Got a hankering for a Launceston short break? Paul Fleming a.k.a. Love Thy Walrus explores his hometown and gives the ultimate insider tips for your next northern Tasmanian getaway.
Nestled in a fertile valley between forested hills and jagged mountain ranges, Launceston is the type of city you dream about; large enough to provide all the facilities, shopping and services you need, but small enough to retain that country-town sense of community charm and tangible air of a warm welcome.
Launceston is a city that has managed to hang on to much of its built European heritage. Streets are lined with beautiful Georgian and Victorian-style buildings – take a wander along Elphin Road, High Street or upper Charles Street and you’ll wonder what century you are in (the neat terraces converted into hip cafes, galleries and bakeries will bring you back into the present).
Parks and gardens abound; the largest, City Park, hosts festivals and events throughout the year, but is also home to a splendidly ornate conservatory and an enclosure of monkeys. Yes, monkeys. A family of macaques, a gift from Launceston’s sister-city Ikeda in Japan in 1965, to be precise. On the north-west corner of the Park sits the grand Albert Hall, constructed for the Tasmanian Industrial Exhibition of 1891.
The Clarion Hotel City Park Grand is just steps from City Park, making it an ideal base during festivals and events in the park (it is also a short walk to University of Tasmania Stadium just across the river, where AFL matches are played). Located on the fringe of the central business district, the hotel is an exquisitely restored and luxuriously refurbished 1850’s inn; the spa suites in the old stables are an ideal option after a day exploring the city on foot. Larceny, the in-house restaurant, is also one of Launceston’s favourites, and offers a fine selection of quality local fare cooked to perfection.
Launceston’s best-known attraction, the naturally-carved Cataract Gorge, is just minutes from the city centre. This impressive canyon created by the South Esk River winds its way through a series of basins (wider areas where the water pools), of which the most popular and scenic to visit is the First Basin. The southern bank is dominated by sprawling lush lawns and large open-air free swimming pool (summer) and kiosk and café, while the northern side is a wonderland of Victorian-style parklands, complete with band rotunda and one of the city’s premier restaurants. You can cross sides via a weir or the incredible Alexandra Suspension Bridge – yes, it does swing a little as you walk on it!
Sitting at the confluence of three major rivers (the North and South Esk come together to form the Tamar) Launceston’s urban footprint quickly gives way to vineyard-draped valleys and artisan hamlets of the Tamar Valley, as the Tamar flows 70km to the coast and into Bass Strait.
A day trip taking in the valley is one well-spent. Cellar doors for wine, cider and spirits, while gourmet and boutique producers tempt your taste buds; keep an eye out for roadside stalls as they beckon you to stop for that crisp crunch of a fresh apple (in summer, be prepared to try to resist the many raspberry farms).
The Famous Batman
Cross the Tamar at the Batman Bridge – named after John Batman, not the caped-crusader, sorry – and learn about the rich maritime and aboriginal history at Low head and surrounds. Stay until dusk at the Low Head Lighthouse and historical Pilot Station and you might spot some of the little locals – little penguins, that is (tours run nightly).
Breathe. It. In!
For lung-refreshing deep breaths of clean air, head into the forests. Add in a waterfall and you have the makings of a magical day out. The most popular are the cascades of Liffey Falls near Deloraine, west of the city. However for a less-visited, though still charming experience, head to the rural hamlet of Lilydale and let the ferny glades lead you into two beautifully secluded grottos.
Just over an hour east from the city is the all-season favourite Ben Lomond National Park. In summer the plateau (1,200m) is a carpet of vivid wildflowers and rugged lichen-crusted boulders. In winter, it becomes Tasmania’s largest ski field. Undoubtedly though, visitors are left awe-struck by the drive up the mountain. Access is via Jacobs Ladder; a series of steep switchbacks up a scree field (fallen rocks). A lookout at the top gives an inspiring view back down the road, but also north to Mt Barrow, and on a clear day as far as BassStrait, 50km away.
The beautiful area of Badger Head is somewhere few visitors find, despite the national park it sits within being one of the most visited in the state. Narawntapu NP is known for its wild populations of wombats and kangaroos at Bakers Beach, but at its eastern end you’ll find secluded beaches and fascinating coastal and heath land walks. Following the trail from Badgers Beach you’ll find yourself along a jagged shore with sweeping views of the coast and Bass Strait.