Tasmania is like going back a couple of decades – in a good way. There’s not a hovering adult to be seen as the ragtag crew yahoo each other on in an impromptu race past the city’s Saturday-morning farmer’s markets, where shoppers admire the lush produce and gather at the Provenance coffee stand to warm their hands around excellent brews.
And therein lies the island state’s undeniable appeal. There’s plenty of sophistication if that’s what you’re looking for but it’s a place where simple pleasures rule and screen time seems dull against the amped-up displays of nature. Just ask my three-year-old, who’s munching on a Tamar Valley- grown apple while making friends with a local toddler. The toddler’s mother tells me they’re transplants from Melbourne who holidayed, fell in love and decided to take the plunge. They moved two children and a dog down and have never looked back – they love the close-knit community, clean air and outdoor lifestyle. It’s a story I hear again and again as we travel around Tassie and chat to the friendly locals, many of whom turn out to be Sydney or Melbourne expats.
But you don’t need to pack up your life to soak up all that Tasmania has to offer families – in fact, you hardly need more than a carry-on. Its impressive food scene and charming architecture make it appealing for adults, who can relax while the kids run riot at any number of wide open spaces. And said children can’t possibly claim boredom with the sheer amount of stuff to do amid the ever-changing scenery. One of the strongest selling points? Everything is close here. When you’re in a city like Hobart, much of it is walkable – and when you’re driving around the state, you’re never more than an hour or so from an interesting stop (with plenty of cute towns and junk shops along the way). So no matter where you’re going, the inevitable “How long until we get there?” from the back seat can almost always be answered honestly, “Not long now.”
Whether you’re heading to the state’s capital, its second city, Launceston, or the wilderness region of Cradle Mountain, here’s how to make the most of an Apple Isle family weekend.
It’s known for the stuffed Tasmanian tiger on level one but if you don’t have any mini-David Attenboroughs in tow, the free Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery has plenty more to offer – go straight to the top floor for the interactive Antarctic exhibition, where daring types will be busting to leave handprints in a big dome of ice.
You’ll struggle to taste better seafood than what’s served up on this island. Head to the family-friendly Lower Deck at Mures (above), a Hobart institution that’s on one of the working docks and does a killer seafood chowder and truly tender calamari.
While travelling with young ones usually means food on the fly, Hamlet offers a chance to sit and spark a little thought: tucked in a quiet corner of the CBD, this café is a social enterprise that offers training and experience to disabled and disadvantaged people. Plus, the food is excellent – try one of the toasties.
Be a Dr Dolittle
Kangaroos are king at Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary, where you can feed the Forester roos that roam the paddocks and meet other native animals like echidnas, Tasmanian devils, wombats and tawny frogmouths. Don’t miss the real work that happens here: visitors can watch injured animals being treated at the vet clinic through a one-way window.
The harbour anchors Hobart so if you don’t stay near it you’re missing a trick. The Sullivans Cove Apartments on Hunter Street are in a central harbourside spot to access the best of the city, have plenty of room for the brood to spread out and a kitchen for when you need a quiet night in or want to pack the day’s snacks.
The Georgian village of Richmond (above) is home to Australia’s oldest stone-arch bridge and possibly its friendliest ducks, who live on the river that flows below it. They’ll be your best friend if you bring along some bread or perhaps a bit of scone: Czegs’ (46 Bridge Street, Richmond; 03 6260 2252), a café up the road, makes the best Devonshire tea in town. If that’s too tame, check out Sweets and Treats, an old- fashioned shop where walls are lined with lurid lolly-filled jars. Sugar rush too much? Combine a timeout with time travel at the historic Richmond Gaol, where you can get behind the bars of the sandstone buildings and learn about Isaac Solomon, a prisoner thought to be the inspiration behind Charles Dickens’ notorious Fagin.
It’s the museum that became a phenomenon; the locals call the city’s reinvention as a cultural hotspot “the Mona effect”. The Museum of Old and New Art is often controversial, sometimes weird and always irreverent – and the school set love it. Past “exhibitions” include Tattoo Tim (a bloke who sat on a plinth displaying the work of a Belgian artist on his back) but right now few parents make it out without a visit to the “poo machine”. It’s a teaching moment but gross enough to keep them enthralled.
Walk it out
Under-fives will love the 20-minute Enchanted Walk that takes you between mossy trees, past babbling brooks and right up next to the furry friends that might amble along with you. The six-kilometre Dove Lake Circuit is better suited to those who don’t beg to be carried. It’s a two-to-three-hour round trip and the weather is changeable so pack water, snacks and a rain jacket. Alternatively, from the car park it’s just 600 metres to a charming photo opportunity at the iconic boatshed.
Cosy up at Peppers Cradle Mountain Lodge for a luxe-meets-wilderness experience that includes a digital detox (only Telstra enjoys a signal here and wi-fi is limited to the main lodge. Oh, and the rooms have no televisions). But there’s plenty to do here, with walking tracks, outdoor hot tubs for some suites and canoeing in summer on nearby Dove Lake.
Some kids are the leap-without-looking type; others just talk a big game. Cradle Mountain Canyons caters to both. From November to April, teens aged 15 and over can fling themselves off waterfalls, launch down natural waterslides and abseil sheer cliff faces; those eight and over can get a tamer rush on the Lost World tour. Either way, you’ll discover Cradle Mountain’s best nooks and crannies.
Before you start your trip up the mountain, stop for one of the country’s wackiest tourist spots: Tasmazia and the village of Lower Crackpot. There are eight mazes and a miniature village (including Rapunzel’s tower) and a tiny official post office – recipients will be tickled by the Lower Crackpot postmark.
A better devil
Forget what you might think about the Tasmanian devil and let the surprisingly cute creatures charm you at Devils @ Cradle. Do the Joey Encounter tour to meet the baby devils, wombats and pademelons being hand-reared (October and November are best for seeing the new devil joeys).
Just past the halfway point from Cradle to Launceston you’ll find the Tasmanian Food and Wine Conservatory. This former greenhouse is now a hub for the state’s finest foodstuffs. The platters, which each showcase a different region, are loaded with everything from Bay of Fires cheddar to wallaby salami and are perfect for splitting with a group. Then head to the garden to meet the free-ranging chooks (9 Conservatory Road, Sassafras; 0499 888 544).
Cataract Gorge is a spectacular natural playground, home to what’s believed to be the world’s longest single-span chairlift, a 50-metre swimming pool (open in the warmer months, it has lawns that make a great picnic spot), the Alexandra Suspension Bridge, lookouts, walking tracks and even peacocks – all just a 15-minute walk from the city.
Perched on a hill overlooking the valley of Launceston’s CBD, Rivers Rest is an architectural home that looks a little like a tin bunker but is a chic and comfortable haven once you step through the door. The two bedrooms sleep four, plus there’s a fully equipped kitchen and laundry and glorious sunset views.
At Bryher café (above), the colouring in is king. The kids can have boiled eggs with soldiers while you have a slice of the huge sausage roll or the rarebit made with local Pyengana cheddar before making the short walk to City Park’s enclosure of Japanese macaques. That’s right – monkeys in the city.
About 25 minutes out of Launceston, Hollybank Wilderness Adventures (above) is the go-to wonderland for adrenaline junkies with Tasmania’s longest zip-line that will see you zig-zag up to 50 metres above the forest floor (for ages three and up; don’t forget a windbreaker), plus mountain-bike trails, segway routes and heart-stopping tree rope courses.
The teens have come this far so go ahead and give them their Instagram shot. In summer, take them to Bridestowe Lavender Estate (above), a 45-minute drive from town. The vivid hues of the French lavender will beat any filter they could dream up.
Kids or no, you can’t come to Tassie without swinging by a vineyard. And with a paddock of cows next door and a cleverly designed open pavilion, Clover Hill Vineyard makes light work of balancing wine tasting with parental responsibilities.
Stall for time
It’s all about the food at the compact but diverse Harvest Farmer’s Market, which runs every Saturday from 8.30am to 12.30pm. Caffeine fiends should head to Provenance. As for food, you can pick anything from a warming pho or Korean pancake to an Afghan bolani then swing by the vintage caravan-turned-cake-stall for a sweet finish.
Top image: Cycling in Launceston
Image credits: Alastair Brett; Laura Helle; Jesse Hunniford; Kathryn Leahy; Jason Hill; Rob Burnett; Luke Tscharke.