East Coast Exploration: a Hobart to Launceston Driving Holiday

Great Eastern Drive Mayfield Bay

After listening to friends talk about Tasmania for years, Chris and Sarah head south for the first time to take on the Great Eastern Drive, a road trip that includes all the highlights the Apple Isle has to offer.

OK, I’m going to admit a shameful secret. Chris and I have never been to Tassie. It’s hard to believe, I know, but we’ve finally found some time on our calendars and are now heading south where we’ll pick up a car from Apex Car Rentals at Hobart Airport and spend six days driving to Launceston.

East Coast, Best Coast: Hobart to Swansea

A white weatherboard building with gum trees growing around it and a lake and grapevines behind, Milton Vineyard, Tasmania

After a couple of days in Hobart – so many highlights, but walking around the summit of kunanyi/Mount Wellington and doing a whisky tasting at Lark Distillery’s cellar door were a couple of our faves – Chris and I are heading up the east coast. Our first stop, only an hour away, is Spring Beach. We pulled into Wattlebanks Cafe in Orford for scallop pies on the way and are now taking a spot on the endless stretch of sand to enjoy the views of Maria Island. Afterwards we go rock pooling and see dolphins swimming just offshore. It seems like a good omen for the rest of the trip.

During this part of the drive there are countless little beaches where we stop to stretch our legs and relax. Not that we’ve driven very far, but who knows when we might be back this way. We head past Swansea to visit Milton Vineyard, where an old sheep paddock now grows excellent pinot, syrah, chardonnay and other grape varieties. And the setting is perfect. The cellar door overlooks a small lake and rows of vines. It’s just one of the wineries on Tasmania’s East Coast Wine Trail and is part of the Tasmanian Mixed Dozen freight scheme. All you do is collect wine on your travels and, at the last winery you visit, present all the bottles to have them shipped home. Sure beats wrapping them in dirty t-shirts and crossing your fingers as you stash them in your luggage.

Park Life: Swansea to Bicheno

A woman sits on an elevated rock looking down at Wineglass Bay in Freycinet National Park, Tasmania

This is the part of Tasmania everyone knows about. It’s the home of the stunning Freycinet National Park, which, in turn, is home to Wineglass Bay – consistently voted one of the most beautiful beaches in the world – the Hazards and the Moulting Lagoon. We’re staying in Bicheno for a few days (it’s more budget-friendly than staying in a lodge in the park) so we can explore it fully.

Top of our list of things to do is the 11-kilometre Wineglass Bay and Hazards Beach circuit hike. A short walk through the bush takes us to the descent to the bay, and when we get there Chris and I realise this is reason enough to visit Tasmania. We strip down as far as we can while still protecting our modesty and run into the water. This being Australia’s far south means it’s, well, very refreshing, but we soon get used to it and float on our backs looking up at the cloudless blue sky.

There have been plenty of other people with us to this point, but many turn back at the lookout above the beach. But we trek off, across the isthmus, passing the far rougher Great Oyster Bay and heading through bush where we keep getting glimpses of the landscape beyond. Hazards Bay is blissfully deserted when we arrive, and is the perfect spot to eat lunch before walking the last leg.

The next day we decide to take a different view and head out on kayaks with Freycinet Adventures. It’s so peaceful gliding along the coastline and staring up at those granite peaks we walked along. In the distance, there are wallabies on the sand at coves and seals playing in the water, and our guide points out gulls dropping shellfish onto rocks to break them.

Country Roads: Bicheno to Launceston

Blowhole Bicheno

Before we head off, we decide to have a look around Bicheno. (So far, all we’ve done is a couple of night tours – one to see the little penguins and the other to watch Tasmanian devils from a hide – after days spent in Freycinet.) There’s a great waterfront, where cray boats come in with the catch. We head south and stop at Whalers Lookout, where we can see seals on Governor Island, then head on to the blowhole to watch the ocean spray into the air.

We decide to drive north first before turning back to Launceston, mostly so we can go through Pyengana. We stop and taste the cheese at Pyengana Dairy, have an excellent lunch of chicken schnitzels and fish and chips at the famous Pub in the Paddock, home of beer-drinking pig Priscilla, and walk through shady rainforest to St Columba Falls, at 90 metres one of Tassie’s highest waterfalls.

This has been one of the most fun road trips we’ve ever been on. With wine, wildlife and so much more to do, Chris is already planning a return.