By Mitchell Jordan
Heading for Hobart has become a popular choice for the ever-increasing number of travellers who have fallen under the spell of Tasmania.
But somehow, amongst all the adoration the apple isle has been receiving, the second-largest city of Launceston appears to have largely escaped the attention of snap-happy tourists.
It’s difficult to understand how this could have happened. Filled with old-world charm and bucolic beauty, Launceston is as picture-perfect as Australia comes. Stepping off the plane from the mainland, two things become acutely obvious: the purity of the air and the verdant green hills that stretch endlessly.
Of course, anyone wanting a city will be disappointed in Launceston. With a population of just over 86,000 people it looks more like a country town; but in atmosphere Launceston could not be more energetic.
A vibrant café and dining scene gives visitors plenty of options when it comes to eating out. If the crowds are anything to go by, then Burger Got Soul is where the locals love to eat. Queues can stretch out the door, with waiting times lasting up to an hour when this writer visited.
But it’s rare to find a burger joint – even a franchise – with a menu as extensive as this one, which includes multiple beef, lamb, chicken, seafood and vegetarian options. As a vegetarian, I jumped at the chance to eat somewhere that catered to my dietary requirements and tucked into a chickpea and red lentil burger. Suffice to say, the wait was definitely worth it.
At the same time, Launceston also knows how to please families on a budget. Small in size but big on variety, lolly shop, Swirlz, sells milkshakes for only $2.50 and the dizzying number of flavours (Tiger’s Blood, Caramel Coffee and White Knight just to name a few) are like something out of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Like most things in Launceston, this store is only a short walk from City Park, which should be a compulsory stop for anyone – local or tourist. On first glance, the shady grounds filled with majestic oak and plane trees appears deceptively English – not surprising given the number of convicts who were first sent to Tasmania. There’s also a prominent bronze statue of British botanist, Ronald Campbell Gunnbut.
On closer inspection, however, there’s a fusion of cultures to be found here. Sure to delight any child, the Macaque Monkey Enclosure is home to Japanese Macaques, representing Launceston’s status as a sister city to Ikeda in Japan. An abundance of local plants, such as Australia’s oldest wisteria vines make this compulsory visiting for anyone with a green thumb. While nowhere near the same scale as Hobart’s famous Salamanca Markets, on Sundays a small cluster of artists and craftsmen converge here to sell their handiwork.
No journey to Launceston would ever be complete without visiting its number-one attraction, Cataract Gorge. Only a 15-minute walk from the city, the river gorge is rugged Tasmanian wilderness at its finest, while still being accessible to those of all ages.
It’s possible to walk here from along the banks of the Tamar River in town, though most prefer to access the gorge by entering from the southern side and taking a chair lift across the river to reach the top.
Covering 457 metres, the chairlift is said to be the longest in the world. Even those who are scared of heights will find that riding the chairlift is calming as it moves at a slow enough pace to take plenty of photos and experience great views of the bushland dotted with elegant-looking peacocks that linger by the Gorge Restaurant. Set aside a couple of hours at least.
Part of Launceston’s appeal is its proximity to several must-see Tasmanian attractions. From Seahorse World to the Bay of Fires or the Tamar River, there are plenty of day trips to embark on. For many, the temptation to continue on to Cradle Mountain, one of Australia’s icons and just two hours’ drive away is too strong to resist – and rightly so.
Those who want to relax don’t need to try too hard in Launceston. Sometimes it’s better to simply stay put and enjoy the subtle charms of a city that – so far – has avoided becoming a tourist trap.
Mitchell Jordan is a Sydney-based writer who runs the website Scandinavia On My Mind www.scandinaviaonmymind.com
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