Back in the late ’80s, as a young teenager and budding basketball player, my visits to the north-west coast of Tasmania were not infrequent. I made the Launceston representative team several times and we would compete against the coastal towns of Devonport, Ulverstone, Somerset and Burnie. In particular the visits to Burnie still hold vivid, sadly less than pleasant, recollections of driving past heavy industry (Tioxide and APPM) and the ocean stained rust red from the effluent being pumped into it. Over twenty fives years later I travelled with my family for a weekend to Stanley. Can the north-west coast offer better memories for my kids, and renew mine?
The farmers of the north-west coast are growing some of Tasmania’s finest produce and our first stop, the Tasmanian Food and Wine Conservatory at Sassafras, is using those ingredients to create an impressive menu. The conservatory was originally built by a local gentleman as a home for his grand piano! The piano is still there in a corner but the room is now filled with tables, chairs and an abundance of the best food, wine and all things consumable the region and state has to offer. On this Saturday morning there was not a single table without a ‘reserved’ sign on it. Fortunately for April it was an unusually warm day so we took a spare seat outside. Teepees filled with cushions, and mounds of leaves falling from the old oak trees held the kids attention while we waited for breakfast. Surprisingly there are only a few restaurants in the northern half of the state absolutely committed to using local, seasonal produce and doing it incredibly well. This is one of them.
Living in Launceston, if conversation turns to local beach holidays, it is always the east coast and the north-east that get mentioned as ideal destinations. I had heard rumour of Boat Harbour, on the north-west coast, being a beautiful little hideaway spot so it was the second planned stop on our itinerary. Once you pass through Devonport the Bass Highway continues steadfastly along the coast and it is only rare moments the ocean is not visible. The next major town before stopping at Boat Harbour was Burnie. Thankfully it is a very different sight today than all those years ago. It certainly remains a centre for industry because of its deep sea port. The water is blue again though and the Tioxide factory, which produced titanium dioxide pigment for paint, has been demolished. The art-deco former APPM paper mill office building is now heritage listed yet unfortunately has not been fully occupied for some time. The docks while still mostly used by container ships are also being frequented by cruise ships offering their passengers a brief glimpse of the island state.
The rumours of Boat Harbour are absolutely true! Nestled in a little cove is a beach of pristine fine sand, with the most inviting water, framed by rocky outcrops. The Boat Harbour Surf Life Saving Club is right on the seashore with a great little playground and the dining space is leased by Harvest and Cater. It was lunch time, we were at the beach, fish and chips were on the menu and we were in no rush. My childhood memories of Burnie were fast being overwritten. The kids did not want to leave and I was wondering why we had not decided to stay here for a night.
The next leg of our journey was to our destination. Stanley is most famous for its geological feature commonly known as The Nut. It is in fact a 140 metre high volcanic plug, the remains of solidified magma from the vent of a long ago eroded volcano. The journey from Launceston, quite a distance by Tasmanian standards, is just under three hours without stops. We had booked Captain’s Cottage (circa 1835) as our lodgings, one of the original houses from when the area was settled by Europeans. While it was clean and the beds very comfortable the furnishings were an eclectic mix of old and faux old. The beige and brown tiles throughout the kitchen and bathroom suggested its last major overhaul was in the 1980s. Dinner was had at the Stanley Hotel Bistro. An excellent meal from a menu offering Cape Grim beef, chicken schnitzels (challenge: find a Tasmanian country pub without chicken schnitzel on the menu) and the like, again with an emphasis on using locally grown produce.
Going up and down The Nut Chairlift was unavoidable with three excited kids, I’m surprised they slept the anticipation was so great. Stanley is a compact town so we walked the short distance to the chairlift; $45 for a return family ticket and we were on our way up. This was an autumn day like few others. The air was warm and still, the sun tempting us to think summer had not past. We swayed gently above those who had taken the footpath and made the summit in a leisurely five minutes. The Nut circuit walk is another of Tasmania’s 60 Great Short Walks (click here for Leven Canyon walk). The path meanders around the perimeter of The Nut and is about an hour of mostly flat walking. Unfortunately the central terrain of The Nut has been overtaken by the invasive gorse bush although an eradication program is under way. The attraction is in looking out to the incredible expanse of ocean and impressive north-west Tasmanian coastline. There are several vantage points along the route all offering dramatic views. After descending we wandered around town following some of the Stanley Heritage Walk before settling for a while at Tatlows Beach on the western edge of The Nut so the kids could build sandcastles.
Day three we packed up the car, which had not been driven since arriving, as everything in Stanley is walking distance. We departed for Dip Falls and The Big Tree, about half an hour south of Stanley. Dip falls is another impressive geological feature thanks again to the ancient volcanic history of the area. Basalt rock formations have created a small cliff face of geometric stepping stones over which the falls tumble down. There was only a thin stream of water flowing on our visit as the state was experiencing an unseasonably long dry spell. The benefit to this was the amazing geological feature was completely exposed leaving you wondering just how it formed all those aeons ago. Just a few kilometres up the road is The Big Tree in a nearby forestry reserve. The stringy bark eucalyptus, while not impressively tall at about 62 metres, is a very rotund 16 metres around its base. The trees around it look like toothpicks by comparison.
After our little adventure to Dip Falls it was time for home. In three short days we had experienced just a snippet of the adventures along the north-west coast. As we coasted back to Launceston it was obvious by the sign posts there was so much more to explore, Rocky Cape National Park, Table Cape, the Tarkine Wilderness, Wynyard… next time! It is a remarkable part of the world and I am glad of the opportunity to revisit the area. My kids’ childhood memories of the north-west coast, I am happy to say, will be much more inspiring than my own.
Map and directions of our travels. For further information see Tasmania’s North West Visitors Guide. Table Cape Tulip Farm is a colourful sight September – October. See it in style with an Aerial Paddock to Plate Tour hosted by Woolnorth Tours. Tasmania’s Aboriginal history is still hard to come by, Rocky Cape (National Park) or Tang Dim Mer is an opportunity for some pre-colonial history. Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service 60 Great Short Walks app is available in the iTunes App Store.
At the time of writing Stanley does not have a petrol station. The nearest places to refuel are the Detention River Roadhouse (on the A2, 27km from Stanley in the Direction of Launceston) & Smithton (21km from Stanley heading in a westerly direction).