Leaving Blackmans Bay on the south coast we drove 4 hours north to the coastal town of Burnie. Our route took us through the middle of Tasmania, with both of us commenting how brown the landscape is compared to New Zealand. Burnie is a small port city that we chose for no specific reason other than wanting to spend time exploring the north coast. Much to our surprise, Burnie is also a cruise ship port meaning we had to plan our excursions around cruise ship days to avoid crowds at popular sites.
Down the hill from our house is the Burnie Penguin Colony. We walked there one evening to see the Fairy Penguins coming ashore. Learning more at each location, we were told the penguins only come ashore when they have chicks in the burrow, and by this time of year the chicks have gone, so there was no mass exodus of penguins from the sea as we had hoped. There were very few little penguins left and they are the ones in the final stages of molting before they can head out to sea. The penguins will return again in October to clean and rebuild their burrows, find a mate and raise their chicks. As we wandered the seashore boardwalk during the day we were always on the lookout for any remaining penguins, luckily we spotted a few during the week. They are adorably cute and look like they have all their new feathers in, ready to leave their burrows very soon.
The historic village of Stanley is an hour west along the north coast from where we are staying in Burnie. Stanley is nestled at the base of The Nut, a sheer-sided bluff. A short walking track climbs to the summit of the Nut, or you can take a chairlift…we chose to walk the steep paved pathway 💪 Upon reaching the summit there is a 2 km trail around the top with spectacular views across Bass Strait, nearby beaches, and the town of Stanley. The 360-degree views were worth the short walk up The Nut.
Leaving Stanley we took the back roads to Table Cape, a magnificent plateau covered with agricultural farmlands and spectacular views of the coastline. Table Cape is an extinct volcano that was pushed up through the earth’s crust 13 million years ago. The rich red volcanic soil is extremely fertile and a perfect spot to grow tulips, the fields exploding with color for one month every spring. Unfortunately, we are here in summer and the tulips are gone, shipped all around the world. Following several shipwrecks in the 1800’s the need for a lighthouse on the cape became apparent. The 25 meter (82 ft) Table Cape lighthouse sits at the edge of the sheer cliffs and was first lit up on August 1, 1888. These days the lighthouse operates on electricity but is open for guided tours sharing the history of the lighthouse and surrounding area.
Table Cape has another interesting crop we discovered…poppy fields!! But these poppies look nothing like the red petaled flower we all know, these ones looked like a bulb on a stalk. This seed pod is what remains after the plant has flowered and dropped the petals. Tasmania is the world’s largest grower of alkaloid poppies, grown to extract raw materials used in opiates such as morphine and codeine. The narcotic content of alkaloid poppies means that strict controls are maintained over the industry and it is illegal to grow, sell or possess them without a license. These poppies are highly dangerous, as noted by signs surrounding the poppy fields.
Looking for some exercise we headed to the Mount Dial Nature Reserve, a 30-minute drive from our house. We enjoyed a 2-hour hike to the Mount Dial summit, a 6 km out and back trail from the car park. The views from the summit were a little disappointing with many large trees obscuring the views, not surprising since the summit is only 376 meters high, but we did find some better views at a clearing on the way down.
After our hike we stopped in the small town of Penguin for a late lunch, and to see the Big Penguin. The Big Penguin is a concrete and fibreglass statue created to celebrate the town’s centenary in 1975, and a popular tourist attraction. Throughout the town penguins adorn many items and buildings, see the garbage can behind the Big Penguin!
Wings Wildlife Park is a 40-minute drive and a wonderful day trip from Burnie through miles upon miles of farmland. The park appealed to us because many of their animals are rescued and unable to return to the wild. We spent over 4 hours there and it was heartwarming, informative and fun, with over 150 different animals from all over the world. Virtually every hour there is a talk, included in your ticket price, on their most popular animals. Our first session was learning about Lottie the Koala. Koalas are not native to Tasmania but Lottie was born in captivity and brought from mainland Australia. She is a very picky eater preferring to eat only 3 varieties of Eucalyptus leaves, of the 16 varieties the park has 😊
Following the Koala talk, we managed to stand near a school group and overhear a talk on Wombats. There is not a regular talk about the Wombats so we would not have had the chance to learn about them. That turned out to be the most fun interaction we had, returning later to spend more time with Matilda who is very friendly and loves attention, which Blair was happy to give her lots of. The other two Wombats, Molly and Mr Wilson, were more reserved staying away from the fence. Prior to this visit, I had no idea that Wombats were so adorable and would capture my heart 💕
Lastly we attended a Tasmanian Devil talk and feeding. While they are not very large they can be quite vicious, no hands near the enclosure please!! They have one of the strongest bites in the animal world with a pressure of 1200 pounds per square inch and can lock their jaw on their prey!!! The feeding frenzy that ensued when the handler held a wallaby leg over the fence was impressive, and gave us a good idea how dangerous they can be…if you are a dead piece of meat! Typically Tasmanian Devils do not go after live prey preferring dead animals and road kill, I was saddened to learn they love to eat Wombats 😥
After the official talks were finished we headed over to feed the kangaroos, the young ones are adorable and very gentle eating out of your hand. There is also a wallaby enclosure where we found three White Wallabies, that sounds like a line from the 12 Days of Christmas song 😂😂 This was our second encounter after first seeing them on Bruny Island, where they roam free. With over 150 animals at the wildlife park, there are far more than I can mention in this post so head on over to their website and take a look around at what they have. Entry tickets cost AUD $28 (USD $18.70) each for access to the entire park, spending as long as you like there.
Late one afternoon we drove to the Fernglade Reserve in the hopes of seeing a Platypus, but luck was not on our side. During the short walk along the river the only animal we had the good fortune to see were a couple of Pademelons sitting quietly in the bush. Pademelons?? Never heard of them…well neither had we. They are very alike in body structure to wallabies and kangaroos and basically the three different names refer to the three different size groups, Pademelons being the smallest. Here is a good link explaining more about Tasmanian Pademelons.
Our 10 days in Burnie were relaxing with not as much to see and do as we had hoped, but it meant we enjoyed lots of time at the gym and researched future travel plans. From here we move to our final destination in Tasmania, the East Coast. Numerous folks have recommended visiting the stunning eastern coastline, we look forward to spending our final week there.
Wings Wildlife Park can get extremely busy with bus tours from cruise ships. Best to check the Burnie cruise ship schedule and visit the park on a non cruise ship day as we did. Reading reviews on TripAdvisor it can get unpleasantly crowded at the park.