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Historic and picturesque North West Tasmanian Coast

It may seem strange to mention Tassie and beaches in the same sentence, but the fact is, Australia’s smallest state boasts some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Lapped by the crystal-clear waters of Bass Strait, the North West region shelters many sugar-white strands, bookended by rocky headlands and backed by verdant hills that stretch inland to Cradle Country. 

You’ll need a couple of weeks, preferably in the summer months, to experience all that this remarkable region has to offer — spectacular geology, Indigenous culture, colonial history, busy ports, penguin rookeries and so much more.


For many travellers from the mainland, the journey to the Apple Isle begins at Geelong as they board the trans-Strait ferry, Spirit of Tasmania, for the 10-hour voyage to Devonport. As well as being the ‘Gateway to the North West’, the City of Devonport is the region’s largest port and service centre for the agricultural districts that surround it. This vibrant seaport straddles the mouth of the Mersey River, 100km north-west of Launceston. 

The journey begins at Port Melbourne

Overlooking the western side of the approach is Mersey Bluff, a volcanic relic of the Jurassic Age (185 million years ago), rising on 30-metre cliffs to a lighthouse with distinctive vertical red stripes along its gleaming 16m tower. It was on this headland, in 1929, that a local teacher discovered Aboriginal rock carvings, estimated to be 10,000 years old, depicting abalone, crayfish, periwinkles, an emu and a seal. These are accessed by a 1km circuit that also takes in two midden sites. 

In the lee of the headland, Mersey Bluff Beach is a popular venue for locals and holidaymakers. The Mersey Bluff Caravan Park is located nearby, as is the Bass Strait Maritime Museum in the former Harbour Master's House. Flour Mill Bay, on the other side of the river mouth, encloses East Devonport Beach, which is a short walk from the Abel Tasman Caravan Park. Located just 800m north of the Spirit terminal, this spacious park is a handy option for catching the early morning ferry.

Mersey Bluff Caravan Park


Heading west from Devonport, the Bass Highway passes through Ulverstone, on the River Leven, and soon diverts onto Penguin Road (the old Bass Highway), which hugs the coast on a scenic route to the delightful seaside town of Penguin. Named for the little penguin rookeries that are common along this stretch of the coast, the town celebrates these diminutive seabirds with images on light poles and litter bins, and the 3.15m ‘Big Penguin’ statue in the centre of town. 

Big Penguin Tasmania

Beecraft Point, at the northern end of Penguin Beach, has a boat ramp, while further west, Preservation Beach is a popular venue for swimming and the occasional right-hand surf break in front of the surf club. The compact Penguin Caravan Park lies adjacent to Johnsons Beach.


Burnie, 50km west of Devonport, is a key commercial centre and major port serving the manufacturing, forestry and mining industries of the North West region. With a deep-water harbour on Emu Bay, Burnie is Tasmania's largest general cargo and container port, with a special facility for woodchip exports. 

Top of the must-see list is the superb Makers Workshop, housed in a spectacular award-winning building at the western end of West Beach. Part museum, part gallery and arts centre, this futuristic structure accommodates more than 20 local artisans who create textiles, jewellery, ceramics, paintings, woodwork, glassware and paper products. A licenced café on site offers the region’s finest produce and seafood.

Another stand-out attraction is the Burnie Regional Museum, which contains one of the largest collections of folk and cultural memorabilia in Tasmania, showcasing Burnie’s development from its agrarian roots in the 1800s to the industrial boom of the 20th century.


Just 20km west of Burnie, travellers arrive at Wynyard on the Inglis River. From the river mouth, East Wynyard Beach forms part of a particularly beautiful stretch of coastline with panoramic views across Freestone Cove towards Table Cape. Rated as ‘one of the prettiest caravan parks anywhere’, Beach Retreat Tourist Park is nestled between the beach and the river within easy walking distance of both waterfronts and the town centre.

Wynyard is an important regional hub and holiday destination, offering beach activities, ocean and river fishing, waterside walks and scenic drives through a picturesque landscape that includes the unique landmarks of Fossil Bluff and Table Cape.

Table Cape

Guarding the northern end of Freestone Cove is the imposing bulk of Table Cape, five kilometres from Wynyard. Named by Matthew Flinders in 1798, this flat-topped promontory is what remains of a lava lake that pooled in a volcanic crater about 13 million years ago. Erosion has stripped away the crater’s soft, sloping sides to expose the basalt core that now towers 170m above the sea.

Roughly circular and about 1.5km in diameter, the Cape’s plateau is covered in fertile volcanic soil and is heavily cultivated for crops and grazing. A premier attraction in spring is the Table Cape Tulip Farm. On the seaward edge of the plateau stands the Heritage-listed Table Cape Lighthouse. Built in 1888, it is the only operating lighthouse open for public tours (September–April) in Tasmania. 

Heritage-listed Table Cape Lighthouse

Boat Harbour Beach

A 10-minute drive from Wynyard brings coastal tourers to Boat Harbour Beach, possibly the most beautiful village and beach in Tasmania. More a locality than a town, this tiny ramshackle community tumbles down a steep forested hillside to a postcard-perfect beach looking out onto Bass Strait. Sheltered between rocky headlands in a north-facing cove, the crescent of powdery white sand is lapped by sapphire-blue waters of exceptional clarity — well justifying its frequent inclusion among Australia's Top Ten beaches.

Few businesses operate in Boat Harbour — some B&Bs, a shop with fuel and a beachside bar and café. The main attraction is the beach whose usually placid waters are ideal for family-friendly aquatic recreation: safe swimming in the patrolled surf, diving and snorkelling around the inshore reefs, fishing off the rocky points, kayaking, paddle-boarding and exploring the tidal pools. The Boat Harbour Beach Caravan Park has cabins and offers powered sites for small–medium vans and grassy space for campers

Rocky Cape NP

Thirty kilometres north-west of Wynyard, the Rocky Cape National Park encompasses 3000 hectares of stunning coastal scenery — rolling hills that sweep down to a jagged coastline of windswept headlands interspersed with tranquil bays and small, secluded beaches. For such an exposed location, the Park harbours an amazing diversity of vegetation, especially wildflowers that produce colourful displays in spring and early summer, attracting a wonderful array of birdlife.

Rocky Cape NP

The Park forms part of the traditional lands of the Peerapper Aboriginal people and several rock shelters and caves bear witness to their continuous occupation here for over 8000 years. North Cave and South Cave are two of the most significant habitation sites, containing huge midden deposits of shells, seal and fish bones, stone tools and charcoal. Though small and only for day-use, Rocky Cape offers visitors a rich and varied experience that includes swimming, diving, fishing, boating and beachcombing, as well as bushwalks that range from 20-minute strolls to half-day circuits and eight-hour treks.


The most northerly settlement along the coast, historic Stanley lies at the end of a sandy isthmus, nestled against the base of Circular Head. Known locally as ‘The Nut’, this massive headland was formed about 13 million years ago as the core of an active volcano and later exposed by erosion to stand 152m on sheer cliffs above the surrounding ocean. This extraordinary landform can be ascended by a steep walking track or a relaxing five-minute ride on a chairlift, to a plateau with panoramic views of Bass Strait and the surrounding countryside.

The Nut

Tatlows Beach is a long, shallow bar facing Sawyer Bay on the eastern side of the isthmus. It’s usually a low-energy beach but strong tidal currents sweeping along it can be hazardous. The Stanley Cabin and Tourist Park is located just behind the beachfront. Protected from strong westerly winds in a small cove to the north of the town, Godfreys Beach is better for swimming, surfing and fishing, but waves breaking at low tide can produce rips. The headland at its southern end hosts a Little Penguin rookery.

Sunset over Sawyer Bay, Stanley

The town is a beautiful place to wander, with many fine heritage buildings and well-maintained weatherboard cottages forming a colourful streetscape sprinkled with craft shops, cafes, galleries and boutique accommodation. A good place to start is the Stanley Discovery Museum, which houses a wealth of relics, antiques, memorabilia, photographs, and documents that narrate the town’s history.

The new edition of Hema’s Tasmania Atlas and Guide will be released in early 2023.

Next steps

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