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XS TRAVEL; Devils' island is; HEAVEN.

Tasmania is pretty much at the end of the earth. In fact, the next stop is Antarctica. But suddenly, Australia's smallest state is one of the hottest holiday spots around.

And no wonder. Because the land of 150 wildlife parks, complete with koalas, kangaroos and terrifying Tasmanian Devils, is also the land of sand and sun, bargain shopping and food and drink to die for.

This tourist heaven has a Wild West wilderness, beautiful eastern beaches, a north that's tropically green and a bustling busy south - not forgetting a network of forests and mountains, lakes, rivers and villages.

By sea or by air, your arrival city may well be Devonport - small, but packed with things to do. And at such reasonable cost. We walked a coastal path lined with tropical flowers and trees, spent a super afternoon at the Tiagarra Aboriginal Centre, jumped on a vintage steam train for a Don River sight-seeing trip - and at night polished off piles of seafood and stubbies (small bottles of beer).

From Devonport, too, we had a day trip to famous Cradle Mountain. With our bush-walking expert, Janelle, we stood on the bonnie banks of Dove Lake, and had a dip in its icy waters. We could have been in Scotland - except perhaps for the eucalyptus trees and the beating sun overhead.

Next day we headed for Sheffield - where every shop and house was covered in mural paintings - and another amazing place, Tasmazia, which has the largest collection of mazes in the world.

As we drove on, through picturesque Tunbridge and Perth, to Ross and Campbell Town, it was easy to see why this friendly island is often called Little Britain - much of it was developed by the Scottish, Irish and English convicts who were shipped out in the 1800s.

Launceston is the commercial centre of Tasmania. And from there we took a detour to Scottsdale, named after the Scottish surveyor who founded it.

At Cole's Bay, we saw the vast red mountains at the gateway to Freycinet National Park, acre upon acre of forest and coastline where you can dive, sail, fish or soak up the sun on the pure white sand of Wineglass Bay.

Finally we made it to Hobart, and hired a Harley Davidson to tour the city. We zoomed round the trendy water-front, we dallied at the Tasmania Museum, and we ran out of travellers' cheques in the Salamanca Place markets, before setting off to the Bonorong Wildlife Park.

The kangaroos were friendly, the koalas gave us a smile and the spotted eastern quoll (a bit like a furry weasel) nibbled our fingers playfully. The Tasmanian Devils were a different story. Like podgy black-and-white Jack Russells, with two extra sets of teeth and claws, they destroyed their dinner in two seconds and grunted a most un-Tasmanian greeting at the tourists.

It was from the air that we saw yet another national park. Strapped tightly into a tiny Cessna, we clung on for dear life as our pilot took us soaring over million-year-old mountains, black lakes and valleys, miles of gold coastline and bright green sea to the South East Cape - the last piece of land before Antarctica.

Now we'd walked, explored, flown, swum, shopped, toured and eaten our way round the entire island.

But when we finally got back on the ferry for home and watched the last mountain disappear behind us in the mist, we knew that Tasmania still had plenty of secrets, and we'd be back.

TOURING TIPS

From the Oz mainland you can either fly or take a ferry to Tasmania. Prices are similar, but with the ferry you can take a hire-car with you, or get a deal that includes five-day passes on local tour buses.

Tasmania can get very hot in summer (our winter). It's cooler and quieter from September to November.

There's almost too much to do! The island is famous for its freshwater and sea fishing and outdoor sports. But it's equally good for shopping, beaches and food and wine. There are good information centres in nearly every town and village.

Don't miss a Cradle Mountain visit with Tasman Bush Tours, a plane trip over the South West National Park with Par Avion at Hobart, or a trip up-river with Huon Jet Boats. Best buys in Tasmania are wine, wooden crafts, wool clothes and art.

HERE'S THE DEAL

There are flight and accommodation packages, fly drives, coach tours and walking trips - or you can go it alone and stay at scores of hotels and guest houses. There are also campsites.

We stayed at the luxurious Wool Store Hotel in Hobart, and also at the comfy Tasman House Hostel in Devonport.

Trailfinders offer a fare from Glasgow for pounds 784. Contact Trailfinders in Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow for more details.
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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Hill, Vicky
Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Feb 1, 1998
Words:796
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