Tasmania is one of the world’s last accessible wilderness frontiers. Tassie, as the island is affectionately known, is Australia’s only island state. Despite its contrasting and diverse landscapes which for the most part bear little resemblance to the mainland, it lies just 150 miles south of the Australian mainland and only a 45 minute flight from Melbourne, or under ninety minutes from Sydney with regular connections from both to the two main cities of Hobart in the south (the State Capital) and Launceston in the north. It can also be reached by crossing the Bass Strait by car and passenger ferry, the Spirit of Tasmania, which departs Melbourne for Devonport and takes between nine and eleven hours.
So for all its remoteness, and its stark contrast with the mainland, travel to Tasmania is actually no more difficult than it is to travel to anywhere else in Australia, and thanks to the comparatively short distances, in many cases far, far easier and unquestionably more rewarding in a relatively short period of time.
Tasmania is located between 40 and 43.3 degrees South. It is surrounded by the Southern Ocean (to the south and west), the Tasman Sea (to the east) and Bass Strait (to the north). There is no landmass west until South America, nothing south until Antarctica, and nothing to the east until New Zealand. It has the cleanest air in the inhabited world, a fact borne out by the Clean Air Testing station on the island’s far North Western point, the inappropriately named Cape Grim.
Although it is in fact the 26th largest island in the world (similar in size to Sri Lanka, Switzerland or Ireland, with around one tenth of the population of the latter) it is in fact an archipelago of 334 islands, from the Furneaux Group in the northeast and King Island in the north west, down to Macquarie Island located far south of Tasmania at 55 degrees South. A number of the offshore islands are easily visited and have their own distinct personalities, making island hopping a pleasure.
Tasmania was separated from the Australian mainland approximately twelve to 15000 years ago when the great ice caps melted and sea levels rose to flood the landbridge that had continued to connect the island to the mainland after the breakup of the super continent, Gondwanaland. In doing so, it effectively made Tassie a life raft for many species of birds and wildlife that would eventually become extinct on the mainland due to the arrival of white man, the dingo, the fox, and the subsequent destruction of habitat. All these species still survive, largely in abundance in Tasmania, with the possible exception of the Thylacine (Tasmanian Tiger) which is presumed but not proven to be extinct.
The Tasmanian Aboriginal people who crossed from the mainland were isolated for ten thousand years until the European settlers arrived.
In 1642 Dutchman Abel Tasman was the first European to sight Tasmania and named the island Van Diemen’s Land. French explorers were to follow in 1772 and the first English settlement was established in 1803, making Hobart Australia’s second oldest capital city. As a result of the island’s much feared dark period of convict transportation the name was changed to Tasmania in honour of its first discoverer in an attempt to move away from the island’s reputation for ‘evilness’ and brutality.
Tasmania is an island – or more accurately an archipelago of 334 islands – the size of Ireland with less than one tenth of the population. Less than an hour’s flight south of Melbourne, Tasmania is the last major landmass before Antarctica. Australia’s only island state, Tassie, as she is affectionately known, is an ancient, heart-shaped land, an extraordinarily diverse melting pot of New Zealand, South America, mainland Australia and Gondwanaland - the world as it existed millions of years ago. The tallest flowering trees in the world, reaching more than 100 metres in height, tower over millennia-old precious wildlife-filled alpine plateaus and button grass plains that release tannins that stain the pure water streams the colour of tea. Some 2,800 miles of coastline, including the highest cliffs in the southern Hemisphere, hug a landscape of such raw, ravishing and largely untouched natural beauty that it leaves one gasping in astonishment at almost every twist and turn as one travels around Tasmania.
Islanders are justly proud of Tasmania’s spectacular beauty, rich heritage and abundant wildlife. Here the pace of life is much slower and more peaceful than on the mainland, the people are more gentle, and locals consider themselves first and foremost to be Tasmanian, and then Australian.
To travel around Tasmania is a joy, a pleasure and a privilege.