Tasmania is known for its wilderness. Vast swathes of land that look today as they likely have for hundreds – possibly thousands – of years. Many of the state’s best-known national parks, like Cradle Mountain-Lake St Claire National Park and the Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park, are further afield and a bit far from Hobart to make them suitable for a quick trip.
Here, we’ve come up with four national parks, all blessed with abundant natural beauty, you can visit in either a day or overnight if you have a rental car. Don’t forget that whenever you visit a national park in Tasmania, you’ll need a Parks Pass, available online.
Head to Hartz Mountain
Listen, if Cradle Mountain has always been on your bucket list, but you just can’t find the time for it this trip, drive 90km southwest from Hobart to Hartz Mountain National Park. The landscape here has been shaped by glaciers and offers killer views of the state’s southwest wilderness, as well as waterfalls and lakes. In fact, it forms the edge of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, so you know you’re going to be treated to something special when you visit.
For the best walk in the park, take the well-formed trail to Hartz Peak, 1,255m above sea level. The 7.5km return trek takes hikers past a couple of glacier lakes and crosses some dramatic alpine terrain before arriving at the summit. When the weather is clear – you should never try this hike if conditions are inclement – you’ll have stunning views of the mountain ranges in the distance, the southwest wilderness and, below you, Hartz Lake.
The weather can change quickly up here, so be sure to bring suitable warm clothing, as well as plenty of water, snacks and a picnic lunch. The best time to climb to Hartz Peak is during spring when the wildflowers are abundant.
Mount Field Heights
Tasmania doesn’t have many ski fields, but in the winter, the alpine areas of Mount Field National Park, about an hour-and-a-half’s drive in the rental car northwest of Hobart, become one of two in the entire state.
In the months leading up to the snowfall, visitors to the park can see the changing leaves of one of Australia’s few native deciduous trees, the fagus, on the Tarn Shelf, a stunning string of small lakes on a bench of land. The tiny, crinkled leaves of this native beech, a prehistoric survivor of the Gondwana period, turn entire hillsides rust, orange and gold.
The Tarn Shelf is a beautiful part of the park even when the fagus isn’t turning. It does, however, involve a 12km loop walk that rises to the alpine areas and follows the lakes before descending again. There are some far shorter walks in Mount Field National Park if you’ve got less time or energy. At the highest point of the road into the park, you can take a 1.5km stroll around Lake Dobson and into a grove of pencil pines and pandani, one of the subalpine plants only found in Tasmania.
Near the southern edge of Mount Field National Park, you’ll find Styx Tall Trees Conservation Area. Do a side trip on the way back to see the towering giant ash trees, which reach more than 90m high. There are a couple of short, signposted walks that will take you to either the Styx Bridge or a viewing platform where you can stare up at these monumental trees.
Flee to Freycinet
An almost 200km drive is too far for a day trip, but if you’ve got a rental car, you can plan an overnight visit – even longer – to Freycinet National Park. This is a true coastal paradise that has been captured in thousands of stunning photographs. Until you’re on its doorstep, though, you won’t fully realise the wonder of this dramatic landscape.
The best-known feature of Freycinet is Wineglass Bay, with its snow-white beach and gin-clear waters. Give yourself three or four hours to climb to Wineglass Bay Lookout then take the stairs – there are about a thousand of them – down to the beach and back again. Make a day of it, so you can take your time on the hike and relax on the beach before you turn back. If you think you’ll struggle on the walk, you can book a tour that will also take you past islands, coves, blow holes and waterfalls with Wineglass Bay Cruises from Coles Bay.
While you’re here, you should also explore the red lichen-covered rocks of Friendly Beaches, walk to the lookout at Cape Tourville, from where you can see sea eagles, seals, dolphins and even whales, and take a guided sea-kayaking tour to get closer to the marine life, pink granite mountains and perfect beaches.
The best place to find reasonably priced accommodation near Freycinet National Park is in the nearby town of Swansea, where there are motels, holiday parks with cabins and a hostel.
Ready to explore Tasmania’s national parks? Hire a rental car before you head off.