Living with two Birmans in Launceston
I was fortunate enough to secure a house and cat sit in Launceston thanks to Aussie House Sitters. I hadn’t considered Launceston as a holiday destination before, but I’m glad I finally made my way to the north of Tasmania.
I applied for this sit on a whim. I didn’t have a membership with Aussie House Sitters, but I’d check the website every day for sits in Tasmania. I was a bit reluctant to sign up because I have memberships with four other house sitting sites, but I caved when I saw this ad. I signed up and responded as quick as I could. I made sure to mention I’d owned a Birman (both her cats are Birmans (and I did actually have one before I got Gracie)) before clicking ‘Send message’. I got a response within 24 hours and was told I was the first person to reply. We arranged to speak on the phone the next day.
The lady told me her cats are called Dora and Abel. When you put their names together, they’re ‘The Adorables’. I had to tell my mum this because I knew she’d love it. It’s something she’d do. It reminded me of how she chose to spell my name—Madolline. Pronounced exactly how you’d say Madeleine (mad-a-lin), but with ‘doll’ in the middle. I was confirmed as the sitter while we were speaking, but now I had to work out whether I’d start in Hobart or Launceston.
I decided to start in Hobart. I’d fly out of Hobart as well. I was able to get cheap flights through Virgin Australia and had enough Velocity points to get $100 off the fare. It cost me just over $300 all up. I then booked five nights at Hobart’s Alabama Hotel and decided I’d make my way to Launceston on the Monday.
The drive from Hobart to Launceston took about two and a half hours. I saw a lot of sheep farms. And a lot of roadkill. Perhaps the most roadkill I’ve seen on any my travels. This record was held by the stretch of road from Austin to San Antonio via Fredericksburg in Texas. When I went to collect my car in Hobart, the customer service guy asked if I wanted extra insurance in case a kangaroo hit my vehicle. For those not from Australia: If an adult kangaroo hit my car, it would survive and hop along. My car, however, would be ruined. Maybe not ruined. But it’d need to be repaired. The coverage would cost me $300+. An extra $300? I declined.
The house sit
It was great to have my own toilet and shower again, as well as a car (hired), proper fridge, TV, and washing machine. I could live without fear of running into—and having to talk to—someone en route to the bathroom. I was also treated to an electric blanket and a heated towel rack.
Dora and Abel—the cats—are a little over one-year-old. They’re from the same litter. Dora, the darker coloured one, is the braver of the two. Abel was in hiding until my third day in Launceston. Not long after, he was walking up to me to rub against my legs and was happy to play. He even jumped onto my bed on that Wednesday afternoon, but ran out in fright when I came back in after a shower.
Abel became a lot more comfortable with me as the days went on. He no longer hid in the cupboard and slept on my bed most nights. Or at least for a few hours before he and Dora would run amok. Abel began to follow me everywhere and would jump on the bed as soon as I’d enter my room. Dora also eased up.
The home was very traditional English cottage. Or at least what I imagine an old English cottage to be like. It was also decked out in cat stuff—cat ornaments, cat cushions, a cat hot water bottle cover—and included a cat-shaped door mat to greet me each time I came home. The lady’s garden was pretty, too. It didn’t require much attention because it rained half the time.
I was able to walk to the Launceston CBD in under 15 minutes and there are several grocery stores close to the lady’s home (i.e. 10- or 15-minute walk). Most of Launceston’s main attractions were walkable from the house, but I wouldn’t have been able to do any of the day trips without a car.
Places to go
Launceston, much to my surprise, seemed to have nearly everything a larger city has. They even have snow monkeys—yes, those Japanese ones—in one of the parks.
This was the first place I wanted to check out. The Launceston CBD has plenty of cafes and bakeries, and a diverse range of cuisines (unexpected (or maybe that says more about *my* perception of small towns). My favourite stores were:
- Inside Home and Gifts—I’m not sure if the store’s associated with the magazine? But they’ve got lots of Australian-themed Christmas stuff, skincare, plants… just a lot of nice things. Go visit.
- miiOmai—a cute clothing store.
- Acreage—homewares and fresh flowers, and coffee. I went back to buy an Ivy & Wood diffuser after mulling about it for a few hours. The scent is ‘oakwood and cinnamon’ and it’s lovely. Turns out the brand was founded in Brisbane.
- Mission Shop—lots of good quality second hand art, dinnerware and bric-a-brac. All of the op shops I visited were so clean and tidy.
- Gourlay’s Sweet Shop—we nearly have the same last name. Gourlay’s sells a lot of their sweets in vintage tins. I got a cat one for my mum. We’ll soon find out if she’s fussed on what it contains… chocolate covered strawberries and cream lollies.
The city centre’s got several nice parks. Prince’s Square and City Park. City Park is the bigger of the two. It’s the one with the snow monkeys. You can see/watch/observe the snow monkeys for free any day of the week. When the lady I’m sitting for told me about them, I was a bit confused. ‘Snow monkeys in a public park in Launceston?’ I thought you’d have to pay to see them. Like they were in a zoo attached to the park. But, nope. Not the case. Snow monkey viewing doesn’t cost a thing.
I was taking a photo of some flowers in Prince’s Square one afternoon when a guy came up to me to tell me the name of the plant. Turns out he’s from Brisbane. He then said something like: ‘I’ve never been to Germany, but this park is what I imagine Europe to look like.’
Cradle Mountain is about a two-hour drive from Launceston. The day I went, it was snowing. Quite heavily. This meant you weren’t allowed past Dove Lake and couldn’t drive through the national park in your own car. The shuttle buses came every 10 minutes, but it’s still not ideal having to walk to/from where the bus drops you. Minor annoyance aside, Cradle Mountain National Park is beautiful. Maybe I’ll return another time. Sans snow. And in hope of seeing some wombats.
If you’re driving from Hobart to Launceston, it probably makes the most sense to stop in at Campbell Town on the way. Or you can do it on your way to Freycinet National Park. I was hoping there’d be a bit more to see here, but it was still a cute town. There’s a bookstore with an Alice in Wonderland theme going on and an okay antique store. Apparently JJ’s Cafe does a good vanilla slice, but I can’t vouch for this because I wasn’t hungry. And I stopped in at a small weekend market, run out of a hall, about 20 minutes up the road. The town is called Epping.
George Town wasn’t on my list of places to go in/near Launceston. I hadn’t even heard of it. The lady I’m sitting for told me about when I explained I was hoping to do Bay of Fires in a day. She said that was a bit ambitious and suggested George Town instead. I went on a Saturday and it seemed most of the stores along the main street were closed. It was windy, rainy and about 10°C when I got there, but I’m not a beach person anyway. I actually think the beach and sea looked nicer in the depressing weather. There’s quite a few spots to stop in at, but I only did Lagoon Bay and the Low Head Lighthouse.
I’m not sure if the bridge is related to the Batman comic in any way, but I saw a sign for it on my way back from George Town. A quick Google search tells me the Batman Bridge was one of the first cable-stayed truss bridges in the world. If that means anything to anyone. It offers a nice view of the Tamar River and there’s a park area underneath.
A nature walk minutes from the CBD? Yep. Cataract Gorge. It annoyed me having to pay to park my car to appreciate nature, but you’ve got to pay to park pretty much everywhere in Launceston? A bit weird considering it’s a small city. There’s a few walks you can do along Cataract Gorge, then there seems to be some paid activities (river cruise, chairlift, cliff walk(?)). The one-kilometres walk I did takes you to the basin where there’s a cafe and flower garden.
Admission to the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery—or QVMAG as it’s written everywhere—is free. The art gallery and museum aren’t located on the same premises. The art gallery’s technically in the Launceston CBD while the museum is about two kilometres out. Most of the exhibits/rooms at the art gallery were being audited when I went. This meant I couldn’t view them and I was done within 15 minutes. The museum, however, was very interesting. Lots of Tasmanian tiger history, including a fur/skin replica you can touch, and dinosaur objects.
Freycinet National Park
It took me about two and a bit hours to get to Freycinet National Park. Honeymoon Bay was my favourite part of the national park. It’s one of the first stops in the park and it’s easy to find. I didn’t have as much luck with my second stop, Sleepy Bay. I gave up trying to find it after finding the parking lot, but no track to the water. A lot of the locations (beaches, bays, etc.) are only accessible by foot. I didn’t realise it’d be like this. But I guess that’s my fault. These hikes range from one to five hours. Not my thing.
On my way back to Launceston, I decided to stop in at a cafe I’d passed on the way. The Pondering Frog. I remember a sign saying they did ice cream and thought I’d get some to see me through to Launceston. The Pondering Frog looked cringey from the outside and I expected their menu to be limited. But I was wrong. They even had deep fried Camembert. I got the pumpkin falafel burger and it was unexpectedly good. While eating my burger, it was then I discovered Freycinet National Park and Bay of Fires aren’t the same thing/place. I must’ve thought the rocks in Honeymoon Bay looked close enough to the images I’d seen on Google. So stopping in at The Pondering Frog proved to be a win-win for me. I got a decent meal and learnt I still had somewhere left to visit that afternoon.
Bay of Fires
The drive from Freycinet National Park to Bay of Fires is very picturesque. You’ve got the ocean on your right for most of the journey. If you’re not up for the long drive north, you could probably stop at any of the beaches along the way. But Bay of Fires is really, really pretty.
Can you see how it looks kind of like Honeymoon Bay? I wish I’d come here before going to Freycinet National Park, or dedicated an entire day to St Helen’s, because I was a exhausted when I arrived. Before driving back to Launceston, I stopped at Banjo’s for another ‘see me through to Launceston’ snack. Banjo’s is a Tasmanian bakery chain I’ve seen in most of the bigger towns and I hadn’t eaten at yet. I got the spinach and curried chickpea roll. It, too, was surprisingly good.
Verdict: Aussie House Sitters
Would I recommend Aussie House Sitters? Definitely. Especially if you’re looking for a sit in Australia. While TrustedHousesitters is my preferred website, TrustedHousesitters doesn’t have nearly as many Australian sits available. The Aussie House Sitters website is easy to navigate and you can filter results based on your preferences (sit length, house type). My only gripe with Aussie House Sitters is I wish it’d offer a combined membership across all its sites (House Sitters America, House Sitters Canada, etc.). I haven’t renewed my House Sitters America membership because I can’t justify the cost right now.
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My next stop’s home. I’ll be working for about a month in the lead up to Christmas, then I’ve got a local house and cat sit over the break. After spending the past two Christmases abroad, it’s time to celebrate with family in Brisbane. Follow my Instagram account to see what I get up to between now and then.