Launceston is in the limelight thanks to the staging of Mona Foma over summer, but that’s not all there is to do in Tasmania’s northern riverside town.
Legions of tourists flocked to Launceston this January to attend Mona Foma, held exclusively in the northern Tasmanian city for the first time. A previously Hobart-based festival from the masterminds of Mona (Museum of Old and New Art) and Violent Femmes bassist Brian Ritchie, its move north was designed to disperse some of its cultural and economic cachet throughout the state. The fact that the Tasmanian State Government has committed to funding Mona Foma for a further two years in the city that sits on the Tamar Estuary means Launceston – or Launnie as is affectionately known in Tas Vegas – is destined to receive a lot more love. Here are five things to do when you’re there.
1. Go for a swim in Cataract Gorge
Get a glimpse of Tasmania’s mystical forest when you walk underneath a canopy of massive branches belonging to stands of giant slate-grey gums that line the Cataract Gorge Reserve. Immerse yourself in the landscape by descending into the wilderness and finding a sheltered pocket of shade by the water.
Launceston has its fair share of shiny hippie people: follow their lead and sway down the path that snakes its way to the cool, jade-green water. Having a swim here is compulsory. You can also enjoy views over the water percolating down from the mountain courtesy of the Gorge Scenic Chairlift or suspension bridge, both of which offer panoramic views. Sit near to the ribbon of water and listen to the branches squeaking in the breeze and the mournful echoes of birds sending their songs high into the trees.
2. Enjoy a taste of Tasmania
Ripples of the so-called ‘Mona effect’ in Tasmania have been felt as far as the Tamar Estuary in Launceston. Dissect the reasons for this in one of the city’s many fabulous cafes and restaurants: think Sweetbrew for coffee; Bread & Butter for brilliant baked goods; and the much-lauded Launnie institutions Stillwater and Black Cow Bistro for precisely cooked food.
Tassie native Massimo Mele has migrated back from the mainland to take on the role of food director at the new Grain of the Silos and, with high-profile chef Peter Twitchett at the helm, the place is jammed. The restaurant is located on the banks of the Tamar River in the new Peppers Silo Hotel where it’s a pleasure to sit back and enjoy rustic creations such as grilled Flinders Island lamb with fried polenta, wilted greens and pepperonata.
3. Visit Harvest Market
A visit to the Harvest Market is a little like buying tickets to a travelling production of Hair. There are dreadlocked hippies, grey-haired gents wearing brown berets, middle-aged women in carefully coiffed up-dos and little girls with beribboned braids.
Go for breakfast, when Launnie locals are sitting with their perambulating trolleys filled with haunches of ethically farmed meat and hand-shaped loaves of sourdough from APC.
The decibel at this time of day ramps up somewhat as marketgoers sit and graze on falafel wraps from the Wanderlust vintage van while listening to live music. Launceston is a no-fuss kind of place and the market is a microcosm of that: it’s a relaxing place to be marooned at. Pick up a cave-matured wodge of cheddar from Elgaar and rye and linseed crackers from The Grain Family for afters in City Park.
4. Enjoy a tipple during your travels
On the Apple Isle, the cider house rules, so content yourself with its riches at the Red Brick Road Cider. The ciderhouse handcrafts ciders and ‘perries’ (pear cider) based on traditional techniques. Pick up a sixer of the Red Brick Road Scrumpy from the cider house cellar door and sit while sipping and flipping through the racks of vintage vinyl. Snooty beer nerds can also get their thrills on an ale trail that veers from the newly refurbished James Boag Brewery to Tandy’s Alehouse and St John Craft Beer Bar which has 14 brews on tap.
The world-class wine industry in Tasmania has also helped bring the state to life: solicit suggestions from the staff at Sinapius Cellar Door and Clover Hill Wines, which are both new and noteworthy. Josef Chromy is listed as one of the Top 10 Cellar Doors of Australia and a visit to the stunning vineyard and restaurant presents an exceptional Tasmanian food and wine experience.
Make like a tree and wrap yourself in a colourful knit to better blend in with the Launnie locals at the Kingsway Bar, where you can sample small batch tipples such as Abel Gin and Poltergeist Gin.
5. Embrace the local art scene
A stroll through The Queen Victoria Museum & Art Gallery in Launceston does not have the same disorienting effect as tumbling down the rabbit hole that is MONA in Hobart. But the gallery is still a major destination for art, history and the natural sciences in northern Tassie.
QVMAG stands on the ancestral lands of the Tyerrenotepanner, Leterremairrener and Panninher clans and The First Tasmanians: Our Story is a permanent exhibition that pays respect to their customs and culture. You can also strap yourself in to a former aircraft seat for a feature presentation of the night sky, presented like a dot-to-dot at the planetarium.
Those who value craftsmanship should also factor in a pit stop at Design Tasmania, which celebrates beautiful workmanship. Tassie is prime territory for those who love the arts: events worth circling on your cultural calendar include Effervescence, Festivale, Junction Arts Festival and, of course, Mona Foma.
Carla Grossetti travelled to Launceston as a guest of Tourism Tasmania and MONA FOMA.