Having long – and somewhat unfairly – struggled in the shadow of its much-loved capital, Launceston has remained a relatively under-the-radar second city. Until now.
Thanks to the relocation of the dynamic arts and culture festival that is MONA Foma, Launceston has been given a new lease on life, silently succeeding in climbing the ranks to become the next ‘it’ summer destination.
While in town for the January festival, we thought the best way to take in the sights of the state and surrounds was via a road trip. What we quickly learned was that those who invest in taking the time to explore the area by car will be rewarded with a breadth of day-trip opportunities. These are our picks.
1. Freycinet National Park
There are myriad reasons to scribble Tasmania onto your bucket list, this much you don’t need reminding of. What you should remember however, is that Freycinet National Park should sit somewhere near the very top.
Located on the east coast of Tasmania – a scenic two-hour drive from Launceston – Freycinet National Park is a quintessential postcard of Australia’s best flora and fauna.
Comprising a peninsula defined by Schouten Island, alongside a granite mountain range known as the Hazards, Freycinet National Park is the perfect day trip for those keen to stretch their legs.
After paying $24 for entry into the park, there are a number of ways to fill your day.
Spend your day completing one of the many short or long hikes within the national park. One of the most popular (and rewarding) walks is to the lookout that takes in the view of Wineglass Bay from the summit of Mount Amos. The climb is about 40 minutes and takes you to sweeping, panoramic views of Australia’s best beach.
If you’re keen to get down there, the Hazards Beach hike takes you down to Wineglass Bay. At about the 11-kilometre mark, follow the signage leading through the lush vegetation, alongside sweeping views of Great Oyster Bay, Coles Bay and beyond.
For shorter, more leisurely walks, head to the Cape Tourville Lighthouse. We plugged it right into our GPS and it found the remote enclave with ease. This glacial flat stroll provides commanding views of the east coast of Freycinet, as well as the expansive Tasman Sea, Mount Parsons, Mount Graham, and of course, Cape Tourville Lighthouse.
Sleepy Bay is another nice little short walk. This 1.5-kilometre track provides a look at Tasmania’s rugged coastline, with opportunities to gawp at Freycinet’s famed granite rocks.
Inside Freycinet National Park, Coles Bay itself provides a host of food and beverage options. Geographe Restaurant specialises in wood-fired pizzas. But once inside, you’ll find your attention diverted to the outdoor deck with the best views in the business. Enjoy the a la carte menu at Bay Restaurant at Freycinet Lodge, or the casual atmosphere of Richardson’s Bistro. The Freycinet Café and Bakery offers a large selection of breakfast, lunch and snacking options – the perfect pit stop before a day in the national park.
The holy grail of dining options in the area, however, has got to be Freycinet Marine Farm. Taste some of Tasmania’s best fresh seafood, best enjoyed in the sun on the deck or wrapped up to take away. Since opening in 2005, the farm has harvested oysters and mussels daily, serving them alongside scallops, abalone, salmon, prawn and rock lobster – all sourced from local fisherman. They also offer daily water- and land-based walking farm tours.
If you’re brave enough, Friendly Beach an expansive, uncrowded spot for a swim. A small contingent however: the water teeters around the five degree mark so enter at your own risk. For those not as stupid as I, the spot also provides a nice backdrop for a coastal white-sand walk.
2. Bridestowe Lavender Farm
Australia is home to an array of travel experiences that are as vast as they are unique. Bridestowe Lavender Farm is one of those places.
A 45-minute drive from Central Launceston, Bridestowe is recognised mostly for its spectacular, seemingly endless fields of purple lavender.
Funnily enough, alongside its place as one of Tasmania’s signature destinations, the farm is also significant to the state’s pioneering history. In 1922, founder Charles Denny sailed from England to Tasmania with a bag of lavender seeds he procured from the French Alps. Shortly after, the Denny family had built what would become one of the world’s largest farms, setting the standard ever since.
Once you arrive, and pay your $10 entry fee, spend time roaming amid the 50 hectares of fragrant purple fields, only stopping to pick up one of the famous lavender ice creams. There’s also guided tours that run regularly throughout the day.
Even outside the peak flowering period of December to January, the Estate is still home to ornamental gardens, native bushlands and the picturesque backdrop of Mount Arthur. It truly must be seen to be believed.
3. Tamar Valley
Snaking through 58 kilometres of luscious countryside, the Tamar Valley has long helped to cement Tasmania’s reputation as one of Australia’s greatest food and wine regions.
Day trip out of the city and fill your belly along the way, venturing through the outskirts of Launceston, Beaconsfield, then south to Relbia. Here are our picks of places to plug into your GPS.
Tamar Ridge is what happens when a Pinot Noir obsession needs somewhere to come to life. Stop here for an immersive experience of food, wine and place, set on the banks of the Tamar River.
Adjacent to the vineyard, overlooking a picturesque lake, a visit to the Jansz Tasmanian Wine Room is a feast of the senses. Find out why Tasmanian sparkling is among the best in the world – it shouldn’t take too much convincing.
Similar to Bridestowe, Hillwood Berry Farm is a proudly family-run property that showcases its ideal location. Spend the day picking the best berries on offer, and when you’re done, feast on fruit wines, vinegars, jams and more at the adjoining café.
George Town Seafoods is yet another example of Tasmania putting other seafood proprietors to shame. Since 1993, this place has been catching, processing and exporting seafood both locally and around the world. Pop into their flagship location for some fish and chips that are as fresh as you’ll get.
Hint: Bring a car with a big boot. Our Mazda6 wagon had more than enough storage for two, allowing us to fill an esky with some take-away seafood for a sunset picnic.
Frequently listed among Launceston’s best culinary offerings, Josef Chromy Wines is a non-negotiable stop in the Tamar Valley.
Located in a charming timber cottage overlooking the lake, the cellar door and accompanying restaurant provides an A+ location for you to experience fresh, local products alongside premier Tasmanian wines.
If you’d like to explore the surrounding vineyard and processing facility, book a ‘Behind The Label’ tour, or one of the other extensive experiences.
A trip to Evandale is one for the history-lovers.
Long thought of as one of the best preserved historic towns in Australia, there is plenty to see and do among the relatively untouched streetscape. Wander around the late-Georgian and early Victorian architectural buildings, which take a glimpse back at Tasmania’s past. In fact, some of these buildings have been there since as early as 1809.
Among the town’s adorable cultural fabric is the annual Sunday country market. A spare 20 cents will grant you entry into a variety of stalls, where you can feast on local produce at one of the popular food trucks, pore over secondhand books, and pick up local crafts. There’s even pony rides if the kids (or you) feel that way inclined and space for more general regional musings.
5. Cataract Gorge
Cataract Gorge is to Launceston what Bondi Beach is to Sydney – an unmissable, jaw-gaping natural attraction alarmingly close to the city. Unlike Bondi Beach, however, Cataract Gorge is a place you (and thousands of other tourists) might never have heard of.
Although it’s located only a few minutes’ drive from the main haunt, I will go to bat affirming this place as worthy of an inclusion on a story about day trips.
The space itself hosts an abundance of walking and hiking trails, the world’s longest single-span chairlift, a swimming pool, restaurant, kiosk, café, peacocks and wildlife, gardens, a suspension bridge, an inclinator, panoramic lookouts and an interpretation centre. I’ll forever kick myself for not prioritising this place sooner.
Pack your bathers, sunscreen and some good walking shoes and get lost amid the wilderness; only stopping for a dip in the gorge or for something to eat. Your options are either Gorge Restaurant, for more upscale fare, or the charming Basin Café with views for days.
Flights to Launceston depart daily from Melbourne and Sydney. Direct flights from Brisbane are also available on select days.
The best way to explore Launceston and surrounds is by hiring a car. There are an array of options both at the airport, and in the city center. We opted for a Mazda6 and highly recommend. It was the perfect hybrid of inner-city mover and off-road expert. Enjoy!