Tasmania is by far the smallest of the six Australian states, only the Australian Capital Territory occupying less space. It is also the only island state or territory. Tasmania has an area of 68,400 square kilometres. It is less than a third of the size of the next smallest state, its neighbour Victoria, and it represents a little less than one per cent of the total Australian land mass. Tasmania has a population of 500,000, of which 200,000 live in Hobart, the capital.
The history of the island of Tasmania goes back a long way. It was originally a part of the Australian mainland, but was cut off by rising waters some 12,000 years ago. Aborigines had already been living here for 10,000 to 15,000 years, and, as they became isolated from their relatives on the other side of the water, they and their culture developed in different ways.
The first European known to have visited was Abel Tasman. He sighted the west coast at 16:00 on 24th November 1642, but did not appreciate that it was an island separate from the main Australian continent. It was he who gave it the name of Van Diemen’s Land, Van Diemen being the Governor-General of the Dutch East India Company in Batavia (Jakarta), which had commissioned this voyage of exploration.
The island was renamed Tasmania in 1856. Tasmania was also visited by Marion du Fresne (French) in 1772, Tobias Furneaux (British) in 1773, James Cook (British) in 1777, William Bligh (British) in 1788 and 1792 and Bruni d’Entrecasteaux (French) in 1792. For Cook it was his last visit before he sailed to meet his death in Hawaii, and for Bligh it was his last stop before sailing to Tahiti, after which the infamous mutiny on the Bounty occurred. In 1798 George Bass and Matthew Flinders circumnavigated Tasmania and proved it to be an island, also naming the Bass Strait which separates Tasmania from Victoria.
The first European settlement of Tasmania was in 1803, and Hobart dates from 1804. Thus, of all the Australian states, only New South Wales has a longer history of European settlement than Tasmania.
This depth of history here in Tasmania is not always appreciated by visitors to Australia, who often by-pass this small state, especially as it is an island which is rather expensive to reach. It is well worth the effort, however, for Tasmania has a beauty of its own and an atmosphere quite different from the rest of Australia. Its climate is unpredictable, but tends to be damper than in most other states, resulting in great tracts of pristine forests and, at times, raging rivers. It is a popular area for walking, and the Overland Track between Cradle Mountain and Lake St. Clair, in particular, is one of the world’s most famous treks.
In recent years there has been considerable opposition to policies which have included the extensive logging of irreplaceable virgin forest in Tasmania and the flooding of forested valleys for the purpose of hydro-electric schemes when the state already has more than enough electricity to satisfy all its needs.
To reach Tasmania, one may either fly or take a ferry. Flights operate to Hobart, Launceston, Devonport and Burnie. The main ferry service consists of two vessels, Spirit of Tasmania I and Spirit of Tasmania II, one of which sails every night from Melbourne to Devonport. At peak times there are additional daytime sailings. These are large ships which are comfortable and reasonably fast. The crossing takes approximately ten hours.
There is also a Devil Cat fast catamaran service which takes six hours from Melbourne to George Town, north of Launceston. It operates only in the summer, from December to April. Although it too is a large vessel, capable of carrying up to 740 passengers, it is much less comfortable than the Spirit of Tasmania I and II, as this can be a rough crossing with high waves. The service is also prone to cancellation in adverse weather.
Travel within Tasmania is by bus. There are two principal bus companies, TassieLink and Tasmanian Redline, for the routes of which see the map on the page opposite. TassieLink offers an Explorer Pass giving unlimited travel for various numbers of days at the following prices. The pass does not include travel on the routes operated to Scotts Peak and Cockle Creek in summer only, but these can be travelled by payment of supplements.
Free camping in Tasmania
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