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Tasmania - North and North-East Tasmania

Tasmania has many reasons to draw visitors, with its spectacular and varying scenery, colourful history and great produce. The north and north-east of the isle is no exception.

Travelling from Launceston, the first stop might be Scottsdale, a town servicing the surrounding vegetable-growing district and pine plantations. The produce from this area includes onions, carrots and potatoes, as well as poppies. Tasmania is one of the few places in the world where poppies are legally cultivated for use in the manufacture of morphine, and the colour of poppy flowers in summer is a local attraction.

The first convict settlement in northern Tasmania was made in 1804, but the arrival of Europeans to the Scottsdale area was not until the 1850s. The town has some fine National Trust-listed buildings dating from this period, including ‘Beulah’ guesthouse (1878) and Bank House (1888), now an antique and craft centre.

Scottsdale is a good base from which to explore the surrounding area. One of the local attractions is Bridestowe lavender farm at Nabowla, half an hour’s drive to the west. Harvesting of the lavender starts in early January, so to experience the full splendour of 48 hectares of purple flowers and accompanying lavender fragrance it is best to visit in December. Visitors to the farm can also inspect the processing plant where the flowers are crushed and used for oils and other products.

A short drive (about 25 kilometres) north of Scottsdale takes you to Bridport, a resort town on Bass Strait, or to head east on the Tasman Highway will take you through the old mining villages of Branxholm and Derby. Both gemstones and tin were mined in this area from the 1870s, with the largest sapphire ever found in Tasmania coming from these parts. A mining museum operates at Derby, where a shanty town replica has also been created, and visitors can pan for gemstones.

To both the northeast and the south of Scottsdale, the countryside offers opportunities for four-wheel driving as well as bushwalking in the areas of Mount William and Ben Lomond national parks. Mount William National Park also takes in some long, unspoilt beaches, and at Eddystone Point just south of the park, you can see the historic lighthouse overlooking the Tasman Sea.

Leaving behind dairy and pastureland on the way to Ben Lomond (1,572 metres above sea level), the landscape becomes mountainous — in parts rainforest, elsewhere bare rock and snow-covered in winter. The area attracts cross-country skiers, who must negotiate some steep dirt roads and tight hairpin bends to get to the snow.

Continuing from Derby towards St Helens along the Tasman Highway takes the traveller through the hamlet of Pyengana (where you can sample the local cheeses) and to the turn-off to St Columba Falls. St Helens, on the east coast of Tasmania, was originally a whaling settlement, and fishing remains an important industry. The area also attracts amateurs and the Scamander River a little to the south is noted for its bream. Beaches around St Helens are popular for swimming and walking — particularly the Peron dunes at Helens Point Reserve.

The Tasman Highway south of St Helens to Bicheno hugs the coast with the Tasman Sea one side and Douglas-Apsley National Park stretching west on the other. Just south of the national park (and less than 200 kilometres from Hobart) is the coastal resort and fishing town of Bicheno, popular for its mild climate, inviting beaches, blowhole and interesting seaside walks. Penguins can be seen returning to burrows in the evening, and the town also has a wildlife park.

From Bicheno it is about 50 kilometres south to Swansea one side of Great Oyster Bay, or Freycinet National Park the other. The historic town of Swansea features many well-preserved colonial-period buildings, including the convict-built Spiky Bridge. Freycinet National Park is one of Tasmania’s oldest national parks, declared in 1916. The 13,000-hectare park includes rocky headlands, sandy beaches, woody hills and slopes, and rough granite mountain tops. Looking down from one of the vantage points over Wineglass Bay, you see a spectacular expanse of turquoise water lapping over clean, white sand, the water and beach cosily surrounded by forested hillsides.

Another national park, Maria Island, lies some 30 kilometres south of Freycinet, and is accessible by ferry from Triabunna on the mainland. Periodically a penal settlement, convict buildings on the island date from 1825.

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