We drove into Launceston from Cradle Mountain and pretty much immediately fell in love with it. Being in the north of Tassie, the weather was much warmer than Hobart, which made us feel a bit more at home. The heritage buildings were in many cases beautifully restored, and the whole place has that small town, everyone-says-hello-in-the-street kind of vibe. We also discovered Launceston was a great base for some fantastic day trips. So here’s what we got up to:
Wine tasting in the Tamar Valley
Launceston sits at the head of the Tamar Valley, and we jumped on a tour with Prestige Leisure Tours to go and check it out. Prestige only do small groups, so we only had six people in our van, which meant we got to know everyone quite well.
First up, we headed off south east of Launceston until we arrived at the newly renovated Sharmans winery in the North Esk Valley.
The new décor is very cool but rustic, with the designers using heaps of reclaimed timbers and even recycled plastic bottles to make the light shades. And the views from the cellar door are not too shabby at all...
The folks at Sharmans have come up with the novel idea of giving each of their wines an animal emblem (presumably so if you get too drunk to recall the name of what you’re drinking, you just have to remember that it had a platypus or echidna on it). Each of the animals have been found on the property at some point (although I was a little dubious about the seal!!)
Next we moved on to Josef Chromy, which is a huge winery in the West Tamar with stunning views over the seemingly never ending vineyards.
Josef Chromy is a testament to the hard work of its namesake, who arrived in Australia from his war torn Czech village in 1950 without a cent to his name. He launched Josef Chromy wines in 2007 and has built it into one of the region’s premier wineries.
The picturesque winery has a huge restaurant, cellar door and acres of land where they hold concerts, including the famous Day on the Green.
Our next stop was the boutique winery Goaty Hill. Also set on a lovely property which looks down to the mighty Tamar river, the grounds are dotted with stunning iron sculptures.
We started with a wine tasting so we could choose what we would like with lunch, and we both went with a nice crisp Sem Sav. The platters they brought out were huge, varied and delicious, with heaps of fresh Tassie produce, and we enjoyed them while looking out over the grounds.
After lunch, we pressed on to Holm Oak, which has an extensive list of wines to try. As with most Tasmanian wineries, our favourites were the pinot noirs, which are a Tasmanian specialty. In a nice touch, Holm Oak patrons who want to match their wine with food can get a chopping board, loaf of bread and a selection of cheeses for a rustic snack, which looked like the perfect accompaniment.
Our last stop was Iron Pot Bay winery, apparently named after part of the river that flows at the end of the road the winery is situated on. The family who own the winery had never made wines until a couple of years ago, and currently the tasting is done in the shed, which is very rustic to say the least! But, they’ve bought the 109 year old cottage next door which will be renovated and turned into a cellar door. We took a bottle of Pinot Meunier with us, which I have to be honest and say we’d never heard of before.
Last on the list was the Tamar Ridge winery, which has some dramatic views over the Tamar River. I really liked their Pirie sparkling, and would’ve taken a bottle if we could’ve fit any more in the suitcase! Tamar Ridge also creates platters with locally made cheeses and terrines to enjoy with a bottle of wine out on their picturesque deck.
Bay of Fires
About a two and a half hour drive north east of Launceston, the Bay of Fires is definitely worth the travel time. The drive took us through some beautiful little towns (and some not quite so beautiful), through forest and winding mountain roads and open plains.
The Bay of Fires stretches from Binalong in the south to Eddystone Point in the north and is an absolutely stunning piece of coastline, which boasts the whitest of sand and the bluest of oceans.
Officially, the name refers to a time when Captain Tobias Furneaux sailed past the bays in 1773 and saw the multiple fires the Aboriginal people had lit along the coast. But the name could just as easily come from the orange lichen covered granite boulders which litter the coastline.
Our first stop was the spectacular Moresco Restaurant in Binalong Bay. We were lucky enough to get a seat out on the deck, which has a beautiful view over the turquoise water.
The food was absolutely delicious; I loved my vegetarian paella and Simon was most impressed with his fish and chips. We topped it off with a crisp Sem Sav and finished off with a really good long black.
After lunch, we took a drive along the coast and stopped at the Gardens. After some consideration, we decided that we couldn’t come all this way and not have a swim. It looked so inviting.
Ten minutes later, nearly suffering hypothermia and with an ice cream-like brain freeze, I came to the conclusion that the water wasn’t so inviting after all and decided to admire it from the warmth of the beach instead.
Just half an hour drive out of Launceston, the Beaconsfield mine is a fascinating trip back through history. There’s a museum filled with over 10,000 objects that paint a picture of another time, from olden day farming equipment to telephone exchanges to vehicles.
A big part of the mine’s more recent history is the accident that happened in 2006, when an earthquake caused part of the mine to collapse, trapping three miners. There’s a really interesting display which details how two of the men were rescued after two weeks underground, with details on the rescue operation and TV news footage of how the event unfolded on the TV screens of Australia. There’s also a re-creation of the collapsed mine shaft, so you can take a look at just how small a space these two big blokes were trapped in all that time.
It was also fascinating to walk around the grounds and learn about the history of mining. The sheer scale of the mining operation and everything that had to be built to support it is quite mind blowing.
We also got to climb up the tower and have a look down the shaft and see how the mine used to operate. It also had a pretty good view!
Only about a five minute walk out of town, Cataract Gorge is a stunning nature playground which is completely accessible to everyone, even including an inclinator to carry those who can’t walk down to the gorge. A pool was built right next to the First Basin swimming area, and on the day we visited, was full of families. We decided to brave a swim in the gorge itself, and unlike Bay of Fires, the water temperature was actually (almost) pleasant.
We also took a hike around the gorge, across the bridge and out to one of the lookouts for some stunning views.
Later, as we were lying on the grassy bank looking out over the water, I had to keep reminding myself that we weren’t out in the middle of the bush, but just five minutes from a major town.
Places to eat:
My first discovery in East Launceston was the fabulous Alps and Amici, which is a shop with a full commercial kitchen on site. The staff make a huge range of foods, from continental rolls to take away salads to stocks and sauces and ready made meals. It made me think that if I lived in East Launceston, I would never have to cook again!
For fresh, authentic Italian, La Cantina in the centre of Launceston would be hard to top. Everything we ate here was absolutely delicious, and the pizza bases were perfect. The family-run restaurant had really friendly staff who were charming, and definitely up for a chat!
On the way out to Cataract Gorge, we stopped at the Stillwater café, which is housed in a beautiful rustic 1830’s flour mill. The building is gorgeous, with exposed timber beams and pine floors. This place undoubtedly had the best coffee we had in Launceston.
Also nearby was the amazing Cataract on Paterson. They have hot stone slabs that they bring to the table so you can cook your own steak, but since I’m vegetarian, I gave this a miss (and Simon wasn't game to risk my ire by having a slab of uncooked meat on the table). The deep fried camembert with dukkha that I had was way better than any steak though, and this was just the start of what was by far my best meal in Launceston. I just wish I’d had room for dessert!
All in all, we loved Launceston, and I can definitely see why so many ‘mainlanders’ decide to move there. We might just do it ourselves one day!
Notes: We visited Launceston in summer (January), and the weather was really pleasant, even getting up to mid 30’s on one of the days.
You can fly directly into Launceston, or get the Spirit of Tasmania ferry from Melbourne to Devonport.
Launceston was pretty accessible without a car, however there are some very steep hills which are quite challenging.
For more info, see: www.discovertasmania.com.au
I'd also recommend always travelling with insurance. I personally use Australian based insurer Fastcover, and you can get a quote for a policy here: https://fastcover.com.au/ref?id=Wafaraway