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Tasmania

 
 
There's an otherworldly quality to Tasmania , with its gothic landscape of rain clouds and brooding mountains. This was a prison island whose name, Van Diemen's Land, was so redolent with horror that when convict transport ended in 1852 it was immediately changed. Yet the island has another, friendlier side to it too, with distances comprehensible to a European traveller - it's roughly the size of Ireland - and resonant echoes of England: cream teas, old-fashioned B&Bs and amiable, homespun people. In winter, when the grass is green, the gentle and cultivated midlands, with their rolling hills, dry stone walls and old stone villages, are reminiscent of England's West Country. Town names, too, invariably invoke the British Isles - Perth, Swansea, Brighton and Somerset among them. It's a "mainlander's" joke that Tasmania is twenty years behind the rest of Australia, and it's true that in some ways it is very old-fashioned, a trait that is by turn charming and frustrating. However, things are changing fast: with a new arts festival and a literary festival, the island is keen to promote itself as a cultural centre, and most towns now have internet access thanks to federal government funding.

Tasmania is the closest point in Australia to the Antarctic Circle, and the west coast is wild, wet and savage, bearing the full brunt of the Roaring Forties. Inland, the southwest has wild rivers, impassable temperate rainforests, buttongrass plains, and glacially carved mountains and tarns that have been linked to create a vast World Heritage Area . This region - crossed only by the Lyell Highway - extends from the South West National Park, through the Franklin Lower Gordon Wild Rivers National Park, and across to the Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park, providing some of the world's best wilderness walking and rafting. It's the stage for frequent and dramatic conflicts between conservationists and the logging and mining communities, but is still one of the cleanest places on earth, and a wilderness walk, where you can breathe the fresh air and drink freely from tannin-stained streams, is a genuinely bucolic experience.

 

A north-south axis divides the settled areas, with the two major cities, Hobart , the capital, in the south, and Launceston in the north. The northwest coast , facing the mainland across Bass Strait, is the most densely populated region, the site of Tasmania's two other cities, Devonport (where the Bass Strait ferry docks) and Burnie , and several other large, conservative towns. Tasmania's central plateau , with its thousands of lakes, is sparsely populated, though full of weekender fishing shacks. The sheltered, mostly flat east coast is the place to go for sun and watersports activities; it has plenty of deserted beaches, safe for swimming, set against a backdrop of bush-clad hills.

Don't expect boiling hot weather in Tasmania. It rarely gets above 25C, even at the height of summer, and the weather is notoriously changeable, particularly in the uplands, where it can sleet and snow at any time of year; the most stable month is February. However, with the ozone layer thinning every year the UV rays are particularly strong and in the middle of a summer day can burn unprotected skin in fifteen minutes. Wear plenty of sun screen and a hat. Winter is a bitterly cold time to visit unless you choose the more temperate east coast; wilderness walks are best left to the most experienced and well-equipped at this time of year.

 
Also See:
 
History
The Aboriginal Peoples Of Tasmania
Practicalities
Getting Around
Tasmanian Travel Centres In Australia
Getting There
Travel Details
National Parks And Bushwalking
Internet Access
Explore Tasmania
 
 

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