A May 2002 trip
to Launceston by Ozzy-Dave
Quote: The Great Southern Land has a Great Southern Island. Tasmania is Australia’s island state, as geographically diverse and unspoilt as any settled land on earth. With just 500,000 people sharing a space the size of Ireland, there’s plenty to explore. Our journey starts in the gateway city of Launceston.
Almost 100,000 people call its hilly streets home and it’s a friendly place. There are enough attractions to fill a couple of days and it’s a good base for exploring the surrounding historic villages and rich farmland. Start with these:
1. Hit the Streets; walk Launceston’s historic streets, discovering well-preserved 19th century architecture and elegant parks and gardens.
2. Gorge-ous Escape; an incredible natural gorge framed by vertical cliffs only minutes from the city centre, a haven for wildlife and now a protected reserve with walking tracks and lookouts.
3. Yesteryear Villages; surrounding the city are villages of Georgian splendour offering a window into the past.
4. To Market; find that perfect gift among the colourful locals in Tasmania’s best country market at Evandale.
5. Conservation 101; Liffey Forest Reserve is home to breathtaking rainforest and one of Australia’s most famous political conservationists.
6. The Bountiful Land; the Tamar Valley spreads north through fertile valleys and farmland, providing vineyards, orchards, gardens and a variety of other cottage industries and attractions in a patchwork landscape.
This is the first in a series of journals dedicated to exploring this unique island. The regional map provided here illustrates the area visited by this journal and each destination mentioned in the entries is identified in BLUE. Then, after you've discovered Launceston's treasures, why not continue the journey with the next chapter as we head north.
Enjoy the virtual tour of one of Australia's hidden gems...
HOW TO GET THERE: Fly to Launceston from any Australian capital or catch the overnight ferry from Melbourne to Devonport, an hour northwest of Launceston.
ACCOMMODATION: A wide range of options is available. Bed & Breakfast or self catering accommodation offers the best value for money – usually less than AU for a comfortable double. Hotels (pubs), some of them of heritage significance, are similarly priced, then there are grand, historic houses and modern four-star chain hotel/motels for AU-300.
WARNING - Don’t be fooled by thinking Tasmania is small and you won’t need much time. The abundance of attractions and narrow, winding roads gobble up the hours.
Car hire rates are low, starting at less than AU a day for a new, mid-range four cylinder vehicle, including all insurances and taxes. Good maps are provided and Tasmanian roads are well signposted. Petrol costs around AU a litre. The good news is that traffic is light, so driving on the “wrong side of the road” won’t be stressful.
Tasmania is quite compact and some people choose to hire (or buy) a bicycle. Launceston’s surrounding area is quite accessible by bike, but long, steep climbs and narrow, windings roads in many other parts of the island make it a hard slog.
TIP: Car hire rates are very competitive. Regular specials are offered, especially outside peak season. Don’t be tempted by companies offering older vehicles at reduced rates – these cars are often unreliable and it’s false economics when new-car rates cost little more.
Attraction | "A Walk Around Launceston"
True, the city centre is small. Its network of one way streets is easier to negotiate on foot than by vehicle, and after a few days I too fell under its spell.
Its siting at the junction of two rivers that give way to a spectacular natural gorge; its link with history evidenced by elegant Victorian streetscapes; its convivial culture and atmosphere; its relaxed urban landscape of parks. Launceston offers the visitor reason to linger and its residents an agreeable lifestyle.
So let’s linger a while and explore this fine little city on foot. Grab your map and let's go...
Start in Kings Park (1) overlooking the Tamar River and its procession of pleasure and working boats. Walk towards Kings Bridge, stopping to explore the buildings at Penny Royal World (2), an entertainment complex reviving life in the 19th century. It’s not worth the entrance fee, but you can check out the period buildings for free. Across the bridge, take the Main Walk (3) down Cataract Gorge to the Alexandra Suspension Bridge (4), built in 1895 and later restored after being washed away in the 1929 floods. In the mornings you’ll be rewarded with an abundance of wildlife, especially peacocks and wallabies. Return to the bridge by the same route – allow an hour for the four kilometre return journey.
Back across the bridge where we started the walk is Ritchies Mill (5), an 1840s water driven flour mill that is now a stylish gallery. Continue along Paterson Street to the 19th century Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery (6) building. The galleries are free and there’s a fascinating planetarium that can be toured for a small charge.
Down the street opposite the museum, past gorgeous Georgian buildings, is Civic Square (7) where you’ll find many of Launceston’s finest buildings and the elusive Tasmanian Tiger, even if it is only a sculpture. Down Cameron Street (8) are more historic buildings, the Holy Trinity Church, then beautiful City Park (9). The Design Centre of Tasmania (showcasing Tasmania’s finest artists and craftspeople), National Automobile Museum and Albert Hall all border the park and each is worth a look, but don’t miss the park’s Macaque Monkey enclosure.
Along nearby Earl Street, past the art centre, is an opportunity for indulgence at the Roman Baths (10). George Street has good shopping opportunities, including two of my favourites at the Old Umbrella Shop, an 1860s shop that remains a shrine to the period, and a mandatory visit to the Swiss Chocolatier (11). The Brisbane Street Mall (12) offers more shopping opportunities before returning to Kings Park.
Note – most points of interest open during normal business hours, but always check first. Ritchies Mill opens late (11am) and is closed Mondays. The museum and gallery is closed Sunday morning.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on June 20, 2002
Walking Around Launceston
Launceston City District
Attraction | "The Tamar Valley"
Its scenic and rich farmland provides bountiful rewards for the visitor, from world-class wines to orchards, berry farms and gardens. An unhurried lifestyle coupled with a sunny climate is the area’s hallmark, offering the perfect recipe for success as lifestyle, industry and tourism combine.
Leaving Launceston’s riverside suburbs behind, we follow the banks of the river as farmland turns to vineyards and netted vines in shades of autumn colour crowd the valley slopes.
At Marions Vineyard the views are irresistible. A wooden barn serves as cellar door and lookout over the river. Perched over the barn is a self contained treehouse available as B&B accommodation. Our hosts visited on holidays from America years ago and never left, their dream now bearing fruit in more ways than one. A booty of oak-matured Chardonnay is our prize and we head north to Seahorse World at Beauty Point.
It’s a working seahorse farm and an informative guided tour ($A15) outlines the plight of this unique animal. Breeding farms are providing Japan and America with pets and China with a growing medicinal trade. Well organised display areas, films, a museum and even a touch pool are highlights of the tour, and there is a restaurant and gift shop on site.
Across the Batman Bridge, a 100-metre tall cable bridge opened in 1968, we pursue our holy grail for the day on the eastern banks of the river. Hillwood Strawberry Farm has…well…strawberries. But that’s not all. There’s other berries and fruit from the orchard, fruit wine, vinegars, cheeses, fudges – all local, fresh produce and available for free tasting!
Alan and Kate Focken have been running Hillwood for 45 years and in summer it’s not unusual for them to host 1000 people a day. Pick your own fruit, relax with a light meal, or just pig out on strawberries, cream and ice cream. We chose the pig-out option.
Flatter farming country characterises the drive east to Lalla, our last destination for the day. At Providence Vineyards some of Tasmania’s finest cool climate wines can be sampled. Although a young industry, the product is already recognised as world class, especially the Pinot Noirs.
The strawberries, cream and ice cream combine with the wine and sunshine to produce a sickly euphoric feeling, so we waddle across the road to the Rhododendron Gardens and some exercise. Established in the 1890s, these 30-acres gardens provide amazing rhododendron displays in spring and are ablaze with colour in autumn.
The 20-minute drive back to Launceston was quiet, only occasional stomach gurgles and contented giggles punctuating the silence. The Tamar Valley gets a high recommendation.
West Tamar Highway A7
(800) 637 989
Cataract Gorge topped my list of things to do in Launceston. Millions of hikers, swimmers, families, nature nuts and world-weary travellers before me bore testimony to its greatness as a "must see". So what’s so special?
My first visit was in the early light of a fine and frosty autumn morning – that magical time of day when everything looks and smells new.
Through the gate and past an unattended chairlift station, the amphitheatre of the First Basin emerges. An empty swimming pool overlooks the dark waters of the basin. Surrounding it are vertical cliffs sprayed gold by the new day. And all around is the sweet eucalyptus smell of the Australian bush. A minute ago I was driving through the suburbs.
Alexandra Suspension Bridge spans a narrow neck of water that feeds the basin. Its rhythmic swaying hypnotises me and I daydream, losing myself in the water, rocks and shadows of the gorge. The sun warms my back. I’m jolted back to reality by a jogger whose progress turns the experience into the equivalent of a visit to a jumping castle. At the other side he smiles and begins to warm down, evidently pleased the morning’s torture is over and that he’s scared the hell out of another tourist.
"Morning," I say. "I bet all this makes the time pass quicker."
"Yeah. Sorry if I surprised you. You were miles away."
"I was looking at the water. It looks so dark, how deep is it?"
"Over 200 feet they reckon. Plenty of people died here. That’s why they built that," he says, pointing to the empty pool I passed on the way in.
A range of nine trails to suit all levels of fitness explore the gorge, or you can cruise its waters when the levels are high enough. The Main Walk is the most popular. Built for city residents in 1890 it follows the north bank for 2.75 kilometres to Kings Bridge. Further west along the river a power station has helped generated the city’s electricity since 1895.
Self guided nature trails introduce the native flora and fauna, and you’ll see friendly wallabies and peacocks in the mornings and plenty of possums as dusk approaches. Then, at night, the area transforms as the floodlit cliffs come alive with shadow characters and personalities.
Restaurant facilities overlook the basin and the world’s longest single span chairlift crosses it. But, most importantly, its value as a wildlife refuge has been recognised and preserved.
The millions before me were right. Cataract Gorge is special. If you’re in town, don’t miss the experience.
South Esk River
Attraction | "Further Afield"
When you tire of pottery, paintings, antiques and devonshire teas, venture west to the high country bordering the mountainous wilderness of the Great Western Tiers. Here you’ll find solitude in the unspoilt wonders of forest reserves and conservation parks.
Allow plenty of time and bring a picnic – there’s a spot by a rainforest waterfall with your name on it.
I love markets. Especially country markets. They seem to encapsulate a community and they’re a good way to meet the people. Evandale weekend markets are promoted as Tasmania’s best and the signs were good as we searched for a park at 8:30am in this small village, barely 15 minutes south of Launceston.
This is archetypal olde worlde English village stuff; streets packed with exquisite 19th century buildings, the annual Village Fair, even the National Penny-farthing Championships. And, of course, the weekend market in the village park. There’s plenty of trash, a few treasures, lots of fun for the kids, and a good range of unique gifts and local produce for sale.
Loaded with mementos and mouthwatering picnic supplies we head west. The highway bypasses the area’s attractive little villages, another curious aspect of progress, so we exit in search of hidden treasures. At Hadspen we explore the silent main street, lined with beautiful cottages.
Where is everyone?
Distant cheering and commotion break the silence, then two kids ride past with a soccer ball, apparently off to the local oval.
"I like Nigeria," says one. "They’re cool."
"My dad says the Azzurri will win," claims the other.
World Cup fever is gripping the nation.
Nearby Carrick is also deserted, except for Harry Eyles who invites us on a tour of his gallery where his wife, Helen How, and other prominent local artists have been selling paintings to the world for more than ten years. Across the road behind the dramatic, burnt out ruins of "Archer’s Folly", the Marik family have established a copper and metal art gallery, an Aladdin’s Cave of unique work.
In Westbury we are in awe of John Temple’s new gallery – a simple but huge barn dedicated to his award-winning panoramic photographs. But today’s highlight lies further south.
Liffey Forest Reserve nestles in the foothills of the Great Western Tiers, an expanse of dense rainforest that includes treeferns, myrtles and sassafras. It’s accessed by narrow, well-graded dirt roads and provides walkers with tracks ranging from 10 minutes to several hours. Liffey Falls is a popular destination, and the one-hour return walk is an easy one, plummeting to the valley floor through vegetation straight out of a kid’s storybook.
Just another of Tasmania’s picnic-perfect destinations.
Western Tiers / Meander Valley