Cascade or Boag’s? Cataract Gorge or Mount Wellington? DAMIAN HALL steps into the ring with Tasmania’s biggest hitters – Hobart and Launceston – to find out who is Tassie’s jewel in the crown.
As far as great rivalries go Launceston versus Hobart is right up there with Communism versus Capitalism, Manchester United versus Liverpool and Danger Mouse versus Baron Greenback. They each have their own half of the Apple Isle, their own brand of beer and a proud tribalism.
The competitive cities are symbolic of a great divide that stretches to the rest of Tasmania. You thought Korea had some kind of division? Pah. The north and south have separate bank holidays, tend not to stock each other’s beer and there’s a six-foot brick wall spread across the state. (Some of that isn’t entirely true, but you get the picture.) So, which city should be champion? We try to settle the debate once and for all…
Lovely Launie, or the “Garden City”, has a small town English feel: narrow streets, quaint, alluring tea shops, creaking old mills, under-populated parks, cosy enticing pubs with the sound the narrow well-preserved streets all seem to lead to the beguiling harbour. There, the waterfront is awash with cafÃ©s, pubs, sails and fishing boats – it wouldn’t look out place in Cornwall – all nestling under the protective slopes of Mount Wellington, standing like a protective father over his beautiful daughter. On top of what you see, just breathe the air. It’s thought to be the freshest in the world – straight from South America without touching land.
BEER (& FOOD)
Don’t mention the “c” word (no not that one, we mean Cascade) in Launie. Ask any Launcestarian to name the country’s best beer and, without hesitation, they’ll say Boag’s. And they could well be right (it’s certainly not anything beginning with “V” and ending in “B” – that stuff should be used for cleaning rancid industrial equipment only).
You can tour the Boag’s Brewery, learn about the fine beverage’s history, how it’s made and have a good sup of their award-winning beers.
But it’s the pubs – as near to a friendly English local as you can get Down Under – which are really worth spending time in. To line your stomach you’ll stumble across Thai, Italian, Chinese and the good old-fashioned Aussie steak house on your walk around the town centre.
In a town where the population nearly starved many years back because the colony’s wheat supply was used to brew beer, you could say they like their ale here. Needless to say you’ll only get one answer to the “best beer” question and it’s the famous Cascade. Whatever you do, don’t get the two mixed up, though it’s not difficult, as they’re both lovely. Tours of the picturesque brewery are a wise and popular choice. Hobart’s nightlife is focused round the water and the area around the docks. Salamanca Place houses many historic pubs, including the oldest in Australia, licensed in 1804. Salamanca in particular has a lively nightlife, with clubs and backstreet parties strewn among the old sandstone pubs. Sandy Bay is also popular with Hobart’s young things. East Hobart is excellent for a lively mish-mash of Thai, Mediterranean and boutique restaurants.
THINGS TO DO
As well as the Cataract Gorge (you can take a paddle steamer cruise up it), the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery is excellent. They’ve got a fantastic exhibition on Tasmanian Aborigines and examples of colonial and contemporary art from the region. Then there’s the 19th century watermills, windmills, gunpowder mills and model boats. A TNT fave is the City Park, which has an open-air enclosure of entertaining Japanese macaque monkeys. They’re cheeky they are, those monkeys.
As well as the Cascade brewery, there are Saturday’s famous Salamanca Markets live up to all the hype and the (free) Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery is worth setting an hour or two aside for. But our fave is a climb up Mount Wellington (1270m, five-six hours return), with a hair re-arranging mountain bike ride back down. Plus, there’s sunset sea kayaking, harbour cruises and the botanical gardens for a bit of a picnic. See baby wombats, Tasmanian devils and hand-feed some ‘roos in the Bonorong Wildlife Park. Chomp on the brown stuff in the Cadbury’s Factory. So, yup, pretty boring place really.
Launie is only a couple of hours from arguably the most beautiful (or at least most easily accessible beautiful place) in Tassie: the much-photographed Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park. No-one should go to Tassie without popping here. For somewhere way, way quieter try the next-door Walls Of Jerusalem National Park. The stunning Freycinet National Park is around two hours away too. A 40-minute up-hill walk takes you to a view of one the most beautiful beaches you’ve never seen – Wineglass Bay. Plus, there’s the magical, other-worldly Bay of Fires further up the east coast. A little closer to base camp is the Tamar Valley Wineries to wine and dine yourself at.
A hard act to follow, but Hobart manages it. Firstly there’s former convict hell-hole Port Arthur just round the corner, which offers a fascinating insight into the island’s harrowing past. You can tour the ruins of a prison meant to be the worst of the worst and the mood is best captured on a night-time ghost tour. Tassie’s most popular National Park, Mt Field NP, is nearby and boasts numerous short and long walks across high alpine areas, round glacial lakes and the gushing Russell Falls. It doubles as a small ski field in winter.
Lastly there’s Bruny Island; for discreet beaches and excellent, quiet, bushwalking this idyllic isle takes some beating.
FIGHT TO THE FINISH
So, Hobart or Launceston – which city is best? The answer is simple: they both have so much to offer and will give you two very different experiences… it just depends on what you want. To be safe, go and decide for yourself…