40 years ago Tasmania hardly had a tourist industry. Instead, islanders were content to make their money not on holidays travel business but selling apples to the Poms. And then Britain joined the protectionist European Community and that was the end of that. Over the intervening years, holidays tours have become Tasmania's biggest industry - and it looks set to grow even further in the future. This transition to fledgling holiday mecca is reflected in its rebranding. Out went the perfunctory Island State logo and in came the Natural State, an unambiguous message that Tasmania is rich in mountains, lakes, flora and fauna. Tourists on holidays travel to capture the essence of a place the size of Wales, but which seems to be about as well-known as Kazakhstan. Perhaps this should not be surprising: Tasmania has only just left the dark ages in terms of holidays travel and the fox remains one of its few anglicised visitors.A couple of years ago some plank decided to play God and introduced the predator to the island state, with potentially devastating consequences. Now farmers fear for their livestock while environmental scientists warn of grave threats to the ecosystem.
Judging by some of the car number plates, someone also toyed with the idea of Holiday Island - although this could give the wrong impression, one that suggests Tassie is, like the mainland, rich in sunshine and balmy temperatures.
It isn't. Not even the island's biggest fans will try to sell Tasmania on its weather. The average temperature in summer is 21C and a week of unbroken sunshine is rare. Along the coast the weather tends to be wild and wet
Given its outstanding beauty, then, it's no surprise that the island has decided to sell itself on the holidays touring to its bewitching range of natural attributes. Today more than a third of Tasmania is protected in national parks and the Southwest National Park is listed as a World Heritage Area.
The lush wilderness that covers most of the island makes you feel like you are the first to discover its secrets. Maybe you are. Tasmania has a population of only 480,000 and, as almost 200,000 people live in and around the capital Hobart, and another 100,000 in Launceston, vast tracts of its 26,383 sq miles are uninhabited. Tourists on holidays travel up into the Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park and are aware that they are walking in the footsteps of dinosaurs.
Standing at the edge of Great Lake you know that the geography has not really changed since the days of the Aborigines. Gazing at the aptly named Remarkable Caves in the south-east you know that, you are looking hundreds of thousands of years into the past. You feel small but also incredulous that such a remote, primeval place could have encouraged an exodus on the other side of the world.
That it did so is largely thanks to the army of penal labour transported from the British Isles and forced to re-create a new empire in a place that was the eighteenth century's equivalent of the moon. The island's colonisation had tragic consequences for the indigenous population. By 1876 there were no Aborigines left, the result of decades of extermination and, then, when it was too late, an attempt to remove those remaining to an island in the nearby Bass Strait for their own safety.
From the planting of thousands of hedgerows across the Tasmanian Midlands, to the Georgian sandstone buildings around Hobart's Salamanca marketplace, to its foreboding gothic Anglican churches, Tasmania was designed to be another Albion.
Given its bloody history, it is inevitable the island has generated a wealth of ghost stories and myths and there are numerous walks and tours that re-create its brutal past.
If you can manage only one historic excursion during your visit take the Gordon River boat trip out of Strahan on the island's west coast. A tiny place with a population of just 350, yet sitting on a much larger harbour than Sydney, Strahan sprang into life servicing the nearby Sarah Island penal colony. Its faded splendour contrasts with nearby Queenstown, a rundown mining town whose battered shacks and ersatz shops squat in the middle of a denuded landscape that has been ravaged by industrial neglect.
Queenstown's sorry example is a reminder of the old Tasmania, one that made its money in the days of shipbuilding and steam. Today, though, money has started flowing into the island. So much so that estate agents now talk of the threat of a housing bubble and worry that some locals are being priced out of the market.
One day the island's airstrips will buzz to the sound of Lear jets as the super wealthy descend on the next big thing. Tasmania's transition from penal colony to captivating paradise isle will be complete. Get there first among those on holidays travel to discover Tasmania.