The great Australian road trip is dying. I fondly remember my family holidays being bookended by big drives, sometimes over a couple of days. All family members, along with their gear, crammed into a small space for hours on end … what could possibly go wrong? It’s the sort of thing that will quickly make or break family ties.
Sadly, it’s a family ritual quickly sliding into the rearview mirror. It’s under attack from cheap and convenient airfares, something virtually impossible to look past in our time-poor world. And when you do get on the road these days, you’re often stuck on a big, wide, flat and straight motorway, devoid of any experience other than pulling into a nondescript servo/fast food multiplex. Not exactly the stuff of unforgettable memories, right?
It’s all a bit of a shame, really. Some of my best memories were getting bounced around between rough roads and sibling disputes, as we quickly exhausted the available local radio stations. Squeezing onto a plane for an hour or so, and watching some lacklustre TV from the seatback screen doesn’t really have the same romance about it.
One surefire way of reconnecting with the road, and making some fine memories is booking in a road trip holiday somewhere. Somewhere excellent.
We travelled with Subaru down to Tasmania, with a big road trip on the cards: Hobart to Launceston, via the magnificent East Coast. The Subaru Rally Tasmania was on over the weekend, tearing through forests in the north-east at breakneck speed. Our pace was going to be much slower, although we were looking to explore some forest tracks.
When you think about it, Tasmania is the perfect road trip destination. Charmless motorways are scarce, and the island isn’t overwhelmingly huge. What you do have plenty of, however, is all of the right ingredients: mountains, rivers, forests, towns, lookouts, beaches and tourist spots. All interconnected by webs of curving roads and tracks, just waiting to be enjoyed.
The main road up from Hobart to Lonny (or is it Lonnie?… update, it’s ‘Launy’) is the Tasman Highway, which is mostly straight and well-surfaced. After hurtling past Triabunna and that contentious woodchip mill, it quickly aligns itself closely with an uncrowded and beautiful coastline. We’re using the Tasman to plough northward for a little while, but will criss-cross between the beautiful coastline and equally impressive hinterland on a variety of smaller roads and tracks.
If I had to pick my most favourite, most idyllic Australian landscape, it would be rolling green hills of pasture, which give way to a small and quiet white sandy beach. There are small patches of this on the South Coast of New South Wales, but is either (a) private or (b) busy.
Tasmania is different. As you meander towards Swansea, there is kilometre after kilometre of this country to enjoy. The smooth-ish single carriageway divides farmland and ocean, giving you easy access to many short, deserted beach spots. It can be a little chilly, depending on what time of year you travel, but it’s very, very beautiful.
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The east coast continues to deliver, the further north you get. Next stop is the Freycinet Peninsula, home to world-renowned Wineglass Bay. Coles Bay is home to some of Tasmania’s most expensive real estate, along with incredible seafood and accommodation for the tourist. This is all framed by white sand, clear blue water and pink-tinged Hazard Mountains. Only half of the Freycinet Peninsula is accessible by road, so pack some stout boots and a real sense of adventure if you want to see the whole shebang.
Continue north, and things only get better. The Bay Of Fires defines an area that spans between Binalong Bay and Eddystone Point and is absolutely spectacular. There are a few towns dotted along the coast, but it’s all about curved beaches, rocky outcrops and solitude.
The name comes from the peculiar red lichens that grow on the many granite formations that pepper the coastline, that could be sometimes confused for modern art. Combine them with white sand, turquoise water and a brilliant blue sky, and you’ll almost forget you’re wearing a down jacket and thermal duds.
While there is varied accommodation available to suit most budgets, I can also speak with a little bit of authority about camping up and down the Tasmanian East. It’s awesome. While peak times are no doubt busy at the popular spots, you can still find some pretty awesome and pretty quiet camp spots along the coast.
Enough about that magnificent coastline, because veering inwards brings its own set of delights. Small towns are connected by road that are more often than not curved and scenic, through sprawling expanses of forest, farmland or national park. There are plenty of wineries, eateries and distilleries to sate almost any desire and budget, spruiking Tasmania’s justifiably famous local produce. From my experience, you’ll be unlucky to cop a bad meal on the road in Tasmania.
Delve off the blacktop, and those forests are often worth exploration as well. Some, like Douglas-Apsley National Park, have beautiful waterholes to explore. Others are home to high-ranging mountain peaks and big, beautiful lakes. Some parts of Tasmania could easily be the set to a British small-town crime drama, with narrow, winding roads bordered by heath and fenceline as it disappears over soft crests. I don’t know about you, but sometimes a drive like this can be the most relaxing thing you can do.
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One particular highlight on our journey was Ben Lomond National Park, home to Jacob’s Ladder. It’s a series of steep and sharp switchbacks up an impressively high mountain, yielding a breathtaking view and a good chance of snow or ice (depending on the season). It’s a slow but exhilarating drive, which could be risky in bad conditions. You’re required to have chains in your vehicle during the winter months, which can be hired from nearby towns.
Of course, what I’m talking about here is only one quadrant of the island. There are quaint little historic towns that fringe the northern coast, or the wild and rugged frontier of the west coast. There are lake-dotted highlands in the middle, riddled with roads and tracks, and there are huge swathes of unspoilt nature along the southern reaches of the island.
Some places we didn’t see but are worth a mention: Port Arthur and Tasman Peninsula, Bruny Island and the Huon Valley. All magnificent places, worthy of a week’s holiday in their own right. Of course Cradle Mountain sticks out like, well, a mountain.
Take a look at the calibre of roads Targa Tasmania frolics on for inspiration, if you are looking for some twisty blacktop. To really experience these roads, however, we’d recommend you book yourself into the Targa Tour. It’ll cost you an entry fee, but having a closed road allows for spirited driving without risking other road users. In other words, it’s well worth it.
You can bring your own vehicle across to the island via the Spirit of Tasmania, which isn’t as expensive as you might think: The car can cost you as little as $99 each way, and you can book either a recliner or cabin for yourself (no sleeping in the car allowed).
If you’re not a fan of catching the boat, you can look at a fly-and-hire job. All of your usual rental suspects are present in Tasmania, with the usual range of vehicles. This can work out at a similar price to the boat, but will let you claw back a little bit of transit time.
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If you’re looking for something a bit more exciting than an i30 or Corolla hire car, you do have some more exciting options. A quick googling found Overdrive Car Hire, with an impressive selection of sporty rentals available. Cheaper options are a Subaru BRZ or Mini Cooper S for $145 per day, up to a Porsche Boxster 981 for $435 per day.
Any way you do it, the journey is rewarding and memorable; the perfect antidote to the straight triple carriageways and shuddering traffic that dominates our Mondays to Fridays.