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  • Shelley Dark

#9. Best of Launceston

Booking an AirBNB somewhere in an unfamiliar city is always a bit of a gamble isn't it? Will the park next door be a drug dealers' paradise? Will the back garden be mozzie heaven?

We won the lottery in Launceston. River Edge Cottage at 5 Park Street is practically on the Tamar River, ten minutes walk from the CBD and Cataract Gorge.

These are the tiles in the porch. It's a cute basic 3-bedroom 2-bathroom solid little cottage with black Japan floors and a mainly white rather austere decor. Good basic equipment and a small deck at the back make it very liveable - it's not the Ritz but the position is gold.

This is the rather smart neighbour, the only other house in the street, along with the Tamar yacht club and a restaurant.

It's only steps away from the new boardwalk - part of the world-wide movement to reclaim the waterways - it goes from Cataract Gorge on the western side of the Tamar River for a kilometre or so on the eastern side.

It ends just before Peppers new Silo Hotel, but a gravel path continues. I strolled around for a sticky beak but found the public space interiors a little cold and uninviting.

The marina at the old sea port with yachts of all sizes - this little wooden yacht with brass portholes took my heart - don't you love it? If I weren't an ocean-hating cowardly non-sailor I think I'd sail around the world in it, single-handedly.

Cataract Gorge is an amazing natural phenomenon and public space.

With a private house perched near the entry.

And what a dramatic landscape with cliffs on both sides. Can you see the couple sitting on a rock up there, waving from the other side? The walkway over there is rougher, steeper and far more challenging.

It's a kilometre or so up to a restaurant perched on the side, where the water opens up into a big basin.

photo courtesy The Examiner

Since we left, FOMA (the arts festival associated with MONA) has put up this huge inflatable artwork by Amanda Parer on the basin. She's a Launceston artist who has exhibited world wide.

A couple of peacocks live here, punctuating the still morning air with their mournful cries.

This wallaby was so quiet, I'm guessing it must be petted by restaurant staff.

Also five minutes walk from River Edge Cottage is Stillwater, a favourite restaurant for breakfast lunch and dinner. We had a rather nice pea risotto there...

Don't miss Alps and Amici either - great for lunch in the restaurant part (here the roasted cauliflower salad), and groceries, fruit and veggies, wine and cheese, pre-prepared meals.

Other restaurants: Hallams seafood was crowded each time we passed but we didn't try it, and Mud Bar down at Seaport was also recommended (you can walk along the boardwalk).

Launceston is a city of well-preserved elegant Georgian and Victorian architecture and a little Art Deco, all only ten minutes walk from our cottage as well. Click on the first image above, and it will bring up a slide show.

Let me tell you a few other things we enjoyed during our week in Launceston:

This one sadly you can't reproduce - a very happy lunch with the most generous couple - an entrepreneurial Instagram friend and her architect husband, at a stunning isolated home overlooking the ocean.

The organic garden was amazing!

Productive and beautiful both.

The house of ageing silver wood, magically accented by pink rendered walls.

The perfume of lavender filling the air....

Aren't dill flowers so decorative?

Another must-see in Launceston is City Park - there's a small area of formal garden.

With an ornate fountain.

And a children's drinking fountain made in Scotland in the late 1800's.

At the entrance is the delightful caretaker's cottage (now a music museum). There's also a greenhouse of weeping begonias and a macaque enclosure. Generations of Launceston children have fond memories of watching their antics.

Design Tasmania is next door, staging exhibitions of original Tasmanian woodworkers and craftspeople, with a well-stocked shop too. This is the place to buy one-of-a-kind original pieces.

Don't miss the QVMAG (Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery), in two locations. This is an early John Olsen.

T H Preston Esq by C W Lambert 1909.

I loved the art gallery on Royal Park with its early Australian artists: John Glover, Tom Roberts among many, and an exhibition about the first people. The other venue at Invermay has cars, dinosaurs, science, planetarium etc.

It's all in the eyes, isn't it? Thomas Bock, Portrait of Grace Lord c 1844.

The modern artist on show was Mandy Hunnaford.

​I loved her work, slightly reminiscent of Margaret Preston.

Lovely light in one corner of the gallery.

Dobell's Cow by John Kelly 1992

At the height of Tasmania's 'Black War' with the aboriginal people, the colony's Surveyor General designed a board to communicate visually with the indigenous people the official desire for peace and harmony. You can see a reassurance that while a black person would be hung for killing a white, any white man killing an indigenous person would receive the same treatment. Many of these were made, probably painted by convict labour. Only 5 remain. It's a poignant reminder of failure.

​Bridestowe is an hour or so out of Launceston and we were lucky enough to be here for lavender flowering time. Despite a suspicion that it would be a crass tourist experience, we were blown away. We arrived before opening and didn't do the tour.

The man who greeted me was warm and welcoming despite our early arrival. 'Go anywhere, photograph anything,' he said. 'Just be careful of tractors and farm stuff.'

While you're at Bridestowe, just for fun continue on to see the two golf courses at Bridport created by entrepreneur and golfing tragic Richard Sattler.

They're on the rugged north-east coast looking at Bass Strait - both the Barnbougle Dunes and the Lost Farm are amazing in concept and execution.

Golfers are drawn to this wild area and come by plane to the private airstrip or by car to stay - for the golf, the food and the wine. In 2011 the Dunes was named as the 11th best golf course in the world.

Around Launceston there's a wealth of historic homes to visit - Woolmers, Brickendon, Clarendon and Franklin.

Top of my list is Brickendon for the extensive village of well-maintained convict buildings on one side of the road and the Archer homestead garden on the other.

It's a very pretty garden. No tour of the house here as it's still a working farm in the same family after nearly 200 years. This was the hard-working less ostentatious side of the family.

Take the interesting house tour at Woolmers - this was part of the same family of Archer brothers who originally settled here, but this side of the family had far greater aspirations. See the original low homestead at the back, and the Italianate extension on the front with a dining room, sitting room and upstairs bedroom for 'entertaining'. When a bachelor, the last of the family, was left here all alone, he shut up the extension and never used it. He created a trust to take over after he died, so all the furniture remains as it was.

Nigel Peck the great-great-grandson of Thomas Archer I was a major donor for this amazing cutting edge reception area, with shop, galleries, convention area and restaurant.

Loved the entirely wooden windmill.

I visited Clarendon too, which almost fell down at one stage because there were no foundations under the house at all. None of the furniture is original, but it's of the period.

My favourite parts here were the costume room and these two dolls.

And there's an original John Glover.

Franklin House is on the outskirts of Launceston. It was a boys' school with interesting memorabilia from that period. The goanna must have been a bit off by the next day!

Dr Julie Martyn, a scientist, is making Artisa vegan cheese in Launceston, from cashews. It's a process a little like making yoghurt. I really enjoyed it, but don't expect it to taste exactly like cheese - it's a nutty cousin. But it's well worth buying. I loved the truffle flavoured one.

My pick of the wineries we visited is Josef Chromy - both for its setting in an old homestead but also for its cellar door showcasing very impressive wines, and a modern restaurant extension.

While you're at Brickendon and Woolmers, make sure you visit the little historic town of Evandale with all its Georgian period shops and a Sunday market.

I particularly adored the Village Store owned by Caroline Imlach. Shop online at

And do visit the abfab Victoria at Blenheim Inn (1832) in High Street. She has a small antique store in the front and runs her home as a B & B. Her kids were staying over at the time - one of them is a chef and the smell of caramelising roast was making me weak at the knees. Behind those long bangs and bandeau, the back of her head was shaved with a top pony-tail. What a girl. I asked if she has a website. Yes, she said, but I don't have the internet so I can't look at it.

A great place to buy your wine in Launceston is the Pinot Shop.

And don't miss Vintage Rose antiques in Launceston itself, just across from City Park. Down the road a little, you'll find an enormous homewares store called The Palace.

And finally, because you've been so good to wait for so long for this diary.... your flowers...

There's so much still to tell you about this trip - the journey from Launceston to Burnie and Burnie itself, Stanley, Cradle Mountain, and now Strahan. I'll try to catch up!

We have two families of ducks living on the water's edge here at Strahan. A white duck with yellow ducklings, and a buff duck with brown ducklings. But there's one little yellow fellow who keeps getting confused....

Until next time, my patient travellers, I wait you.

shelley dark, writer 

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