Things to Do in Launceston
You can thank a possum for introducing humans to Gunns Plains Caves, which were discovered by a local Tasmanian hunter when he chased the possum into a hole and instead emerged in a cave. While we’ll never know if he actually found the shrewd, cave-dwelling possum, what we do know is that in only 12 years it went from being an unknown cave to a popular Tasmania State Reserve, established in 1918. When you first descend down into the cave, the subterranean , water-carved beauty is instantly seen in the calcite shawls and large, shimmering flowstones. The sound of water trickling across limestone can still be heard in the cave, and crayfish, eels, and even platypus still splash in the underground river. During daily tours of Gunns Plains Caves, guides will point out the different formations that have slowly formed over time—from the Wedding Cake and Golden Fleece to others with comical, spot-on names that closely fit their appearance. Learn this history of how these caves were gradually formed over time, and marvel at how this wonderland is so magically different—almost surreal—when compared to life above ground.
Get a glimpse of what life was like in the early days of Tasmania at the Franklin House. It was built by Britton Jones, a former convict and successful businessman. Franklin House is known for its use of imported Australian Red Cedar. It was also home to one of the colonies leading private schools from 1842 until 1866.
Knowledgeable volunteers are happy to share information, but visitors can explore the house, garden, stables and nearby St. James Church at their own pace. The on-site tearoom gets rave reviews for Devonshire tea and homemade scones.
Gold was first discovered in Beaconsfield in 1847, but it wasn’t until 30 years later that the rush truly kicked in. The Beaconsfield Mine & Heritage Centre uses hands on displays to take visitors back in time and see what mining life was like.
Centre exhibitions provide detailed accounts of what the day to day search for gold entailed. This is not your typical museum. So much is interactive, requiring touching, not just reading, that even those not typically impressed by museums, will find something to like here.
The Mine Rescue Display tells the story of the 2006 rescue of Todd Russell and Brant Webb, two miners trapped below the surface for two weeks. A simulation of the rock fall allows visitors to better understand the conditions underground where the miners were trapped.
This early 1800s pioneer farm was continuously occupied by the same family for more than 175 years; for six generations, from 1817 until 1994, Thomas Archer family’s descendants called Woolmers Estate home.
Along with the family houses, a large array of historical buildings remain on the estate, including a blacksmith's shop, bakehouse and stables. There’s also a former chapel, pump house and gardener’s cottage. Wishing to share Woolmers Estate with the public, Thomas William Archer VI left the estate and its many contents to the Archer Historical Foundation Inc., now called the Woolmers Foundation Inc.
The Archer Family was known for holding onto their possessions, so along with the actual buildings, almost 200 years worth of collections remain. Visitors can see everything from art and furniture, to photographs and antique cars.
The National Rose Garden is also located at Woolmers Estate. Like a growing history lesson, it boasts more than 5,000 roses, including the earliest European and China roses, to roses from the 21st century.
Made of almost 150 acres of mud flats, lagoons and islands, the Tamar Island Wetlands Reserve is home to a wide range of plants and a diverse population of animals including birds, frogs, fish, invertebrates and threatened species.
The area was cleared in the early 1800s to be used as farmland. When farming stopped in the 1950s, the Estuary began the process of reclaiming its wetlands and the plants and wildlife came home. All plants and animals in the Reserve are protected.
Along with the help of volunteers, Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service operates the Interpretation Centre to teach visitors about the wetlands. Located near the main gate, it’s a great place to get your bearings before you begin exploring. Volunteers can provide information about the animals you’ll see, conservation and Tamar Wetlands history. They can also answer questions and make suggestions on what to do first.
Less than a half-mile walk from the Interpretation Centre there’s a bird hide, or camouflaged shelter with seating, where visitors can watch birds on the lagoon. In all, there’s about two miles of handicap accessible boardwalk visitors can stroll on for views of the wetlands and the wildlife that call it home.
Go down under...to Switzerland. That’s right, few may know it, but you can get a taste of Switzerland in northern Tasmania. Built in the 1980s, all of the houses in Grindelwald Swiss Village are built in Swiss style (think pitched roofs, shutters, flower boxes and fountains).
Its lakeside setting provides hours of entertainment, including canoeing and aqua bike rentals. Golfers can practice their swing on the 10-hole public golf course, and if you're traveling with kids, the 18-hole, par 54 mini-golf course might be an entertaining choice. Shoppers can wander in and out of craft and gift shops, clothing stores and a number of specialty boutiques, including a chocolatier.
Set your sights on the stars at the Launceston Planetarium in the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery (QVMAG) at Inveresk. The Planetarium shows an ever-changing selection of presentations that will make you feel as though you are under the night sky.
Using a Zeiss ZKP3 star projector and a fulldome digital system, the Planetarium shows the stars visible with the unaided eye from the southern hemisphere. Each presentation runs about 30 minutes. A talk about the Tasmanian night sky, identifying the positions of the planets and constellations, takes place immediately afterward.
The 19th-century Clarendon House is one of Australia's grandest houses, set on the banks of the South Esk River.
Spread out on more than 17 acres (7 hectares), wear good walking shoes, because there’s plenty to explore. The self-guided tour of Clarendon explains the life and times of James Cox, the man responsible for developing the property. The heritage walled gardens and colonial outbuildings are all convict built. There’s a servants wing and many farm buildings to see during your visit. Clarendon is also home to The Australian Fly Fishing Museum.
Maybe it’s the landscape, or simply the Pinot Noir, but there’s something intrinsically magical and charming about Josef Chromy Wines. Set 10 minutes outside of Launceston on Tasmania’s northern coast, the winery itself is housed inside an estate from 1880, and views stretch out towards the rolling hills and slopes that are covered in vines. Cozy up to the log fire that’s always burning inside, and sample the Pinot and Chardonnay that the winery is famously known for. The vineyard’s founder, Josef Chromy, is legendary in the food and wine industry throughout Australia and beyond, and for those who know him, it’s little surprise that the Josef Chromy restaurant and winery have attracted the attention of Australia’s top critics who all offer rave reviews. As the Tamar Valley’s most notable vineyard, Josef Chromy Wines offers visitors a range of exceptional culinary experiences, from basic tastings at the cellar door to tours pairing wine and chocolate. For a full experience at the winery and restaurant, join a tour that goes “behind the label” for a glimpse of the winemaking process, which is then followed up by an exquisite meal that’s perfectly paired with the wine.
With its jagged dolerite peaks standing watch over a trio of glacial lakes, Cradle Mountain is the grand centerpiece of the Cradle Mountain-Lake St. Clair National Park. Part of the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Tasmania Wilderness, the natural landmark also marks the north end of the famous Overland Track.
More Things to Do in Launceston
The Tamar Valley is right on Launceston’s doorstep, stretching north to the sea at George Town. It’s a lush, fertile area of orchards, pasture, B&Bs and, importantly, vineyards.
If you’re driving or taking a tour from Launceston, follow the Tamar Valley Wine Route winding through the valley to visit notable wineries like Pipers Brook, Clover Hill, Delamere, Bass and Ninth Island. The area is particularly renowned for its Pinot Noir wines.
The route heads north from Launceston, running along the western side of the valley through Exeter, Rosevears and Beaconsfield. The valley is crossed by the strikingly cable-trussed Batman Bridge at Deviot, then runs north to George Town on the valley’s eastern bank. Returning to Launceston, the route loops south through Lilydale and Rocherlea.
Wines to sample along the route include Riesling, Chardonnay and, most notably, Pinot Noir. Cellar door restaurants are another highlight, and you’ll also pass the Tamar Island Wetlands, mining history at Beaconsfield, and the Georgian-era sailing port of George Town.
Other towns to visit include riverside Rosevears, Beauty Point, where you’ll find Seahorse World, and Low Head with its maritime history museum and pilot station, lighthouse and penguin tours near George Town.
Launceston’s City Park is a historic patch of green in the town’s heart. The landscaped parklands were developed by Launceston’s horticultural society in the 1820s.
Today, the gardens are a tranquil oasis of European and native trees, with a duck pond, monuments, playgrounds and the High Victorian building known as Albert Hall.
Visit the Senses Garden to smell the different perfumes of herbs and flowers, or the moated monkey enclosure to see the garden’s macaques.
Every year in February the park hosts Festivale, Tasmania’s leading food and wine festival. During summer the park also hosts free music performances by local pipe bands and community youth orchestras.
Behind the pretty white façade and flower-filled gardens of Home Hill, Devonport, lies one of Tasmania’s most important heritage properties. Built in 1916, this was the home of former Australian Prime Minister Joseph Lyons, where he lived with his wife Dame Enid Lyons, herself Australia’s first elected female parliament member, and their 12 children.
Today, Home Hill has been preserved in period style and displays an impressive collection of personal items belonging to the Lyons family, along with original wallpapers and furnishings, and historic artifacts relating to their political careers. Open to visitors by guided tour only, the house offers a glimpse into life in early 20th-century Tasmania, as well as a fascinating insight into the life of a Prime Minster.
While it might look wide and inviting for boats, the Tamar River is a treacherous channel that’s rife with rocks, patches of reef, and shifting sandbars that will swallow vessels that don’t know exactly where they’re going. Luckily for mariners on Tasmania’s north coast, a pilot station at Low Head still operates and helps assist boats headed up the Tamar River toward Launceston. Established here in 1805, the Low Head Pilot Station is Australia’s oldest continuously inhabited pilot station, and the museum is set in “Pilot’s Row”— a string of buildings that were built by convicts in the middle of the 19th century. When visiting Low Head Pilot Station today, you can learn about everything from signaling and lights to the tools used in navigation, as well as look at some early maps that were drawn when much of modern Tasmania had yet to be explored.
Northwestern Tasmania has some of Australia’s most stunning wilderness scenery, although much of it is only accessible by hiking for multiple days at a time. At spectacular Leven Canyon, however, just minutes from the town of Nietta, experiencing this miraculous, mountainous majesty is as easy as taking a 20 minute stroll through pristine Australian bush. Located in Leven Canyon Reserve, Leven Canyon is a forested cleft that drops nearly 1,000 vertical feet to the Leven River below. At Cruickshanks Lookout, walk from the parking lot out to a platform that hangs out over the canyon, and offers a sweeping, panoramic view of the Leven Canyon Basin. Straight ahead is Black Bluff, a tree-covered mountain that at 4,400 ft. is often snowcapped in winter, and while visitors with even the slightest fear of heights might get nervous out on the platform, the epic view and fresh mountain air make the entire experience worth it. To complete the loop trail back to the car, continue on the aptly named Forest Stairs, where nearly 700 stairs link up with a trail that loops its way back to the parking lot. For a completely different vantage point, hike the Canyon Floor walk to the rushing Leven River, where you can continue on for 30 more minutes to the scenic Devil’s Elbow. Here you’re immersed in a wilderness setting that’s virtually remained untouched, and only a moderate 1 hour stroll away from where you parked. You’ll also find tracks to cascading falls and all-day trails to the summits, so whether you’re an avid, outdoorsy hiker or simply in search of a stroll, Leven Canyon is a wilderness site that travelers of all ages can enjoy.
Brickendon historical farm village and estate has been owned by the same family since 1824. It has more than 20 buildings to explore including a convict-built Gothic chapel, Dutch barns, a chicken house and blacksmith shop. The 10 acre (four hectare) garden has roses, ornamental fruits and 180 year old trees from all over the world.
The skills and work of convicted men and women, assigned to work at the farm allowed it to thrive and prosper. Women were assigned to domestics chores in the houses, while men were put to work in the fields. Some convicts were also skilled tradesmen like wheelwrights and blacksmiths. Workers were not paid; they were fed, clothed, housed, and could be punished.
Today, Brickendon is still a working farm, with crops including vegetables and poppies. Brickendon is also home to a number of animals ranging from cows, sheep and horses to chickens, goats and a pig named Flora.
Brickendon also rents cottages for guests looking for a hotel alternative. Located in the Heritage Gardens, the historic colonial style cottages offer antique furnishings with modern conveniences. Farm cottages offer views of the farm and are often visited by friendly, wandering poultry.
Stretching across the northeastern coast of Tasmania from Binalong Bay to Eddystone Point, the Bay of Fires is known for its orange-hued granite and white-sand beaches. Here, you can go hiking, camping, boating, birdwatching, fishing, swimming, and surfing.
Located in northern Tasmania, Seahorse World is the world’s first commercial seahorse farm. Fueled by concern over dwindling seahorse populations, it got its start in research work at the University of Tasmania in the 1990s.
Today, Seahorse World works to conserve seahorses, by reducing numbers taken from the wild with its breeding program. It also offers visitors an educational tour of their aquarium dedicated to the breeding, education and conservation of the seahorse.
Tours, a little less than an hour in length, give visitors a behind-the-scenes view of a working seahorse farm. Along with seahorses, you’ll see an assortment of other colorful marine creatures in the aquarium like sharks, stingrays, spider crabs and giant cuttlefish.
The craggy mountain of Ben Lomond looms over the national park that takes its name. A haven for winter-time skiers and clement-weather hikers, Ben Lomond National Park’s treeless plateau stretches for around 14 km (8.5 miles) and soars over 1,300 meters (4,265 feet).
Wildflowers and rare grasses carpet the plateau in spring but it’s the winter-time ski season that gets Tasmanians and visitors excited about Ben Lomond. Tasmania’s only downhill skiing area, Ben Lomond has ski lifts, ski hire, ski lodge and licensed restaurant.
Year-round, keep your eyes alert for Tasmanian wildlife in the park, including Bennett’s wallabies, wombats, Forester kangaroos, quolls, potoroos and possums.
Beer lovers and history buffs alike will find what they’re looking for inside Launceston’s historic Tamar Hotel, dating back to 1826 and today housing the James Boag Brewery Experience.
The museum highlights the Tasmanian brewing company’s history since its founding in 1883 by James Boag and his son. You’ll learn the fascinating story of the Boag family, but the real highlight is the brewery tour.
The brewery tour is 1.5 hours of pure unadulterated beer appreciation – explore the brewing process in detail then taste the award-winning beers, with local Tasmanian cheeses to soak up the amber nectar.
As a general guide, Boag’s beers are noted for their quality and style, and include a European-style pilsner, traditional draught lager and traditional English pale ale.
Entry to the museum is free, though the tour is not, and Boag's also features a café, gift shop and beer garden where visitors can relax and sample some beer.
The magnificent Cataract Gorge, a river gorge on the South Esk River right at the edge of Launceston, offers a wealth of outdoor recreation that feels a world away from the city. The reserve is home to the First Basin outdoor swimming pool, the world’s longest single-span chairlift, and a Victorian-era landscaped garden.
Established back in 1804 when Tasmania was still called Van Dieman’s Land, George Town is one of Australia’s oldest and most historic settlements. Here on the grounds of the George Town Watch House, a gaol was established for housing convicts and putting them to work—which earned it the moniker of “female factory” for its number of female convicts.
When visiting George Town Watch House today, step inside a cell to experience the lives of early convicts, and look at a model of how the complex was laid out in the 1800s. Much more than simply a jail, the watch house is also indicative of life in 19th century Australia, from the types of chores the prisoners were tasked with, to the harsh realities of living on such an isolated coast. For many years this was the only jail in Tasmania’s entire Tamar Valley, and while small in appearance when viewed from outside, the George Town Watch House is a fascinating stop for history buffs, families, curious travelers, or anyone fans of colonial heritage.
One of Tasmania’s highlights is its historic Georgian-era towns, and Evandale is no exception.
With its Main Street lined with National Trust-listed buildings, the immaculately preserved little town offers a glimpse into centuries gone by. The best way to explore Evandale is to take a stroll past heritage buildings like St Andrews Church, Blenheim, the Royal Oak and the saddler’s shop.
Evandale comes to life on Sundays for the weekly market, featuring local produce and crafts.
The annual Penny Farthing Championship turns back the clock each February and brings more camera-toting visitors than usual to the little town. Participants dress for the occasion in late-Victorian dress, and Evandale’s Main Street becomes the route for penny farthing races.
There are some historic grand homesteads in the countryside surrounding Evandale, revealing glimpses into colonial days. Visit 19th-century Clarendon Homestead to admire neoclassical Georgian architecture and stroll through manicured formal parklands.
Pubs, bakeries and cafes are another Evandale attraction, the ideal pit stop for local produce, coffee, Tasmanian wines and gourmet cakes. You’ll also find antiques stores and local crafts shops.