Being one of Australia’s oldest cities, there’s some serious heritage architecture going on in Launceston. Be sure to look up. Feed your curious and visit the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery for a collection they’ve been growing since 1842, then grab a picnic blanket (from the oldest woollen mills in Australia) and have lunch with the monkeys in the park. The monkeys are from Japan: they’re not local, but they are very much at home.
If you’re up for a particularly eerie evening, join a ghost tour and head down alleyways most haven’t ventured. The city has some fascinating tales to tell.
Sheffield and Railton
From Lonnie (as the locals call Launceston) head towards Sheffield. On the way, when you get to Railton, a town known for its topiary, ask where Seven Sheds is. They’ll have a craft brew at the ready for you. Sip a Kentish Ale in their Hop Garden.
Arriving in Sheffield, you may come across a man with an alpaca or llama on a leash. He loves visitors. If you don’t see him, at least belt out a tune on the footpath piano in front of the Emporium (full of Bric-à-brac) and explore the street murals. To add to the quirk, during the Tasmanian Medieval Festival 13-14 October, Sheffield plays host to armoured medieval sword combat, belly dancers and snake handlers. What a mix!
Between Sheffield and Cradle Mountain you’ll pass through Gowrie Park. There’s a big mural on the right that shows the history of the hydro-electric scheme. It’s impressive. The road then winds down into a steep valley to cross Forth River. Look left to see the Cethana Dam wall.
It’s hard not to be astounded when seeing Cradle Mountain for the first time. You can understand why Gustav Weindorfer, a botanist and the pioneer of Cradle Mountain National Park, stood on its summit and proclaimed “this must be a national park for the people for all time”. Head to Waldheim, Gustav’s hut, and hear his story. There’s an enchanting walk nearby and so many wombats to meet. Well, we can’t promise that, but you’ll often see them with their heads down eating around Ronny Creek.
Later in the day, escape the elements and head for Waldheim Alpine Spa. There’s a sauna, an outdoor hot spa, and a cold plunge pool. Take your pick. Later, the devils call. Join Devils@Cradle for an after-dark feeding tour at 5.30 pm. These little carnivores put on quite a show when it’s time for a group feast.
Tonight, head back to the lodge for a hearty meal by a fire that crackles away most of the year. Pick a pinot from the tasting (wine and cheese tasting at 4pm, if you made it before the devils) before retreating to your highland cabin.
This morning walk the Dove Lake Circuit There’s a forest called the Ballroom with a leafy ceiling that keeps the Ballroom dark. Envelope yourself in that mossy trunk village and walk out to see ever-present Cradle Mountain.
Alternately, turn up the adventure dial and join Cradle Mountain Canyons. Don’t just look at the World Heritage wilderness, jump in! Leap off waterfalls, abseil down cliffs and rocket through the ‘laundry chute’ with cheery, experienced guides.
Altitude Restaurant is waiting tonight. Order your steak seared on a 360°C volcanic stone, sealing in all the natural juices. After dinner, head back to Cradle Mountain Highlander Cottages. Tucked away, opt for the spa cabin. The seclusion here tends to bring out all the local wildlife.
There’s plenty to see in Zeehan. It might not feel the case when you drive in, but the inquisitive will enjoy this town. Take a look at the West Coast Heritage Museum and you’ll find an operating table from back in the day. It’s so slender and petite you’ll wonder who the patients were. It’s one of the many curiosities that call this west coast outpost home. There’s lots of rocks too – the area attracts geologist’s from around the world. If this is your thing, the Zeehan Gem and Mineral Fair takes place 10-11 November. Also, be sure to check out the (glow-worm lined) spray tunnel, hidden behind the Zeehan Golf Course.
Drive on to the Gaiety Theatre. It opened in 1898 and seated a thousand people every night. Speaking of historic theatres, be sure to go to the Paragon in Queenstown, the next town to the south. They’re now doing old-time movies and dessert. Ask nicely and you might even get a peek upstairs. The Lost Mines and Ancient Pines tour departs from the Paragon with RoamWild Tasmania. Spend a couple of hours venturing into long forgotten mines, hearing of hardy miners and bumping along four-wheel drive tracks far from the standard tourist trail.
Don’t miss the main event on Queenstown’s calendar 19-21 October – The Unconformity. This arts festival is a rare insight into the small mining community and every two years excels at not conforming. Expect mining trucks on the main street, feasting by fire, geological chatter in a quarry and activity on the famed gravel football ground if their last festival is anything to go by.
Time for some fun. Locals use the sides of old washing machines to slide down Henty Dunes, but you can hop on a quad bike with Strahan ATV Adventures. They operate year-round and give you a whole new view of the coastline. These dunes are BIG!
Get sand in your shoes on Henty or cruise into UNESCO World Heritage wilderness with Gordon River Cruises. Their new boat, Spirit of the Wild, has a special hybrid propulsion system allowing for super quiet cruising once up the Gordon River. The water reflections here will leave you in silence.
Another option is to hop aboard the West Coast Wilderness Railway from Strahan to Dubbil Barril and back. The river and rainforest journey is a great way to experience the romance of steam train travel, leaving from the original harbourside Regatta Point Station where a new café has recently opened. Hear about the hardy souls behind the railway and check out engineering feats along the way, including the great iron bridge, worthy of a nod from current-day engineers.
Enjoy a Risby Cove seafood feast right down by the water and tonight stay at Wheelhouse Apartments with beautiful views over the harbour.
The west coast roads bend and wind. If you’re catching a flight later in the day, allow time. Also, the Murchison Highway has some glorious views. You’ll want to stop on the way and admire them, for sure.