Tasmanian island touring

Kath and Scott Heiman — 1 August 2019
Little island, big attitude

When we travel the highways and byways of the mainland, we can soon find ourselves in regional areas where towns and villages are far between. 

Beyond the coastal fringe, the population density dwindles rapidly and vast tracts of the country take on the distinctive look and feel of the Australian scrub.  

Picture pastoral holdings as expansive as small European countries — and mulga plains that can stretch for hundreds of kilometres. It can be enough to leave most kids howling, “Are we there yet!” from the back seat. 

If the prospect of this type of holiday ‘fun’ with the kids doesn’t float your boat, perhaps it’s time to turn your compass south and take a trip to Tasmania. We recently took a Heiman family adventure across Bass Strait for a few weeks to do some reconnaissance and the results are pretty clear: Tassie packs a punch as a family holiday destination.

SIZE DOESN’T MATTER

It’s no great revelation to be reminded that Tasmania is Australia’s smallest state accounting for less than 1 per cent of Australia’s landmass. You may be more surprised by what one of the locals told us: “Wherever you find yourself in Tasmania, you’re less than 150km by road from the coast.” Seriously. And ++this makes sense when you consider that Tasmania has a coastline of only 3000km.  

In terms of population, there's not a whole heap of people down here. Indeed, the whole state has a population less than Queensland’s Gold Coast, which accounts for 2 per cent of the national population.  

While these statistics mean that Tasmania is a relatively compact holiday destination, they belie the richness and variety that exists within the state.  

Whether you’re looking for rugged wilderness adventures, fishing, sites of historic and cultural significance, surfing, museums, gourmet produce or simply chillaxing, we bet there’s a little patch of Tassie that has your name on it.  

And, chances are, it probably has your kids’ names on it too. The biggest challenge is to work out where to focus the family’s attention when there are so many fun options available. 

With just three weeks to spend on the island, our hybrid RV in tow and our eight-year-old on board, we decided to focus our energies on those parts of Tasmania well beyond the reach of the fly-in mainland tourist. So our route would take us to the furthest reaches of the island for a taste of Tasmania, ‘where the wild-things are’. 

LITTLE THRILL-SEEKERS

Tasmania has a well-deserved reputation as a destination for adventure lovers. Whether it’s hiking, kayaking, mountain-biking or rafting, thousands of thrill-seekers come to Tasmania looking for an adrenaline rush.  

Happily, opportunities to push the barriers aren’t limited to tweens and over. So we hunted down a selection of hair-raising and giggle-inducing activities for the younglings, too.

TARKINE FOREST ADVENTURES

Situated on the northwest coast, the drawcard here is the giant 110m slide that will guarantee a 15-second, full-bottle squeal from your little devils (eight year-old age minimum) travelling at what seems like warp speed. 

At the base of the slide, kids of all ages can enjoy the Alice in Wonderland-inspired boardwalk stroll within one of the Southern Hemisphere’s largest sinkholes. 

There’s a pretty amazing eco-system at work down here, too. Look closely and you’ll see the homes of burrowing crayfish — and there’s a population of cute kangaroo-like pademelon that is bound to be a hit. 

TAHUNE AIR WALK

While adults will appreciate an eagle’s eye view across part of 1.6 million hectares of World Heritage Listed forest, kids will love this site for the ‘Eek!’ factor. 

Located in southern Tassie, the Air Walk takes visitors along an elevated walkway, 30m above the forest floor — with the cantilever section reaching 50m above the Huon River. On our visit, it seemed the kids were handling the heights fine — it was the parents who were getting the wobbles! 

Meanwhile, river rafting tours were soaring underneath. In addition, the site offers a walk over a suspension bridge across the Huon and Picton Rivers. There’s also a cable-controlled hang glider that takes visitors 50m into the canopy before releasing them across the Huon (with a harness especially made for little visitors: 25kg minimum).

HOLLYBANK TREETOP ADVENTURES

What do you do inside one of Tasmania’s oldest arboretums? Tie a couple of tonnes of steel wire rope to some particularly solid tree trunks and develop an award-winning zipline adventure, of course! 

So, strap yourself in and get ready to fly through the canopy at 50km/h for a bird's-eye view of Tasmania's beautiful forests. This breathtaking adventure lasts up to 2.5 hours.  

Kids aged three to 13 are permitted as long as there’s an accompanying adult. If you’re travelling with littl’uns under 35kg (and/or under eight years old), expect a tandem flight. And just remember, when you travel in pairs, your combined weight will have you gliding even faster!

There is also a spectacular high ropes course designed for all ages to clamber among the tree-tops like a Commando. Or, for a more relaxed pace, ease your way through the forest on a Segway. And because the site is a state forest, it also has a variety of barbecue and picnic areas. So pack a bat and ball, and make a day of it.

BLUE DERBY

The old mining village of Derby in the northeast of the island has reinvented itself into a Mecca for mountain bike riders. So before you leave the mainland, be sure to stack and rack your bikes. With more than 100km of trails open for all ability levels, this place attracts people from all over the world and has hosted the Enduro World Series. 

On behalf of Caravan World, we were given the opportunity to be the first visitors to the new family track which circumnavigates the Briseis Dam. This is an old open-cut mine that has achieved a new lease of life as the rainwater-filled lake surrounds the track. The dam has been stocked with fish so bring along your rod and kayak. Free camping is available and there are some great coin-operated showers in town. Even better, access to the trails is free!

NATURE'S PLAYGROUND

If there’s one thing that’s guaranteed to get an eight-year old girl’s attention, it’s fairy houses. And, along the Tasmanian West coast, there’s magic around every corner. As our littlest crew member put it: “I like that fairy-shaped houses are in the woods already and how there’s moss everywhere that’s really lush green.” 

With a range of short walks readily accessible, supported by interpretive signs and with waterfalls seemingly everywhere, it doesn’t take much effort to engender a sense of awe in Tassie nature among young kids.  

For those with the urge to leave the carparks behind, the Tasmanian National Parks and Wildlife Service provides a handy $4.95 booklet and free app of 60 Great Short Walks ranging from 30 minutes to more adventurous treks that take days to cover. 

We took several of these walks during our visit including the 9km trip to one of Tasmania’s highest waterfalls, Montezuma Falls, near Strahan on the mid-west coast. Access this via the sealed road or the alternate 4WD route, depending on your rig’s capabilities.  

An overnight trek from Cockle Creek to South Cape Bay took us to the furthest southern reaches of the state via a well-marked and easy gradient 14km/ five-hour return trip through sensational marshlands and forests to sweeping ocean views across rugged clifftops. This walk was a significant milestone for our family: the graduation for our daughter from day-tripper to fully-fledged overnight bushwalker. 

If you don’t wish to rough it, set up your rig in one of the campsites that are located at the head of the track. Stay a few nights, do some day walks, and enjoy the opportunities for fishing and — in season — whale watching. 

HELL'S GATES 

For many of us, the thought of the Gordon River evokes memories of the dawn of the Green Movement that was associated with efforts to protect the Gordon River from the Franklin Dam Project in the early 1980s. 

But take a cruise with Gordon River Cruises into Macquarie Harbour and along the River, and your eyes will open up to a whole world of Indigenous, convict and environmental significance. For our daughter, the experience had her reaching for bird identification guides and abridged convict history books that were barely put down for the rest of the trip. 

Our time on the river also included the opportunity to taste some of the region’s best produce. The guides and staff on the vessel and on Sarah Island were top notch. A truly memorable experience.

FAMILY HIGHLIGHTS

While highlights of our three week Tassie trip ran thick and fast, there were a selection of other activities that really captured our family’s imagination.

Fossil Bluff near Wynyard: This easy-to-access site includes the remains of prehistoric whales and the oldest marsupial fossil found in Australia. With the opportunity to touch and feel Australia’s prehistoric past, this is a great place for the family to let their inner archaeologist run wild (at low tide).

Strahan: With a claim of being Australia’s longest running play, The Ship that Never Was is a pantomime that will engage the whole family for two hours of fun with great dose of convict history. Don’t miss it if you’re in town. And make sure you go after you’ve visited Sarah Island so that you understand the context. 

Hastings Caves and Thermal Springs: Who’d have thought there’d be a swimming pool in the middle of the bush fed by spring water that maintains a tepid 28C all year-round? To say that our daughter was happily surprised by the find would be an understatement! Located in the Huon Valley.

Hobart Botanic Gardens: Go ahead and get grubby here! Learning where food comes from at the site of Gardening Australia’s own veggie patch was a morning of fun and discovery. A visit next door to the place where the last Tasmanian Tiger was held captive was a sobering experience that really struck a chord.

Pooseum: In Richmond, there’s a new museum all about poo, and it’s here you learn what the native animals’ scat looks like. Could you tell the difference between a pademelon, wombat, quoll or Tassie devil’s poo? Spend time here to learn something a little unusual, and to improve the quality of poo discussions among your tiny travellers.

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travel island touring tasmania

Photographer

Kath and Scott Heiman