Australia’s island state Tasmania certainly feels a world away from the mainland. Home to 19 national parks and a dramatic, diverse landscape, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were on the other side of the world upon arriving. This separation from the mainland, along with strong protection of its ecosystems, allows for a unique travel experience that feels totally unspoilt. Tasmania’s east coast in particular boasts everything from pristine white beaches to lichen-covered rocks and historic convict ruins. A popular route for road trips and camping, there are some spots along the way you just can’t miss. Here’s how to see them all on a self-drive tour in under two weeks.
QUICK FACTS ABOUT TASMANIA
- Tasmania is separated from mainland Australia by a 240 kilometer stretch of the Bass Strait.
- The Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area represents approximately 1/5 of the state’s land area.
- The island’s population is just over 500,000, with 40% of people residing in its capital, Hobart.
- The east coast of Tasmania is best accessed from either Hobart in the south or Launceston in the north. Both airports have multiple flights daily from Sydney and Melbourne. Some Brisbane to Hobart flights are also available.
- The Spirit of Tasmania ferry makes trips between Melbourne and Devonport, however the trip takes 9-10 hours and disembarks further west of Launceston. This is the only option if you want to bring a vehicle over.
- You can start your east coast road trip from either Hobart or Launceston, picking up a hire car in town.
With so many sites dotted along the east coast you’ll be stopping a lot along the way. Aside from the major towns it’s rare that you’ll need more than one night’s accommodation in each spot. To make it easier to move between places I would highly recommend hiring a motorhome. We did so for the first time and loved it. We were able to pull up to any beach for sunset, sleep there to the sound of the ocean and wake up to breakfast with a view. It also meant that we weren’t restricted with check in/out times which would’ve seen us in each hotel for only a few hours. There are of course some beautiful properties that are worth a longer stay if you’d like a more luxurious trip. I’ll point these out in each town along the way.
THE EAST COST MAP
Save this one to your camera roll for a quick reference guide along the way.
Day 1-4: HOBART
We spent three nights in Hobart to begin our trip, staying at Somerset on the Pier. It was the perfect amount of time to experience a bit of everything on offer without rushing around. I would also recommend the Henry Jones Art Hotel for a boutique stay full of character, or the newly opened MACq 01 for a chic suite overlooking the water. Whilst in Hobart we made a trip out to MONA, dined in Salamanca and tasted our way through Brooke Street Pier. If you happen to visit on a Saturday, Salamanca markets is a must. There are over 300 fresh produce and craft stalls to wander through. After stocking up on cheese and wine in Hobart we headed back to the airport to pick up our campervan and start the road trip.
*NOTE: I recommend only picking up your campervan once you’re ready to head out of Hobart to save navigating its back streets with an extra long vehicle.
First light at Constitution Dock.
Day 4 & 5: BRUNY ISLAND DETOUR
From Hobart we made a quick detour west, so as to not miss Bruny Island before we hit the east coast. It was well worth the 1-night stay with a heap of food and wine tasting on offer. (Check out my Bruny Island guide for a full foodie itinerary and ferry info). Finding a campervan site on Bruny Island was easy. We went for Captain Cook Holiday Park which had a beautiful view of Adventure Bay. Leaving early the next morning we were able to pick up any extra supplies we’d forgotten (or eaten) on the way back through Hobart.
Two Tree Point on South Bruny.
Get Shucked Oyster Farm.
Day 5 & 6: PORT ARTHUR
Port Arthur is located only an hour and a half away from Hobart. Turn off the main A3 highway and head south towards the rugged peninsular. I should mention that when we traveled (mid-February) we couldn’t get a campervan for long enough to head down to Port Arthur. Given the chance, I would set aside one night to explore the historic site and rest up after the 3.5hr drive from Bruny. A day pass for Port Arthur will allow you access for two consecutive days, so it’s perfect for an overnight stay. Plus, there are night tours and ghost tours available if you’re game!
Leaving the following morning you’ll drive near Bream Creek. During our time in Tassie I drank my fair share of Bream Creek Chardonnay which was by far my favourite of the trip. If you’ve got time to check out their vineyard, it is one of the oldest in Tasmania. You can taste their wines in the nearby cellar door at Dunalley Waterfront Café and Gallery.
MARIA ISLAND DETOUR
As you head further north for Freycinet you will pass Maria Island. This natural wildlife sanctuary is accessible only by 30-minute ferry from the town of Triabunna. The island offers free camping or bunk accommodation for those who want to stay on and explore. On the island you’ll find convict ruins from the ghost town of Darlington, hiking trails to its tallest peaks and cycleways through the national park. This detour is definitely one for keen hikers or nature enthusiasts.
Back on the main island you’ll be heading towards Swansea. Along the way there are several expansive beaches close to the road. Most are quiet and covered in beautiful seashells, seemingly undisturbed. We jumped out at Kelvedon Beach Conservation Area (10 kms south of Swansea) to grab some snaps of the old fishing shack.
Approaching Swansea there are a few spots to stop for lunch, the best being Saltshaker Restaurant on the water. It serves up lunchtime favourites like burgers and salads, and of course oysters. If you’re more in the mood for some wine tasting with a side of lunch, hang out for Devil’s Corner Vineyard further down the road. You’ll find it before Freycinet, with grapevines sprawling out over a stunning view to the coast below.
Day 6 & 7: FREYCINET (WINEGLASS BAY)
Visiting Freycinet National Park was a highlight of our trip. The dramatic peninsular is home to Wineglass Bay’s famous white sandy beach and pristine water. The town itself, Coles Bay, has a small supermarket, holiday parks and a waterfront esplanade. This is the gateway to the national park and the closest you can stay to the scenic walks.
There are several options for experiencing Wineglass Bay. Firstly, you can start with the shortest walk, a 1.5hr return trip from Wineglass Bay car park. Note that you will require a National Parks Pass to enter this area. You can buy them online or from stores listed here. The walk is well laid out and provides plenty of photo opportunities of the landscape and native flora. Once at the top, you have a view south to beautiful Wineglass Bay. It’s quite far from the bay itself so bring a zoom lens if you plan on capturing the beach. If you’ve arrived well before sunset there’s time to walk down to the beach which adds an hour to the return trip. This will get you to the northern end. Continue on for a further 20 minutes to reach the southern stretch of sand.
I’d recommend staying in Cole’s Bay overnight to witness the sunset and give you time to explore more the following day. Freycinet is also home to luxury accommodation if you feel like splurging. My pick would be the coastal pavilions at Freycinet Lodge (opening March 2018) or for a special occasion, an all-inclusive package at Saffire.
*TIP: On your way to/from Cole’s Bay stop at Freycinet Marine Farm to stock up on local oysters which are freshly shucked and served with tasty condiments.
Wineglass Bay Lookout.
Justin shooting with a fury friend.
Day 7: BICHENO
Leaving Freycinet the next day, it’s only half an hour’s drive before you get a chance to stretch your legs. The town of Bicheno offers up the first glimpse of Tasmania’s famed lichen-covered rocks. We came across Bicheno by accident whilst looking for a dump station (romantic, I know) and spent a good couple of hours clambering over its huge boulders. The main attraction is the blowhole where you get a good sense of the power behind the ocean below.
On our way out we discovered a great little cafe called The Farm Shed. This modern barn has a great breakfast menu and serves up delicious coffee. You can also pick up local wine and handicrafts.
Day 7: ST HELENS
Heading further north for Binalong Bay it pays to stop at St. Helens to stock up on supplies. This town was the biggest we came across after leaving Hobart so you should be able to buy anything you need. And if you aren’t completely sick of seafood yet you can enjoy some fresh oysters at Oyster Buoy by Salty Seas, the same company offering up lobsters at the nearby Rock Lobster Shed. St Helens also plays a big role in preserving Tasmania’s colonial history. After looking into my own family tree last year I was keen to check out St Helens History Room. It’s home to thousands of artefacts and photographs, some of which are on display for visitors. Their website states that they are open 7-days however they were closed when I tried to visit on a Sunday so perhaps check ahead if you’re passing through on the weekend.
Day 7 & 8: BINALONG BAY (BAY OF FIRES)
Only 15 minutes up the road you’ll reach the start of Binalong Bay. At the northern end of this bay sits the Bay of Fires Conservation Area, famous for its ruddy, lichen-covered boulders. However, its name comes from the Aboriginal fires spotted from the water by early explorers rather than the rust-coloured landscape. There are at least 6 points dotted along the bay where you can see coloured rocks reaching into the ocean. We parked at Cosy Corner North camping area, which was insanely close to the beach. We could hear the waves crashing during the night and were blown away by how pristine the sand was there. I recommend staying overnight so that you can witness a sunrise and sunset from the bay. Although as you can see from our pics we only got one quick glimpse of the sun!
Day 8: INLAND TO LAUNCESTON
After cooking breakfast by the beach it was time to head inland towards Launceston. Of course you could venture further up the east coast if you have a little more time. Eddystone Point Lighthouse in the NE corner looks like a great sunrise photo op further up. Instead we set off from Binalong Bay via St Helens and hit the Tasman Highway in search of some rainforest adventures. Approaching Pyengana we came across Halls Falls. This cluster of small falls and rapids forms a beautiful oasis just 30 minutes walk from the car park. The track meanders through lush rainforest and is quite easy to manage. If you are up for a bigger adventure though, detour to St Columba waterfall further down the highway which boasts a 90 meter drop!
Between here and Launceston there are countless small country towns to stop at along the way. One that stood out to me was Derby. It’s quaint cottages serving up coffee and mountain bike trails hugging the river were very inviting. Once you’ve passed Scottsdale the A3 takes a dramatic line through the southern approach to Launceston. My husband love the windy drive with hairpins aplenty through the rainforest. Having our handbrake fail earlier in the trip, I was a little more nervous about the steep decline.
Heading into Halls Falls.
Day 8-11: LAUNCESTON
We decided to spend three nights in Launceston to again take a slower pace like we did in Hobart. This also gave us the opportunity to explore the Tamar Valley wine region. We stayed at The Sebel in Launceston which was convenient to most sites. There’s also Peppers Seaport if you’d like to stay on the marina or Hedera House on Airbnb for a heritage home with modern interiors. If you plan to also visit, I would recommend a brewery tour, waterfront dinner, visit to the gorge and a trip out to the vineyards. I’ve included all of my favourite spots in my Launceston travel guide.
Hallams Seafood Restaurant.
TIME IN TASMANIA
Overall we spent 11 days on the east coast of Tasmania which would’ve been 12 including a trip to Port Arthur. We came away feeling that we had seen all of the highlights from this part of Tasmania and were glad we didn’t try to squeeze in the west coast too. If you have 3 more days to explore I’ve detailed how to plan the perfect trip to Cradle Mountain from Launceston. It’s a nice little bush retreat after days spent on the road. Without a doubt hiring a campervan was the best choice for accommodation. We couldn’t have accessed all of the sites so quickly if we had to drive in from a hotel each day. It also saved us from having to pack and unpack almost every day. If you have any questions about the logistics of staying in a motorhome please ask below. We were first-time campers on this trip so a lot of lessons were learned along the way.