At some point during a Tasmania road trip or if you’re flying in to visit Cradle Mountain, you’re likely to pass through Launceston, the largest city in the state’s north. Spend the day exploring all it and the surrounding areas have to offer, and you’ll find history, nature and plenty of fun.
Here’s what to do in Launceston when you’ve got limited time and a rental car to make the most of it.
See the City Sights
There is one attraction every visitor in Launceston loves and the locals frequent. The city is located where three rivers – South Esk, North Esk and Tamar – converge, all of which have narrowed significantly by the time it gets here. Just outside of the city limits, you’ll discover Cataract Gorge. Sure, it’s a spectacular natural setting, with bushland, rocky cliffs and areas of manicured lawn with grazing peacocks, but there’s so much to do. Middle of summer? Bring your swimmers and take a dip in the swimming pool or basin. You can look at it all from up high on the scenic chairlift or go for a walk to the swinging bridge and the old power station.
Afterwards, explore the city streets, where you’ll find beautifully preserved buildings from across the colonial eras. At Kinross House on George Street, built in the 1840s, stop for a while at Sweetbrew, an excellent spot for coffee, pastries and vegetarian dishes. You could even get yours to go and take it to City Park. There’s a conservatory, sense garden, playgrounds and an enclosure of macaque monkeys gifted from Launceston’s sister city, Ikeda in Japan.
If you’re in Launceston on Saturday morning, head to the Harvest Market. The city was recently named a UNESCO City of Gastronomy and the offerings here highlight the quality and diversity of the food grown and produced in the region. If you love a picnic, you’ll be able to buy everything you need here, from artisan bread to fresh berries.
Discover Launceston’s History
A mere 15-minute drive from Launceston will deliver you to Evandale, a Georgian village now protected by the National Trust. Beautiful old churches, pubs, a red-brick water tower and other buildings line its main street. Evandale was also the home of John Glover, one of Australia’s most important 19th-century landscape artists. Now, each year, the Glover Prize is awarded to the artist who paints the best contemporary landscape of Tasmania. It and the best of the other entries are shown at Evandale’s Falls Park Pavilion in early March. Another event you might want to check out is the National Penny Farthing Championship, held here in mid-February.
About 8km from Evandale is one of Tasmania’s grandest Georgian homes, Clarendon, with its formal gardens, restored outbuildings and Italianate façade.
While you’re in the district, point the rental car towards Woolmers Estate and Brickendon Estate. Established by brothers Thomas and William Archer in the early 1800s, many of the buildings on these grazing properties – homesteads, workers’ cottages, outhouses, chapels, stores – were built by convicts. Fully preserved, they’re a fascinating insight into life in the colony soon after the English arrived. If you’re feeling energetic, take the 2.8km Convict Farm Walk from one property to the other.
Tamar Valley Cellar Doors and More
The fertile landscape north of Launceston and on the eastern side of the Tamar River is home to one of the country’s premium cool-climate wine-growing regions. The Tamar Valley features more than 30 vineyards along the wine route, including names like Jansz, Clover Hill, Pipers Brook and Josef Chromy. The latter has an outdoor deck where you can enjoy a cheese platter while overlooking the vines. Assign someone the designated driver and drop into a couple of the cellar doors to taste their wares. Around here, you’ll get to sample amazing sparkling wines and pinot noir. Maybe buy a couple of bottles of your favourites to drink later when you’ve arrived at your accommodation.
If you find yourself with plenty of energy at the end of the day, keep driving to Low Head at the mouth of the Tamar River. The lighthouse here is the oldest in Tasmania, but most people come for an after-hours appearance. As the sun goes down, little penguins return from the sea where they’ve spent the day fishing, waddle up the beach and disappear into their burrows. During summer, there can be between 100 and 200 of these flightless seabirds making their way home, with numbers dropping off between March and October.
Low Head Penguin Tours guides small groups of observers down to the beach and ensures they don’t disturb these tiny animals by shining torches at them or making loud noises. Your guide will tell you all about the little penguins and their behaviour, as well as the history of this part of Tasmania.
Before you spend a day exploring Launceston and beyond, hire a rental car to take you there.