The second city stop in our Australia trip was Launceston, Tasmania. Because Launceston is a fairly secluded town, there was no direct flight from Darwin; we had to fly through Melbourne first. Launceston is the third oldest city in Tasmania, an island located on the southeastern tip of the Australian continent.
We arrived in Launceston at around 9 pm, our flight one of only a handful that landed there that night. At the baggage claim area, two carousels spun slowly, waiting to be loaded. After we got our bags, we headed outside the airport to look for a taxi. The cold air was accompanied by barren strips of road and darkness.
We drove through the hillside mountains in near pitch-black, without a twinkle of city lights in the distance, guided only by our car’s headlamps. Amidst the silence, the taxi driver told us the population of Launceston sits at about 70,000.
“Everyone seems to be related, you know?” he said.
We drove through the city center where everything looked deserted. One-story shops and homes, except for one dimly-lit convenience store, blended into the night. Streets and sidewalks were empty, except for our taxi, which hummed through town. It looked like we had entered a nineteenth century ghost town straight from some outdated cowboy flick. Launceston had an eerie feel, heightened by the Victorian architecture of homes and their rusting decorative trims and browned facades.
Our hotel, the Sebel Launceston, was the only place that seemed to glow with any sense of modernity. After checking in, we rushed back out to the only convenience store open to buy breakfast for the next day. We didn’t see a single soul on our way to the Coles supermarket, so it was refreshing to see not one, but two cashiers operating the store. It confirmed that Launceston was inhabited by people, and not some rundown ghost town.
The next morning, Launceston seemed a little more alive, with more cars zipping by and people walking through. We headed out for lunch at Mudbar Cafe by the city’s seaport, where we had miso glazed lamb ribs, sticky soy duck tacos, beer battered white fish and tangy oyster shooters.
After lunch, we took a boat tour around Cataract Gorge, Launceston’s main attraction. Launceston, established in 1810, was one of the earliest European settlements in Australia behind Sydney and Hobart. The Cataract Gorge is connected to the Tamar River, which is the longest navigable river in Australia. With a port to transport goods, the middle of Tasmania was opened up for agricultural exports in its early history, then fed by the gold mining rush in Victoria, which contributed to the wealth of the colony.
Since there wasn’t much else to do in Launceston, we ended up wandering around the CBD afterwards, where there was a small shopping strip. My sister and I stumbled upon Coffee Republic, a rusty, hip coffee shop and abode from the commercialized stores. My sister ordered a nutella hot chocolate, while I ordered a banoffee latte. Our drinks were overly sweet, but for a dismal town like Launceston it felt much needed.
Dinner was at Larceny, one of the top-rated restaurants in Launceston on TripAdvisor, located at the small but regal Clarion Hotel. The land where the Hotel is built was once owned by a ship owner and builder named Jonathan Griffiths, who was born in England in 1773. At the age of 15, he was convicted of grand larceny – hence the restaurant’s name – for removing a suitcase from a wagon and sentenced to be transported for seven years.
I ordered a Persian spiced quail at the restaurant, with toasted pine nuts and currant oil. It was delicious, though a tad pricey.
We went back to the hotel after dinner to get some sleep before the next day, where we would be visiting one of Tasmania’s famed national parks, Cradle Mountain.