Tasmanian car number plates used to declaim the island as "Your Natural State", a fitting slogan when you consider its abundance of natural treasures. But even with national parks and reserves sprawling across more than 40 per cent of the state, a few natural features stand out. Here's our pick of Tasmania's finest natural wonders.
Let's start at the top ... or at least very near the top, with Tasmania's fifth-highest mountain and arguably its most recognisable natural feature. Rising out of Dove Lake like a shark fin, the bowed summit of Cradle Mountain is a rare and unusual Australian landform - a nunatak, or island of rock that stood above the glaciers as they carved the landscape around it. The mountain can be viewed the easy way, from the shores of Dove Lake, earned in effort by hiking to Marions Lookout along the start of the Overland Track, or climbed in a scrambling ascent over a loose landscape of boulders.
There might be beaches with whiter sands - albeit marginally - but is there another beach as perfectly shaped as Wineglass Bay? Curling in an arc between two lines of low mountains on the Freycinet Peninsula, Wineglass Bay is indeed shaped like its name suggests, though it was actually named for more gruesome reasons - in its early days as a whaling station, the bay's waters ran red from blood. The hike to the beach has recently become easier, with an upgrade to the once-rocky trail down from the Wineglass Bay lookout completed last October. It can also be seen without any effort at all on a day cruise with Wineglass Bay Cruises. The best view, however, comes from atop Mt Amos. wineglassbaycruises.com
Eaglehawk Neck is wondrous enough - a sand isthmus so narrow that authorities once simply strung a line of dogs across it to prevent convicts escaping from Port Arthur - but head to the northern end of its ocean beach and you find the curious Tessellated Pavement. This coastal platform of rock has been eroded into a geometrically perfect grid of rectangular rocks, resembling the paving stones of the name. To be here on sunrise, with the glowing clouds reflected in the water pooled inside each paver, is something pretty special.
If you want sandy beaches, you head to Tasmania's east coast, right? Or how about a sandy beach high in a remote mountain range? Lake Rhona nestles into the slopes of the Denison Range near Lake Gordon, and the sandy beach that runs like rind along its northern shores is a glimpse at what the famed (and now flooded) pink beach on Lake Pedder might have looked like. Lake Rhona can only be reached on an overnight hike, crossing the Gordon River on a log and splashing through a swampy buttongrass plain for a long day to the lake. But it's so worth it.
Few things excite rock climbers quite like thoughts of the Totem Pole. The needle-thin, 65-metre-high sea stack rises immediately beside Cape Hauy, its slender, seemingly fragile figure seeming to defy logic against the constant fury of the Southern Ocean that buffets it. Almost every climber on earth knows the "Tote" and its unique difficulties - even getting to its base is an epic - but there are simpler ways to admire it. Tasman Island Cruises run by Pennicott Wilderness Journeys nose in for a look at the Totem Pole, and you can paddle up close on a Tasman Peninsula day trip with Roaring 40s Kayaking. tasmancruises.com.au, roaring40skayaking.com.au
MARIA ISLAND CLIFFS
Even one of its prisoners described Maria Island as "one of the loveliest spots formed by nature", and it's quite likely that he was talking about the contrasting cliffs that bookend the penal settlement of Darlington. Rising high to the north of the penitentiary are the Fossil Cliffs, composed of 300-million-year-old shells compacted to form cliffs, their prehistoric imprint as distinct as fresh footprints. South of Darlington are the even more striking Painted Cliffs, where the low sandstone cliffs swirl with psychedelic natural patterns. Just as impressive are the lawns that run along the coast between Darlington and the Painted Cliffs - wander through them at dawn or dusk and you might almost be tripping over wombats. parks.tas.gov.au/?base=3495
Trees get big - really big - in Tasmania. Its swamp gums are among the tallest trees in the world, with the loftiest (the 99.6-metre "Centurion" in the Aare Valley) believed to be the tallest flowering plant on earth. Some of the tallest of the tall, and the most accessible, are found in the Styx Valley, near Mt Field National Park, which is home to the Big Tree Reserve. The best way to explore the Styx is by downloading the Styx Valley of the Giants self-drive and walking guide from the Wilderness Society website. The guide includes walks into the likes of the 84-metre-high Gandalf's Staff tree. wilderness.org.au/styx-self-drive-and-walking-guide
Blanketing much of Tasmania's north-west, the remote Tarkine wilderness is said to be the world's second-largest expanse of temperate rainforest. With a wild coastline (including the appropriately named Edge of the World) and a dark heart of deep forest, it's a place where a sense of exploration remains, with little here developed for tourism. From the north you can follow minor roads into the likes of Trowutta Arch, Beckett Falls and Dip Falls, while in the south you can cruise to the mouth of the forest-smothered Pieman River in the Huon-pine-built Arcadia II. For a lingering look, there's the four-day Tarkine Rainforest Walk run by Tarkine Trails. corinna.com.au/river-cruises, tarkinetrails.com.au
One of the most curious natural sights in Tasmania is the Nut, a rectangular block of rock that anchors a narrow spit of land beside the pretty north-west town of Stanley. The remains of an ancient volcanic plug - the rest of the volcano eroded away, leaving just this hard mass of rock - the 143-metre-high Nut rises sheer from Bass Strait at the end of beautiful Godfreys Beach. It's easily accessed, with Stanley's main street running along its base. You can climb to the summit plateau on a short but steep track, or float to the top on a chairlift.
Tasmania is a place of isthmuses: Maria Island, Eaglehawk Neck, Wineglass Bay and perhaps most impressively, Bruny Neck. Holding Bruny Island together like the bar of a dumbbell, this long, gossamer-thin strip of sand dunes provides one of Tasmania's classic photo stops as well as the chance to watch little penguins scurrying ashore and muttonbirds clumsily arriving from the skies. At the northern end of the Neck's ocean beach you can walk to another of Tasmania's natural oddities - the Mars Bluff sea arch, rising like a rainbow from the sands.