11 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Tasmania
Featured destinations: Australia
Published 30 March 2016
Tasmania takes Australia's glorious coastline, soft sandy beaches, rolling hills, vast vineyards and varied wildlife and mixes them together to create a perfect little microcosm, like an Australia in miniature. There's plenty to see and do, but as Tassie is less well-known than it's more famous neighbours, we've put together 11 facts that you probably didn't know about the island state.
Tassie is big
At 26,383 square miles Tasmania is about the same size as Switzerland. A large proportion of its land is remote and often inaccessible wilderness, so don't underestimate your driving times. The rest is stuffed full of must-see attractions and gorgeous natural scenery, so we'd recommend at least a week to see the best bits and two if you'd prefer to take it at a leisurely pace. Tasmania's definitely not a place to rush.
It can snow
Who knew? It can snow in Australia, a land famous for its sun-drenched beaches. We're not just talking a light dusting here - in the winter months (June and July) heavy snow falls in the mountains and often remains until spring begins in October. My first trip to Tasmania was in July and I was struck by the beauty of the countryside when coated with pure white snow and a glittering frost, and I loved sitting by the fire in the cosy mountain cabins sipping on steaming hot chocolate. You can still hike at this time of year too, although you might need snowshoes.
Tasmanian devils are nocturnal
You'd have to have Lady Luck on your side to spot a wild Tasmanian devil. These nocturnal creatures are notoriously shy, so to avoid wasted hours spent camping out in the darkness, it's best to head for the nearest zoo or animal sanctuary if you want to see one. Try the Tasmanian Devil Unzoo in Taranna, the Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary near Hobart or the Devils@Cradle sanctuary in the foothills of Cradle Mountain.
Cradle Mountain is 1,545 metres high
Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park is named after its two most famous residents - the towering, snow-sprinkled peak of Cradle Mountain and the twinkling waters of Lake St Clair, Australia's deepest lake at 160 metres. This picturesque park is scattered with further mirror lakes, thick forest and dramatic peaks and wombats, possums and wallabies all call this place home. The best way to explore is on foot - I loved the two-hour loop around Dove Lake, in the shadow of Cradle Mountain, which I walked in the snow. Hardcore hikers can even tackle the summit itself, a 13km, 8-hour return walk.
Port Arthur used to be a prison
Pretty Port Arthur is a collection of crumbling old buildings, neatly trimmed lawns and pretty sea views, and makes for a relaxing picnic spot. But underneath the pretty-as-a-picture exterior lies a turbulent history: Port Arthur is a former convict settlement, where brutal punishment of prisoners, including solitary confinement and incarceration in complete darkness, drove many to insanity. It’s hard to imagine these horrors as you cruise the coastline or wander around the site on a sunny day.
Tasmanian tigers are extinct (maybe)
The misleadingly-named Tasmanian tiger is not a tiger at all but a thylacine, a carnivorous marsupial resembling a stripy dog with a kangaroo-like pouch. Unfortunately, the poor creature became extinct in the early 1930s due to excessive hunting, destruction of its natural habitat and competiton with European-introduced wild dogs, with the last captive specimen dying in Hobart Zoo in 1936. But since then there have been hundreds of so-called sightings, including some captured on film, although none have ever been verified. Keep your eyes peeled though - if you can provide photographic evidence of the tiger's exisitence you'll receive the AU$1.75 million reward currently on offer by Australian magazine The Bulletin.
You can re-enact Night at the Museum
The Museum of Old & New Art (MONA), on the grounds of the Moorilla Estate Winery just outside Hobart, offers the rare opportunity to spend the night in an art gallery. The museum, described by its owner as a ‘subversive adult Disneyland’, is filled with dark, thought-provoking modern pieces mixed with more traditional antiquities and historical relics. You won't quite be sleeping among the exhibits, but The Pavilions, the quirky on-site hotel, offers the next best thing with its ultra-modern, hi-tech rooms decorated with artefacts and pieces from the museum. Even if you're not staying, you can try out the restaurant: taste the vineyard’s top-notch wines and feast on a delicious tasting menu with vintages to match.
Wineglass Bay looks like a wine glass
The double-sided beach of Freycinet National Park's Wineglass Bay, consisting of two endless curves of soft white sand, is named after its close resemblance to the stem of a wine glass. Often voted among the top 10 beaches of the world, the area is best approached by boat, although you might share the ride with a dolphin or two. Alternatively, set off on a three-hour hike over the hills or simply admire the beach from its lookout point (pictured).
Mount Wellington's summit is accessible by road
If you don't fancy climbing the 1,269m summit of Mount Welly, as its affectionately know, fear not: there's a road winding right the way to the top, and you can even take the bus. Be sure to wrap up warm though, as temperatures at the top often drop below freezing, but the views over Hobart and the ocean beyond are spectacular. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you can hire a mountain bike and whizz down the slopes on two wheels.
Hobart likes a good party
Hobart loves to celebrate and the chances are there'll be some form of party on, whenever you choose to visit. At Christmas, the Myer Hobart Christmas Pageant draws the festive crowds, then there’s the Taste of Tasmania, seven days of delicious delights, held in December, which is also when the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race sets sail. Beat the January blues at the Hobart Comedy Festival, then in June celebrate the winter solstice at the Antarctic Midwinter Festival.
Tasmania has the purest air in the world
So don't hold back; grab your hiking boots, hire a bike, surfboard or a kayak and get outdoors among the forests, parks, mountains, lakes and beaches...and breathe deeply.
Tasmania tickle your fancy? Try our Tasmanian Explorer Journey, which takes in Hobart and Mount Welly, walking in Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park, sailing in Wineglass Bay and an after-dark ghost tour of Port Arthur.