Catriona takes the road less travelled through Tassie's glorious countryside.
Launceston is Australia's third-oldest city and the commercial centre of northern Tasmania. It's a charming blend of old and new located at the end of the deep water channel of the Tamar River, where the South Esk and North Esk Rivers meet. The sheltered city, among steep hills, is arranged in a grid pattern. The centre square is fairly small but with good places to eat.
Parks and gardens play an important role in Launceston. City Park has formal gardens, Royal Park has wide sweeping lawns and Princes Square and Brickfields Reserve enjoy smaller open spaces.
Just 10 minutes from the city centre is the entrance to the wondrous Cataract Gorge, with its almost-vertical cliffs lining the banks of the South Esk. The surrounding area is a native wildlife reserve and a very special place to visit.
A delightful 50-kilometre drive takes you to Deloraine, a town with just 2098 residents. It is set at the foot of the Great Western Tiers, close to Cradle Mountain and a number of waterfalls, caves and enjoyable walks.
Deloraine has charming Georgian and Victorian buildings, many of which have been faithfully restored.
A leisurely 100km away is Burnie, the state's fourth-largest city. It sits on the shores of Emu Bay and has a deep-water port, important for cargo shipping.
By Tasmanian standards, Burnie is not a pretty city, but it does have lots to offer, starting with the Lactos cheese factory. They produce more than 20 varieties, including brie, camembert, Swiss, havarti, cheddar, Neufchatel and the famous Heidi Farm range. Heaven for cheese lovers!
Burnie Park has an animal sanctuary and the Burnie Inn, which was built in 1847. The Emu Valley rhododendron gardens are open between September and February and the nearby Annsleigh gardens and tearooms are open from September to May. There are a number of lookouts and waterfalls worth visiting.
Just seven kilometres west of Burnie is the small town of Somerset. Forty kilometres further south on the banks of the Hellyer River is the Hellyer Gorge. The gorge is impressive, with rural landscape and a road rising and winding through temperate rainforest. At the reserve you can walk through spicy ferns and dense myrtle forest to the river and enjoy superb white sandy beaches, tidal inlets, freshwater streams and pools and quiet picnic spots.
Next stop is the tiny town of Zeehan. In 1882, rich silver and lead deposits were found there. In its heyday it had 26 hotels for 8000 residents and the Gaiety Theatre, which seated 1000. Things are a little quieter now, with just 1132 residents. Mines slowly closed between 1908 and 1960. The re-opening of the Renison tin mine in the late 1960s created something of a revival. There are 160 kilometres of underground roads at the mine.
The Zeehan Museum is said to have one of the world's best mineral crystal collections and offers visitors a good overview of the west coast's history, from convict days to modern mining. Next door is a series of preserved old steam engines.
The winding descent into Queenstown is quite an experience, past deep, eroded gullies and bare, coloured hills, leaving no doubt it has been a mining area. Hills were stripped to feed the copper smelters and the resulting sulphur fumes stained the slopes and destroyed any remaining vegetation. There is rainfall 320 days each year, so topsoil has been washed away. Combined with bushfires, nature has taken its toll.
The smelters closed in 1969 and for a long time there was no change to the barren hills, but some scrub and small trees are now recolonising the slopes.
Queenstown is promoting itself as a tourist destination and the announcement that federal funding would be provided for the reconstruction of the historic Abt Railway to Strahan gave that a real boost.