One hundred fifty miles away from the mainland sits the Australian island state of Tasmania, an area steeped in intriguing history and animated by its notoriously friendly residents. Jurassic era swells of magma called dolerite comprise most of the island, the formations creating some of the most distinctly unique geological landscapes in the world.

Nineteen national parks protect the diverse scenery of Tasmania, which makes it a nature lover's utopia. When guests are not exploring the Tasmanian wilderness, they'll find plenty to do in the more densely populated areas of the state. First-timers will have more options than they know what to do with, so here are some of the best activities to help newcomers get a lay of the land.

10 Learn Some History At The Port Arthur Historic Site

Even the most beautiful places are bound to have some dark history, and a great way to understand how Tasmania came to be the place it is today is by visiting the Port Arthur Historic Site. The ruins of a 19th-century prison lie along the Tasman Peninsula, creating an eerie open-air museum shrouded in mysterious intrigue.

The grounds contain 30 buildings filled with the stories of convicts who lived within its walls, many of them experiencing brutal floggings, solitary confinement, and intense hard labor. In fact, many of the prisoners helped build the structures found in Salamanca, a top tourist spot in Tasmania (mentioned below.) Port Arthur is part of the larger Australian Convict Sites, a designated UNESCO world heritage location including the Cascades Female Factory and penal coal mines that shaped the state's early economy.

9 Take A Ferry To Bruny Island

Those who'd like to go off the beaten path can take a day trip to Bruny Island. Ferry trips depart regularly from the Kettering terminal, and it only takes around 20 minutes to get to the attraction-filled hot spot. Bruny Island is known for its delicious seafood, sweet honey, and premium wines.

Once visitors have had their fill, they can explore the unique landscapes by traversing The Neck, a narrow strip connecting the island's two parts as a natural bridge. The highest peak on Bruny Island, Mount Mangana, is home to a special breed of albino wallabies who thrive in the area due to the lack of natural predators. The island also contains stunning old structures, including Australia's oldest stone bridge and several lighthouses.

Related: 10 Best Countries To See Wildlife

8 Enjoy A View From The Top Of Mount Wellington

A visit to Tasmania isn't complete without a trip to the Mount Wellington lookout. Also known as Kunyanyi, a Tasmanian Aboriginal word meaning mountain, the location is considered a sacred resting ground for ancestral spirits. The dual-named attraction draws at least half a million people annually, and estimates suggest the number will only climb in the coming years.

The journey to the top includes views of the mountain's epic Organ Pipes, which are column-shaped rock formations created a million years ago by volcanic lava rocks. Guests will see the entirety of Hobart and its surrounding areas from the summit, gaining a new perspective of (and appreciation for) Tasmania.

The Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) in Hobart is nothing if not unapologetically controversial. Professional Australian gambler David Walsh created the one-of-a-kind museum to push the blurry boundaries of what qualifies as art in modern times. Walsh describes MONA as a "subversive adult Disneyland," as many exhibits focus on sex and death.

The building's stunning and ever-expanding architecture will move visitors unimpressed by the often seditious works of art. The museum also features edible masterpieces in the form of beautifully crafted culinary creations, wine tastings, and even a jungle gym for the kids (if you think they're old enough to tag along.)

Related: 10 Museums So Weird You'll Think We Made Them Up

6 Take A Hike In Freycinet National Park

Freycinet is Tasmania's first declared national park, and images of the awe-inspiring scenery live on in the minds of every visitor who's stepped foot on its soil. Five pink granite mountains form The Hazards, their unexpected hue giving fantastical fairytale vibes. The Hazards hug the shores of the spectacular Wineglass Bay, which is the most photographed spot in all of Tasmania. There are plenty of bushwalking trails to hike through, and those looking to extend their stay are guaranteed primo campsites with vantage points of epic sunrises and sunsets.

5 Take A Break In Cataract Gorge

The Cataract Gorge is one of the top tourist destinations in Tasmania partly because of its proximity to Launceston's city center. The recreation hub has picture-perfect picnic spots, leisurely stroll-worthy trails, clean swimming pools, and delicious local cuisine. To put it simply, Cataract Gorge is an ideal place to take a load off while remaining surrounded by the nature that makes Tasmania truly special.

4 Walk Through Historical Richmond

Tasmania's colonial heritage is on full display in Richmond. History lovers will brim with excitement while they cross a bridge built by convicts in the 1820s and admire the plethora of historical buildings that still line the streets. Richmond is currently becoming a premier destination for wine connoisseurs, boasting world-class refreshments with a view. Children and adults will enjoy the nearby Zoodoo Zoo, a hands-on safari featuring native wildlife, including the elusive Tasmanian devil!

3 Go On A Whale Watching Tour

Humpback Whales migrate from colder waters to Tasmanian coasts between May and December, and several companies offer tours to take visitors on the water to witness their epic journey. Humpbacks aren't the only aquatic mammals who make their way south, though. Populations of Orcas often birth their young in Tasmanian waters, and it's not uncommon to see the magical creatures swimming in September and October. Extremely fortunate visitors have caught fleeting glimpses of endangered Blue Whales, a truly brag-worthy story they'll likely retell over and over for years to come.

Related: Whale Watching: The Best Places Around The World To See These Majestic Animals

2 Get Touristy In Salamanca

Salamanca is the most touristy district in Tasmania's capital city, Hobart. Restored granite buildings originally built by the prisoners of the Port Arthur Penitentiary have been transformed into a sprawling array of charming cafes, restaurants, unique shops, and art galleries. During the day, tourists and locals hit the town to fill up on the sights, sounds, and delicious street foods. At night, Salamanca becomes a bustling party scene equipped with hip bars and nightclubs perfect for dancing the night away.

1 See The Southern Lights At The Tinderbox Marine Reserve

Tourists can get enchanted by the night sky at the Tinderbox Marine Reserve. While daytime activities include observing aquatic wildlife and soaking up sunny beach days, the atmosphere becomes awash with the ethereal glow of Aurora Australis (Southern Lights) after the sun goes down. The mystic smear of greens and purples are complemented by the star-studded sky, creating an otherworldly show over the water.

Next: The 10 Best Places In The World To See The Northern Lights