Postcards / Travel

Music editor Alys Hale takes us along to Launceston for a weekend at A Festival Called Panama

launceston postcards alys hale

Wildness is not something I am unfamiliar with, but the wild beauty of Tasmania is something I had not yet encountered. Having committed to a life in Australia, it is almost unforgivable that I hadn’t visited this beautiful island, especially given its international renown for two of my favourite things, oysters and whisky. Having been lucky enough to be invited to A Festival Called Panama, about an hour away from Launceston in Lone Star Valley, our lone stars aligned and we left unseasonably warm Sydney autumn weather for theoretically colder climes.


Launceston postcards

Ostentatious car colours seem to be mandatory in Launceston, so having collected a magnificent burnt orange Ute (which we lovingly nicknamed Freud for the weekend) we headed to Seven, our temporary Tasmanian home. I have never had the joy of being greeted by bread and local butter prior to our stay at Seven, but I now think this should be compulsory in all hotels and venues moving forward. Seven is a boutique luxury hotel in a restored flour mill with a beautiful waterside view, perfectly designed to drink Tasmanian sparkling wine by and listen to music. The preparation for our stay was exceptionally thoughtful, with Chris McNally from the team welcoming us like old friends. High ceilings, exposed beams, local art and a shower of considerably note, it was hard to leave this heritage listed haven upon entry, but I can and will always be motivated by the potential of oysters.


Stillwater restaurant will remain etched in my mind’s eye for many years to come, I’d always heard that the food in Tasmania was out of this world, turns out, it is. The restaurant had a relaxed ambience that felt genuine and intimate with a surprisingly diverse crowd. Tarkine oysters and scallops with wakame, lemon and dashi butter were only the beginning of our almost ridiculous gastronomical journey, featuring beef tartare, with anchovy, bottarga and smoked almond and some truly incredible kingfish. I don’t think I’ve ever seen my partner enjoy food that much. Eyes were rolling back into skulls with audible outbursts of delight. Stillwater’s sommelier, James Welsh, really knew how to pair local wines and introduced me to the first Shiraz I’ve ever liked.


Launceston postcards

Our experience with dinner justified my hypothesis that ‘good’ wine does not give you a hangover as we both work rested and fresh, which is just as well as we were determined to fit in as much as possible. Having imbibed coffee and Danishes, we took Freud the Ute out to the StillHouse Distillery to learn how some of Tasmania’s finest gin was made. I can’t say I was expecting a Californian, Justin Turner, to be behind a Tasmanian gin (and forthcoming whisky) distillery but his ethos of sustainability, authenticity and individuality seemed very Tasmanian. The tour appealed to less nerdy people than myself and concluded with a tasting featuring a gin for whisky lovers, perfect.

After another iconic meal at Stillwater (more kingfish, no regrets) it was time to throw Jack Ladder’s gear in the car and drive out to A Festival Called Panama. With its strict cap of only 2000 people, Panama is beautifully unique festival that verged on a frisbee and natural wine loving utopia. We arrived to Alice Phoebe Lou and her band playing to people of all ages dancing without any self-consciousness, I can be a deeply cynical person but this was really beautiful to see. The experience at the Pavilion was verging on religious as the audience cascaded down the hill, bathed in candlelight to listen to Jack Ladder tell stories to rapturous faces.


Please don’t consider visiting Panama Festival or Tasmania without taking a jumper – my outerwear of choice was this Hayden Shapes sweater that fit perfectly in my Rimowa Cabin suitcase. Secretly, I was yearning for gloves and a hat in addition. If you’re not the best flyer, shove the Aesop Flight therapy and some One Eleven in your handbag, it’s not a long flight from Sydney but it made it feel like I hadn’t flown at all. Take a longer book than JD Salinger’s early short stories and take someone who’s body heat you can absorb in the valley.


Looking for more places to explore in Tasmania? Here are 14 holiday destinations in Tasmania to add to your list.



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