Running alongside the Tamar River, the Tamar Valley stretches sixty kilometres north from the Tasmanian city of Launceston, up to the Bass Strait. It’s Tasmania’s oldest wine growing region and is renowned as one of the best in Australia. Simon and I both love wine, but surprisingly after eight trips to Tasmania, we still hadn’t made it to the Tamar Valley. So on our most recent trip to our favourite state, we made sure we kept a few days free to finally check it out; and we had a great time drinking our way around it! But of course, as much as we could have sat around all day tasting fabulous wines, the Tamar Valley has much more to offer.
Here are some of the best things to see and do in this beautiful part of Tasmania:
1- Go wine tasting
Of course, wine tasting is the first thing you should do, because the wine is fabulous and who doesn’t like fabulous wines? With the same cool climate characteristics as the Cote d’Or in Burgundy (France), it’s no surprise that the Tamar Valley produces some really high-quality wines (and I am not just saying that because I’m a French Aussie!). Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir are predominant in the region, and you’ll also find some great sparkling wines. You simply can’t visit the Tamar Valley without visiting a vineyard or two.
The Tamar Valley has more than thirty-two wineries, all within an easy driving distance of each other. So you’ll definitely be spoilt for choice! If no-one in your party wants to be the designated driver, why not take a small group wine tour (such as Valleybrook Wine on Wheels Tours), where someone else will do the driving for you! It’s a pretty wise idea if you want to taste a few.
Some wineries not to miss:
Iron Pot Bay winery
Iron Pot Bay Vineyard is a small, family-owned business that offers unique, single-vineyard wines. Some of their wine varieties, such as the Pinot Meunier, are not commonly found in small Tasmanian vineyards. Make sure you stop for lunch and order an Iron Pot Bay Vineyard platter. They’re the best!
Holm Oak Vineyards
I’m not sure what I liked the most about Holm Oak. Was it their fantastic and extensive selection of wines? Was it the lovely lady at the tasting counter who was super friendly and welcoming? Or was it the three cute pigs in the front garden, who you can feed apples to? Actually, their wines are excellent, but I think the pigs win the prize. Their excited squealing as you approach the apple bucket is simply hilarious!
Josef Chromy Wines
Josef Chromy offers an amazing setting and some delicious wines. Combine your wine tasting experience with lunch at their restaurant, for some mouth-watering food. Overlooking the vineyard, the restaurant has a chic interior with white tablecloths. The restaurant is very popular, especially on weekends, so book in advance to avoid disappointment. Josef Chromy is located between the airport and Launceston, so if your flight arrives earlier than you can check in, detour via Josef Chromy for lunch and your first round of wine tasting!
Well, I simply couldn’t visit the Tamar Valley and not visit Janz, because, at home, Janz is my sparkling wine of choice. I just love the Janz! The cellar door is located next to the vineyard and overlooks a picturesque lake. You can taste three types of sparkling for free (one of those is a Rose), and two of their vintage sparklings for a small fee. When you’re finished with your tasting, they also serve local cheese platters, washed down with a glass of wine.
Janz shares an access road with Pipers Brook, but they are separate vineyards (Pipers Brook is also very good, so try and visit both!).
TIP: As you tour the area, purchase a few bottles from different vineyards and present your collection at the very last winery you visit. They will organise to send them home for the cost of just the shipping.
2- Taste some local produce
As much as wine is king in the region, there is much more to the Tamar Valley than its fabulous vineyards. The rolling hills of the Tamar Valley and its rich, agricultural land have become home to many growers and producers, and the region has a huge array of local produce. You will find artisanal cheeses, honey, truffles, ethically raised meat, coffee, organic fruit and vegetables, beers, cider, chutneys, walnuts, lavender, and much more.
The best place to buy and taste a few of these is on a Saturday morning at the Harvest Market, on Cimitiere Street in Launceston. The market starts at 8.30 am and runs until 12.30 pm. There you can meet the farmers, talk with the locals and feast on Tasmania’s freshest seasonal produce.
Don’t forget to visit the Hillwood Berry Farm, where you can pick your own berries. You can also pick up some jam, quince, liqueur or strawberry wine, or even better, indulge in strawberry dessert or ice cream!
3- Explore the Cataract Gorge Reserve
The Cataract Gorge Reserve is a true oasis, a short fifteen-minute walk from Launceston’s centre. This unique natural formation is located in the Trevallyn Reserve, where the South Esk River enters the Tamar River. It’s amazing to be able to find such a wonderful and peaceful wilderness area so close to the city centre.
There is plenty to keep you busy in the reserve, with walking trails, a chairlift, beautiful Victorian formal gardens, an outdoor swimming pool, a suspension bridge, a cafe, plenty of BBQ and picnic areas and much more. You could easily spend the whole day there, especially if you bring the family. There is abundant wildlife, and many peacocks and wallabies live in the reserve.
Be sure to take the chairlift. It has the longest single span in the world and gives you magnificent views out over the gorge (adult/child $15/10).
4- Take a Tamar River Cruise
Experience Launceston’s spectacular Tamar River from the comfort of a boat. The Tamar River is Australia’s longest navigable tidal estuary and it supports Launceston, Tasmania’s second largest city. As you cruise north of Launceston you’ll pass historical buildings, charming riverfront communities, vineyards and some spectacular scenery. All Tamar River cruises leave from Launceston, and there are both morning and afternoon options. Some even include a luncheon of local Tasmanian produce. So you can sample the delights of local wines and cheeses as you take in the breathtaking scenery.
5 – Go bushwalking in the Narawntapu National Park
The Narawntapu National Park is a one hour drive from Launceston, near the mouth of the Tamar River. This National Park is a coastal refuge where you’ll find inlets, lagoons, small islands, and wetlands. It’s also one of the best national parks in Tasmania to see free-range wildlife. The best way to spot them is by bushwalking inside the park. We chose the Springlawn Lagoon Circuit walk, which was an easy two-hour stroll. During our walk, we saw wallabies, lots of birdlife and hundreds of Forester Kangaroos relaxing by the lagoon.
This park used to be home to lots of wombats. Unfortunately, the wombat population in the park (and generally throughout northern Tasmania) has dramatically declined due to the deadly Sarcoptic Mange disease. This has become a real issue in the area. Sadly, there may well be fewer than ten wombats left alive in the park, making it incredibly unlikely that you’ll spot one. We love wombats, so we were very sad to hear this.
6- Take a stroll around Launceston
Launceston is one of Australia’s oldest cities, and it has some of the most intact early cityscapes in the country. The city has many original Colonial and Victorian buildings, that are worth checking out.
The best way to explore the city is on foot. There are three heritage trails that begin at Civic Square. All of them will that take you past churches, old commercial buildings and past many architectural examples dating back to early colonial times. All three of these trails are easy walks of between thirty to ninety minutes return. You can pick up a walking trail map at the Launceston Visitor Information Centre, or download it here.
Once you are done with the heritage trails, the waterfront by the seaport is another great place for a stroll.
7- Check out the view from the Mount George and Brady’s lookouts
You will find Brady’s lookout twenty kilometres north of Launceston, on the western shore of the valley. It’s a nice place to stop and take in expansive views of both the river and the surrounding valley.
The Mount George Lookout is on the eastern bank of the Tamar River, near its mouth. This lookout has more great views over the valley and over George Town, one of Australia’s oldest European settlements.
8 – Take a walk through the wetlands to Tamar Island
This wetland area is only ten minutes drive to the north of Launceston. We stumbled across it on our way back from wine tasting, with three hours to kill before our return flight to Melbourne. A walk was what we needed! This three-kilometre return boardwalk extends over swamp areas and crosses the river and two islets before reaching Tamar Island. It’s a great spot for birdwatching. It’s apparently best to visit at sunrise or sunset because it’s quieter then. But at four o’clock on a really hot summer’s day, we were almost the only ones there. That may have been due to the heat!
9- Walk across the Batman Suspension Bridge
The Batman Bridge is an impressive suspension bridge that connects the West Tamar Highway to the East Tamar Highway. On the eastern side, there’s a car park just before you reach the bridge. Leave your car here and walk down towards the river. From the river banks, you’ll get great photos looking back up at the bridge, and from the walking path on the bridge itself, you’ll get great shots looking down across the river.
10 – Visit a Swiss Village at Grindelwald
The small village of Grindelwald is a fifteen-minute drive north of Launceston. It was established in the 1980’s as a unique residential development. What’s so special about Grindelwald? Well, all the houses are built in a typical Swiss style. The area now includes the Swiss-themed Aspect Tamar Valley Resort, which includes accommodation, a Swiss-style shopping arcade with craft and gift shops, a chocolatier, cafe and bakery, a golf course, mini golf and many more things to do for the whole family.
Where to stay in Launceston or the Tamar Valley?
Best Western Plus Launceston
This centrally located four-star hotel offers refurbished and large rooms for a decent price. Be sure to grab a drink at the Tram bar! Prices start from AU$110. Click here to find the latest prices.
The Sebel Launceston
The Sebel offers clean and well-appointed rooms. It’s only a short walk from the CBD and the river. Rooms start at AU$160. Click here to find the latest prices.
BIG4 Kelso Sands Holiday and Native Wildlife Park
If you’re an animal lover, the Kelso Sands Holiday and Native Wildlife Park is the place for you. This caravan park is situated at the mouth of the Tamar River, bordering the Narawntrapu National Park. It is home to many wombats, who although still suffering from Sarcastic Mange, are lucky enough to be cared for by the amazing people who run the caravan park, and by a team of volunteers.
The wombats are currently being treated for the disease, and although they still look rather mangy, they are slowly recovering. Sit outside around sunset and you’ll see them leaving their burrows, heading off in search of their dinner. You’ll also see wallabies, potoroos, possums, and if you’re very lucky a Tassie Devil!
If like me you don’t enjoy camping, they also have cabins available. Prices start from AU$37. Click here to find the latest prices.
If none of those take your fancy, use our search box below to find alternative accomodation in the Tamar Valley.