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An urban adventure guide

There are plenty of safe ways to experience Tasmania’s urban virtues without cramping your holiday style. Shop at a farmers’ market, kick back in a city park, tackle an urban trail, book a guided city walk, crank up the volume at a music festival, or just experience the simple joys of eating outside.

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A road trip into Tasmania’s great outdoors is a great way to explore the state in a COVID-safe way – solitude is often easier to find here than people. But what about the cities? Hobart, Launceston, Devonport, Burnie… Fortunately, there are plenty of safe ways to experience Tasmania’s urban virtues without cramping your holiday style. Shop at a farmers’ market, kick back in a city park, tackle an urban trail, book a guided city walk, crank up the volume at a music festival, or just experience the simple joys of eating outside.

Outdoor dining

A young couple sit at a large, wooden picnic table in the front courtyard of an inner-city, Hobart cafe on a sunny day.

Room for a Pony, Hobart / Osborne Images

‘Eating out’ in Tasmania has taken on a whole new meaning during the pandemic. COVID-19 Safety Plans are in place state-wide, to ensure that customer numbers are kept to the required maximums. And to help patrons feel more comfortable, local restaurants, cafes, bars and pubs have ramped up their outdoor offerings: there are often just as many tables outside as inside, these days. Sure, it can get a bit chilly here after the sun goes down – this is Tasmania. But do as the locals do – bring layers (and maybe a beanie).

Hot tip: book your table in advance. And if you can’t get a seat, some takeaway fish and chips by a suburban beach is hard to beat. Also, make sure you try a curried scallop pie while you’re here – the unofficial state dish. It may sound (and look) like an odd combination, but try it once and you’ll be a fan for life.

Walking tours

Two young people stand on an observation deck at the summit of kunanyi / Mt Wellington, looking down on Hobart city just after dawn.

kunanyi / Mount Wellington / Luke Tscharke

By Australian standards, Tasmanian cities are old places. And of course, these places have been palawa Aboriginal lands for millennia.

For the palawa perspective, takara nipaluna is the first and only Aboriginal tour of Hobart and its waterfront. Follow the route taken by 40 Aboriginal resistance members in 1832, when they walked to Government House to negotiate an end to the Black War hostilities.

Hobart Historic Tours also dives into the harbour city’s chequered past on small-group urban walks, or bend an elbow at the bar on a tour of Hobart’s historic pubs (if these walls could talk…).

Beyond the quiet edge of town, kunanyi / Mt Wellington is a timeless place. Sign up for a guided walk around Hobart’s leafy backyard with Walk on kunanyi. Experiences here include an epic full-day ascent from the river to the 1271m summit, or shorter adventures on the mountain’s storied slopes.

In Launceston (‘Lonnie’ to the locals), Wallaby Walkabout Tours runs Launceston City Walks, taking you on a small-group ramble through Tasmania’s second city. Architecture, Aboriginal connections and dark tales from dark alleyways – the Launceston storybook is a real page-turner.

Park life

A tall, white lighthouse, with a vertical, red stripes stands at Mersey Bluff.

Mersey Bluff Lighthouse / Graham Freeman

You don’t have to go trekking into the Tasmanian wilderness to find some open space and greenery here: there are beautiful parks, gardens and accessible slices of wilderness in Tasmania’s cities and towns. Over time, English country gardens have formed an alliance with the island’s natural realm. The results are typically Tasmanian: quirky, unexpected and always beautiful.

A 15-minute stroll from downtown Launceston is the amazing Cataract Gorge, where the chilly South Esk River charges through a sheer dolerite canyon. There are swim spots, suspension bridges, hiking trails, a cafe and the world’s longest single-span chairlift here…even a spooky old abandoned power station. Peacocks wander aimlessly across manicured lawns, oblivious to the Gorge’s many charms.

For something less geologically dramatic, Launceston’s City Park is a real beauty. Dating back to the 1820s, this downtown delight features a bandstand, conservatory, duck pond and an enclosure of energetic Japanese macaques (monkeys) – a gift from Launceston’s sister city Ikeda, in Japan.

In Devonport, spend a few hours in the Mersey Bluff Precinct with its pinstriped lighthouse, open lawns rolling down to the beach, and the Spirit of Tasmania ferry gliding in from Bass Strait. Meanwhile, in Burnie Park ducks paddle across ponds, kids bend their knees on swings, and roses and rhododendrons bloom in the north-west sun.

And for a prime example of old-world-meets-new, visit Hobart’s immaculately maintained Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens, backing onto the untamed bushy hillsides of the Queens Domain. Right in the middle of the city, the Domain is home to scenic cycling and walking tracks, sports hubs and the tree-lined WWI Soldiers Memorial Avenue.

To market, to market

Red Fuji apples are stacked in a cardboard box beside yellow Golden Delicious apples at the Harvest Launceston market.

Harvest Launceston / Chris Crerar

Tasmania’s excellent open-air markets are, of course, outdoors – which means lots of breezy space. Still, numbers are capped to meet COVID density limits, social distancing boundaries are chalked-out on the ground, and face masks and hand sanitiser are the order of the day.

Hobart’s Saturday-morning Salamanca Market celebrates 50 years of rain-or-shine commerce in 2022. What began with a few dozen apple carts near Wooby’s Lane in 1972 has grown to 250-plus stalls running the full length of the street, selling jewellery, arts and crafts, clothes, multicultural eats, fresh-cut flowers, baked goods, wine and whisky (and apples).

On Sunday mornings, the focus shifts from the Hobart waterfront to the CBD, where the very foodie Farm Gate Market consumes Bathurst St. Pies, beer, coffee, buns, sausages, yogurt, cakes… Good luck making it out of here without eating anything.

Expect similar scenes at the Harvest Launceston community farmers’ market every Saturday morning. In 2021, UNESCO designated Launceston an international ‘City of Gastronomy’. With all the fabulous local produce overflowing from the trestle tables here, it’s not hard to see why. Fill your hamper then head to nearby City Park for a picnic.

Urban trails

A young woman in a hat and tan coat stands at the edge of a river, looking out across the glassy water to a small boat on a clear day.

kanamaluka / River Tamar, Launceston / Emilie Ristevski

Feel like stretching your legs? Hobart and Launceston are hilly places: a short climb from either city into East Launceston or West Hobart will reward urban mountaineers with sweeping views over the rooftops.

Or, for something more formal, follow the course of Hobart’s original water supply along the Hobart Rivulet Walk. his chuckling waterway disappears beneath the city streets in downtown Hobart, but you can jump on the trail near Molle St and head upstream. Along the way, you’ll pass South Hobart’s historic cottages; the World Heritage-listed Cascades Female Factory convict site (undergoing redevelopment in 2022 – check the website for updates); and Cascade Brewery, Australia’s oldest brewery. It’s an easy-going 5.4km return wander.

In Launceston, get a good look at kanamaluka / River Tamar along the River Edge Trail, which (unsurprisingly) takes you along the river’s edge from Launceston’s Seaport to Cataract Gorge. It’s a 2.2km one-way stroll, or continue into the gorge and tackle one of the steep bushy hikes here. You can also stretch out along the West Tamar Trail from Kings Bridge at the mouth of the gorge – an extra 2km meander along the sunny riverbanks at the head of the vine-lined Tamar Valley.

If you’re on two wheels, Hobart’s Intercity Cycleway follows an old railway line upriver from the waterfront. You can ride all the way to Mona if you like – it’s a smooth-surfaced, level trail with a few handy cafe stops en route.

Festivals and events

People gather outside the entrance of the Winter Feast after dark. Gas fire plumes light up the neon and industrial gateway made with shipping containers.

Dark Mofo / Adam Gibson

The pandemic has sent plenty of festivals around the world into hibernation. But adversity breeds innovation – and in Tasmania, festival organisers have been coming up with clever COVID-safe ways to ensure that ‘the show must go on’. Performances have shifted to outdoor locations; density requirements are rigorously applied; face masks are an essential fashion accessory; and if you’re feeling a little peaky, you’ll be actively encouraged to stay home and read a book instead (…which will still be fun – Tasmanian writers can really put a party on a page).

Check out our events listings to see what’s happening near you, and enjoy your COVID-safe Tasmanian urban adventures.