Things to do and see in Tasmania – Launceston, Tarkine & Rocky Cape National Parks. Plus: Tasmanian Devils!

Ten thousand years ago, rising sea levels broke a bond in the south-eastern part of the Australian subcontinent. With that, Tasmania was born. It may be small – less than a tenth of the size of New South Wales, but it’s unique segregation from the rest of the mainland has allowed the development of incredible variation. If you think a couple of days here can “tick off” the state, think again. Extraordinary scenery, great food; welcome to Tasmania: I think you’ll like it here.

Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Date of trip: 21/12/16 – 3/1/17
Known for: fresh seafood, good quality beef, gorgeous state & national parks

I love travel as much as I do food; it’s simply becoming less of a secret now as I expand I’m Still Hungry’s focus. The world is a far bigger place than Sydney, and it’s something I wish to show you all. Welcome to another installment of my travel series! 

As a Sydneysider, it’s tempting to write off other parts of Australia as second-rate, with travel dollars and work leave best saved for overseas destinations. I’m here to change your minds on that one – starting with our most southern state. 🙂

Our Tasmania trip lasted a full two weeks. You read that right – whereas most people spend a weekend (or if they’re generous, a long weekend), we spent the equivalent of half of the regular commercial white-collar worker’s annual leave allowance. Our trip started and finished in Launceston, essentially completing a circuit around the island. People on shorter stints generally arrive at Launceston or Hobart and return via the alternate city; however this isn’t advisable if you intend to spend more than 3-4 days in Tasmania. In retrospect, we didn’t need all of two weeks, but it allowed us to be thorough in our coverage. Better to do something right once, than twice half-baked.  I’ll say it though – we packed a lot into this trip, something you don’t need to do. Hopefully this gives you plenty of Tasmania inspiration should you be thinking of visiting. While foodies (shoutouts to y’all) would be primarily interested in Tasmania’s excellent produce, I feel that you would have a more balanced experience if you also incorporate bushwalking/hiking/scene-seeking into the mix. There are many experiences that you will miss out on if all you do is drive around restaurant hopping.

A rough visual itinerary of our trip is shown below, featuring my excellent mouse drawing skills. For those interested, please feel free to reach out in the comments for a link to my detailed itinerary.

The content of this series is loosely ordered by the chronology of our trip; part 1 covers Launceston and the first few destinations to the West, encapsulating the arrows from Launceston (and surroundings) up till the town of Stanley.

Tasmania Trip Map

This post is very picture heavy (90+!), so words will be (relatively) few with brief descriptions of each destination. I’ll let the pictures do the talking. If you have any specific questions, comment away!

Key:

Red: food destination

Blue: scenery/sight/landmark destination

Destinations with an asterisk (*) are highlights. If you don’t have much time in Tasmania, consider these!

Launceston & Immediate Surrounds

(Day 1)

Stillwater Cafe*

Quamby Bluff*

(Days 13 & 14 – returning to Launceston from the East)

Cataract Gorge*

Black Cow Bistro*

Cafe Mondello

Melita Honey Farm*

Grindelwald Swiss Village

Brady’s Lookout

Banjo’s Pie (Tasmania-wide chain)

Bridestowe Lavender Farm*

Trowunna Wildlife Park*

Hillwood Berry Farm

Sheffield, Mt Roland & Devonport

Mt Roland*

Sheffield Hotel

Devonport

Laneway Cafe

Stanley & Tarkine

The Nut*

Stanley Hotel*

Tarkine Forest

Rocky Cape National Park & Arthur River

Postman’s Pass*

Arthur River – ‘Edge of the World’*

Launceston & Immediate Surrounds

Stillwater Cafe*

The moment we landed in Launceston, we headed for one of its highest-rated cafes – Stillwater. Here you’ll find Tasmanian salmon and acceptable coffee as key draw cards, along with a water view if sitting by the window. Be sure to order something with seafood – it is Tasmania’s cornerstone export after all!

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Omelette – slow cooked pork, kimchi, oyster sauce, fresh coriander & bean sprouts – $22

An Asiatic twist, due to the oyster sauce used on the omelette, is on the cards. Incorporating spicy kimchi into the dish was a bit of a “not sure about that” move; however, the omelette itself was excellent and hit all the right textural notes. Being ravenously hungry just after getting off the flight helped. As for the salmon? Smoked goodness all the way baby! It may be a big fat placebo, but there was never a time in Tasmania when the salmon was subpar.

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Green bowl – eggs, kale, avocado, quinoa, sun butter, sprouts & beetroot 21

The token healthy option ft. crunchy kale, quinoa, sweet beetroot, with sunflower nuttiness permeating throughout the plate. The chickpeas were a bit undercooked; they could have used a bit more time under the boil.

These were but two of the plethora of items on Stillwater Cafe’s menu, but given that three of us got the egg & salmon omelette, it’s not a surprise to see what the obvious pick is!

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Quamby Bluff*

After breakfast at Stillwater, we were adequately fuelled to surmount Quamby Bluff, a relatively steep (but not too tall) mountain about a 60km drive from Launceston. Yes, I’m a big fan of nature/bush walks & hiking. (pssst: that’s the secret to how I stay in shape!)

If your fitness level is superior to that of a couch potato and don’t mind a little bit of rock scrambling, ascending up Quamby Bluff to take in the views is an excellent use of three solid hours.

Quamby Bluff

Quamby Bluff

Quamby Bluff

Quamby Bluff

Seriously, there are a lot of rocks.

Quamby Bluff

Quamby Bluff

Sure, it’s a bit of effort, but the views are worth it. That, and the inevitable selfie/Instagram picture you’re going to take to show it all off. 😛

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Cataract Gorge*

I’ll be blunt – for a sightseer, there’s not much to see in Launceston. One exception is Cataract Gorge Reserve, an area that feels like it should firmly be in the clutches of nature, but is in fact only a 10 min jaunt from Launceston’s CBD. It’s a beautiful area, not unlike the Hawkesbury region in Sydney. There’s a giant public pool, bushwalking tracks and plenty of amenities that make it the perfect picnic/chill spot. There’s also a chairlift that crosses the reserve’s lake basin; at 308 metres, it’s apparently the longest single-span chairlift in the world.

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Black Cow Bistro*

Despite Launceston’s small population, access to top-notch Tasmanian beef allows it to punch well above with its weight in the food steaks. See what I did there? (wow, this is a low moment for me).

*Ahem* anyways, one restaurant recommended to me more than any other is Black Cow Bistro. This mid-market, jazz bar-esque restaurant exclusively focuses on grass-fed Tasmanian beef, mostly from Cape Grim. With excellent produce and hands behind the pans, it’s a restaurant that would do well even in Sydney’s competitive restaurant scene. If you could only have one meal in Launceston, have it at Black Cow.

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Seared Tasmanian scallops, green onion relish & lemongrass broth – $25

Juicy-sweet & tender Tassie scallops for entree were unmistakably redolent of Thai, with sweet lemongrass and a mild chilli kick prominently featuring on the palate. It was a bona fide tom yum broth!

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Eye fillet of Cape Grim Beef 200g – $44

I’m a softie when it comes to beef, making eye fillet my kind of cut. It was cooked perfectly to my medium rare spec while sporting a delicious crust, beset with spices. The bearnaise sauce I chose to go with the steak made a good pairing; though with six sauces to choose from, I couldn’t know if there was an even better combination. That said, the bearnaise sported a bit of truffle flavour to it, and that’s hard to beat.

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Also of note was the potato stack that came with the beef. If you like potatoes and butter, then I don’t need to say anything more, right?

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Frozen caramel slice, mango & lime compote, coconut tapioca, caramelised white chocolate & coconut – $18

A sweet and salty hit of crunch, cream and acidity from caramel, white chocolate and chocolate soil, and the tropical essence of coconut delivered a sweet and refreshing finish. We shared this dessert, but I kinda wished I had ordered my own.

All in all, one of the best meals on the trip!

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Cafe Mondello

Our final breakfast at Launceston was at Cafe Mondello, coming to us as one of the better-rated cafes on Zomato. The cafe serves serviceable – if standard – fare such as eggs benedict and avocado on toast. Not terribly exciting, but when you’re in a town of fewer than 90,000 people, you set your expectations appropriately.

While the food was humdrum in character, there’s not much to fault in flavour. The marinated haloumi & mushrooms on toast ($19.5) was too salty for my liking, but the poached eggs on smashed avocado w/persian feta & dukkah ($19) were a winner. Avocado on toast is a dish I seldom order, yet I didn’t regret doing so this time – not that my choices were plentiful.

When all’s said and done, Cafe Mondello can’t escape the fact that its menu is very limited in scope; a trip back to Stillwater Cafe may have been a better option *insert thoughtful emoji*

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Melita Honey Farm*

After filling up at Cafe Mondello, a sweet turn via a honey farm was on the cards. Melita Honey Farm is a haven for honey lovers – with over 20 types of the good stuff that can be sampled, a ton of honey products you can buy, and several hives that can be observed in action. There’s also a range of ice cream for sale, one of which is honey ice cream. Just don’t actually expect a farm – we didn’t spot any hive farming areas, presumably owing to safety reasons.

I recommend visiting even if you don’t like honey – local honey makes for great gifting, or at-home consumption. Tasmania is famous for a type of honey called Leatherwood, made from the eponymous tree’s bark. Leatherwood honey is exported all over the world, but the trees only grow in Tasmania, and there’s nothing quite like buying local. With the various honey infusions, the variety is virtually endless.

In the end, there’s that sweet & creamy honey ice cream if nothing else captures your interest:

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Grindelwald Swiss Village

Are you based in Australia and would like to visit Switzerland, but it’s just too far and/or expensive? No fear – fly down to Launceston and Grindelwald Swiss Village is a 15 min drive away! Built 30 years ago, Grindelwald is modeled off Swiss architecture and is close to the Tamar Valley (yes, that yoghurt brand). This one definitely takes out the most WTF attraction in all of Tasmania.

The usual accoutrements are present: a shopping centre, restaurants, mini golf, aqua biking, lake canoeing and so on. As you’d suspect, the majority of people who come here do so for the sheer curiosity of such a place; being able to step out of Tasmania and into Switzerland is a strange experience. While a peculiarity, I wouldn’t say Grindelwald is worth visiting unless you had time to kill in Launceston. It’s just too tourist-y for my liking.

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Brady’s Lookout

If you do choose to visit Grindelwald, you’ll come across Brady’s Lookout en route. It’s a quick stop, but offers a fairly scenic view of the Tamar River & Valley. If you see the sign, it’s worth a quick stop & snap!

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Banjo’s Pie (Tasmania-wide chain)

In terms of produce, Tasmania is known for beef, salmon, honey, and so on. However, if Tasmania were to have an official dish, it would be the scallop pie. Weirded out? Don’t be – scallop pies are a norm here, with most bakeries offering their take on this humble pastry.

Fillings are comprised of 5-6 Tasmanian scallops (which are small, mind you), cooked in a creamy, mild curry. Vegetables/spice levels can vary quite a bit. If you’re not sure where to go for a decent one (we weren’t), a chain store you’ll inevitably come across is Banjo’s Pie. The Pie Face of Tasmania (notwithstanding actual Pie Face stores in Tasmania), Banjo’s can be found in almost every major town.

Of the three scallop pies I had on the trip, Banjo’s ranks a solid #2. The pie was crusty, extra crunchy from toasted bread crumbing on top, with buttery, semi-flaky pastry. The curry filling was a bit runnier than I would have liked, and could have used a little bit more seasoning. It’s a steep $9 but you’re getting scallops and a decent pie to come with it – you haven’t visited Tasmania until you’ve had one.

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Bridestowe Lavender Farm*

Bridestowe Lavender Farm was easily one of the most photogenic destinations on our trip – and we didn’t even have to conquer a mountain to enjoy it! Not only can you walk amongst the lavender plants (they’re basically endless), you can also sample/buy lots of lavender-based products, or have a bite at the cafe. My favourite was purple lavender ice cream. While the lavender flavour could be stronger, it’s easily worth the $5 it costs.

Bridestowe is about an hour’s drive from Launceston; time that is more than well spent to ensure your Instagram game stays on point. I’ll let the pictures do the rest of the talking:

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LOL

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Trowunna Wildlife Park*

While Tasmania’s unofficial signature dish is the scallop pie, it’s official signature animal is the Tasmanian Devil. The size of a large house cat, these highly endangered marsupials, with sleek black fur, pink ears and noses with no-two-are-the-same white markings are about as cute as they come. You can only find them in Tasmania, and one of the easiest places to see them is at Trowunna Wildlife Park.

Other than the aforementioned Tassie Devils, you’ll also find other Aussie fauna such as spotted-tail & Eastern Quolls, plus a multitude of birds and the cutest of all Aussie animals – the big fat wombat.

There’s a small entry fee, but given that the park runs highly informative tours once you’re inside, getting a chance to be up close with some of Tasmania’s signature wildlife more than justifies the outlay. Then again, if you’re in no way interested in animals, by all means keep scrolling.

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Tasmanian Devil – HOW CUTE…

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…but they have the power to crack through bone and don’t leave a single part of an animal uneaten!

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Spotted-tail Quoll

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Eastern Quoll

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WOMBAT

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Did you know we ride kangaroos to work?

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Hillwood Berry Farm

A quick 30 min drive from Launceston and berry pickers can have a field day at Hillwood Berry Farm. Strawberries are the primary attraction; however raspberries, loganberries and redcurrants are also available – assuming you’re in the right season. Pricing for strawberries is quite reasonable – I picked roughly 1 kg of the goods and paid just a few cents over $10. Not only were they super fresh and delicious, there’s nothing quite like eating the fruits of your own labour (hah, not really – that would be taking credit from the farmers!)

Worth a quick detour if you’re into doing something outdoorsy that doesn’t involve hiking 🙂

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That’s more or less everything noteworthy we did/ate in or around Launceston. Now, let’s head north-west!

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Sheffield, Mt Roland & Devonport

Heading west from Launceston brought us to the town of Sheffield and later, Devonport. Sheffield is a small settlement often described as the “town of murals”. You’ll find plenty of them around town when walking around.

While there’s almost nothing to do in Sheffield itself other than serving as a pit stop, it does offer a viewing platform which gazes directly out to Mt Roland, a bluff-like mountain that’s a stunning sight, especially as its surrounding land is just flat ground. Even if you don’t stay in Sheffield, you ought to check out the Mt Roland lookout.

Sheffield

Sheffield

Sheffield

Mt Roland*

Mt Roland

Mt Roland sunrise

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Sheffield Hotel

One of the few restaurants in town, Sheffield Hotel serves standard pub grub with giant portions – these meals are designed to fill you up as if you hadn’t eaten all day. Steak, chicken, fish and pasta all grace the menu here, and the food’s delicious – something we did not expect from a town with a population of less than 1500. That there’s an unlimited salad bar (4 options) is one heck of a (healthy) cherry on top. The menu changes regularly, but I’d chance whatever fish or pasta that happens to be on the menu – solid portions, solid quality.

Sheffield Hotel

Sheffield Hotel

Sheffield Hotel

Sheffield Hotel

Sheffield Hotel

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Devonport

Devonport is a town we encountered on our way to Stanley in Tasmania’s north-west. It’s substantially bigger than Sheffield but still served only as a stopover point. We spent a few hours here walking around town & along the river getting some sun, and that’s probably all you’ll need. Keen seafood mongers can stay longer here as word has it there’s a locally famous seafood market.

Devonport

Devonport town centre

Devonport

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Laneway Cafe*

Breakfast at Devonport was consumed at Laneway Cafe. Literally situated in a laneway (hey it’s legit!), this joint serves big, hearty breakfasts – even including steak! The food and coffee was good enough that it earns my recommendation – generous in quantity, and cooked well for the most part. The only major concern I have is a mild case of over-salting.

Laneway Cafe

Laneway Cafe

Steak ‘n’ Eggs: two fried eggs, scotch fillet minute steak, crispy sautéed garlic potatoes, roast tomato and roast mushrooms on toasted sourdough with Béarnaise sauce – $24

Told ya you could have steak for breakfast. Yes, it’s as heavy as it seems – but when you’re hiking for 4-6 hours a day like us, this is an entree.

Laneway Cafe

The Farmer’s Breakfast: Mt Gnomon free range ‘Wessex’ saddleback bacon, two scrambled free range eggs on toasted chunky rye bread, spinach, veggie beans and ‘Avo Smash’  – $23

Same with the Farmer’s Breakfast. With lots of crispy bacon (a few pieces unfortunately overly fatty), creamy scrambled eggs and toasty rye, this was my choice for fuel and I had no regrets choosing it.

Laneway Cafe

Haloumi Sunrise Salad: Golden grilled haloumi served on roquette, radicchio, pickled packham pear, sweet preserved red onion, sun-dried tomato pesto, chia & sunflower seeds and a honey & thyme dressing – $18

I personally can’t do haloumi for breakfast, it’s just too salty for me. The semi-soft texture was however on point, with a good level of browning for flavour.

Laneway Cafe

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Stanley & Tarkine

With a population of fewer than 500, Stanley is one of the smallest towns we visited on the entire trip. Yet, due to a sheer bluff known as The Nut, it was one of the most memorable.

If you decide to embark on the ‘Tasmania Circuit’ route, staying overnight at Stanley is highly recommended. Not only is it close to Rocky Cape National Park and Tarkine Rainforest (further down),  Stanley Hotel was the best restaurant we’ve eaten at on the trip outside of Hobart & Launceston. We went back twice.

Stanley is also quite beautiful from The Nut, and you can capture some smashing night views. Of course, The Nut itself is quite the sight as well. I’ll stop talking and let you start scrolling now 😀

The Nut*

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Picture courtesy of Anthony (one of my travel buddies) over at Infl3xion

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Stanley from the base of The Nut. Lens effect unintended!

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View of Stanley from The Nut

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View of Stanley’s port from The Nut

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Milky way from The Nut

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Stanley Hotel*

I said it before and I’ll say it again – Stanley Hotel is a great restaurant. It’s not every day you can get a perfectly-cooked half-lobster mornay for $49, but here’s the place. The fact that a pub is producing food this good in a town of 500 is impressive. Even if you’re not staying in Stanley, I recommend you nab a table and grab a meal here before heading off – it’ll be worth holding off whatever else you have planned. You’re definitely not going to find better food for hours around.

Stanley Hotel

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Yeeep, it’s a pub

Stanley Hotel

Feta & red onion bread ($9?) – so toasty, so fluffy, so good.

Stanley Hotel

Crumbed Tasmanian scallops ($38?). Perfect both outside and within, it’s beauty both ways.

Stanley Hotel

Half lobster mornay ($49). Not sure if there’s more lobster or cheese; there’s plenty of both. Buttery, tender meat. And that bread – so good!

Stanley Hotel

Pan-fried ocean trout ($38?). Super-soft trout flesh, crispy skin and sweet & smoky flavours.

Stanley Hotel

Tasmanian scallops & rice ($26?). A strange combo but I had no more to say after being baptised in butter. A bit too much rice for an entree.

Stanley Hotel

Bog-standard schnitzel. One dish that didn’t hold up to scrutiny as well as the others.

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Tarkine Forest 

Of all Australian states & territories, Tasmania has the highest proportion of its land mass dedicated to national/state parks & reserves. Thus, we didn’t have to drive very far out of Stanley to arrive at Tarkine Forest. There’s a hella lot of trees, and plenty of hikes/walks to go on, so active travellers will find plenty of paths to trudge down. I only have one particular recommendation – if you’re interested in checking out the largest sinkhole in the southern hemisphere, Dismal Swamp inside Tarkine Forest Adventures is worth visiting. Unfortunately, the swamp was dry when we went, so the “giant sinkhole” didn’t really leave us with the expected reaction. There’s also a 110m slide down into the sinkhole which, while over all too quickly, only costs $2. So hey, why not?

Tarkine Rainforest

Tarkine

Tarkine Rainforest

Dismal swamp walks

Tarkine Rainforest

Dismal swamp slide

Dempster Plains

Dempster Plains – also in the Tarkine Forest area.

Julius River

Julius River – a forest reserve within the Tarkine

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Rocky Cape National Park & Arthur River

Well-named Rocky Cape National Park is indeed that – a reserve with coastlines that are full of, well, rocky capes and plenty more nature walks for the adventurer.

Postman’s Pass*

The key area to check out in Rocky Cape National Park is Postman’s Pass. Not only were we presented with unique-looking red lichen-covered rocks but the coastal sea, with its stunning blue hues, were a sight to behold.

Rocky Cape National Park

Rocky Cape National Park

Rocky Cape National Park

Rocky Cape National Park

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Walking 30min up the Postman’s Pass track will bring you these views of Rocky Cape from above.

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Arthur River – ‘Edge of the World’*

Leave Rocky Cape Park and keep heading west and you’ll eventually hit the edge of the world. Not literally mind you (but wouldn’t that be a cool story), but as the westmost point in Tasmania, it’s worth a quick stop and snap. ‘Twas very windy, so hold onto your hats!

Arthur's Pass

Arthur's Pass

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Phew, you got to the end of part 1; good on you! I’ll let your brain rest for a week – part 2 is coming! Remember, comment if you’ve got any questions or feedback!

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2 comments on “Things to do and see in Tasmania – Launceston, Tarkine & Rocky Cape National Parks. Plus: Tasmanian Devils!”

  1. Gill Reply

    Hi Michael,
    Thank you for the entertaining and information post – the photos really speak for themselves! I am planning a trip to Tassie myself for the upcoming Christmas holidays and so this is been super useful. I was wondering if you have any advice on spending Christmas Day in Tasmania – where did you go and were you able to find any restaurants open for service?
    Thanks for your help – can’t wait for the part 4 🙂

    • Michael Shen Reply

      Thanks for your kind words Gill, glad my posts have been of help.

      I don’t really have any specific advice to give regarding Christmas Day. For us, it was just like any other day of our trip. We happened to spend it in Queenstown and ate at the only motel restaurant that was open. I would suggest doing some deep research to locate a restaurant at wherever you happen to be staying.

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