When your Mother-in-law offers to look after the kiddo for a whole week so you and your significant other can have a child-free break, you say “Thank you” and then scramble to your laptop and book flights to Tassie immediately!
Well that’s what I did anyway. As much a I love travelling as a family, sometimes just getting away as a couple is super nice too.
Tasmania has been on our radar for quite a while. It’s pretty scenery, and relatively short driving distances between destinations, means that a driving holiday is actually a relaxing way to see what this beautiful state has to offer.
I do love a good road trip, and after some fairly intensive research I decided that Tasmania’s East Coast had the perfect combination of nature, food and heritage. The distances between stops are not too far, which allows plenty of time to explore each place without having to rush.
We hired a car in Launceston, then we travelled south, dropping it off in Hobart where we stayed 2 nights, before flying home to Melbourne. You could definitely do this trip in fewer days, if you were pressed for time, but do factor in time to enjoy each stop. A driving holiday on a tight schedule is no fun at all.
Read on to the bottom of this post for some tips and observations about driving Tassie’s East Coast. All our accommodation was booked fairly last minute via Bookings.com – we had a modest budget and all out accommodation was satisfactory.
Tasmania East Coast Road Trip Itinerary – The Scenic Route from Launceston to Hobart
I’ve broken down our itinerary below for the Tasmania East Coast Drive and will elaborate on specific destinations in future posts. Of course this isn’t an exhaustive outline of everything on offer in the region, just a guide to what suited our interest and mood at the time.
DAY 1 – Mountains & Waterfalls – Launceston to St Helens 176km (2h 25min)
A challenging drive through winding mountain roads will reward you with some spectacular forest scenery, and a few hair raising moments, especially if you happen to encounter a logging truck around a tight hairpin turn. There are plenty of walking and mountain bike trails in the area for those with adventure in their veins. We chose a short walk to see a spectacular waterfall after sampling some tasty cheese from happy cows. Our day ended in the fishing port of St Helens.
- Hit the A3 (Tasman Highway) and head into the mountains towards Scottsdale – wannabe rally drivers will love this winding road, those prone to carsickness will not.
- Stop in the sweet town of Scottsdale for a snack at the local bakery, we enjoyed a tasty pie and cake. I picked up a few vintage treasures at the local op-shop there too.
- The forested winding mountain roads continue through the historic mining township of Derby, now popular with the mountain biking set and then onto the village of Pyengana.
- Enjoy a light cheesy lunch at the Holy Cow Cafe. The tables outside overlook the rolling fields of the Pyengana Dairy Company and the exit to the milking sheds where the cows enjoy a well earned massage after they go in for milking.
- Stretch your legs with a short walk through a lush cool shady rainforest full of giant ferns to base of one of Tasmania’s tallest waterfalls, the Saint Columba Falls. The highlight of Day 1.
- An easy drive to St Helens which leaves you plenty of time to check into your accommodation, take a walk along the waterfront and enjoy a seafood dinner.
- We stayed at St Helens Big 4 Holiday Park
DAY 2 – Bay of Fires – St Helens to Bicheno 115km (1h 45min)
The vibrant orange lichen covered boulders and crystal clear waters of the Bay of Fires is regarded as one of the most beautiful places in Australia, and it lives up to the hype. Make sure you take your camera to capture some stunning landscapes. The cruisey coastal drive will have you chilled out by the time you arrive to one of Tasmania’s most underrated and idyllic destinations Bicheno (pronounced Bish-en-o) where you’ll see Little Penguins!
- Grab breakfast at Lifebouy Cafe where you can do some antique and vintage shopping while you wait for your food. I picked up a sweet West German vase there.
- It’s an easy drive north to the Bay of Fires. Drive past Binalong Bay and up to ‘The Gardens’ where you can take a short wander around the rocks and beach area.
- Stop at Binalong Bay on your way back – The beach is beautiful here, maybe go for a swim if it’s warm enough.
- Drive to Bicheno and check into your accommodation, we stayed at Bicheno By the Bay, book early to nab a cute A-frame cabin.
- Go for a walk along the coastline and see the Bicheno Blowhole, a geyser like water spout.
- Grab an early fish n chip dinner with a side of fresh oysters at The Gulch – It closes pretty early so don’t leave it too late.
- Walk off your fish feast with a hike to the top of Whaler’s Lookout, a rock granite outcrop with amazing views over the town and coastline. Time it for dusk to catch the sunset. I’ve never seen more amazing pink skies.
- Once the sun goes down the Little Penguins come out of the sea and into their burrows. Head out onto the granite rocks near the blowhole for the best opportunity to see them. If you stay very still they just hop around and past you. You’ll need a red torch as it’s pitch black but regular torches hurt the penguins eyes. You’ll hear them squawking even if you don’t see them.
DAY 3 – Wine Glass Bay – Bicheno to Swansea 112km (1hr 40min)
Put your walking shoes on for a hike in Freycinet National Park. Depending on your enthusiasm (and fitness level), you can hike up just to the Wineglass Bay lookout, or commit to a half day walk down to the beach itself. Experienced hikers may even want to tackle the summit of Mt Amos. There are plenty of opportunities to replenish your energy reserves on the way to Swansea with oyster farms and cellar doors aplenty.
- Head off early and grab plenty of water and snacks for your hiking.
- Drive to the Freycinet National Park visitor center where you can purchase a permit ($24 per car/24hrs) to enter the National Park. The road up to the carpark is fully sealed. Hikers to Mt Amos or extended walks are required to register for safety reasons.
- Hike up to the Wineglass Bay lookout (90min return) for the classic view of Wineglass Bay. Be prepared to wait for the perfect shot as it’s quite popular and very busy. The path itself is well paved but be prepared for lots of steps. Not suitable for strollers.
- If you are feeling adventurous (like we were), hike down to the beach (3hrs return). The path is quite difficult and involves a fair bit of scrambling, so only recommended for good fitness level. Hike down is not too bad, but it’s quite a hard walk heading back up again.
- Dig into a dozen (or two) oysters at Freycinet Marine Farm for lunch. Tours of the farm are available with prior booking.
- You’ll notice lots of vineyards as you hit the A3 again. We stopped at Devil’s Corner Cellar Door for some wine sampling and to climb up the lookout. It’s a great place to take a break, eat a woodfired pizza or some more oysters with a glass of sparkling.
- Head into the sleepy town of Swansea. We stayed at Schouten House, a heritage listed B&B with a four poster bed! You’ll need a good rest after the big walk today.
- In non-peak season the dining options in Swansea are limited. Maybe try the RSL for dinner.
DAY 4 – Colonial Heritage & Fruit Picking – Swansea to Hobart 154km (2hrs 15min)
As the A3 turns inland the scenery becomes more rural. There are several fruit farms on the way to Hobart and depending on the season, it may be fun to stop and pick your own. Tasmania’s colonial history becomes more prominent as you head south, and you’ll encounter not one, but two, convict built bridges. I’d recommend a detour off the A3 to Richmond – a historic town that has beautifully restored Georgian buildings and feels like you’re stepping back in time.
- Enjoy a delicious home cooked breakfast at Schouten House or stop at Kate’s Berry Farm for some berry waffles.
- Take a look at Spikey Bridge, an odd looking structure built by convicts in 1843. This bridge abruptly pops out of the landscape and made from field stones laid without mortar or cement. It’s on the right hand side of the road as you drive south.
- If you fancy your fruit fresh out of the field, head to Sorell Fruit Farm and pick your own Strawberries or whatever is in season. If you are there in Spring go and bask in the glory of the cherry blossoms.
- Take a detour inland to the postcard perfect town of Richmond. Step back in time and wander the historic streets, look for treasure in the various antique stores, and feed the ducks near the Richmond Bridge, Tasmania’s oldest. I’d recommend trying the curried scallop pie at the Richmond Bakery, sounds like a weird combination but tastes amazing.
- Follow the traffic into town if you are staying in Hobart. What an amazing road trip!
About our trip to Tasmania:
We travelled in November last year (Nov 2016) and were lucky enough to have really beautiful sunny weather during our stay. Spring is the perfect time to travel to this region, you avoid the busy Summer season, the days are longer, and every garden is in full bloom. I’d love to go back in the height of Summer though, the East Coast beaches are just stunning with their crystal clear water, but way too cold for swimming in November.
The weather in Tasmania is pretty variable and can change very quickly. It’s best to prepare for cold conditions even if you are travelling in Summer.
I’d love to return on a family holiday and spend some more time in Bicheno, it had a really chill, coastal vibe.
Tasmania Great Eastern Drive Travel Tips:
Driving tips: It’s best to avoid driving during dusk or at night, it’s when most wildlife is active and the risk of hitting a critter is high.
We saw several echidna casually crossing the road on various legs of our trip so it’s always important to keep an eye out for wildlife.
The route to St Helens via Scottsdale on the Tasman Highway is not the one preferred by the locals because it’s a difficult drive on winding mountain roads. The term ‘highway’ is super generous because the road is the equivalent of about one and a half lanes wide with quite significant camber on some of the curves.
It’s best to avoid this route in poor weather, fog or in the dark. Big logging trucks use this road and there is barely enough room to pass when conditions are optimal. Look out for the flashing signs that will warn you if logging trucks are on the road. This road is prone to landslips so check road conditions before you set out. Those susceptible to carsickness may want to take some Kwells, or use the 1/A4 route further south.
Allow extra time especially in poor or rainy conditions, you’re on holidays so why rush. There are also lots of interesting places to stop along the route, so it’s nice to have some time up your sleeve to stop for a walk or coffee.
Accommodation: Places to stay are pretty limited in this region. The accommodation options tend to be geared towards camping, campervans and holiday house rentals, or super fancy high end lodges. Nice mid range motels were hard to find or non-existent (it’s a real gap in the market). We booked one week out and pickings were slim, even during off season. Most of the available options were holiday park cabins.
I’d recommend booking before you go, because rocking up to a town may mean you sleep in your car that night, especially during busy times.
If you are travelling with a family a campervan holiday down this route would be awesome, but take the easy road on day 1. There are tons of caravan parks where you can stop for the night.
Booking.com was ideal for locking in our accommodation even with short notice.
Eating: The east coast is fairly sleepy (except in Jan apparently which is peak season). Many cafes and restaurants close early (I’m talking 7pm or earlier) so plan to eat early or you’ll go hungry. If you’re getting into town later make sure you stock up on supplies earlier that day. Most supermarkets will close at 5.30pm most of the year (maybe later in Summer).
Often fish and chips were the only dinner option. We took the opportunity to eat as many oysters as we could get our hands on, they were fresh, cheap and plentiful.
Cellular Coverage: Phone coverage was patchy or non-existent between towns on much of the route. Mr Man had better coverage with Telstra than I had with Optus. Take a phone charger that plugs into your car as searching for signal drains your phone battery quickly.
I hope this Road Trip Travel Guide inspires you to visit Tasmania’s East Coast. If you’d like more information about any of the places mentioned, of have some suggestions to add, please feel free to leave a comment.
I’ll add links to further posts as I write them.