Heading to Freycinet National Park is one of the top things on the list of most travellers to Tasmania, this road trip guide has all the details of how to get there from the capital city of Hobart.
For me, Coles Bay, in Freycinet National Park, was the first stop on a 10 day Tasmania road trip and this scenic drive is a great way to kick off a tour of the island. The stops along the way are a good mix of the best parts of Tasmania, with some historic attractions, some quirky things and of course some foodie hotspots.
In terms of location, Coles Bay is the largest township in Freycinet National Park and most of the accommodation is in or close to Coles Bay. It’s where we stayed at Big4 Iluka. However, there are multiple other spots in Freycinet that you could stay at the end of your trip.
Hobart is an awesome city and absolutely worth spending some time exploring. I’d recommend 2 days so you can check out the “three Ms” of MONA, Mount [Wellington], and [Salamanca] Markets. I have a weekend in Hobart itinerary that includes all of these plus food and accommodation tips.
Driving from Hobart to Coles Bay
The drive from Hobart central to Coles Bay is just under 200 km and takes approximately 3.5 hours, not including stops. Google Maps will tell you it’s under 3 hours but that doesn’t properly account for the windiness of the roads, bad road conditions and slower speeds in a van. If you’re in a car it would be closer to three hours.
Related: Campervanning Tasmania Guide
The section of the drive from just before Orford through to Swansea is the most beautiful with the Prosser River winding alongside the road until it opens into Prosser Bay. There are lots of pretty beaches you can glimpse between Orford and Triabunna and then again between Rocky Hills and Swansea.
In terms of driving tips, the roads are narrow, so you’ll want to drive carefully. Some of the locals like to push the speed limits so give them lots of space and allow overtaking where you can. There is quite a long stretch from Richmond to Orford where there isn’t much of anything so hit the bathrooms and grab food and water as needed before that.
Where to stop between Hobart and Coles Bay
Not far from Hobart, you’ll reach the small town of Richmond which is a must-visit on the drive from Hobart to Coles Bay. Richmond looks a bit like a postcard from England, with many buildings dating back to the early 1800s.
The town has a bit of a dark past, however, as you’ll find out if you visit Richmond Gaol. The old jailhouse housed the convicts that built many of the roads and buildings in the area. Entrance is $12 per adult which is steep for a small museum but someone has to pay to maintain a 200+-year-old building. If you’re planning to visit Port Arthur Historic Site, I would save your money for that and skip Richmond Gaol as they’re both convict-era prisons but Port Arthur is way more impressive.
Other attractions in Richmond include the Instagram-famous Richmond Bridge, a must for photos, the model of Old Hobart Town (again, kinda steep at $17.50 for adults), the Poo Museum and the old St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church. I loved the little gingerbread house which we stumbled across in the park. It looks straight out of Grimm’s fairy tales.
To complete the old English vibes, grab tea and scones at Czegs Café. Their actual lunch menu is a bit average, but they have some of the best scones I’ve found in Australia.
There isn’t a heck of a lot in between Richmond and Orford. If you’re particularly interested in plant life, you could stop off at the Tasmanian Bushland Garden between Runnymede and Buckland.
The spiky bridge is a bit of an anomaly tuned roadside attraction. The bridge is beside the main road just before Swansea and if you blink, you’ll miss it. There is some signage and a small parking area for you to pull over and get a photo.
The bridge was built by convicts in the 1800s and, exactly as it sounds, is made from spiky stones. Interestingly, it’s just stones, with no cement or mortar.
Optional Detour: Maria Island
If you’ve left Hobart super early in the morning and get to the east coast early in the day, you could take the ferry across to Maria Island for a half day. Maria Island is a beautiful national park with several walking tracks but its number one attraction is its resident wombats. I’m a huge fan of these fluffy animals who are Australia’s cutest natives.
Ferries to Maria Island depart from Triabunna which is on the coastal road to Freycinet National Park. There are currently 3 services a day although the last is designed for overnight visitors so if you are driving on to Freycinet you’ll want to head over on one of the two morning services and return in the afternoon.
Once on the island, try some of the hikes or have a picnic lunch surrounded by wildlife. There are no vehicles or shops on the island, so you’ll need to bring everything you need over and leave the car in Triabunna.
Swansea is one of the bigger towns along the drive from Hobart to Freycinet National Park but while it’s well known, it’s a little underwhelming except for the beaches. If you’re looking for a beach day and visiting in summer, it would be great with miles of golden coastline around. Easily the best beaches in the area. If you’re passing through in winter, however, you can probably give it a miss.
Beaches on the way to Freycinet National Park
About two-thirds of the drive from Hobart to Coles Bay is inland, but the short coast sections between Orford and Swansea and just before Coles Bay are beautiful with lots of white sand beaches with gentle waves.
Many of the beaches before Swansea only have narrow strips of sand so you’ll want to time your visit for low tide or otherwise give them a miss.
Probably the best beach, Nine Mile Beach, is not actually on the drive but is a few minutes away, with the turn off just past Swansea. Here you can swim, fish or just enjoy some time sunbathing. There are a couple of resorts and cafes in the area providing amenities.
Muirs Beach at the end of the drive is great for photos but not good for swimming or sunbathing as it’s pretty rocky and narrow except at low tide.
Where to eat and drink along the way to Freycinet National Park from Hobart
It seems like Tasmania has hundreds of wineries and you’ll come across dozens of them on the drive from Hobart to Freycinet National Park. These make great stopping points either for a winery lunch or for a tasting (assuming you have a sober driver with you). Some of the best wineries along the way are Devils Corner, Puddleduck and Spring Vale.
If you’re keen to try some Tasmanian beverages and are either short on time or aren’t as into wine, the. Head to the Drink Tasmania Tasting House in Richmond. This unassuming looking shop has hundreds of different local brews from wine to whiskey that you can taste or buy.
Freycinet Marine Farm
Tasmania is all about the seafood and Freycinet Marine Farm is arguable the top spot for oysters and mussels. It is literally a farm, but they also have a fam gate café where you can buy oysters by the dozen or half dozen, mussels, and seafood chowder.
Triabunna Fish Van
This spot on Triabunna Wharf (near the Maria island Ferry) came highly recommended by the lady from our van hire company and I had to agree it’s some of the best fish and chips in Tasmania. A great spot for a cheap and casual lunch on the way up to Freycinet National Park.
While this bakery isn’t anything all that special compared to the many other bakeries in Tasmania, it’s a top spot for trying the scallop pies that are famous in Tasmania. Packed with seafood and curried vege, these pies are a great winter warmer.
When you arrive in Coles Bay, you’re at the gateway to Freycinet National Park. There are lots of things to do around Coles Bay from the walking tracks to kayaking and boat cruises. If you only do one thing, make it the Wineglass Bay Lookout Trak. It’s an easy walk (we saw someone do it in heels) and the views are phenomenal.
Where to stay in Coles Bay
- Camping/Budget – Big4 Iluka is a friendly campsite just a minute’s walk up to the beach. As well as powered and unpowered sites they have cabins for anyone looking for a budget option without a tent or campervan.
- Mid-range – Edge of the Bay Resort has great views as you can imagine from the name and offers a mix of family-friendly cottages and adults-only suites
- Luxury – Freycinet Lodge is all about the views with a spectacular outlook from the dining room and cabins. The huge fireplace and many local drink offerings make it an especially good winter retreat.
- Once in a lifetime – Picnic Island is a private island in Coles Bay with views of both the beaches and the Hazards mountains. It’s a 5 bedroom house rented as a whole so you can be sure of having the place to yourself, arrival is by boat (included) or seaplane (extra).
Freycinet National Park was probably the highlight of Tasmania for me and the drive getting there is a great leadup as you head from historic Hobart and Richmond towards the coast.
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