Tasmanian Delights

If you're thinking about heading Down Under, while you're at it, why not venture a bit farther south to Tasmania? Separated from the continent of Australia by the Bass Strait, this relatively compact island is known for its wildlife and its diverse landscape and scenery.

Although fewer than 200 miles of water separate Tasmania from mainland Australia, that distance has been sufficient to nurture the existence of animals and plants that are rare or extinct elsewhere in Australia.

Koalas, kangaroos, wallabies, echidnas, wombats and, of course, Tasmanian devils make this island, roughly the size of West Virginia, home. If you have a sharp eye and sufficient time, you're likely to spot a number of animals in the wild.

You can also get a closer look at them by visiting an animal park. The waters around Tasmania are populated by dolphins, fur seals and migrating whales, as well as many seabirds, including sea eagles, shearwaters and sea penguins. The Port Arthur Historic Site, whose sandstone  buildings once housed 12,500 prisoners—one out of seven who died

Tasmania's road system is comprehensive and easy to navigate. On the east coast, the Tasman Highway (A3) brings you past seaside towns and beaches to Coles Bay and Freycinet National Park, with St. Helens beyond. Following the Arthur Highway (A9) you come to the Tasman Peninsula and the Port Arthur Historic Site where you can tour this preserved prison from the 1800s. The Salamanca Market in Hobart (left), which is a good point of departure for exploring the island's wilderness areas

Routes with a wilderness flavor include the A10 from Hobart westward to Strahan through the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area and the Huon Highway (A6), which heads to the wilderness south of Hobart. The Lake Highway (A5), meanwhile, traverses the central plateau.

Whether you're looking for sweeping vistas or prefer to lace on some sturdy hiking boots and hit a trail or two, Tasmania has parks and reserves that you can explore—in the uplands, along the coast and in between. The Tasmanian devil can be seen in many parts of the island

Tasmania is liberally dotted with national parks, and exploration of several of these 17 parks could easily consume multiple days. There also are state forests and forest reserves, as well as marine reserves offshore. To help you sort through the many options available, visit the Parks & Wildlife Service's web site, www.parks.tas.gov.au.

If you're a water person, you'll face the pleasurable task of choosing between freshwater and ocean kayaking, snorkeling, diving, or a heart-pumping jet-boat ride on the Huon, Derwent or King rivers. A river or harbor cruise is a relaxing way to explore and soak in the scenery.

Anglers also have multiple options. There's trout fishing in a number of inland lakes and sea-run trout in several rivers, as well as shore-casting and deepwater game fishing. The Derwent Estate Vineyard

If you're a gastronome or an oenophile, you'll want to take full advantage of fresh produce, seafood and other local dishes paired with beer or wine. Winery restaurants are also a great bet: You'll find excellent locally produced sparkling wine, Riesling, Shiraz and pinot noir. Tasmania's pinot noirs in particular are gaining a worldwide reputation.

Inside tip: Be sure to hit Salamanca Market, which bursts on the Hobart scene every Saturday. You'll mingle with local folks shopping alongside you, and can meet the people who've grown the produce and made other items for sale, such as crafts, picnic fixings and nautical antiques.