From the transcendental beauty of its central highlands to the historic vibe of Hobart, Tasmania abounds with attractions. An added bonus: the cleanest air in the world
Story and photographs by Ian Lloyd Neubauer
Allow me to begin with a little-known fact about Tasmania: Australiaâ€™s smallest state is the worldâ€™s largest producer of opium. Thatâ€™s legal opium, mind youâ€”medical-grade alkaloids (codeine, thebaine, and the like) destined mostly for pharmaceutical markets abroad. Still, as an Australian mainlander on his first, long-overdue trip to an island better known for its apples and honey, the last thing I expect to see as I crest the broad Forth Valley is a sea of purply-white poppies. For a moment, I think Iâ€™m hallucinating.
But thatâ€™s Tasmania for youâ€”a surprise around every corner. Compact enough to drive from one end to the other in a day, this rugged, heart-shaped world packs in a staggering variety of landscapes, from snowcapped mountains to soft white beaches and places where you can see both at the same time. From a historical perspective, itâ€™s fascinating too, with beautifully restored sandstone churches and bridges and a seemingly endless supply of heritage buildings in the cities of Launceston and Hobart, the beginning and end points of my four-night road trip.
Set on the banks of the Tamar River near the islandâ€™s north coast, Launceston retains a small-town air despite a population that tops 100,000. With quaint hillside suburbs lined with Federation-style homes and architectural gems like the neo-Egyptian synagogue, Launceston is not without its attractions. Yet Iâ€™m keen to hit the road and explore Tasmaniaâ€™s chief asset: its countryside. Beyond the fertile Tamar Valley and its parti-colored checkerboard of Dutch iris, canola, and poppy fields, my route takes me west along the Bass Highway, past golf-course-green hills and the seaside towns of Penguin, Sulphur Creek, and Wynyard. I stop for lunchâ€”a generous serving of crumbed Tasmanian scallopsâ€”at a waterfront cafĂ© in Boat Harbour. Fronting this postcard-perfect village is a quartzite beach with the bluest water Iâ€™ve seen outside Tahiti. The waves are lapping and gentle here, nothing like the raging breakers I saw battering the coast an hour earlier.