The major appeal of exploring Tasmania by campervan is that it opens up the island and makes every journey part of your holiday. There's a laissez-faire attitude to bunking up by the roadside meaning you have the freedom to make anywhere and everywhere your home for the night. This flexibility means you can avoid the towns and cities, making the most of this geographical treasure chest while cutting down on travel time between destinations.
To 'do' Tassie, you really need months; but with a van, it's possible to get your bearings in a just over a week. I was quite aggressive in my autumnal trip last April – clocking up around 1,800 kilometres in eight days - but it meant I got to see as much as possible of this intriguing heart-shaped island.Day One: My short flight from Sydney to Hobart touches down late in the morning and I'm on the road in my 'Euro Deluxe' Apollo campervan shortly after midday, taking in the pretty hills south of the capital city. The locals seem friendly: a Scottish couple invite me into their garden to show off their prize pumpkins over a cup of tea while a man cutting his hedge gives me extensive tips on what to do and see.
My mini-loop takes me up and over towards the Huon River, which reflects the smoke billowing from a controlled fire at sunset. I park up besides Storm Bay overlooking Bruny Island for my first night in Tasmania, treating myself to some local Pinot Noir and some pasta.Day Two: I drive inland up the sunny Derwent Valley, which is ablaze with warming autumnal colours, reminding me both of the Loire Valley in France and the rolling plains of Tuscany. I take a small diversion into the Mount Field National Park to visit Russell Falls, well worth the detour. Back on the Lyell Highway, the road rises as I enter the world heritage area that covers the vast majority of west Tasmania.
Cutting through dense forests, the road dips in and out of crags and hidden valleys, passing numerous lakes with near-perfect reflections. I pass more roadkill than vehicles – a sign both of Tasmania's abundant wildlife and its isolation. An open plateau affords breathtaking views of Mount Olympus and the oddity that is Frenchman's Cap before the road weaves down towards Lake Burbury.
With the day light gone and rain starting to pour, I park up at a deserted campsite to see out the night. Unfortunately I leave the window open as I cook, allowing a multitude of midges to join me for my meal; a school boy error.Day Three: With rain lashing down and the mist clinging to the hills, this could be Wales in the middle of winter. Tassie's we(s)t coast is certainly living up to its reputation, but it's not hard to imagine how the quaint seaside town of Strahan, with its pretty boats and steam railway, can be. I head back to the hills past the barren mining area around Queenstown (an intriguing curiosity) and the bleak Rosebery (simply depressing).
The rain eases up, though, and the series of lakes that follow are pretty breathtaking. I certainly made the right decision to head inland: although there's a 70 percent chance of rain on any given day at Cradle Mountain, against all odds the sun is surrounded by a blue sky as I arrive at Tasmania's most famous site in mid afternoon. The trail walk around Dove Lake is mesmerizing – and is capped off unforgettably with a magical pink sunset.
This being quiet season, there's no problem in finding a berth for my van at the Cradle Mountain camp site. As much as it's a bonus having all mod cons on board, nothing beats a proper hot shower.Day Four: After a hearty breakfast of beans on toast I return to the Cradle Mountain National Park for a hike up to Crater Lake. A lone echidna crosses my path on the misty ascent. Once at my destination, the dense curtain of fog suddenly clears as if on cue, revealing the magical orange leaves of the Fagus Beech – Australia's only native deciduous tree.
By midday I'm back on the road and heading to the north east coast through dense forests and gorges. I arrive at the sleepy coastal town of Stanley – as close to Victorian England as anything you'll get in Tasmania. Here, a curious 152m-high volcanic table-top formation called The Nut rises from the sea above the heritage town: the climb up is so steep the locals have put in a chairlift. After a steak supper in Wynyard, I park up in total isolation at Table Cape on a cliff ledge overlooking the choppy waters of the Bass Straight.Day Five: My enjoyment of the north coast is somewhat marred by the persistent rain, so after coffee in the gimmicky penguin-themed village of, er, Penguin, I head inland to Sheffield, a large arts hub renowned for its painted murals and home, bizarrely enough, to a white bearded Dutchman called Ludo who walks around with his pet alpaca, Zorro, on a leash. I manage to watch the start of a local bike race before buying a toy car (for my godson in Sydney) in the town's superb second-hand store. A delicious blueberry muffin from the kitsch 70s-style Zara's Cafe proves the icing on the cake of an unexpectedly interesting visit.
On I press to Tasmania's second city, Launceston, for a potter around the impressive Cataract Gorge. It's still pretty wet as I drive north through the Tamar Valley wine region – but it clears in time for a marvellous sunset at Low Head.Day Six: I head east through logging and farming country before dropping over a band of rolling hills to meet the coast at the old whaling town of St Helens. The sun has returned and I'm even wearing shorts as I grab a sandwich on one of the bright-orange lichen-covered circular rocks at Binalong Bay, the gateway to the exquisite Bay of Fires.
It's hard to think that this is the same island as the wind-swept, rain-lashed north coast. The white sands are sandwiched between calm lagoons and bushland on one side and the rough cerulean-blue Tasman Sea on the other. The road beyond the rickety shack-town of The Gardens is unsealed so my Apollo and I cannot venture further north. A local dog joins me as I ramble around taking photos of this beautifully isolated spot. Inspired, I drive south and park beside the sea at Shell Cove near Beaumaris for the night, falling asleep with the sound of waves crashing against the shore.Day Seven: On what will be my best day, the sun rises early and I discover just how this beach got its name: hundreds of thousands of shells of all varieties have been deposited on the shore. I have breakfast at the legendary Elephant Pass Cafe, fabled for its pancakes (my salmon, camembert and mushroom crepe is divine). Here there's a chance encounter with a couple from Perth driving the same Apollo van as myself. "It's brilliant – we're living in luxury," says Russell, who comes to Tassie for the fishing and is thinking of relocating.
There's no time to chat because I have a busy day ahead at the staggeringly beautiful Freycinet National Park, home of the Hazards – a series of spectacular 485-metre high pinky-orange granite outcrops. In stark contrast to Cradle Mountain, Freycinet gets 300 days of sunshine a year – and although well into autumn, today is a scorcher. A brisk uphill walk takes me to a stunning lookout above the dramatic white bowl of Wineglass Bay, and I cannot resist heading down to the water for a paddle, where I'm joined on the beach by a small kangaroo so tame that he allows me to stroke his fluffy coat.
Next I embark on a foolhardy three-hour return trek to the summit of Mount Amos with nothing but a half bottle of water and an apple. At times the climb is quite perilous: there is no path as such, just a series of red markers that often lead you up hazardous slopes alongside vertiginous precipices. The view from the top is without a doubt the highlight of my whole trip. I'm the only person stupid enough to clamber up here and so it feels like I'm presiding over my own private kingdom. Any future visit to Tasmania will include at least two days bushwalking in Freycinet – it doesn't get much better than this.Day Eight: It's my last day with the van and I conclude my clockwise loop of the island with a trip to the Tasman Peninsula to see the sombre ruins of the former convict prison at Port Arthur. The rain is back but I rally to take in the bizarre coastal formations of Tessellated Pavement, Tasmans Arch and the sea-gouged Remarkable Cave.
Before returning the van I drive up Mount Wellington, which rises high above Hobart and – when the weather's clear – affords unparalleled views over the Derwent Estuary. Before flying back to Sydney the next day, I'll explore Hobart, take a boat up to the zany subterranean modern art gallery Mona (a must for any visitor), and have a final plate of whiting and chips at Fish Frenzy by the harbour with a chilled glass of local Chardonnay. After all that driving, I deserve a drink.
About Apollo Motorhome Holidays
Proudly Australian and 100% family-owned, Apollo Motorhome Holidays is the world's largest recreational vehicle company. Motorhomes and campervans can be hired in every state of Australia, from Auckland and Christchurch in New Zealand, and at a number of locations in the United States and Canada. Pricing varies according to the season and type of vehicle you are hiring. To book or find out more call 1800 777 779 or visit www.apollocamper.com/holiday
About The Author
Felix Lowe is a London-based freelance writer and photographer who lived in Australia for much of 2011/12. He specialises in landscape photography and writing about professional cycling, arts, entertainment and travel. Over the past few years, Felix has visited diamond mines in Siberia and Botswana, crossed Australia twice by rail and ridden up the highest peak of Gran Canaria. He writes regular cycling columns for Eurosport, Cyclismas, Cyclist Magazine and The Roar.