Van Dieman’s Land
Travel to Van Dieman’s land, or Tasmania as it has been called since the mid-1800’s, is now something to look forward to rather that a life sentence as it used to be in the past. This large island off the coast of south eastern Australia, and across the Bass Strait from the mainland, was established as a penal colony of England in 1803. Besides its beautiful, rugged scenery, this history is a great draw for tourists. Tasmania is a port of call on many Australia and New Zealand cruises with ships often anchoring in the harbour of Port Arthur just as sailing ships did two centuries ago – now disgorging eager tourists versus wretched prisoners to a penal colony.
Today Tasmania is a modern state of Australia with over half million residents. Almost half of the island is dedicated to national parks and natural reserves. There is something for everyone to enjoy here – history, arts and culture, and a wide range of physical activities. Here are eight must do-and-see’s in this fascinating area of the world.
Hobart, the Capital City, Attractions
- Salamanca Market. This is an open-air street market held in the Salamanca district of the city. Here you can buy food, crafts, and gifts – a wonderful place to purchase your souvenirs of Tasmania. The only drawback is that it only runs on Saturdays and closes at 3:00 PM.
Who has not heard of the Tasmanian Devil?
- But no matter if you are here on another day, as the market is situated in an area of galleries, restaurants and boutiques which have taken over the old sandstone warehouses built in the early days of the city. It’s a wonderful place every day for the shopper with finer tastes.
- If you are in that area, a place to explore is the Salamanca Arts Centre which, as the name suggests, is a series of gallery and theatre venues. On Friday nights, weather permitting, is Rektango, a popular event. The vibrant, open-air courtyard comes alive with live music, and is a great place for a family stop. The admission is free and the beers for the adults, reasonably priced. One hesitates to call them cheap as the quality is there!
- Another great stop for families – again, free -is the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery which was opened to the public in 1846. There are family activities, a café, and gift shop as well as more traditional art presentations. Expect a stay of 2 to 3 hours to enjoy all this place has to offer.
- Like your art more provocative? Then a ferry ride away from the Mona Ferry Terminal is the relatively new (2011) Museum of Old & New Art. Already due to its unusual situation ( in the Moorilla Winery, carved from the sandstone cliffs of the Berriedale Peninsula) and evocative showings, it has admission numbers rivaling that of the more established art gallery previously mentioned. This place is privately funded so be aware there are fees for both the ferry ride and gallery. Still, 3 story underground galleries, one of the best wine bars in the state and a restaurant on site, it is very worth the visit. Allow at least 4 hours.
- Penal Colony. This is part of the Australia Convict Sites World Heritage properties. Some of the main areas to visit here are the Penitentiary, the Convict
View of the Penitentiary from the harbor
Church, the Separate Prison and the Island of the Dead. A pass purchased for about $39 per person, or $99 per family, gives you probably the best option for thoroughly exploring the area. It includes a walking tour, harbour cruise, and access to over thirty historic buildings, gardens and trails. The Penitentiary, as is most buildings of penal origin here, is in ruins having started its life pre-1842 as a flour mill, ending in a devastating fire in the last half of that century. The Separate Prison is where the prisoners were punished mentally, and the Church where they were to be rehabilitated by religion. The island is a cemetery.
- The Coal Mines Historic Site is another must, not only for the history but for the breathtaking views of the ocean. The buildings here are in ruins but you get a good feeling of the claustrophobic prisoner cells as the site was mined by convicts of the colony. It incorporates an interesting walk, not overly suitable for the disabled due to the terrain, but the site is free and open year round.
- Mount Wellington is a huge outdoor natural park adjacent to the city of Hobart and encompasses the Mount Wellington range of mountains. Visit the
Hiking in the wilderness is a popular past time
Pinnacle observation deck for a spectacular view far over the island; however, some days the scenery is obscured in cloud. Though Tasmania has a very moderate climate, at this altitude it can be below freezing as well. The weather is very changeable, so rain gear and a change of warmer clothing is a must in the park. You can rock climb here – the Organ Pipes are popular – walk, hike, cycle and horse back ride, as well as picnic and barbeque. The whole reserve is free access, open all times except when a severe fire hazard warning is in effect. Caution and planning are advised for all activities.
- Ship Stern Bluff. You can follow the Three Cape Track, a 46 kilometre walk , here to an area of big wave surfing in the Tasman National Park on Tasmania’s SE coast. The scenery is spectacular. Note: this is a multi-day walk.
Plan to visit Tasmania on your next Down Under excursion, whether it is an extended exploration by land or by cruise ship. As you can see, there is lots to do do. These activities were just a taste. Ask your travel professional to co-ordinate this trip of a lifetime.
See also Ten Things to Do & See in Sydney, Australia