From paperbacks to polo shirts, the world’s favourite flightless bird is far from unfamiliar with loaning out its name. Here, however, Kev Smith presents a lesser-known example; a stunning place on the north coast of Tasmania.
Situated right on the coastal fringe facing Bass Strait, Penguin’s shoreline is forever changing through the wind and swells which can whip up at a moment’s notice. But it’s a beautiful place nevertheless, where the rocky shoreline plays refuge to a host of sea-life including, perhaps unsurprisingly, a population of little penguins. From their rookeries hidden in the thick scrub along the edges of the bay, the little penguins emerge at dawn when they head out to sea to fish for their young, and return again at dusk to snuggle in for the night.
The origins of the town can be traced back to 1820 when Joseph Fossey explored the hinterland behind Penguin, subsequently naming it Dial Range. A few years later timber cutters worked here cutting up thick logs for palings that were destined for the Victorian goldfields. The cut palings were often carried from the bush to the shore then taken out by row boat to vessels waiting offshore.
Several large mines opened up by 1860 giving the town a boost through the copper, iron ore and silver that was found. These days the town survives on tourism as well as crops and dairy that thrives in the fertile hills that surround this beautiful town. Penguin is also known for having the largest permanent undercover markets in all of Tassie.
It’s easy to spend a few hours just strolling the town soaking up its history, enjoying stunning views, visiting little boutique shops and tasting local delicacies. Beecraft Point, which is just a few hundred meters from town was where Ned Beecraft chose to settle on 170 acres back in 1861 and he was the first “official’’ settler to choose his plot just near Penguin Creek.
Along the coastal strip you can still find remnants of the past, such as the old horse troughs strategically placed around town for the working horses that carted goods or towed buggies to town. They were made with the abundant beach gravel, just like many of the footpaths, retaining walls and several houses in the town that can still be seen today.
The town was named for the hoards of penguins that were seen back in 1860 by Robert Gunn and no matter where you go in town today, its namesake is everywhere: from the 12 foot high “Big Penguin” statue and souvenir peguins in nearly every shop, to street murals and even penguin-shaped rubbish bins.
Around town a there’s a heritage trail where you can visit over 25 different historical buildings from the railway station, old gaol cell to the stunning Uniting church in the main street which is over 150 years old. This two storey church can seat over 500 people over the two levels, ensuring everyone has a perfect view of the minister.
A street back from the railway station there is a 1/3rd scale replica of a dutch windmill which was donated to the town in 1998 in memorial to the Dutch explorers who discovered this part of the coast.
The area is a nature buff’s paradise. When the tides are right rock hopping along the edges of the coast is great for spotting coastal sea creatures and birdlife. But in the hills behind town is where some of the most stunning walks can be found, and this area could be called the Gateway to Cradle Mountain as the Tassie icon looms not very far away.
A short 10 minute drive brings you to Ferndene Gorge reserve, where you can spend a day exploring beautiful fern-lined tracks, follow the tall timber walks and visit the tunnels of old silver mines. The tunnels are fairly easy to get to and are definitely worth the 1 hour return trip which follows a fern-and-moss lined creek for some way.
The first tunnel, Brownings, has been closed off some 40 feet in but you can still walk in. Thorsbys tunnel, about 10 minutes further up the track, has collapsed just inside the entrance.
The reserve its the perfect spot to base yourself for the day as you can do one walk, return for lunch then head off in the afternoon to climb either the stunning Mt Gnomon lookout, Mt Dial, Mt Duncan, explore the tall timber walk or take the 6 hour hike to Mt Montgomery. It’s a stunning walk up around the mountain where fern lined trails like something out of Jurassic Park.
Surrounding the Dial Range forest area is the Penguin mountain bike park where a host of trails have been cut in for beginners right through to the advanced rider. Trail loops range from 200 metres to a 2km loop with jumps and fast sections included.
This is an amazing area, where the mountains meet the sea and leave the imagination open to what’s beyond the fertile hinterland. Explore and be pleasantly surprised.