Tasmania national parks
Happy 100th birthday
Tasmania celebrated the centenary of its national parks in 2016, with Freycinet and Mount Field so designated in 1916. The former is a peninsular idyll in the east, the latter a foray into rich, inland forest and alpine meadows, just 60km north of Hobart. Because although nothing is actually very far in Tasmania, the 19 national parks that now exist on this, Australia’s only island state, take you onto what feels like a very different planet sometimes. Or several different planets, in fact, given the eco eclectic range of landscapes and seascapes that have been protected here. Whether you enjoy walking, bird watching, wildlife spotting, forests, vast lakes, trout filled rivers, mountains, coastal dunes and wild beaches or glacial inland wilderness, there is a Tasmania national park for you.
Freycinet National Park is a pretty fine starter on the menu of Tasmania National Parks. A peninsula stretching out into the Tasman Sea, the park also includes Schouten Island, a popular spot for snorkelling, or wildlife watching for little penguins and seals. On the mainland section of Freycinet you can hike for days, the pink granite Hazard Mountains proffering the perfect backdrop in one direction, the sea and white, glistening quartz sandy beaches in the other. This is one peninsula that is definitely pretty in pink. Like all Tasmania National Parks, there are numerous well marked bushwalks to be tried out, one of our favourites being the three-day, 30km Freycinet Peninsula Circuit from the Hazard Mountains to Hazards Beach, camping at heavenly beach spots along the way, or easing your load and basing yourself at a stunning ecolodge surrounded by tea tree and banksias trees.
Mount Field National Park’s highlight is, for many, the climb to Mount Field West, the park’s highest peak at 1,434m which is often snow-covered all year round. Taking on an all day hike from the foothill starting point at Lake Dobson, you climb up through various different ecosystems, eucalypt forest, pretty and perfectly formed glacial valleys and alpine slopes. With waterfalls such as the Russell, Lady Barron and Horseshoe Falls all seeming to be strategically placed en route to the summit. Mount Field is also famous for ‘The Turning of the Fagus’, referring to the autumnal change in colour of the island’s only deciduous tree. A beech species, it covers the glowing gamut of colour throughout April.
One of Tasmania’s other famous national parks is Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park, another landscape of glacial greatness, which attracts walkers from all over the world. This is thanks to its highly renowned 65km Overland Track which takes you on a six-day odyssey through ancient temperate rainforest, around crystalline glacial lakes and, with snow dusted Mount Ossa, Tasmania’s highest peak at 1,617m, definitely the icing on the cake.
Heading north to the coastal Narawntapau National Park is another of those typically Tassie terrains where you can go bush and beach walking, all in a morning. The grasslands are heaving with wombats and wallabies, ‘roos and possum, and the coastal lagoons and cliffs are home to birdlife from little penguins to pelicans, nankeen kestrels and peregrine falcons. It is never a dull moment in Narawntapau. Especially at dusk, when all eyes are peeled in these open Serengeti-esque landscapes for the state’s national animal, the nocturnal devil himself.
With 300 islands off the coast of Tasmania, several are protected by national parks. As well as Schouten mentioned above, Maria and South Bruny are the most famous. Both stand out for the fact that they are exquisite enclaves of Tasmanian wildlife, from the prolific birdlife, forester kangaroos, possums, wombats, echidna to Tasmanian Devils. You name it; it’s on one of these islands. Although Bruny does claim exclusivity on the white wallabies. You would still visit Maria if she had no furry friends, however, for the Painted or Fossil cliffs alone, where the natural geological pink and red swirls through the rock are like some god of sculpture’s natural gallery. The trek to the island peak, Mount Maria, at 711m is also verging on heavenly.
Although not an island, the Tasman Peninsula feels like a world of its own, and is the latest to appear on the hikers’ worldwide map of ocean odysseys, thanks to the recent creation of the Three Capes Track. Covering 46km along cliffs and coves, past sea stacks and stunning shores, you can hike along Capes Pillar, Hauy and Raoul.
Staying in public huts, most people do it in four days but once you come to Tasman, you will lose track of time and stop having any urge to check it either.