Tasmania is a place of wild beauty colored by a tragic past. Separated from the rest of Australia by the waters of Bass Strait, this island state has forged its own path. Its isolation has preserved much of its wilderness, despite the worst efforts of man to spoil it at times. Some of the environmental issues Tasmanians (and the rest of Australia) are grappling with right now include the possible extinction of Tasmanian devils due to a spreading facial-tumor disease, reports of introduced foxes, and a proposed pulp mill that will pump vast quantities of effluent into Bass Strait. You will also not, despite local legend, run into any Tasmanian tigers here. Tasmania's history is rocky as well. Europeans arrived in Van Diemen's Land, as it was once known, in 1642, when the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman set anchor off its southwest coast. It wasn't identified as an island until 1798. Tasmania made its mark as a dumping ground for British convicts, who were often transported for petty crimes. The brutal system of control, still evident in the ruins at Port Arthur and elsewhere, spilled over into persecution of the native population. The last full-blooded Tasmanian Aborigine died in 1876, 15 years after the last convict transportation. Most had already died of disease and maltreatment at the hands of settlers. Despite all this, Tasmania is a tranquil and largely unspoiled place to visit. It has true wilderness areas, great walks, stunning seascapes, and a reputation for producing some of Australia's best food. The locals you meet will be friendly and hospitable in the manner of country people. The population is well known for passionate conservation protests over logging and the damming of its rivers. And remains of the Aboriginal people who lived here for thousands of years are evident in rock paintings, engravings, stories, and the aura of spirituality that still holds in places that modern civilization has not yet reached. Distances in Tasmania are very manageable compared to the rest of Australia, but you may still be surprised at how large the island is. Dense rainforests, mountain peaks, alpine meadows, great lakes, eucalyptus stands, and fertile farmland are all easily accessible, but you should still be prepared for several hours of concentrated driving between the main attractions. More than 20% of the island has been declared a World Heritage area, and nearly a third of the island is protected within 14 national parks.