Impressions of Launceston, Tasmania

A couple of months ago, I headed off to Launceston for a few days. There is something almost comforting about the compactness of Tasmania; even in a few short days it is possible to see a lot of places if the mood takes you, or you can simply enjoy just being and really exploring a place if that is your preference. The year before I had a similar break in Hobart which was invigorating and relaxing. I was curious to see what the largest city in the north of the island had to offer.

Launceston streetscape, Cameron Street

Launceston streetscape – Cameron Street

Launceston is located in a natural basin at the head of the Tamar River, where it joins the North and South Esk. Mere minutes from the centre of the city, the South Esk plunges into Cataract Gorge, a steep basalt chasm. This is a popular tourist destination with paths along the cliff face and boasts the world’s longest single chairlift span.

Statue of Dr Pugh with Chalmer's Church in background

Dr Pugh and Chalmer’s Church, Prince’s Square

It is home to many nineteenth-century buildings, and there are many architectural delights to discover. Many of the fine heritage buildings have discrete but informative plaques outlying their history and previous uses, as appropriate. There are several suggested walks around the city which follow heritage buildings, stories of trade, public offices and places of worship. One of the first buildings that caught my eye was Chalmer’s Church. It opened for worship in 1860 and is an example of the Free Church of Scotland in Tasmania. It overlooks Prince’s Square, which has been many things including a parade ground. The statue that can be glimpsed in the bottom middle of the photo is of Dr William Russ Pugh who in the 1840s was the first person to operate with general aesthetic in the Southern Hemisphere.

Val d'Osne Fountain in Prince's Square

Val d’Osne Fountain in Prince’s Square

City Park was a lovely place for a wander. The land was originally used to house Launceston’s Government House and by 1841 the area was being used as a People’s Park, with a small admission fee. The gardens were gifted to the people of Launceston as a public park in 1863. In 1897 the Children’s Jubilee Fountain was installed to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria. There is also a large colony of Japanese Macaques in the park, a mark of the sister city relationship with Ikeda City in Japan.

Jubilee Fountain and John Hart Conservatory in City Park

Jubilee Fountain and John Hart Conservatory

Across the river, the former Launceston Railway Workshops are now home to the Queen Victoria Museum. At one time there were over 270 railway stations in Tasmania. The passenger railway service was closed in 1978 but there are quite a few heritage railways in operation around the island and bulk freight still uses part of the rail network.

North Esk River views including brewery

North Esk River view with breweries along the riverbank

For a city of over 80,000 with lots of interesting buildings and places to visit, a handful of days wasn’t really enough to do it justice. I kept being drawn back to the river with its links to the commercial history of the town, its development, and the consequences of flooding – there have been 36 significant floods recorded to date. It was while strolling along the riverbank, taking in views of the Boag brewery and old Custom House, that I first saw Tasmanian Native Hens.

Tasmanian Native Hens

Tasmanian Native Hens

Launceston is a central base for further exploration, with Devonport relatively close by along with historic towns including the nearby Evandale, Ross and the mural town of Sheffield all within an easy drive. Hobart is about 200 kilometres away – not far in mainland terms but there was enough to keep my attention within Launceston, and it is a place that I’m sure I’ll return to again.

{Photo: gargoyle from church in Launceston}

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