It’s easy to lose yourself in the pages of history on a walk through Launceston.
Tasmania’s second largest city has perhaps one of the best-preserved caches of period architecture in Australia. Street after street, exquisite colonial Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian buildings sit side by side with Art Deco and Modernist constructions from the mid 20th century. Soaring bell towers, classic columns, characterful arcades, once-thriving theatres, and expansive Gothic churches share a backstory of affluence and wealth for what is one of the oldest urban centres in the country.
You can wander at will and soak up the historic atmosphere, or even better, you can get a local to show you around. Enter Matt Will at recently launched Go Walk Tas. Matt operates two Launceston walking tours — a city and Seaport itinerary, and a guided walk through Cataract Gorge — the series of sweeping river ravines that buts up against the city centre. He agreed to share some of the tour highlights, and some insider tips for getting the most from your Lonnie layover.
Why is a walking tour a great way to explore Launceston?
Launceston is a pretty remarkable place — for two reasons. Just a short walk from the city centre along well-formed and maintained trails, you can experience the stunning beauty of Cataract Gorge. The gorge is best explored on foot, and even better, it’s accessible to visitors of most fitness levels. Cataract Gorge is literally a natural wonder in the middle of a thriving city.
The city itself is steeped in history. Launceston is the fourth oldest city in Australia, and the architecture is some of the best preserved that you’ll see anywhere in the entire country. Launceston hasn’t yet seen the pace of development that other larger cities have. Our oldest building is circa 1829 and there are plenty more around that vintage. The best way to take it all in is to have ‘boots on the ground’ and a local guide to point out the details you might otherwise miss.
You offer a city and Seaport tour. What’s your favourite part of that experience?
I love what we call the ‘hidden story’ of Launceston. You wouldn’t know it today, but the city was once a thriving seaport that shipped goods around the country and the world. Highlighting this seafaring heritage, via our specially curated visual interpretation devices, is certainly a highlight for me. I also love our walk through Prince’s Square. It’s one of the city’s most beautiful parks.
You also take guests on a walking tour of Cataract Gorge. What are the highlights?
Cataract Gorge also has a rich history and the fact we can follow a path that was cut along the cliffs some 130 years ago is pretty awe inspiring. We delve into the construction of the bridges and paths, and touch on the natural history of the gorge itself. The amazing views of the first basin that are revealed mid-way through the tour always surprise our guests. I have travelled all over the world and I never tire of visiting Cataract Gorge. Even when I am not taking tours, I visit the gorge most days (I live close by). It really is a must-see.
Guests have the option to have lunch at Stillwater after both tours. Tell us about that.
Stillwater is Launceston’s premier dining experience. It sits right at the entrance to Cataract Gorge (co-located with our booking office) and has a really beautiful outlook from one of the city’s oldest buildings — a former flour mill. Guests on our tours have the option to add a specially curated two-course lunch to their booking.
The hatted restaurant is regularly recognised with awards and is always evolving, yet it maintains a warm and casual atmosphere. Executive chef Craig Will (my brother!) says his team: ‘abides by the seasons and works with what’s in top form.’ The menu is a layered mix of local seasonal specialties, prepared in such a way as not to interfere too much with the food itself. Why overcomplicate the outstanding produce that often gets delivered to the restaurant’s door by a grower in gumboots, fresh from the farm?
What are your top five tips for a first-time visitor to Lonnie?
1. Spend plenty of time exploring the city. There’s something interesting around every corner. In addition to doing our tour, you can check out places like City Park and Inversesk (home to the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery), as well as visiting the new Riverbend Park. I think it’s the best kids’ playground in Tasmania.
2. Visit the Harvest Market. Held every Saturday in the CBD, the market is a great place to grab a coffee and a bit of brunch. It’s a lively atmosphere, and you’ll find me wandering around most Saturdays with my four children!
3. Book a Tamar Valley wine tour. The Tamar Valley is renowned for producing some of Australia’s best wines. A great way to spend a Saturday or Sunday is to head off on a wine tour and try a selection of top local drops.
4. Do a river cruise. While our walks take in some of the riverfront, you’ll see it from a different perspective on one of the various short river cruises that depart regularly from Home Point.
5. Get active while you’re in town. We have some world-class golf courses and mountain bike trails, both within the city itself and just a short drive away. Launceston is a regional hub for these activities, so get involved and meet some of the locals in the process.
For more information, please visit the Go Walk Tas website.
Cover image courtesy of Tourism Tasmania. Image: Rob Burnett. Additional images: Bigstock
Adam Ford is editor of The Big Bus tour and travel guide and a travel TV presenter, writer, blogger and photographer. He has travelled extensively through Europe, Asia, North America, Africa and the Middle East. Adam worked as a travel consultant for a number of years with Flight Centre before taking up the opportunity to travel the world himself as host of the TV series Tour the World on Network Ten. He loves to experience everything a new destination has to offer and is equally at home in a five-star Palazzo in Pisa or a home-stay in Hanoi.