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Those looking to explore as much of Tasmania as possible when they visit won’t get too far without a car. Attractions and destinations around the island are incredibly spread out and public transport is limited to say the least. This means that driving yourself on a Tasmania road trip is the best option for really seeing the state.
Whether you rent a car in Tasmania or bring your vehicle over with you, there are some things worth knowing about driving in Tasmania before you set out. Some things won’t seem that different to driving anywhere else in Australia, but likely bears repeating. Others really relate to the unique qualities and quirks of a driving holiday in Tasmania. Even if they’re not the most groundbreakingly tips, I really think both mainland visitors and an international travellers will want to keep the following in mind.
Bringing a Car vs Renting a Car
Before you even set out on your trip, you have one fundamental decision to make about your Tasmania driving holiday. Are you going to rent a car in Tasmania or bring your car to Tasmania with you? It may seem like an easy decision, but there are a few vital factors to consider.
Let’s quickly cover how you bring a car to the island first. The Spirit of Tasmania, one of the main ways to get to Tasmania, is a ferry out of Melbourne that provides vehicle transport. Travel with the Spirit and you can use your car as you please. That is if there’s still availability left when you go to make your booking.
Alternatively, you can pick up a rental car when you arrive in the state and use it to get around. This option lets you skip the long ferry ride and offers a little more flexibility in planning an itinerary. But rental cars come with restrictions, that may impact what you’re able to do with them.
Always, always read the “Restriction Of Use” section and full terms and conditions to save yourself headaches. It’s one such restriction that is a stumbling block for what may seem like a third alternative here. In theory, it may seem convenient to bring a rental car with you to Tasmania aboard the Spirit. But before you go down this route, check if your rental car company will allow it as some explicitly don’t.
Planning Your Tasmania Road Trip
Looks can be deceiving, especially when it comes to planning a road trip in Tasmania. Take a look at a map of Tasmania and it may seem easy to get from point A to point B. That mindset is definitely likely if you look at it in comparison to any other state in Australia.
The reality of driving in Tasmania is that planning your trip goes well beyond just working out where to get breakfast after the Spirit of Tasmania. That’s because very rarely is there a straightforward and direct route to get where you’re going. I’m not talking here about navigating, as I think common destinations are actually quite well signposted in Tassie.
No, the issue is that Tasmania’s road network is ruled by the island’s ever-changing terrain and landscape. When you start to get excited by a straight stretch of road you’ll know what I mean. All of this goes to say that distances between attractions and destinations can be deceptive. It’s why Tasmanians often prefer to talk about travel in terms of time instead of distance.
One last word of warning is to think carefully about the “direct route”. Sometimes, this will mean driving down B and C roads, which are way more minor and rough than you might expect.
Road Quality in Tasmania
Speaking of road quality in Tasmania, oh boy buckle up. Having driven plenty on Australia’s east coast, I have to say, Tasmania has the worst standard of roads I’ve experienced.
It really says a lot when articles like this on the “worst roads in Tasmania” are recurring news. Even more worrying is that it’s the major highways in Tasmania that are often voted the worst, since those are the ones you’ll no doubt find yourself on with a Tasmania road trip. Having recently driven on the A3, I totally get it receiving top billing here. From rough surfaces to sudden drops on shoulders, Tassie driving can often be a bumpy experience.
Then we have the many, many unsealed roads that make up the state’s road network. I’ve come to the conclusion that most things worth seeing in Tasmania lie at the end of an unsealed road. After all, where else are you going to find beautiful nature spots and untouched wilderness?
The problem here isn’t the unsealed roads. Do much driving in the country in Australia and you’re bound to run across gravel or dirt roads. What’s challenging is that many rental car agreements will not allow use of rentals on unsealed roads, require special cover or have a higher liability fee if something goes wrong on them. Another reason to book your rental car very carefully.
Be Smart When Refuelling
A key aspect of any road trip, not just in Tasmania or Australia, is fuelling up. You certainly won’t have any trouble finding petrol stations in the largest cities and towns, but they become more scarce in the rest of the state. Even though it’s smaller, it’s best to think of Tasmania as mostly rural like the rest of the states. Leave the cities or Highway 1 and it could be a while before you see you next chance to fill up.
The other challenge of getting petrol in Tasmania is the fluctuation in fuel prices around the state. It’s hardly surprising, but petrol stations in tourist areas and common tourists route are almost always more expensive to fill up at. That means filling up in places like Freycinet or on the road leading from the Spirt of Tasmania to Cradle Mountain are likely to cost more than elsewhere. Check one of the many fuel apps available or use the government FuelCheck TAS website to avoid being ripped off.
Watch Out For Wildlife
Drive much in Australia and you’ll sadly see your fair share of roadkill. Unfortunately, because Tasmania is loaded with wildlife, it also seems to suffer from an increased risk of wildlife getting hit by vehicles. You’ll see countless dead pademelons, bandicoots and other small creatures on or by the side of the road. Even if you understand why it happens, that doesn’t make the frequency of seeing the roadkill any easier.
What is heartening is when you hear of special roadside systems that exist in certain areas to help reduce roadkill. In northwest Tasmania some roads have a special roadside alarm used to deter creatures, particularly Tasmanian devils, when cars are nearby. Hopefully programs like this continue to grow to reduce the impact of cars and driving around the state.
In the meantime, there are some things drivers can do to help reduce the roadkill death toll. While driving in natural areas, it’s important to stay alert and be mindful that creatures can emerge from scrub with little warning. On particularly wild or overgrown areas with little traffic, locals will often drive down the middle of the road just to allow a little more warning for this.
The big adjustment for drivers in Tasmania though is reducing your speed at night. Headlights at night are a major cause of roadkill, so driving slower is encouraged when driving at night. In some places, it’s more than just encouraged though, it’s actually mandated with new speed restrictions. Signs will say that from dusk until dawn the speed limit is reduced to 65 km/h, so keep your eyes peeled for those too.
Overtaking Slow Vehicles
One of my main recurring frustrations when driving in Tasmania has been to do with overtaking. Sooner or later you’re going to get stuck behind a truck, caravan or slow car and need to get around them. The issue is that there are very few places in the state outside the cities where you’ll find roads with more than one lane each way.
Therefore your only options for overtaking slow vehicles are occasional overtaking lanes or when there aren’t lane markers. Both of these scenarios come with problems.
Because overtaking lanes are so useful and brief, things tend to get messy as everyone tries to use them at once. Watch out if a truck or caravan goes to use them though as that rarely seems to go well. Then there’s the problem with waiting until there aren’t too solid white lines on the highway. While these are frequent enough, Tasmanian roads are rarely straight so spotting oncoming traffic on these stretches is usually tricky.
All I can recommend for this is patience and to make the most of your opportunities when you can. I will also say that I had to sum up Tasmanian drivers in one word it would be “unpredictable”. Make of that what you will.
Campervans and Parking Sites
I have to admit, this is one Tasmania self-drive experience I’m not yet personally familiar with. But given how popular campervans and mobile homes are for travelling around the state, I thought it worth adding what little advice I have in.
The good news is that Tasmania seems to be really well setup for campervans and caravans, both for online information and actual facilities. Travelling around the state I’ve been impressed by how many campsites I’ve come across, let alone free campsites. Yes, if you have a totally self-reliant setup, you can stay overnight near some of the best attractions in the state for nothing.
It’s best to check online resources in advance to work out where you can find facilities or stay for free. Otherwise, you may arrive to a sign that says “No Car Sleeping”, which seems to be a catch-all phrase here prohibiting campervans and the like.
Have you been on a Tasmania road trip before and agree with many of these points? What would your advice be for people driving in Tasmania or Australia in general? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
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