For adventurers and vista-seekers, Tasmania is an endless playground. Packed with national parks, fantastic trails, and gorgeous views, it’s a must-see for casual and serious hikers alike. As we step off the plane in Launceston early one November morning, we let out a sigh of complete relaxation. The air is fresher down here and even the airport is surrounded by misty mountains. We simply can’t wait to get stuck in.
We head straight from the plane to Lake St Clair National Park via a quick detour to The Flying Sparrow Cafe for coffee and a second breakfast (it would be rude not to). Here, we quickly learn that Tasmanians are ridiculously helpful. As we wait for our sausage roll served with sweet yet tangy homemade chutney and a generous garnish of fresh apples peppered with seeds, we peruse the locally-made candles, soaps, art, and baked goods while getting plenty of advice about nearby activities and foodie spots.
The next two hours are spent singing (screaming) Des’ree’s top hits while simultaneously marvelling at the beautiful lakes, rivers, mountains, and wildlife along the way. As we pull up to the Cradle Mountain Visitor Centre, we spot a cuddly-looking creature casually strolling through the car park. In hindsight, we waste a lot of time taking photos as we’re about to see a bazillion other wombats on the trail. But, we live and learn!
Hiking in Lake St Clair National Park
Our first adventure is a breathtaking climb (literally) up to Crater Lake. Elevated above several lakes and surrounded by mountains, this spot feels wonderfully off the grid. We could have enjoyed a few days exploring the various trails around Dove Lake, Crater Creek, and the steep and challenging hike to the summit of Cradle Mountain. But, with so much more to see in Northern Tasmania, we spend three hours combining a few different loops before hopping back on the shuttle bus to the visitor centre. This handy service runs all day and stops at various tracks, so you can easily hop on and off at whichever trails you want to explore.
After a satisfying first hike, we jump back in the car and enjoy fantastic sunset views as we make the two-hour journey along mountain roads towards Launceston. We see now that scenic driving in Tasmania is just as rewarding as hiking!
Putting our feet up at Leisure Inn Penny Royal Hotel and Apartments
Revived yet exhausted by the fresh mountain air, we pull up to Leisure Inn Penny Royal Hotel and Apartments, our home for the next few days. We got our first impression of this hotel twelve hours earlier. Unsure whether we’d be able to check in before dark, we called ahead and were greeted by the super-friendly manager. Despite the fact that we accidentally called her home number (How? I will never know!), she told us not to worry or rush. She explained that they could organise a self-check-in so we could relax and explore the island at our own pace. This is Tasmanian hospitality in a nutshell – kind, accommodating, and genuinely interested in making your trip better.
Located just off the banks of the Tamar River, Leisure Inn Penny Royal is a heritage building brimming with character. It feels like stepping into a piece of history – unsurprising given that the hotel was originally built as a corn mill 54km outside of Launceston in 1840 and moved stone-by-stone to the city 130 years later. It’s split across two sites – the hotel itself and a collection of self-contained apartments a few hundred metres up the road. (This is important to note if you’re ordering takeout as delivery drivers may need specific instructions!)
We stay in apartment 345, named ‘Quarter Master Pullen’. All of the apartments along our corridor have similar names, adding to the hotel’s character. As we enter our three-bedroom apartment, we are instantly enveloped by some much-appreciated heat. It’s not five-star luxury by any stretch of the imagination but it’s warm, cosy, and has everything we need to relax after a long day in the great outdoors.
Downstairs consists of an open-plan kitchen and living room complete with a generous dining table, two sofas, and a coffee table. There’s also a small balcony overlooking the Penny Royal Adventure Park. We don’t dare venture out there in the cold but it’s nice to know that it’s there! A small but sufficient bathroom and a separate toilet complete the downstairs space, while the upstairs hosts three comfortable bedrooms. The walls and ceilings throughout the apartment are a combination of wooden panelling and white bricks which gives it a rustic yet snug ski chalet vibe.
If you want pampering and grandeur, this is not the place for you. However, for a family or a group who want an affordable and comfortable base to relax, warm up, rest, and refuel, it has everything you need – right down to basic toiletries and overhead heating in the bathroom. The carpets could probably do with an upgrade but the staff are super helpful and the after-hours key-drop is great for those who want to get an early start on their last day. The location is central (ten minutes from the CBD) and off-street parking provides easy and convenient access.
We fully intended to explore the local foodie scene in Launceston but, in hindsight, we were a bit too ambitious with our hikes and travel timings. Things seem to close quite early (at least by Sydney standards) so arriving at the hotel sweaty, stinky, and in need of a shower around 8 pm wasn’t going to leave us with many dining options – especially without a reservation. So, instead of sampling the highly recommended Black Cow Bistro (steak, steak, and more steak) or Stillwater Restaurant, we ended up ordering in and crashing into our warm and comfy beds well before 9.30 pm.
Exploring the Bay of Fires
On day two, we head off in the opposite direction towards the Bay of Fires Conservation Area. This is another area with countless trails to explore. We chose a walk from Skeleton Bay to Dora Point, combined with a few detours along the way to marvel at Insta-worthy views. This relatively flat track through Casuarina forests combines rock formations, bush tracks, and sandy beaches. It has a little bit of everything, including a wonderful beach for a picnic lunch.
It’s possible to extend this walk and continue down the coast. But, as one of us has a work meeting, we pile into the car and drive a few kilometres down the road to the small town of St Helens for some 4G signal. Here, those of us who aren’t working stumble upon The Social – a quirky bar stacked to the brim with eclectic retro furniture. If you’re travelling through, this is a great place to grab a couple of drinks or fuel up on a menu of pub grub meets street food.
One last hike near Wineglass Bay
On to day three… We pop our keys in the self-check-out box and head straight to Alberto’s Espresso for coffee and a pre-hike breakfast. Their food offering varies daily but there’s always a delicious bagel, toastie, sandwich, or muffin to try. From here, we make the two-and-a-half-hour journey down to Freycinet National Park where we make a last-minute decision to ditch our initial (and easier) hiking plan and tackle Mount Amos instead. This short but steep climb is not for the faint-hearted. It’s great fun and boasts incredible views of Wineglass Bay, but it requires some scrambling and sturdy shoes with a good grip. This is without a doubt the highlight (both literally and figuratively) of our Tasmanian trip. Highly recommended for the relatively experienced hiker!
Our time in Northern Tasmania was short and sweet. With countless trails and national parks to explore, we could have spent an extra week here at least. If we had our time again, perhaps we would have spent a couple of nights in Launceston and then a couple of nights closer to one of the national parks to eliminate long days on the road.
Favourite coffee spot? Alberto’s Espresso, Launceston – great coffee, delicious bagels, and super-friendly staff!
Favourite hike? Mount Amos – closely followed by Crater Lake!
Favourite lunch spot? Mel’s Kitchen in Spring Vale Vineyard. You can do a wine tasting and then buy a glass or bottle to enjoy with lunch next door!
Our final words of (little) wisdom? Rural dining options can be few and far between and they tend to stop serving lunch around 2 or 3 pm. Many city establishments also stop serving between 2-3 pm and 5-6 pm, so plan ahead for lunch and dinner!