As we went to collect our rental car from the depot at Launceston Airport, the clerk advised us that we’d been upgraded to a massive four-wheel drive.
Seemingly more appropriate for a soccer mum with five kids, Rob and I loaded our two small carry-on suitcases into the back and stared at all the unnecessary extra space. Far from our usual choice of the smallest and cheapest vehicle, it felt odd to jump into this beast of a car, but at least we had something to get around in.
We spent the next few days driving around Launceston and the Tamar Valley in our monstrous vehicle, working remotely during the day and seeing the sights in our lunch breaks and evenings.
The last time I’d visited Launceston was about 10 years ago, and I was impressed at how similar it was to my most recent memory. This little city is seemingly frozen in time, with well-preserved historic buildings in the city centre and suburban roads lined with houses that look the same as they did a half-century ago.
Launceston’s local airport receives flights from Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane, with tourists using it as a gateway to visit northern Tasmania’s lavender farms, wineries, and national parks. If you’re planning a trip to Australia’s southernmost state, here’s my suggestions on how to spend 48 hours in Launceston and the Tamar Valley!
Where to stay:
We stayed at Tamar Ridge Retreat, which is about 20 minutes drive out of Launceston in the Tamar Valley. I really cannot recommend this place enough! The retreat has stilted houses that sit in the treetops overlooking the vineyard below, and each house is split into two apartments divided down the middle.
We were in apartment #2, which ended up being a fantastic choice as the even-numbered apartments had a better view over the river. The room also had a luxe bathtub, so we could sip wine in a bubble bath with a killer view of the trees outside (yep, I did this multiple times!). We booked this apartment through Airbnb.
If you’re looking to stay closer to the city, there are plenty of options. Something in the heart of downtown like The Sebel Launceston would be a solid choice!
Spend your first morning doing some city exploring. Stop in at City Park to take a leisurely stroll through pretty flower gardens, and see the historic buildings of Albert Hall (built in 1891) and John Hart Conservatory (built in 1932).
Within the park, you’ll also find a monkey enclosure. Monkeys in Tasmania may seem a little strange as these animals are not Australian natives – these Macaques arrived in 1965 as a gift from Launceston’s sister city, Ikeda, located in Japan’s Osaka Prefecture. The monkey enclosure is free to enter.
Next, walk a few blocks to Boags Brewery. An iconic warehouse building in Launceston’s city centre, this brewery was established in 1881 and has been providing the local residents with a steady flow of beer ever since. Book a brewery tour for a 90 minute guided walk around the facility (with beer tastings at the end), or just head straight to the brewery bar to sample the goods.
For Lunch, walk to Sweetbrew – a super cosy cafe near Launceston’s shopping district. This place serves a variety of vegetarian options from takeaway sandwiches to eat-in brunch foods. I ordered a toasted vegetable panini, which was incredibly good!
Spend the afternoon exploring Cataract Gorge, just 5 minutes drive from Launceston’s city centre. The gorge is a natural space with attractions such as a scenic chairlift (which happens to be the world’s longest single span chairlift), a public swimming pool, a suspension bridge, and hiking trails.
I’d suggest taking some comfy shoes and walking across the suspension bridge, taking some photos from Alexandra Lookout, then continuing to Gorge Restaurant where you’ll find peacocks roaming around the gardens. From there, you can either take the chairlift back to the visitor center, or walk back via the walking track. You can also take a cruise into the gorge for a different perspective.
After you’ve finished, drive down to the Penny Royal. This heritage building, built in 1840, was originally a corn mill in the countryside. It was moved to Launceston to be rebuilt 130 years later, and nowadays it’s a themed hotel and activity village where kids can try zip-lining or rock climbing, and adults can enjoy the wine bar, do a river cruise, or eat dinner at the restaurant.
Stillwater was a restaurant that was recommended to me, though unfortunately I didn’t get the chance to try it. This place sits on the waterfront and serves modern Tasmanian cuisine with fresh ingredients grown by local farmers. It looks a little pricey, but worth it – treat yourself to a fancy dinner!
Today, head north to the Tamar Valley for a scenic day trip. You can rent a car and drive it yourself, or hop on a Tamar Valley wine tour if you’d like your transport included.
Start at Tamar Island Wetlands, just outside of Launceston. The visitor centre has a wooden boardwalk which stretches out over the wetlands towards the Tamar River. You’re likely to see some unique birdlife around here.
Next up, head to Grindelwald – a resort and activity park built in the 1980s. This village is somewhat unusual as it truly feels as though you’ve been transported to a mountain village in the Swiss Alps. There are plenty of things to do here including paddleboats on the lake, an 18-hole mini golf course, a 10-hole regular golf course, boutique shops, a pub, and a chocolate cafe.
Rob and I actually went to eat at the Alpenrose Bistro at Grindelwald, which was a mistake – unfortunately the food was overpriced and bland. Instead, I’d suggest eating at one of the winery cellar doors. I had lunch (on a different day) down the road at Timbre Kitchen, and it was fancy and fantastic! They had loads of veggie options, too. Definitely a thumbs-up.
Your afternoon can be spent checking out some of the Tamar’s wineries. Do this straight after lunch as some of them are only open until mid-afternoon. We visited Tamar Ridge and Velo Wines, but there are over 20 wineries to choose from so take your pick.
By the way – be super careful not to drink and drive! Not only is it dangerous to drive on these windy roads while inebriated, the local police can also be very strict about blood-alcohol being over the limit (which is much lower than it is in the US at 0.05%).
After your wine tasting, stop at Bradys Lookout State Reserve for a neat vista of the Tamar River in the late afternoon or for sunset, depending on what time of year you are visiting. There’s a carpark beside the highway, and it’s only a 2 minute walk up to the lookout. It had just stopped raining when we arrived, but even with a sky covered in thick grey clouds, the view was still lovely!
There aren’t loads of dinner options in the Tamar Valley, but Rosevears Hotel down by the Tamar River offers pub meals and pizzas with a view. We didn’t get to dine there, but we drove past one evening and the venue looked like a good one.