A journey to the southernmost point of Tasmania will uncover small, scenic towns and a pristine coastal environment.
There's plenty to see and do when exploring Tasmania's far south region, but the following locations are a must-visit for anyone who wants to find out the secrets and surprises of this wild landscape.
Only 85km from Hobart, this picturesque village sits at the head of Port Esperance, a bay that enfolds the small islands of Faith, Hope and Charity. The hinterland skyline is dominated by majestic Adamsons Peak (1226m), whose summit can be reached via a four-hour hike through tall forest and alpine moors.
Once a convict probation station (est 1845), Dover is the area’s main service centre, with tourism, apple orchards and fishing its economic backbone. Its Atlantic salmon farm is the largest in the southern hemisphere. The town is a good place to stock up with supplies if you plan to camp further south. Accommodation includes comfortable B&Bs and a selection of self-contained apartments.
Only 15km from Dover, along the Huon Highway is the scenic township of Southport. In 1837, an administrative and military base was established here on the inlet named ‘Baie des Moules’ (Mussel Bay) by French Admiral Bruni D’Entrecasteaux 45 years earlier. The town became a thriving port, catering to whalers and the local timber industry. Fire has destroyed much of the original settlement, with two small cemeteries the only relics of the region’s rich social history.
Nowadays, the small community survive off the influx of holidaymakers that make their way to Southport for the excellent fishing and rugged beaches. It’s also the home of Australia’s southernmost postmark, which you can pick up at Southport’s Post Office.
The original town of Hastings was established in 1868 at Hastings Bay, a large inlet west of Southport. The settlement prospered thanks to timber-getting and had the largest mill in Tasmania, plus a eucalyptus-oil distillery, boat-building and coal mining. There is almost nothing here now, and the whole site would have been reclaimed by bush if timber workers had not discovered three dolomite caves in 1917.
The unsealed Hastings Caves Road heads west into the Hastings Caves State Reserve, which offers the chance to relax in the 28°C waters of a thermal pool, plus forest trails and Newdegate Cave, Australia’s largest dolomite cavern. While there is no camping, excellent day-use facilities include change rooms, hot showers, free electric barbecues, picnic shelters and open fireplaces.
The Hastings Forest Drive provides further adventure with a two-hour self-guided tour through Tasmania’s Southern Forests. Beginning at Hastings Caves, the route follows good, but narrow, unsealed roads through old-growth forest to the Esperance River Picnic Area, near Dover. Information signs at stops along the route explain the area’s logging history, with audio guides available at Forest and Heritage Centre in Geeveston.
The journey south continues along another minor road, soon reaching the diminutive enclave of Lune River. From headwaters in a Southern Ranges glacial valley, the river courses through forested slopes, meanders across button-grass plains and, below the bridge, steadily broadens before reaching the sea at the Narrows, near Southport. This bridge is a good point for launching kayaks to explore downstream and the bays beyond.
The Lyluequonny people lived in the region for thousands of years, their occupation evidenced by middens along the coast and shards of the chalcedony (hard, coloured quartz) they used for stone tools and adornment. As the timber industry grew, horse-drawn trolleys brought raw materials from the hinterland to the mills, thence to ships in the lower reaches of Lune River (Ida Bay). More recently, it is the rare silicified fern fossils and semi-precious agates that draw visitors, with two gem fields set aside for fossicking (without permits).
Cockle Creek is the southernmost settlement in Tasmania and the furthest point south you can drive to in Australia. To reach this micro-hamlet one travels a narrow road through some of Tasmania’s most beautiful scenery, on the edge of a World Heritage wilderness, to the forested shores of Recherche Bay, where French explorers first met Tasmanian Aborigines.
In its heyday the Cockle Creek settlement (known as Ramsgate) numbered more than 2000 souls, but the population shrank as good timber became less accessible and coal seams dwindled. Forest regrowth and fire has obliterated the villages and the noise of industry has been replaced by the lapping of waves on the bay’s placid shores.
From the Cockle Creek bridge a walking track winds through forest, heathland and coastal scrub to South Cape Bay (moderate, 4 hours return), rewarding hikers with superb views of untamed coast.