After getting way too comfortable lounging around in Melbourne for a few weeks, I decided it was time to see something new and planned a little camping trip to Tasmania with a group of backpackers.
Plane tickets to Tasmania are extremely cheap, but the island still seems to get overlooked by a lot of people. Most of the Australians I’ve met haven’t actually visited Tassie, and I know most backpackers never make it to the state either, but believe me when I say this is not a trip you want to skip.
Tasmania is a shockingly simple and satisfying place to visit. You can fly from Melbourne (our tickets were about $80 round trip with JetStar), or you can even take a ferry with your vehicle. Once you’ve arrived, the island state is easy to navigate, full of friendly people, and can make any amateur feel like a master camper. We started in Hobart, where we rented a car at the airport and stayed one night at the Pickled Frog. As far as hostels go, it’s definitely NOT the nicest one I’ve ever stayed in, (I’d put it in the category of comfortably grungy) but it has one unique asset that makes it a PERFECT first stop. They have a closet full of camping gear that they loan out to backpacker’s for FREE. You just have to leave a small deposit.
For $40 we got sleeping mats, camp stoves and gas, dishes, sleeping bags, and a few other odds and ends, and all we had to do was leave a list of what we borrowed at reception. They also had a great collection of brochures that allowed us to see exactly how overpriced guided tours are (ranging from $500 to $1200 for 3-10 days), and steal ideas for what route to take. We marked off a few must see destinations along one of the brochure’s advertised routes, and decided minimal planning was probably the best policy. With so many gorgeous and interesting places, we wanted to leave ourselves some flexibility to spend as much time at each site as we wanted.
The landscape of Tasmania is amazing. It’s hard to believe just how much scenic variety you can find in such a small area. Driving from one side of the state to the other is like crossing the United States from Florida’s beaches to Washington’s forests, and passing through the plains of the Midwest along the way, except it can be done in a few hours rather than over several days. Whatever kind of nature lover you are, Tasmania has something to offer.
We started by going northeast to Freycinet National Park, which is home to gorgeous white sand beaches, the bluest water you’ll ever see, and the Insta-famous Wineglass Bay. THE place to camp in Freycinet is Friendly Beaches. Rather than a structured camping area with defined and marked sites, it’s more of road with small alcoves on either side where you can park a campervan or car or pitch a tent in the grass. We were lucky and found a perfect little clearing in the trees that was big enough to fit our 3 tents, and parked our cars in front to cover the entrance. The real beauty of the site is that it’s only steps from the beach, and a short drive to the Wineglass Bay hike. Like many free campsites, there’s no running water, but there are bathrooms, and of course the ocean gives a great shower.
From Freycinet we drove northwest to Launceston, which is the second largest city in Tasmania, then on to Cradle Mountain National Park. We found another fantastic free campsite in the mountains using WikiCamps, which even had a pavilion with a fully stocked wood burning stove, and bathrooms with running water. We had an amazing time hiking, cooking together, playing soccer, drinking, and having a sing-a-long with some gray nomads who were doing their yearly camping adventure around the state. Unfortunately, we weren’t at all prepared for the mountain weather. It was rainy and cold, and we didn’t have nearly enough protection from the elements. I ended up sleeping in all the clothes I could find, in a sleeping bag, in the front seat of the car. I guess you live and you learn.
From Cradle Mountain National Park we drove back to Hobart because we were limited on time, but as it turns out, Hobart is one of my favorite cities in Australia now.
In retrospect, I was hesitant to go to Tasmania when one of my friends suggested it. I’m frugal, and I didn’t think it was something I wanted to spend extra money on. Luckily, one of my goals while traveling has been to say “yes” more often, and I’m so glad I did.
This trip was one of the best things I’ve done in Australia, and the only thing I regret about it is that we didn’t plan to stay longer. If I could do it again, I’d go for at least a month. Who knows, maybe I will someday. In the meantime, if I’ve convinced you to add Tassie to your travel bucket list, there’s a few things you’ll want to keep in mind that will help you make the most of your adventure.
- You can take small tents as carry-on luggage on budget flights.
- Download WikiCamps. It only costs a few dollars, and you’ll save tons of money by using free campsites instead of paid ones.
- Buy a national park pass. It covers your parking at all the parks for 2 months, and YES they do check for passes and write tickets.
- If you fly spend time in Hobart, hike the Organ Pipe Loop at Mt. Wellington just 30 minutes outside of the city.
- Stock up on food in big cities so you don’t get caught paying exorbitant prices at small country stores, or worse end up a couple hours away from the nearest store and have to waste time driving to buy food.
- Allow yourself time to see and experience everything Tasmania has to offer. Take it slow and enjoy the wineries, berry farms, chocolate factories, breweries, numerous national parks, beaches, hikes and peaceful drives without rushing yourself. It’s the perfect place to dip your toes into long term camping without the pressure of having to be expertly prepared to be away from civilization for several days at a time. You’re never more than a few hours from a warm bed and a convenience store, but it’s the kind of island that’ll make you eager to give up those comforts to get better acquainted with your inner nature enthusiast.
- Be prepared for the weather. Being the southernmost state in Australia, Tassie is quite a bit cooler than the rest of the country all year around. Make sure you check the weather when you’re going and pack accordingly!
If camping isn’t really your thing, don’t stress! Tassie has a little something for everyone. Check out my guide to the perfect weekend getaway in Hobart!