Tasmania’s second city has a lot going for it, including heritage architecture, natural beauty and prime position in a food bowl. Local Hilary Burden shows us around laid-back “Lonnie”.
In Launceston, you can be chatting to a farmer who grows lemongrass and Asian greens at a car-park market in the morning and watching Hawthorn play an AFL match just around the corner in the afternoon. It’s that kind of town. One of Australia’s oldest cities, Launceston is easy to get around and, because it’s located amid a food bowl and has the fertile Tamar Valley wine region at its back door, you can eat and drink like a king along the way.
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It helps to acquaint yourself with the city’s main areas. First, the restaurants and bars of Seaport Marina and the riverside boardwalk that snakes its way to Kings Bridge and the start of magnificent Cataract Gorge Reserve. Then the CBD, which encompasses Launceston’s retail heart with its landmark Myer building (one of the city’s tallest and, some say, least attractive), plus the busy Brisbane Street and Quadrant malls. And, finally, the Inveresk Precinct, home to University of Tasmania Stadium – Hawthorn Football Club’s home ground in Tassie – and the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery (QVMAG). Nearby, in Royal Park, is a second QVMAG location, where the Gallery of the First Tasmanians commemorating the history and culture of Tasmania’s Aboriginal people will open in July.
Three CBD streets to mark on your map are Charles, George and St John. Locals have long called the southern stretch of Charles Street the “Paris end” for its alfresco dining options – Elaia is a longstanding favourite. Now George Street is stepping up the sophistication with boutiques such as Cloth (03 6331 7778) and KiKa & Co. (0433 667 008), along with cool cafés. Try Sweetbrew (03 6333 0443) and Bryher, where you can sip Launceston Breakfast tea or Lost Pippin perry (pear cider). Browse Den boutique for handmade gifts and visit the Red Cross store for upscale vintage. Vinnies is good for a rummage, while Mission on George is well stocked with retro kitchenware.
Image: Adam Gibson
Launceston is celebrated for its heritage architecture and strolling the length of St John Street will show you why – from the iron lacework of Dorset Terrace, built in 1888, to the Italianate Town Hall (its columns are yarn-bombed during community festivals) and the grandeur of Custom House.
Sydney chefs Tetsuya Wakuda and Dan Hong have been spotted shopping at the Harvest community farmers’ market, held each Saturday morning in the Cimitiere Street car park. Seek out Antonia and Joe Gretschmann from Elgaar Farm and try their organic milk with the cream on top. Be sure to grab an almond croissant from Sandy’s Sourdough or a Korean hotteok (pancake) from Seoul Food.
Launceston loves its bicyles almost as much as its fresh veg. It’s the home town of Tour de France rider Richie Porte and host of the Launceston Cycling Festival each November. For city bike hire, Ian Ferrier at Mountain Bike Tasmania will drop off and pick up bicycles at your hotel. If you only have an hour or two, take the relatively flat Inveresk Trail to Heritage Forest and back. The Launceston City Cycling Map will get you started. For a longer, steeper challenge, head for the mountain-biking trails in the Trevallyn Nature Recreation Area.
For young families, Penny Royal is a recently renovated theme park celebrating the era of convicts and bushrangers with entertainment such as rope bridges, climbing walls and barge rides through dark tunnels.
Image: Adam Gibson
Close to Penny Royal is the start of the Cataract Gorge walk. Heading west from Kings Bridge, it skirts along cliff-hugging tracks and is surrounded by native bush and exotic trees. It ends at a natural swimming hole, the First Basin, and a man-made swimming pool – a popular summer spot for locals. If you have a head for heights, walk across the suspension bridge – particularly invigorating after heavy rainfall when the river thunders through the gorge.
Back in the CBD, on its eastern edge, have a picnic under the century-old oak, elm and giant sequoia trees in historic City Park. First, pick up a hamper or pack your own picnic basket with the help of Alps & Amici Foodstore & Kitchen in East Launceston.
Tasmania has a reputation for fine furniture crafted from indigenous timbers such as blackheart sassafras and Huon pine and some of the finest examples are on display at the Design Tasmania gallery, on the western edge of City Park. The adjoining shop stocks designer pieces ranging from ceramics and jewellery (keep an eye out for shell necklaces by local Aboriginal artist Lola Greeno) to furniture and kitchenware.
SEE ALSO: A Foodie’s Guide to Northern Tasmania
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There are food vans parked on East Launceston’s “eat street” (High Street, at St Georges Square) year-round but they’re particularly popular on summer evenings. Try the lamb, spinach and fetta gozleme from Turkish Tukka or the vegetarian and vegan options sold from Wanderlust’s charming 1960s solar-powered caravan.
Wednesdays and Fridays are the busiest nights at Saint John Craft Beer Bar on St John Street. BYO food for lunch; from 5pm, choose cooked-to-order street food from the bar’s own van (our picks are the carrot and beer pakoras and the late-night lamb burger).
The renowned Stillwater restaurant and café is great at any time of the day but especially so at breakfast, its windows flung open to the river while you watch the sun climb. It can be difficult to decide between the Green Bowl (eggs, kale, avocado, quinoa, sprouts and beetroot) or the Red Bowl (chorizo, eggs, chilli con carne and potato). If you’re in need of a kick-starter, the Spicy Bloody Mary with Hartshorn Distillery’s Sheep Whey Vodka is the go.
Earthy Eats is an airy juice bar, café and greengrocer in the CBD. Sit at chunky sassafras tables beside large open windows and boxes planted with flag irises. Menu items vary but might include a quinoa harvest bowl or grass-fed Tasmanian beef brisket with basil, fetta, chickpeas and tahini.
Rossilli Cafe (112-114 George Street) is a Little Italy-style business serving good coffee and blackboard specials. A jug of lemonade – homemade using Dad’s lemons – is on the counter.
In the country town of Longford, a 20-minute drive south of Launceston, you’ll find a little piece of Paris at Hubert & Dan, where owner-chef Danielle Lefrancois fuses contemporary French dining with Tasmanian provincial fare. This is the kind of place where you’re likely to spot the local berry-grower dropping in with their latest delivery. It’s open for breakfast and lunch from Tuesday to Friday and dinner on Thursdays only.
At the newly revamped Timbre Kitchen at Vélo Wines in West Tamar, about 15 minutes north-west of Launceston, chef Matt Adams knows how to play with fire and flavour. Cooked in the wood-fired oven are signature dishes such as the whole Wicked brie, served – just as it’s about to burst – with toasted soda bread and his Granny Jean’s pickles. Share food is encouraged, although some dishes you’ll want to keep to yourself, such as the miso semifreddo with brown-butter crumb and honey.
Black Cow Bistro in Launceston is a fine-dining stalwart serving local pasture-fed beef in an Art Deco building that was once a butcher’s shop.
Watch the sun set over the river at another enduring favourite, Mudbar Restaurant at Seaport Marina, where an Asian twist to modern Tasmanian fare produces dishes such as miso-glazed lamb ribs with pickled Vietnamese slaw and wasabi aïoli.
Newer to the scene, Geronimo Aperitivo Bar & Restaurant is a cosmopolitan hotspot for apéritifs and a snack menu that’s designed to share. Go local with a glass of Delamere Vineyards sparkling paired with oysters from St Helens on the north-east coast.
These are the places to stay…
In Inversek, the backpacker-friendly Arthouse Hostel is a carbon-neutral establishment that feels like a welcoming old country hotel for weary travellers.
Family-owned Big4 Launceston Holiday Park, not far from the “Welcome to Launceston” sign, is under new ownership. The City View Villas and Budget Cabins have new or updated amenities and further upgrades to the park’s facilities are in the pipeline.
A heritage property, Auldington hotel is a former convent recently converted into boutique accommodation. The peaceful gardens are a bonus; pick your lemon for a gin and tonic to sip on your private Juliet balcony in your City View Room.
Image: Adam Gibson
If you stay at Peppers Seaport Hotel, at the confluence of the North Esk and Tamar rivers, request a Luxury Marina View Suite or River View suite or studio to best enjoy both sunset and water views.
Studio Ecoco is a stylish two-bedroom loft apartment in an 1880s heritage-listed property three blocks from the CBD. The open fireplace in this Airbnb encourages a winter stay, as does the freestanding bath with views over the rooftops.
For rural bliss on the edge of town, At Woodridge Farm is on three hectares of farmland in Relbia. Pick your own vegies, collect freshly laid eggs and feed the sheep while staying in farmhouse luxury.
Hatherley Birrell Collection, a grand 1830s mansion on the Register of the National Estate, has been given an art-lead makeover by husband-and-wife design team Jack and Rebecca Birrell. Stay in a guestroom in the main house (La Petite Chambre Matisse features a colour lithograph by the main himself) or a garden pavilion with an outdoor stone bath and leafy views.
Top image: Adam Gibson
SEE ALSO: A Foodie’s Guide to Launceston