IF the Australian regions were a group of friends Canberra would be the brains; Queensland the sporty one; Northern Territory the spiritual one; Western Australia the all-rounder and Tasmania… the last one to be picked on sports day.
The blame for its seeming unpopularity lies squarely on the island’s reputation for stupidity (jokes about depleted gene pools are still rife); fierce independence (separated from the rest of Australia by the Bass Straight) and coldness (it’s famed for its unpredictable weather).
But knowing the sports day shame too well, I set myself a mission to discover a better side to Tasmania.
Luckily for me, the island is currently riding high on a wave of interest. Access is better than ever – The Spirit of Tasmania has increased ferry services into Devonport to keep up with demand, and Jetstar Airways started direct services into Hobart and Launceston last year.
Visitors wanting to pad across the white sands of Wineglass Bay or eat fresh crab on Hobart’s harbour can now get there with relative ease.
But Lake St Clair National Park is what attracts most visitors, with hikers, families and couples coming to enjoy the fresh air – reputedly the cleanest in Australia.
With snow-capped craggy peaks, cascading waterfalls, mirrored lakes and the smell of fresh pine, it’s Australia’s answer to Yellowstone Park.
Guests can stay in one of the many wilderness tents, timber lodges, boutique cabins or five-star properties on the park’s outskirts and then drive or take a shuttle bus into the park each day, paying £8 per vehicle or £4 per person.
Once inside, visitors can hire bikes, hike, ramble, spot local wildlife including possums and wallabies or simply enjoy a lakeside picnic.
The most popular hike is the world-famous and notoriously tricky Overland Track to (and over) the 5,068ft summit of Cradle Mountain – so called for its natural dip. Here walkers can experience snow, rain, strong winds and blazing sunshine in one day.
Thankfully, you don’t need to be a hardened rambler to enjoy the experience. In fact, to spend all day hiking seems like a waste of perfectly good relaxation time – the scenery is so tranquil, worries seem to melt away.
After my three-hour stroll around shimmering Dove Lake – over wooden walkways, through temperate rainforests and between clear-running streams – I treated myself to a massage in my hotel’s spa, followed by a dip in a bubbling outdoor bath filled with tea-tree oil (the native plant).
Being submerged in steaming liquid while crisp air coats your face and shoulders like a cool flannel is a wonderful sensation, and I had the whole spa to myself. In fact, surveying the panoramic snow-capped view around me, I realised there wasn’t a soul in sight.
For more adventurous guests there’s camping, making new friends and swapping stories around the barbecue before clambering into fat sleeping bags to nod off under winking stars – the day’s fresh air and exercise aiding a perfect slumber.
Meanwhile in the lodges, guests can pour themselves a warming glass of port to enjoy in front of a crackling fire. Bottles of the good stuff can generally be found next to slabs of homebaked shortbread and notes inviting you to help yourself.
Attempting to light the fire in my wooden hut after one too many – made even trickier by a curious possum – it occurred to me what the island’s best trait is: it may not be sporty, smart, or particularly spiritual, but Tasmania sure is pretty.
On the web:Virtual tour of Dove Lake from ultimedia.com.au
CRADLE MOUNTAIN LODGE, TASMANIA
Where is it?
What’s it like?
A five-star wilderness retreat with 86 timber cabins dotted around the forest and a main rustic lodge where guests check in.
Hard not to in a cabin bigger than the average one-bedroom flat in London. Roll one way in the king-size bed and let the burning embers of a real fire lull you to sleep, or roll the other and stare out of the floor-to-ceiling windows at the view. A dip in the deck’s outdoor bubbling spa shouldn’t be missed. And did I mention the port?
A separate spa cabin where guests can be massaged while staring out of (yet more) floor-to-ceiling windows or pummelled in a large outdoor spa. The lodge also hosts wine and cheese tasting and animal night viewing tours can be experienced for a small fee.
Eat in or out?
In. The restaurant is in the main lodge which has a roaring fire and a walk-in wine cellar. My beef in red wine sauce was tender and juicy and my chocolate mousse pudding was rich, yet light. The buffet breakfast wasn’t in the same league but did the job.
Service was professional with the friendly Aussie charm making guests feel at home.
Recommend it? Highly. It’s the perfect romantic getaway for couples touring Australia.
Total rating: 25/30
Travel 2/4 offers seven nights’ room-only accommodation from £602 per person twin-share in August staying in a spa suite.