Two weeks in Tasmania? Only hardened bushwalkers considered it when I arrived by yacht in 1997. At the time, my month before we sailed in stretched ahead of me like a convict’s sentence. Instead, Tasmania was a revelation. Over the 22 years I’ve been returning, it has morphed from an afterthought of an Australian holiday to a destination in its own right, without sacrificing what made it so appealing in the first place.

Think Sydney and Melbourne have the monopoly on cool? Think again. The capital Hobart has Oz’s most interesting, heartfelt food scene and its coolest gallery, MONA, all packaged in the nation’s second-oldest settlement.

Tasmania also has the pick of Australia’s Unesco-listed convict sights. Do you like beaches? Of course — it’s one of the reasons to come to Australia. Those on the east coast are dazzling, those on the west, pounded by the Southern Ocean, are like Scotland on steroids.

The wilderness looks like Elysian gardening. World Heritage-listed in 1983, Tasmania’s national parks ticked seven of the 10 boxes for inclusion; more than Venice, the Pyramids, Machu Picchu or the Serengeti or any other Unesco site.

Then there are Tasmania’s less tangible glories: that it’s ark-full of madly bizarre wildlife; that the world’s purest air bathes everything in luminous light.

The biggest surprise is the variety. In a state the size of Ireland, nowhere is more than six hours from anywhere else. If Australian tours are bore-athons, Tasmania road-trips are a whirlwind of sights.

[Dining under the stars at Uluru]

On this itinerary, I’ve skipped multi-day walks — see Great Walks of Tasmania (greatwalkstasmania.com) for inspiration — to offer classic sights instead. I’ve also had to drop some of my favourite bits: Bruny Island and the bucolic south; pretty Stanley and the Tarkine.

Save them for the next trip. Because the greatest discovery of Tasmania is that two weeks barely scratches the surface.

Day 1

After a long flight, a day’s pottering is much needed. Drop your bags at new MACq 01 Hotel beside the harbour where the British fleet dropped anchor in 1803. Stop at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (tmag.tas.gov.au) for a primer on what makes Tassie tick, before continuing to Salamanca Place. Crafts, galleries in colonial warehouses, a brilliant Saturday market: it’s Hobart at its convivial best. Nip behind for cute villagey Battery Point.

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Top food choices? Franklin (franklinhobart.com.au) for style and soul-food, Templo (templo.com.au) for sensational Aussie-Italian.

Putting the art into Hobart: Day 2

You can date everything in Hobart to before and after the MONA gallery (mona.net.au). It has been that central to the city’s renaissance. Infamously, it has a digestive machine, Cloaca, that’s fed at 11am and 4pm, and defecates at 2pm. But US artist James Turrell’s installations in new wing Pharos are art as ecstatic experience. Arrive on catamarans from Brooke Street Pier and allow half a day – more if you eat at on-site The Source (gourmet) or Faro (tapas).

MONA’s antithesis (yet as Hobartian) is kunanyi/Mount Wellington. Charles Darwin walked up in 1836. You’re taking the Hobart Shuttle Bus (hobartshuttlebus.com) to 4,166ft for a 2.5-hour stroll downhill.

Get home by 5pm for the Old Hobart Pub Tour — a pub crawl with rollicking tales of colonial life.

Day 3

Pick up your hire car and drive 46 miles (75km) to the Tasman peninsula. When Tasmania was the sink of the British Empire, it provided a natural penitentiary for the most feared prison of the empire, walled by Australia’s highest sea-cliffs and moated by the Southern Ocean. Beautifully sited, the Unesco-listed Port Arthur could be a ruined Oxford college were it not for its brutal history.

Drop bags in your cabin at Stewart’s Bay Lodge (book independently: stewartsbaylodge.com.au) before boarding with Tasman Island Cruises to tour those cliffs — 980ft dolerite stacks like monstrous organ pipes. You’ll also see seals, probably dolphins, possibly whales from June to October.

After a few deep breaths to steady nerves, join the 8.30pm lamplit ghost tour through Port Arthur.

Day 4

Allow two hours to go 60 miles (96km) north to arrive at Triabunna. Pick up lunch at Gallery Artspaces cafe before the 9am ferry (encountermaria.com.au) to Maria Island National Park (pronounced “Mar-eye-a”). It’s a Noah’s Ark for some of the strangest creatures ever put into limited production: wallabies, echidnas, a lot of wombats. Hire a bike at Darlington — the remnants of a convict prison — and pedal via psychedelic sandstone Painted Cliffs to heart-stoppingly beautiful Riedle beach.

Catch the 5pm ferry back to the mainland and drive north to Coles Bay’s Freycinet Lodge (pictured above, freycinetlodge.com.au) — and book a new glass-walled lodge for a splurge.

Raise a toast to Wineglass Bay: Day 5

Because you’re sleeping within the Freycinet National Park, you beat tour groups to Tasmania’s most famous beach, Wineglass Bay. Trainers are suitable footwear to traverse the Hazards mountains to its flawless arc of sugary sand and sapphire seas. Bring your cossie, and when groups arrive go north to Friendly Beaches. It’s epic, empty. Magic.

Tasmania’s most famous beach, Wineglass bay
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After the paradise beaches, backtrack towards Swansea for foodie heaven: wines at cellar-door stars Craigie Knowe (craigieknowe.com.au) and Devil’s Corner (devilscorner.com.au) and oysters fresh from the bay at Melshell Oysters (melshelloysters.com.au).

Return at sunset to see the granite of the Hazards glow pink.

Day 6

It’s a gorgeous two-hour drive north to St Helens (nothing special) for Binalong Bay and the Bay of Fires, scalloped by Tasmania’s whitest, most dazzling beaches. Now go inland. The Blue Tier rainforest west is criss-crossed by Tasmania’s best mountain bike trails. Vertigo (vertigomtb.com.au) in pioneer tin-town Derby hires bikes.

On to Tasmania’s second city, Launceston. Drop bags in harbourside Peppers Seaport hotel then shop for contemporary crafts at Design Tasmania (designtasmania.com.au) or visit the QVMAG Gallery (qvmag.tas.gov.au). Dinner is at Stillwater (stillwater.com.au).

Day 7

Take the slow road south-west via arty Deloraine — Deloraine Creative Studios (delorainecreativestudios.com) holds several ateliers — and Sheffield, Australia’s self-declared mural capital, with art on every wall.

Tasmania is a treasure-trove of unique wildlife and wilderness. Cradle Mountain is a good example
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Bucolic scenery segues to buttongrass moors at Cradle Mountain National Park, the state’s premier wilderness playground. Pause in the Wilderness Gallery of photography (plus a room on the Tasmanian tiger), before a boardwalked stroll around Dove Lake beneath Cradle’s finlike peak.

Check in at Peppers Cradle Mountain Lodge in time to see the 5.30pm feed of Tasmanian devils at Devils@Cradle conservation centre (devilsatcradle.com).

The high life at Cradle Mountain: Day 8

To experience Unesco-listed scenery that makes the soul sing, hit the trail; source maps and weather forecasts the night before.

Cradle Mountain’s summit (seven hours return) is exhausting and exhilarating in equal measure: golden moors, a scramble up boulders, a breath-taking view from 5,070ft. Quite a day.

Tasmania is a treasure-trove of unique wildlife and wilderness. Cradle Mountain is a good example
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The wilder Barn Bluff (nine-10 hours) is a challenge for hairy-chested hikers (loop back on the Rodway Track). Marions Lookout (two hours) is a nice amble. Bravo: you’ve earned a ‘massawge’ at Waldheim Alpine Spa.

Day 9

Corinna (book independently: corinna.com.au) is the anti-Cradle Mountain. A few tin-roofed shacks in magisterial rainforest, it’s the remnant of a gold-rush settlement from the 1850s tarted up as a wilderness eco-retreat.

By all means, walk paths in the forest or hire a kayak. More than anything, though, stop to enjoy the stillness of a place beyond time.

Day 10

It’s been 35 years since David Bellamy embarked from pretty Strahan during Australia’s largest civil protest to protect the Gordon river. Nowadays everyone’s at it, albeit on state-of-the-art catamarans: Gordon River Cruises’ new vessel has solar electrics plus floor-to-ceiling polarised windows. The World Heritage-listed river, however, remains a haunting ribbon of dark water snaking through Gondwana rainforest.

Check in at waterfront Strahan Village then drive west to Ocean Beach to experience sunset at the edge of the world: The next land masses west and south are South America and Antarctica.

Day 11

After Queenstown the Lyell Highway slices east through pure wilderness. Break up the drive with short walks to Donaghys Hill viewpoint and pretty Nelson Falls, both signposted.

Derwent river counts as a settlement hereabout despite its frontier air. Visit The Wall (thewalltasmania.com.au), an astonishing 330ft sculpture of pioneers by artist Greg Duncan slowly emerging from Huon pine. Then check into the Pumphouse of Pumphouse Point (book independently: pumphousepoint.com.au) seemingly adrift in Lake St Clair.

Day 12

Open the blinds and watch reflected light shimmer on the ceiling.

What do you fancy doing? A final hike? The Shadow Lake Circuit explores Lake St Clair National Park, adjoining Cradle Mountain, but far quieter.

How about borrowing a rowing boat or a mountain bike? Perhaps fly-fishing with a champion guide? Or just daydream, read, stare? It’s your call.

Day 13

Allow two hours’ drive east to Mount Field National Park. Make the short walk through a dogwood and myrtle forest to Russell Falls, its cascades among tree ferns an Instagram classic.

Don’t forget Russell Falls, an Instagram classic
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Continue east to New Norfolk for lunch at foodie hotspot The Agrarian Kitchen Eatery (theagrariankitchen.com), where the daily-changing menus are curated from whatever is freshest. Return to Hobart, and check in to MACq 01. Keep it simple for dinner: fish and chips beside the harbour at Fish Frenzy (fishfrenzy.com.au).

Day 14

Drop the hire car at Hobart airport and fly home via mainland Australia.

The Daily Telegraph