198km (123 miles) S of Launceston
Tasmania is a place of wild beauty colored by a tragic past. Separated from the rest of Australia by Bass Strait, this island state has forged its own, not always smooth, path. Its isolation has preserved much of its wilderness, despite the worst efforts of man to spoil it at times.
Some of the environmental issues Tasmanians (and the rest of Australia) are grappling with right now include the possible extinction of Tasmanian devils due to a spreading facial-tumor disease, reports of introduced foxes, and a proposed pulp mill that would pump effluent into Bass Strait. You also will not, despite local legend, run into any Tasmanian tigers here (the last known one died in 1936 despite more recent “sightings”).
Tasmania’s history is violent. Tasmania made its mark as a dumping ground for British convicts, who were often transported for petty crimes. The brutal system of control, still evident in the ruins at Port Arthur and elsewhere, spilled over into persecution of the native population. The last full-blooded Tasmanian Aborigine died in 1876, 15 years after the last convict transportation.
Despite its dark history, Tasmania is a tranquil and largely unspoiled place to visit—more than 20% of it has been declared a World Heritage area, and nearly a third of the island is protected by national parks. The locals are friendly and hospitable—and they have a reputation for producing some of Australia’s best food. Remains of the Aboriginal people who lived here for thousands of years are evident in rock paintings, engravings, stories, and the aura of spirituality that still holds in places that modern civilization has not yet reached.
Hobart (pop. 212,000), set on the Derwent River, is Tasmania’s capital. Europeans settled in Hobart in 1804, a year after Tasmania’s first colony was set up at Risdon (10km/6 1/4 miles up the Derwent), making it Australia’s second-oldest city after Sydney. Hobart is the southernmost Australian state capital and is closer to the Antarctic coast than it is to Perth in Western Australia; navigators, whalers, and explorers have long regarded it as the gateway to the south. Hobart’s main features are its wonderful harbor (the city’s focal point) and the colonial cottages that line the narrow lanes of Battery Point. At the waterfront, picturesque Salamanca Place bursts with galleries, pubs, cafés, and an excellent market on Saturdays.