The 150 mile-wide Bass Strait is what separates Australia's only island state from the mainland. Tasmania is known for its rugged wilderness, pristine national parks, high-caliber cuisine, and abundance of breweries. Getting to the island from the nearest city, Melbourne, is easy if you don't mind spending 10 hours on a boat (otherwise only one hour on a plane).
While a short flight to Hobart, Tasmania's capital, or any other city on the island is certainly the quickest way to travel, it won't allow you to bring a vehicle, which is almost essential for exploring the state's remote landscapes. For this, folks eschew luggage checks and TSA lines for a lengthy ride on the Spirit of Tasmania, the famed ferry that crosses Bass Strait almost every day of the year. This ship, featuring restaurants, bars, cinemas, and sleeper cabins onboard, is the only way to bring a vehicle to the island and that makes it a popular choice.
How to Get from Melbourne to Tasmania
- Ferry: 9 to 11 hours, from $99
- Flight: 1 hour, 16 minutes, from $60
Four-wheel driving and "overlanding"—exploring remote places in a self-reliant vehicle—are popular pastimes in this adventure capital, which explains why so many tourists and Australians would want to travel to Tasmania, one of the more remote places on the continent, with their rigs and campers in tow. The ferry departs from Port Melbourne and arrives at the Esplanade in East Devonport, on the north side of the island.
While passengers may board without a car (for much cheaper!), the real benefit of taking the time-consuming Spirit of Tasmania is that you won't have to part with your vehicle. Alternatively, you can rent a car after flying to Hobart or take coaches to some of the national parks. However, public tours won't allow you to do long hikes or see some of the more off-the-beaten-track sites.
The cost of a one-way trip via ferry starts at about $99, but that's if you travel sans car. With a vehicle, the price goes up another $99 each way. Booking accommodation on the ferry is an additional fee, too.
The Spirit of Tasmania makes traveling from the mainland feel sort of like a vacation in itself. The ferry takes between 9 and 11 hours, but there are plenty of amenities onboard to help passengers pass the time. Besides the ship's many vantage points—perfect for kicking back with a latte and a good book—there are restaurants (and a more casual cafeteria), bars, cinemas, spas, casinos, shops, swimming pools, kids' play areas, and even nightclubs.
If you'd rather pass the time by sleeping, there are recliners and private cabins for purchase, too. Those who travel on the night ferry must book an accommodation with their trip. Deluxe cabins are the most high-end option. Suitable for two adults, these queen bed cabins are located at the front of the ship, with large twin porthole windows allowing you to take in the spectacular views. These cabins include your own private bathroom, including a shower, and television. If you are traveling with young children, you can book an infant cot to be brought to your cabin free of charge.
Other room options—all with private bathrooms—include a double twin bed cabin ($70 per person) and a four-bed, bunk cabin ($30 per person). You can also share a room with other solo travelers, for $70 per person for a two-bed and $30 per person for a four-bed dorm
For most daytrippers, a room is not necessary. Recliners ($39) offer comfort at great value. Located in a private lounge surrounded by floor-to-ceiling windows, you can simply sit back, relax and enjoy the magnificent view.
The ferry sometimes only does night journeys, but between September and May (Australia's warm season), it leaves twice per day: Once in the morning (anywhere between 9 and 11 a.m.) and once in the evening (between 7:30 and 10:30 p.m.). Be sure to check the online timetable or consult with a travel agent before booking as times do fluctuate.
Boarding begins 2 hours, 30 minutes prior to departure and closes 45 minutes before the ship sails. Passengers who bring vehicles must adhere to certain rules as to what not to bring and all passengers must show a form of ID before boarding the ship.
Those who are traveling by plane will likely find Hobart to be the easiest and cheapest entry point. The capital city, located on the southeastern side of the island, is a 1-hour-16-minute flight from Melbourne, Victoria, according to Skyscanner, and there are six airlines (with Jetstar being the most popular) that make the direct trip.
The cheapest time to fly is March through May, August, and October, when flights can be found for about $60. In January and February—peak Australian summer—the cost of flights can skyrocket to $125 or more each way.
Hobart is the biggest and most populated city in Tasmania, but there are also airports in Burnie and Devonport (where the ferry docks) on the north coast, and Launceston more inland. North coast destinations, however, range more in the $200 to $300 range for a one-way ticket, and offer less in the way of rental cars and tourist amenities than Hobart.
What to See in Tasmania
Tasmania is an isolated island known for its vast, rugged wilderness, which is largely protected within national parks and reserves. There are 19 national parks throughout the state, with the most famed being the mountainous Ben Lomond and Cradle Mountain National Parks, Freycinet National Park with its beachy coves and picturesque Wineglass Bay, the eucalyptus rainforest that makes up Mount Field National Park, and the coastal Tasman National Park.
Devonport, where the Spirit of Tasmania docks, is popular for penguin spotting and Hobart is full of art, craft beer, quality chocolate and cheese, and markets. Salamanca Place's Georgian warehouses are home to galleries and boutiques that you can peruse for hours. The Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) is an eccentric underground museum and wine bar with a contemporary edge. On the Tasman Peninsula, the 19th-century Port Arthur penal settlement is now an open-air museum and the Cape Bruny Lighthouse is worth stopping by for a picture.