6 Things to Do in Launceston

The second-largest city in Tasmania, Launceston feels larger than its roughly 85,000 people. It’s spread out over a good amount of space — but the downtown is easily walkable (my guidebook calls it a “pocket-sized city”). We spent two days there enjoying the beautiful weather and taking in a number of sights. Here are a few options if you’re planning a stop in town:

1. Take Yourself on a Launceston Heritage Walks Tour:  For this DIY walk, you’ll need the city’s Heritage Walks map, available online or at the town visitor center. There are three short walk options. The yellow trail introduces you to Launceston’s heritage as a port town, a place where northern Tasmanian miners and farmers brought their wares to be processed in the boom of the late 1800s. This takes you past such buildings as the highly practical old flour mill…

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… the “restrained Georgian” Prince Albert Inn …

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… the far more ornate neoclassical Customs House …

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… the Italianate “Diana, Venus, & Fortuna” building (named for the statues in its second-story niches), built as an architect’s showroom and residence …

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… and the old Johnston & Wilmot Store (which the Heritage Walks guide calls “architecturally unique in Australia,” though it offers no more explanation — so I’m still not sure what makes this unique):

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The most spectacular building on the yellow trail is the Launceston Post Office, built in the Queen Anne style (and seen by some detractors in the late 1800s as far too frilly):

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The more stolid citizens of Launceston especially disliked the early 1900s addition of this decorative tower:

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But the building that drew the most ire when it was built is the Italianate town hall (this is on the blue trail). The local paper wrote that the new town hall, completed in 1864, was “a bastard,” and hypothesized that the architect had “studied how far he could outrage good taste.”

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I kind of like the building, but times and tastes have definitely changed.

If you take the red trail, you’ll see the commercial and religious heart of the city (a point and counterpoint combination). You’ll probably want to stop in to see the original wood and velvet sales cases (or maybe pick up a souvenir) at the Old Umbrella Shop, operated as a purveyor of umbrellas and walking sticks for three generations and now run by the National Trust:

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It’s also interesting to see the old shop buildings of the Quadrant Mall:

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But the real focus of the red trail are the places of worship, including giant St. John’s (built in part by convicts) …

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… Chalmer’s Church, built in the Florid Gothic Style …

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… Christ Church, an example of Gothic Revival architecture, which sits next to the much more modest Greek Revival Milton Hall …

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… and this remarkable Egyptian Revival synagogue, one of the oldest surviving synagogues in Australia:

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While you’re walking the red trail, you might want to stop for a rest on a bench in Prince’s Square. While there, you can admire this fountain, which was constructed as a monument to Launceston’s late nineteenth-century state-of-the-art water system (which included public drinking fountains and Australia’s first underground sewer system)…

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… or stop by and ask directions from this statue of William Russ Pugh, the first doctor to ever use an anesthetic (ether) for surgery in Australia:

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2. Make Up Your Own Architecture Tour: There are so many interesting buildings in Launceston that it’s hard to resist just walking around. Buildings come in all shapes and styles, and many have been lovingly kept up or restored:

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There are wonderful street corners:

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Unfortunately, some of the charm is lost in those ubiquitous 1960s street lamps …

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… and in the covered walkways that blare out the names of stores and break up building facades all over Australia:

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But at the end of the day, the architecture — both in its quality and in its variety — still wins out.

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3. Visit Cataract Gorge: For the great outdoors right in the city, nothing beats the Gorge. This recreation area along the South Esk River offers a public swimming pool, a Victorian-era bandstand and cafe, several hikes (known here as tracks), and a chairlift ride over the river for those who prefer an aerial view.

We chose the hiking option; we started out at First Basin and took the short Zig-Zag trail up over the Gorge…

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… and down to this view of Launceston (which, as a river port city surrounded by hills, reminds me of Portland, Oregon):

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This hike takes you to the marvelous 1864 iron King’s Bridge…

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… where you can stand and have a view up the river:

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You can then make a circuit hike (or walk, at this point) by returning on a fairly level asphalt path on the other side. Here you can see tour boats going up the river (another thing to do in Launceston) …

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… take a break for shade …

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… and maybe see a peacock in the trees near the restaurant!

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If you want to take this particular walk without ending up on strange side trails, you can find an incredibly detailed and helpful hike description here.

The Gorge is hugely popular as a place to go for fun, but it’s worth remembering that it’s also hugely practical. The “basins” are the result of dams built as part of a a giant late 1800s hydroelectric project — Launceston was the first city south of the equator to be fully electrified using water power.

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4. Have a Bite to Eat: There is so much good food to be found in Launceston! We would recommend the porridge with roasted rhubarb and the chai at Sweetbrew (a cafe also famous for its coffee) ..IMG_7833.jpg

… pretty much anything on the lunch menu at Bryher (I was obsessed with their bread, their baked eggs with goats curds and caramelized onions, and their rhubarb cordial) …

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… the malai kofta at Pickled Evenings, and the scallops, the halloumi fries, and the potato gnocchi at Geronimo.

5. Drive out to the Evandale Market: If you’re lucky enough to be in Launceston on a Sunday, you can visit the Evandale Market, a bustling scene just 15 minutes from town. In summer, this market has food trucks, a handful of craftspeople, and a lot of plants …

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fruits …

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and veggies:

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There’s also a significant flea market element, both inside of a big barn-like enclosure …

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… and out in the sun:

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When you’re done, you can go sit in the beer garden of the Clarendon Arms and have a cider …

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… under the shade of their beautiful trees:

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6. Go Watch a Cricket Match: Cricket holds a certain fascination for me — as an American, I know nothing about the game, but I love to watch it. You can see the pros play in Launceston if you’re lucky enough to be in town when the Hobart Hurricanes are up north for a match.

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Prescott and I had to review the rules of cricket online before we went (fortunately, there are multiple websites devoted to teaching clueless American baseball fans about the game, and I’ve now read most of them). For those of you who don’t know cricket, here’s a fairly exciting play that scored three runs for Perth:

And if you don’t like sports, you can always admire the view out over the mountains at the Launceston stadium:

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There’s certainly more to do in Launceston — you can shop for hours, or take a stroll in City Park, or visit the Queen Victoria Museum & Art Gallery. We couldn’t do it all in two days — and if we’d gone even further afield (say, to nearby Ben Lomond National Park), we could easily have doubled our time there.

That said, neither of us fell in love with this small city. It didn’t hang together for us. There’s a big Launceston-Hobart rivalry, and I think we both fall in the Hobart camp (sorry, Launceston). But we were glad to have a quick city fix — with good food and stunning buildings — as we drove around the island.

 

 

 

 

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