Tasmania may be relatively small, but the island is overflowing with natural beauty, cosmopolitan cultural experiences, and a rich history to explore.
It’s the ideal destination for a road trip, and the close proximity of towns and attractions means you’ll spend more time out of the car than you will in it. The roads are excellent and generally fairly quiet, which makes self-driving a breeze – even for international visitors.
This suggested road trip itinerary will take you ten days in total, with one full day in Launceston and two full days in Hobart – Tassie’s fabulous capital city. We’ve recommended some key activities along the way, but there are plenty of others. For affordable and well located accommodation along the route, head to Choice Hotels.
Day 1: Devonport
Devonport is Tasmania’s third largest city and the home of the Spirit of Tasmania ferry service. If you are bringing your own car over from the mainland, Devonport will be your first port of call. This historic maritime city has plenty of attractions to fill your time, including the fabulous Bass Strait Maritime Centre – which is housed in the former Harbour Master’s residence. From the centre, it’s just a short walk to Aikenhead Point overlooking the mouth of the Mersey River. Also check out the Devonport Regional Gallery and take a ride on the Don River Railway. It’s run by local volunteers and home to a variety of fully restored locomotives. The rail service runs from the depot to Coles Beach every hour from 10am to 4pm.
Day 2: Devonport to Launceston (100 kilometres)
The drive from Devonport to Launceston is a beautiful one. Must-stops along the way include the fabulous House of Anvers Chocolate Factory at Latrobe. Anvers is one of 30+ food producers that are showcased along the Cradle to Coast Tasting Trail. You might like to download the trail map and visit a few of the other providores in the region, including the Ashgrove Tasmanian Farm and Cheese Factory at Elizabeth Town.
The drive to Launceston will also take you through the picturesque Tamar Valley wine region. The Tamar Valley has an abundance of wineries, scenic walks and historic settlements, and many small townships to explore.
Need a place to stay?
Constructed back in 1847 to house a grammar school, Quality Hotel Colonial Launceston offers an atmospheric stay in a fabulous heritage setting, right on the edge of the Launceston CBD. The hotel couples modern facilities with old-world character and charm.
Day 3: Launceston
Spend your day exploring everything Launceston has to offer. Tasmania’s second largest city is packed with period architecture and a free guided walking tour of the city centre will give you the backstory. Also check out the superb Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery. It’s the largest regional museum in the country. Leave enough time to head out to Cataract Gorge Reserve and ride the famous Scenic Chairlift. Beer lovers will want to check out the James Boag Factory and do a guided tour.
Day 4: Launceston to George Town (51 kilometres)
Today you have a relatively short drive from Launceston to George Town – one of Australia’s oldest townships. Take a detour en route across the Tamar River to Beaconsfield – a historic mining town. The name might sound familiar. In 2006, an earthquake struck the region causing a mine collapse and trapping miners Brant Webb and Todd Russell underground for two weeks. Webb and Russell survived, but their colleague Larry Knight was killed in the accident. The Beaconsfield Mine & Heritage Centre has a compelling collection of memorabilia and is a must-see.
Once you reach George Town, you can check out the historic Watch House Museum – the town’s former gaol (which dates back to 1843), and the Bass and Flinders Centre, which shares the town’s maritime history. In the evening, book a spot on the Low Head penguin colony tour and meet the region’s plucky little penguins as they return to their rookery after a day of fishing in Bass Strait. The wind can be mighty cold all year round, so make sure you have a warm jacket with you.
Need a place to stay?
Comfort Inn The Pier is an award-winning hotel located on the picturesque waterfront of York Cove in the centre of George Town.
Day 5: George Town to St Helens (170 kilometres)
Today’s drive across the north-eastern corner of Tasmania will take you through picturesque countryside. Stop in at Legerwood to see the famous sculpted memorial trees. Tree saplings were planted as an enduring memorial to local men who lost their lives in WWI, but by the end of the 20th century the ageing trees were in danger of having to be removed. The residents engaged chainsaw carver Eddie Freeman to fashion the broad trunks into sculptures, which portray the men in the moments of bravery that defined them. A visit to the Legerwood Memorial Carvings is a moving experience.
Once you reach the relaxed coastal hamlet of St Helens, head for the Visitor Centre and the excellent History Room. There’s a small fee to enter the museum, but it’s well worth seeing. Two thousand pieces of memorabilia share the history of tin mining in the region, along with the town’s shipbuilding past. St Helens is also famous as the gateway to the Bay of Fires, which boasts pristine white sand, sparkling blue water, and rocky granite outcrops splashed with patches of orange lichen.
Day 6: St Helens to Hobart (250 kilometres)
You have quite a drive today, but there plenty to see along the way. Take the coastal route and do it at a relaxed pace. Freycinet National Park is one of Tasmania’s most popular natural landscapes and is home to the Insta-famous Wineglass Bay (consistently ranked as one of the top beaches in the world). The perfectly curving beach with its white sand meeting the turquoise water is a breathtaking sight on a good day. Stop off and do the Cape Tourville Lighthouse and Lookout walk. It’s a 20-minute round trip and offers fabulous views.
If you keep heading south, you’ll eventually reach the isthmus to the Tasman Peninsula – home to the island’s best-known heritage attraction – the Port Arthur Historic Site. More than 12,000 convicts were incarcerated at Port Arthur over the course of 50 years and today there are around 30 remaining buildings to explore. The site is extensive, and if you’re a history lover, you may want to come here on one of your free days in Hobart and explore it in detail.
Day 7 & 8: Hobart
You now have two full days to discover everything that makes Hobart such a popular tourist destination. This is the second oldest capital city in Australia and is full of period architecture, amazing restaurants and cafes, and top cultural attractions. Must-sees and dos include Mona (the Museum of Old and New Art), the Salamanca Market (held on Saturdays) and the historic Cascade Brewery. The city’s hop on hop off bus tour with Red Decker has 19 stops at points of interest around the city and comprehensive commentary. Add a transfer to the top of Mount Wellington to take in the epic views. Hop off at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery and see the extinct thylacine (Tasmanian tiger) exhibition.
Day 9: Hobart to Queenstown (260 kilometres)
Queenstown is situated in Tasmania’s remote west. Once one of the world’s richest mining towns, the city today is dominated by peaks almost completely devoid of vegetation (the result of more than a century of copper mining). Despite the devastation of the landscape, many visitors suggest that the region has a strange and compelling beauty. You be the judge.
Before you get there, you’ll get a good dose of mother nature at her very best by visiting Russell Falls in the Mount Field National Park. The short walk to the falls will delight nature lovers and sooth the senses. Surrounded by lush rainforest, the tiered falls lie in (an almost) a seemingly prehistoric world of soaring tree ferns, mossy logs and babbling streams. Enjoy this truly sublime experience!
From Queenstown, you can also take the opportunity to visit Tasmania’s highest waterfall – Montezuma Falls – which plummets over 100 metres into verdant rainforest. Cross the ravine on a suspension bridge for spectacular photo opportunities.
Day 10: Queenstown to Devonport, via Strahan (260 kilometres)
You have an early start today. The drive to the coastal town of Strahan will take you around 50 minutes and you need to be there early to enjoy one of Tasmania’s absolute must-dos – a cruise on the pristine waters of the Gordon River with Gordon River Cruises. This remote waterway meanders through some of the island’s most impenetrable wilderness. The cruise departs from Strahan each morning and includes a buffet lunch. Bookings are essential.
From Strahan, the drive back to Devonport will take just under three hours. Two hours will bring you to the world-renowned Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park, where iconic Cradle Mountain looms above the reflective waters of Dove Lake. The sheer magnificence of Cradle Mountain is not to be missed. Leave your car at the visitor centre and take the shuttle bus (included in the cost of your park access fee) up to the lake and back. Times vary depending on the season.
About the writer
Adam Ford is editor of The Big Bus tour and travel guide and a travel TV presenter, writer, blogger and photographer. He has previously had the opportunity to travel the world as host of the TV series Tour the World on Network Ten.