From coastal highways and mountain tracks to dirt roads and isolated inland lake trails, a driving holiday through Tasmania is the perfect way to see this amazing island state of Australia. We went aboard the new Spirit of Tasmania to begin our ultimate Tasmanian driving holiday guide.
Check out how we stay and play in Tasmania. We’ve highlighted our best tips for each stop plus some extra options to help you plan your next Tasmanian driving holiday.
Brought to you by Spirit of Tasmania.
You can drive from Devonport in the north to Hobart in the South in about 3 hours. However, the landscape here’s so diverse it can take you much longer. In spite of all the towns, cities and little villages throughout the island, one fifth of Tasmania is covered by national parks and wilderness areas.
Even though it’s Australia’s smallest state, Tasmania has an incredible range of landscapes and environments to offer. Don’t let the size of the state fool you though. The result is you don’t have to drive very far to find something interesting.
There’s no such thing as a wrong turn in Tassie – whichever way you go you find something amazing or somewhere beautiful.
Debbie at the Tourism Hub onboard Spirit of Tasmania II.
Tasmania also produces some of the best edible produce in the country, so if you’re looking for a driving holiday that features eating and drinking a lot, you’ve hit the jackpot!
We were looking for exactly that as we boarded Spirit of Tasmania from Port Melbourne, and we were in no way disappointed.
Getting to Tasmania
There are two options for getting to Tasmania. Of course you can fly there, but if you’re looking for the complete Tassie experience, the only way to go is by sea.
Spirit of Tasmania sails from Port Melbourne and Devonport in Tasmania every evening. It also has day sailings in the summer.
There’s everything onboard to make the journey comfortable and the recent refit to both ships has made a huge difference to the quality of the service. We spoke to a few regulars while we were sailing and they were very happy with the new changes.
I’ve been using the Spirit of Tas for years now because I’ve got work on the mainland. These changes are great – it’s made the crossing so much better. The ships look completely different.
Dennis from Launceston, TAS.
After we’d checked into our cabin, we explored the 3 levels of bars, cinemas, games rooms and food options. Dinner at the new Tasmanian Market Kitchen (TMK) was a pleasant surprise.
We’d heard that – as a rule – food onboard ships tends not to be the best, but our meals, the options available were very tasty, and the service was excellent. It’s another testament to the renovations that the ships have undergone.
We ended the night with a couple of drinks at the bars, and it’s here you can really get the sense of how much effort they’ve put into revamping the Spirit of Tasmania ships. Each bar has its own feel and identity – so if you want more of a homely, pub style bar, Bar 7 is for you.
If you’re looking for a sophisticated, lounge bar, the Terrace Lounge Bar, which also has a few food options, is relaxed and spacious.
There’s also the Top Deck Lounge. This bar has a fun, beach club feel to it. There are deck chair recliners on the artificial grass lawn near the full-length windows and easy access to the outside deck too. On this level there’s a kids’ playground nearby too, so this bar is popular with families.
The Reading Room is a new addition to the ships. It’s a great space for people who want to get out of the way of everyone and relax with a book or a newspaper.
We liked the Tasmanian Market Kitchen, where we had dinner. Plenty of seating options and very comfortable.
For dinner, we both had one of the kitchen’s signature Tasmanian dishes. I went for the Tasmanian roast porterhouse, which was lovely and tender. They’d aced the gravy too.
Mrs Romance went for the dukkha crusted pan-seared salmon, which she said was excellent. It must have been since she didn’t offer to share any of it!
They also have half bottles of wine you can buy with your meal. My Shiraz went nicely with my beef and Mrs R was very pleased with her Sauv Blanc.
We ended the evening with some lollies from The Pantry – the onboard snack shop – and a movie in one of the cinemas before heading to our cabin for some much-needed sleep.
Landing at Devonport
It’s an early start straight off the ferry, but a leisurely drive through the countryside beyond Devonport to Elizabeth Town clears the head.
Stop in at:
For breakfast, go to Christmas Hills Raspberry Farm and Café. They’ve got an amazing menu, which includes raspberries in some shape or form. Try the raspberry latte!
Christmas Hills Raspberry Farm Café, Elizabeth Town.
Mrs Romance’s ‘Morning Spirit’ was amazing. Poached eggs served with grilled tomato, mushrooms, wilted spinach and a helping of raspberry hollandaise.
If you have time (and aren’t too stuffed from breakfast), visit Ashgrove Cheese just down the road, Tasmania’s award-winning cheddar style cheese producers. Their wasabi cheese is so good!
Ashgrove Cheese, Elizabeth Town.
Devonport to Stanley
Heading back north and then west, it’s a 2-hour drive along the coast to the little old port town of Stanley – but you should expect the drive to take longer. There are so many bluffs, beaches and villages to stop off and explore along the way.
Stop in at:
Penguin – for a photo with the Big Penguin and to have a quick tasting of the local micro-winery Blue Penguin.
Wynyard – for fish and chips at Wynyard Seafoods on the waterfront. Make sure you get the battered scallops and the salt and pepper squid.
Drive up to Table Cape just north of Wynyard to check out the lighthouse and excellent lookouts.
This quaint little old town is packed with character and some beautiful old convict-built bluestone buildings. The big drawcard here is the Nut – an enormous volcanic plug that towers over the town at the end of the bay.
At the foot of the nut and overlooking the little beach and port, @VDL is a boutique hotel that’s made it into the Top 100 Best Travel Discoveries in the World list.
This old bluestone property, built in 1843, has been developed into 3 luxurious, beautifully designed and decorated hotel rooms.
The sleek but comfortable décor of the room fits well within the old walls of the renovation. The bathroom has a country farmhouse feel, with rustic yet modern furnishings, lovely smelling toiletries and a very tempting bathtub.
The lobby as you walk in made us want to pick up a book and relax in the cosy armchairs next to the fire.
This really is a unique property, and exactly where you should stay if you want to get a feel of life in this quaint out-of-the-way coastal village.
Walk up the Nut or – even better – pay the $12 or so to go up on the chairlift. Save the $3pp on the return trip and enjoy the brisk walk back down. From the top of the Nut there’s a short 2k-round walk, where the views are amazing.
Eat and drink
The Stanley Hotel is full of character and characters. The delicious food served at the bistro has a very local focus. We had a great night here – with a bottle of Blue Penguin of course!
Other places to eat here are Xander’s Restaurant and Bar, the Old Cable Station, Sealer’s Cove and the amusingly named Nut View Restaurant.
Stanley to Launceston
Driving back to Devonport make sure you stop in at the Devonport lighthouse for some amazing views of the coastline.
From here we hightailed it south to Launceston (pronounced “Lon-ses-ton”) but there are plenty of little towns you can pull into along the way.
Stop in at:
Deloraine – for a quintessentially Tasmanian scallop pie from one of the bakeries there.
Josef Chromy – one of Tasmania’s darlings, this winery just south of Launceston has some beautiful views, some amazing wine and some outstanding food.
Lunch here is a must. But do a quick wine tasting before you eat so you know what to drink with your meal!
There are so many things to do in Lonny, as you’d expect from Tasmania’s second largest city. Settled in 1805, there’s plenty of history here too.
Of the 4 apartments, we stayed in The Bakehouse, which has a separate master bedroom. It also has a mezzanine bedroom up a cute spiral staircase perfect for kids (there’s even a box of books and toys already up there in the wardrobe).
The attention to detail in this apartment is extraordinary. A fully equipped kitchen, music and DVD options, free toiletries and heated towel rails in the large bathroom… we could have stayed here for much longer.
There’s even a little courtyard that would be perfect for warm evenings or enjoying a relaxing breakfast, which is provided for you and was more than enough to fill us up.
We really liked the thoughtful inclusion of the small wine rack that the owner has filled with a very affordable selection for guests. It’s based on an honesty system, so you just leave the money on the side when you check out.
Explore Cataract Gorge, carved out by the South Esk River over the millennia, and is now a popular spot for locals and tourists. The gorge itself has a chairlift that takes you over the water to the other bank.
The well-tended gardens have peacocks wandering around, and the bridge back over the river is very pretty. The chairlift is the longest in the world and carried the Olympic torch in 2000.
Take a river tour of the Tamar River, which dominates the north-eastern side of town.
Eat and drink
In the evening, have an extremely well made cocktail in Geronimo Aperitivo Bar and Restaurant. Their food menu looks good too.
We had dinner in a little Korean restaurant on Elizabeth Street round the corner from Geronimo but there are lots of other options nearby.
Check out the page our accommodation TwoFourTwo has created with some info on the area.
Launceston to Hobart
After a generous breakfast provided by Pamela from TwoFourTwo, it was time to start the 2-hour drive south to Hobart’s capital city and our last night here.
The Midland Highway is the fastest way to get there, and it’s a good road. But still there are plenty of distractions to slow you down on the way.
Stop in at:
The town of Ross for a scallop pie in one of the bakeries in town.
Oatlands for an ice cream and some of the best examples of Tasmanian convict architecture you’ll find. Plus the only still-working windmill in the southern hemisphere.
If you have time, get out to Richmond northeast of Hobart to try the wine at Puddleduck Winery.
Founded as a penal colony in 1804, Hobart is Australia’s second oldest city and full of history, art, bars, restaurants and museums. It’s also home to Mount Wellington, which regularly catches snow on its peak and is visible from miles around.
Set on the harbour in the historic Salamanca Place and Battery Point area, Salamanca Wharf Hotel’s right in amongst some of the coolest bars, restaurants and galleries.
It’s also nearby the Tasmanian CSIRO marine research centre, whose deep-water port allows easy access to the South Sea and Antarctica.
Inside, this brand new hotel is designed to mirror the colours and shapes of the Antarctic. The outside has been given a façade to match the bluestone buildings and warehouses along the port.
Service here is personal, professional and very welcoming, and the staff at reception were incredibly helpful and friendly.
There are three types of room in the Salamanca Wharf Hotel; studios, premium apartments and loft penthouses. Our loft penthouse was amazing, with beautifully sourced interiors, intelligent design and an enormous bathtub in the bedroom.
The beautiful cobalt blue galley kitchenette was well-appointed and fully equipped – it was hard for us to give the keys back at the end of our stay here.
Catch the ferry (or drive if you’re short of time) to MONA – the Museum of Old and New Art – a totally unique gallery on the banks of the Derwent River. Describing this place is virtually impossible it’s so well done. Even the bar is a work of art.
Drive up Mount Wellington. It’s in the top 50 highest peaks in Tasmania. From up here you can see the whole region… if it’s not too cloudy!
Visit the historic statuesque Cascade Brewery, the haunting Female Factory and beautiful Battery Point.
Eat and Drink
There so many food and drink options in this city. Even just around Salamanca Place and Battery Point there are hundreds of dining options.
The Glasshouse has an amazing reputation and location.
Salamanca Square has the highest concentration of eateries and bars in the city and is well worth exploring if you don’t have much time here.
For more information about food, drink and activities in and around Hobart, check out the We Are Hobart site. It’s a free great free resource made by locals for Hobart locals and Hobart visitors.
Hobart to Devonport and Spirit of Tasmania
There are quite a few ways to make the drive back north to Devonport to catch Spirit of Tasmania back to the mainland.
Our delicious breakfast at the Salamanca Wharf Café, which is part of the hotel, set us up for the day’s drive. It’s got a great local vibe in the café, the coffee’s good and the menu is very enticing.
My enormous Wharf Breakfast of bacon, corn fritters, mushrooms, chorizo, eggs and toast was excellent, as was Mrs Romance’s much more sensible corn fritters with smoked salmon, avocado and poached eggs.
We headed north on the Midland Highway 1 as far as Tunbridge then took a left onto unsealed gravel roads towards the settlement of Interlaken and the series of lakes in the area.
The views around these parts are much more interesting and the road – though unsealed – is relatively easy to drive. However, it hadn’t rained too much and there was no snow or ice on the surface when we went. It would be a much harder drive if there had been.
Stop in at:
Oatlands for another pie. We’d recommend the TKO Bakery.
Any of the many lookouts around Lake Sorrell and Lake Crescent.
Back on the sealed road, we took the Highland Lakes Road all the way to Deloraine. This road goes all round the lakeshores of Shannon Lagoon and the Great Lake, which is definitely worth doing.
From Deloraine, it’s only another 40 minutes until you’re back in Devonport, where it’s time to get your vehicle ready for your return sail.
Back onboard Spirit of Tasmania, we settled into our cabin – we managed to upgrade to a deluxe cabin this time – and get ready for dinner.
Back at the TMK, Mrs Romance had the porterhouse roast this time, which she enjoyed. I decided to build my own dinner and had the chicken schnitzel and the absolutely delicious fries they make onboard. The salad was a little overdressed, but otherwise my meal was excellent.
We headed back to the Top Deck Lounge to say goodbye to Tasmania. Then we made the decision to go straight to our cabin and make the most of our luxurious room. It was an excellent choice!
We really loved the Deluxe Cabin. It was the perfect way to end a busy driving holiday. Compared to the twin cabins, there’s a lot more space in the deluxe cabins, which means it’s much easier to relax.
There are armchairs and a table here, so you can get away from everyone else if you want to and still be comfortable. You also get full windows as you’re at the front of the ship.
But it’s the other little extras in the Deluxe Cabin that made our trip home for us. Big, soft towels, our own TV, a full-size separate shower and of course the double bed all contributed to a lovely voyage home, a good night’s sleep and a very memorable experience.
Tasmania is part of Australia, obviously, but everything about it – from the diversity of its landscape to the quality of its produce to the attitude and nuance of its people – makes this island state very much its own place.
The Tasmanian identity is incredibly strong and because of this, your experiences here will be like no other.
Why travel with Spirit of Tasmania?
Crossing the Tasman by sea adds a whole new dimension to a roadtrip.
Our cruise aboard Spirit of Tasmania was perfect with only about a 1-metre swell there and back. We barely noticed the movement and felt very safe.
Apart from its excellent safety record – and its newly renovated interior of course – here are our top 10 reasons to travel on the Spirit of Tasmania:
- Makes an interstate trip feel more like an adventure across the seas.
- You can take your own car – which includes trailers, caravans and campervans.
- Your only luggage limit is your car’s capacity, meaning you can fill the boot with all those wines you pick up along the way.
- You can take pets, saving money on kennelling and reducing pet stress.
- The comfort factor and sense of freedom over cramped flights with little or no refreshment options.
- Tacks on a mini cruise to your driving holiday.
- If you’re like me and it takes you a while to realise you’re not at work anymore, Spirit of Tasmania ships get you settled into your holiday mindset – especially with the new refurbishments.
- The antiquing and retro furniture market in Tas is amazing, so if you want to bring anything home, you can.
- Unique Aussie experience everyone should have.
- Starts and finishes your holiday with a good excuse to kick back, relax and watch the waves.
At the moment, Spirit of Tasmania has a special offer for day sailings. Adult fares start from $79 and kids’ fares from $35 per person each way. Plus, you can upgrade to an Inside or Porthole Cabin from an extra $84 per cabin each way.
This offer is available for selected day sailings between 17 January 2016 and 10 April 2016 and ends at midnight on 31 October 2015.
Visit spiritoftasmania.com.au for more info.
Have you been onboard the Spirit of Tasmania since the refit? What do you think? What’s your top tip for visiting the Apple Isle? Tell us in the comments!