Drive Tasmania

If anywhere was tailor-made for exploring by car, it’s Australia’s southern island.

Boasting arguably the best driving roads in the country, Tasmania never fails to impress no matter how many times you head for the hills.

Tourism Australia

27 July, 2022


The roads in Tassie were clearly designed by somebody who loved driving and are as good as any you’ll find anywhere in the world

Compact, beautiful, diverse and utterly charming – that’s Tasmania in a nutshell, and the island state remains a brilliant place to exercise a car, particularly a driver’s car. And don’t be fooled by its size relative to the rest of Australia – Tasmania remains the world’s 26th largest island, so there’s plenty of diversity.

Not only does the island offer up great food and world-class drink (some of the finest boutique gins and whiskies in the world, for instance) there are also sensational landscapes and a laid-back atmosphere that is surely the reason Tassie is such a magnet for retirees fleeing the mainland rat race. And to top that off, the roads were clearly designed by somebody who loved driving. Know this – Tassie’s best drives are as good as any you’ll find anywhere.

The wild west

Let’s start with the remote, untamed and sometimes stark west coast. Leaving Devonport (conveniently where the car ferry from Geelong docks) head west, following Route 1 along the coast through pretty towns such as Burnie and Wynyard (where the road switches to the A2) before arriving at Stanley and its startling headland known as The Nut.

From Stanley, there are a couple of ways to head south-west, but you need to wind up on the C214 and, from there, the C249 which takes you almost due south. If time is a bit tighter, you can turn left at Burnie on the A10 and follow that for about 130km (but allow two hours), through Rosebery, until the turn-off to the B27 which takes you to Zeehan.

After Zeehan’s sometimes grand architecture, things get wilder and more untouched as you follow the B27 south-west back to the coast and then south to Strahan. 

As you drop down into Strahan, you’re transported into another world of timber buildings, fishing boats and a small town clinging to the edge of the world as it looks into a harbour called Long Bay. 

This is a great place to stay a night and is the jumping off point for the boat tours that can take you into Tasmania’s convict past in Macquarie Harbour and hells Gate, or into the reaches of the wilderness of the Gordon River complete with thousand-year-old Huon Pines.

Heading due east out of Strachan, you begin to climb again and the Lyell Highway (B24) starts to take you inland. The road twists and winds across beautiful scenery until, about 40km and an hour later, you roll into Queenstown. Once infamous for its bleak landscape (toxic fumes from a copper smelting operation and removal of the local trees to fire it had, by 1900, completely denuded the region) nature is slowly taking the area back with low growth now apparent as the first stage of the region’s rehabilitation. The town itself is charming and picturesque and there’s plenty to see.

Almost immediately leaving Queenstown to the east, you hit the fabled 99 Turns. This section of switchbacks and hairpin bends is just six kilometres long and ends at Gormanston. While it doesn’t actually include 99 turns, it sure feels like it does and it’s no surprise its’ been a staple Special Stage at Targa Tasmania over the years.

From Gormanston, your choices are varied, but most folks pick up the A10, cross Lake Burbury on the Bradshaw Bridge and then head south-east to Hobart for the night, about 250km away. Allow a couple of days to make the most of this one. At least.

Almost immediately after leaving Queenstown to the east, you hit the fabled section of road aptly called the '99 Turns'

If you have time, a day or two spent at Cradle Mountain is never wasted

The Sheffield loop

Here’s another great day’s drive if you’ve arrived on the ferry with your car (or if you’ve picked up a rental car in Devonport). Drive south out of Devonport (there are a couple of routes) and within half an hour, you’ll find yourself in the charming little town of Sheffield just 23km away.

The town itself is worth a diversion and the famed murals that dot the village are a popular reason to stop and take a break. As well as traditional murals, there are plenty of them depicting only-in-Tassie scenes as well as a serve of Aboriginal wall-art as well. Mural Fest happens every year with a competition among six artists, so the town’s collection of art is always growing.

If you’re a hiker, nearby Mount Roland beckons, but if it’s a drive you’re after, then you’ve come to the right part of Tasmania. Head south out of Sheffield on the C137 via Paradise for about 25km until you reach the intersection with Liena Road. Turn left on to that and within a handful of kilometres you’ll have picked up the challenging and notorious Cethana Targa Special Stage. This stretches for 38km until you hit the town of Moina. Turn left here and you’re almost at Cradle Mountain or, turn right and you’ll be faced with another brilliant drive back to Devonport and the ferry. Don’t go back through Sheffield, though, stay to the east of Lake Barrington on Cradle Mountain Road (C132) and make it a round trip.

This is an easy day’s journey, but if you have time, a day or two spent at Cradle Mountain is never wasted.

East Coast Cruising

If you’re leaving from Hobart, the best way to go north is to stick to the east coast. Although it will take a lot longer than zooming up the highway through the centre of the island, the east coast route is a laid-back drive with gorgeous scenery dotted with charming little towns and pristine beaches with evocative names like Wineglass Bay on the beautiful Freycinet Peninsular.

From Hobart, take the A3 across the Tasman Bridge and head east to Sorell just a few minutes away. Stay on the A3 and follow your nose to the coast to Orford on the mouth of the Prosser River. From there, it’s a cruise along the oceanside with little towns coming and going and some of the most spectacular views to be had. After about 90km (about 10km shy of Bicheno) turn right on to the C302 and about 15km south to Coles Bay, the main entry to the Freycinet National Park.

This is where you’ll see the poster child for those views, Wineglass Bay but, ironically, you can’t drive to it. You can either view it from the lookout or hike down to it, but there’s no car access. The other option is to charter a boat and approach the bay from the water.

Once you’ve checked out Freycinet, head back north to Bicheno and then village-hop all the way up the coast to St Helens, the biggest town on the north-east coast and famous for its oysters. From there, it’s an easy 160km back to Launceston and it doesn’t really matter which route you take, they’re all brilliant.

As with any travel within Tasmania, there are a couple of things to know. Firstly, wildlife abounds in Tasmania, so watch out for things that hop, run, gallop or amble, usually without any real road-sense. The other thing is that Tasmanians mean what they say when it comes to their advisory speed signs. When a Tasmanian road-sign suggests a 65km/h speed, it means it. Not 75, usually not even 70.  Keep it in mind.

Enjoy some of the more rewarding roads Australia’s other states and territories have to offer. 

Victoria

South Australia

Western Australia

Northern Territory

Queensland

This is where you’ll see the poster child for those views, Wineglass Bay but, ironically, you can’t drive to it