks from the carpark. I recommend checking out the Remarkable Cave and exploring the coast nearby.
If you’ve got a few hours to spare on the Tasman Peninsula, definitely high tail it to Cape Raoul. There are a couple different hikes you can do from the carpark, e.g. the hike to Cape Raoul (5 hours return) or the hike to the Cape Raoul lookout (1.5 hours return). You’re allowed to camp on the field just by the carpark, so if you’ve got the time I’d say camp here for a night and do one hike the first day and another hike the second day.
We did the short hike to the lookout. These ridicuous coastal views left me begging for more!