Tasmania, Australia's smallest and only island state, is a land of diverse attractions. Surrounded by the waters of the Southern Ocean, Bass Strait and the Tasman Sea, the state is dotted by beaches along its coast and its hinterland is in many areas still pristine wilderness while the state's cities and towns reflect not only the heritage of its past but also the modernity of contemporary times.
Once known as Van Diemen's Land, the island was so named by the Dutch who were the first Europeans to land on Tasmanian soil. The man after whom the island was named, Anthony van Diemen, was the governor-general of the Dutch East Indies who had sent the Dutch explorer, Abel Tasman, on a voyage of discovery in 1642.
The British colonised the island in 1803, which half a century later was renamed Tasmania after the Dutch explorer.
Launceston, Tasmania's second largest city, is a place of various attractions and a gateway to the island's other popular destinations including the Tasmanian Wilderness, which is one of the World Heritage sites designated by the United Nations.
Enjoying the architecture, sights and atmosphere of Launceston © Tourism Tasmania and Rob Burnett
While Hobart, the state capital, is the better known entry point to Tasmania, you will find on your visit to Australia that there certainly are flights to Launceston. Being in the northern part of the island, it is closer to the mainland and should be relatively cheaper to fly to. Located at the junction of the Tamar and Esk Rivers, the city is one of the oldest in the country, having been founded in the early 1850s. Relics of the old colonial days are to be seen in many of Launceston's heritage buildings. Just north of Launceston, Tamar Valley along the river to Bass Strait is one of four major Tasmanian wine regions.
Cataract Gorge and First Basin ... a short walk from the city © Tourism Tasmania and Darren Dickson
One of northern Tasmania's premier visitor destinations, Cataract Gorge is a 10- to 15-minute walk from Launceston city centre, and just about a two-minute drive. Along the banks of the South Esk River, the gorge is a unique natural formation so close to a major Australian city. It is a place of wilderness and garden, unique rock formations, swimming areas, walking tracks, picnic grounds, a chairlift across the river, kiosk, cafe and restaurant. And, yes, you can go cable hang gliding, too. The First Basin and Cliff Grounds are popular sections of Cataract Gorge.
Strolling through Devonport City Mall © Tourism Tasmania and Devonport City Council
Driving northwest from Launceston for some 100 kilometres on Bass Highway, the Tasmania visitor reaches Devonport, home port of the passenger and vehicular ferry Spirit of Tasmania
. Depending on whether the visitor first flies to Launceston or sails to Devonport, either city could be the second stop when journeying in northern Tasmania. Of course, Devonport has its own airport and the city could be a first arrival point in Tasmania. As with numerous major Australian cities, Devonport grew on the shores of a river, this time the Mersey River. Both Launceston and Devonport are starting points for the shorter drive to Cradle Mountain as compared to starting in the capital, Hobart.
Lake Dove and Cradle Mountain in Tasmania's World Heritage area © Tourism Tasmania and Dean Mengel
Cradle Mountain is very much Tasmania's top wilderness destination. For those driving to the mountain, or joining a bus tour, the main entrance to Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park, part of the Tasmanian Wilderness
World Heritage site is from the north side and closer to Launceston or Devonport than to Hobart. From Cradle Mountain, hikers who have booked the walk take to the 65-kilometre Overland Track
from Cradle Mountain to Lake St Clair
, which can take up to six days to complete.