A veteran traveler and an islands staffer-turned-contributing editor, Tony Gibbs has visited more than 50 islands, but after his first trip to Tasmania, he decided that it was his favorite. "It has a wonderful year-round climate, and the locals are friendly, so visitors feel welcome," he says. He especially enjoyed Hobart ("a very civilized small city that has a symphony orchestra, museums, and marvelous old buildings"), and he was intrigued by the island"s namesake devils: "They're quarrelsome and belligerent," he says. "They prefer to fight over something concrete, like food, but lacking that they will fight over nothing. They're just like people."
Singapore-based photographer R. Ian Lloyd described Tasmania as "an often-overlooked gem that, in terms of its nature, is one of the most spectacular places in the whole South Pacific." He says that at the Bay of Fires he was "in awe of the scenery. Normally when a place is that special it gets quickly commercialized."
Lloyd has worked as a photographer in Southeast Asia for about 20 years. He has published 32 books, including a series on Australia"s wine regions, and he runs one of the biggest stock-photo libraries in that part of the world. His work has appeared in National Geographic and on the covers of Fortune, Newsweek, and Gourmet.
Tasmania is famous for outdoor adventure, and there are plenty of choices. The most famous bush walk in all of Australia is the Overland Track, a 50-mile expedition in Cradle Mountain-Lake St. Clair National Park, which is also a World Heritage reserve. For action on the water, head to another World Heritage reserve, the Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park, on the west side of the island. The Franklin is home to some of the most challenging and remote white water on the globe; the Gordon offers more mellow, scenic cruises. For the best look at the forest canopy, check out the new Tahune Forest Airwalk in the Tahune Forest Reserve, southwest of Hobart. Strung between treetops up to 147 feet off the ground, the 1,640-foot-long canopy track is the largest of its kind.
You can only stay at the Bay of Fires Lodge if you're doing the walk (about $650 for the four-day package; telephone 011-613-6331-2006, bayoffires.com.au). For something a little more plush, there's the stone Cradle Mountain Lodge, on the edge of the national park. From it you can walk 20 minutes to see the sunset on Lake St. Clair, then return to the lodge for a fabulous dinner ($115 to $175 per night; 1-800-225-9849). The Islington Private Hotel, an elegant 1800s colonial home not far from Hobart"s theaters and nightlife, is the place for an urban cultural experience (about $180 per night).
Isle of Corks
Tasmania is an up-and-coming wine producer, and the local pinot noirs and chardonnays have won international recognition. For tastings, visit Pipers Brook Vineyard, in the Tamar Valley north of Launceston; it has put Tasmania on the oenophile"s map. In the same area you'll find the Strathlynn Wine Centre, which owns Pipers and North Island Vineyards and offers tastings from both.
What's to Eat
Good food is easy to come by in Tasmania, where you"ll find excellent produce, fine seafood, gourmet cheeses -- and an array of culinary influences from the island"s immigrants. Lloyd had his favorite meal at the Strathlynn Wine Centre: He ate grilled Tasmanian salmon with herbs and sipped a sauvignon blanc while seated on a patio in a vineyard over- looking the sailboats on the Tamar River. Locals are talking about Mitzitrone and the fashionable Gondwana; both are in Hobart"s hip restaurant district. Also worth visiting are the coffee bars and cafés in swanky Salamanca Place.
Lloyd says that the unspoiled coastal wilderness along the Bay of Fires Walk makes it one of the most unique experiences in the world: "I was stunned every minute." Look for one 70-foot-long stretch that is four feet deep in shells. The water is brisk for swimming.
Read it and Leap
Lonely Planet"s Tasmania, by Lynn McGuarr, et al, is a good all-around guidebook, while Walking in Australia (also from Lonely Planet) has lots of good info about Tasmania"s superb hiking.
On the Road
A car is essential; it costs about $50 a day to rent a midsize vehicle.
The Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Department (parks.tas.gov.au) is an excellent source of info about the national parks, the World Heritage reserves, recreation opportunities and safety. Check out the online Essential Bushwalking Guide and Trip Planner. Go to tasmanianadventures.com.au, if you're interested in guided adventures. The site allows you to book more than 300 adventures and eco-tours from some 40 independent tour operators all around Tasmania.
When to Go
December through April - that's spring through fall Down Under - offers the best weather.
ATMs and banks are easy to find.
Americans need a passport and an Australian visa to enter the country.