Tasmania's Wild History

Australians like to think of their offshore island state as a homegrown version of England — and the northern and northwestern regions of Tasmania seem to be right be out of Somerset or Surrey. While the historic shipping-port city of Hobart celebrates the arts and has many fine restaurants, the unspoiled wilderness areas set apart this jewel in the Australian crown.

More than 20 percent of the island is listed as a United Nations World Heritage Area, in recognition of natural treasures that range from rain forest to beach to impenetrable bush. Throw in a temperate climate, and you have the perfect setting for outdoor adventure, from world-class hiking — such as that found along the 50-mile Overland Track, which begins near Cradle Mountain/Lake St. Clair National Park — to trout fishing, skiing, and white-water rafting. Those seeking adventures on well-manicured greens can tour the 69 golf courses, including Rathos, Australia's oldest.

Tasmania is also a gastronome's delight. It has superb seafood, fine produce (including Australia's best strawberries), and excellent beer and wine. A visitor to Tasmania in 1856 wrote to friends: "We stayed nine days, indulging in very good fishing, very good beer, and capital whiskey." Some things, thankfully, remain the same.

Tasmania's more than 3,000 pristine lakes and streams harbor some of the world's largest brown trout. (The record is 29 pounds.) A good place to fine-tune your fly-fishing skills is Arthurs Lake in the Derwent Valley Central Highlands, where even inexperienced anglers stand a good chance of hooking up.

To sample the wilderness from the comfort of your car, follow the Lyell Highway from Hobart to the west coast. A self-guided tour through the World Heritage Area leads to the major points of interest, such as mountain panoramas near Mount Arrowsmith, a nature trail into the rain forest, sweeping views of the Franklin Gorge country, and a fern-glades walk to Nelson Falls.

A good many Tasmanians are descended from prisoners held at Port Arthur in the 1800s, when it was Australia's most notorious penal colony. The historic site, located about 60 miles southeast of Hobart, is the island's number-one visitor attraction, with more than 30 restored buildings, period homes, and ruins set among English oaks and landscaped gardens. If you're feeling brave, take the famous "ghost tour," a nighttime walk by lantern light guaranteed to raise a few goosebumps.