Tarkine Drive – Your Guide to this Unique Tasmanian Wilderness

The Tarkine Drive is a spectacular road trip through one of the world’s largest cool temperate rainforests, the Tarkine Forest.  This area is the traditional lands of the Tarkiner people, known in their language as Takayna.

This beautiful part of the Tasmanian Wilderness Area has recently become accessible to all with a sealed road through the forest being opened in 2013.

You can easily visit the Tarkine Drive on a day trip from Smithton or Stanley, but we really recommend you allow at least 2 days to explore the area fully.  If you add on the coastal section around Arthur River, you’re getting the perfect combination of coastal and rainforest wilderness.

We spent a couple of days exploring the Tarkine Drive in our self-contained campervan.  We really love getting off the beaten track and visiting more remote areas.  Even though we were visiting in January, there were way less people on the Tarkine Drive than we’d seen in other parts of Tasmania.

In this post we will share our suggested Tarkine Drive itinerary along with our favourite things to do on the Tarkine Drive.

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Map of Tarkine Drive route, tarkine drive map
Click on this Tarkine Drive Map to open in Google Maps

Getting there

The Tarkine Drive is located in the remote North west of Tasmania.  The full Tarkine loop is 260km from Stanley (220km from Smithton).  The drive is well signposted with brown Tourist drive signs.  You can do the loop clockwise or anti-clockwise.  We chose to do the loop anti-clockwise.  

We visited all the coastal attractions and Arthur River on our first day and then we explored the Tarkine Forest on our second day.

You will need a vehicle to explore the Tarkine Drive. If you don’t have your own vehicle you can rent one in Devonport or Launceston. Check out Rentalcars.com for the best prices and availability across a range of car rental companies or, consider renting a campervan.

Where to stay on the Tarkine Drive

There are not a lot of options for accommodation on the Tarkine Drive.  You can base yourself in Stanley or Smithton and do day trips from there, or there is accommodation in Arthur River.  If you have a campervan or caravan, there are plenty of places for camping on the Tarkine Drive.

We stayed at the Marrawah Inn the night before starting the Tarkine Drive.  This is a typical country pub, with camping out the back for $15.  This fee includes one drink (tap beer or house wine).  We got there in time for happy hour, so our second drink was only $5.  Meaning $20 for a night camping and 2 glasses of wine.  

They have a toilet and shower, it’s $2 for 4 minutes of hot water.  The facilities are really clean and the showers good and hot.

Campervan outside the Marrawah Inn

There is a free camp at Green Point which is right on the beach.  This beach is very popular with surfers, and the campsite is only small.  We drove down there but sadly it was full when we arrived.  There are toilets and an outdoor cold shower here.

You’ll find several Tas Parks campgrounds around Arthur River and at Nelson Bay.  These cost between $6 and $15 a night and you can pay at the Ranger Station in Arthur River (no bookings required).  Some of these campsites have toilets.

There is free camping at Julius River although there are only 5 sites here.  There are no facilities at this campsite, but there are toilets just up the road at the Julius River Picnic Area.

Campervan parked at Julius River Picnic Area

Things to see on the Tarkine Drive

Coastal Drive

Bluff Hill Point Lighthouse

The Bluff Hill Point Lighthouse is 4km down an unsealed road.  There is a small carpark here, and a trail that leads down to the beach.  The lighthouse isn’t very large, and there is no public access inside the lighthouse.  

To be honest, we have visited more interesting lighthouses!

Bluff Hill Point lighthouse, Tarkine Drive, Tasmania

Arthur River

Arthur River is a small town where the Arthur River meets the sea.  It’s a popular spot with nature lovers, bushwalkers, and fishermen.  While there are only around 30 permanent residents here, in the summer regulars come to stay in their beach shacks which are dotted along the coast.

You can take a cruise along the Arthur River, into the Arthur Pieman Conservation Area, to best explore this wilderness area.

Stop in at the Ranger Station for more information on the local area, or to book a campsite.

Edge of the World Arthur River

Edge of the World

If you want spectacular coastal scenery, come to the Edge of the World.  Standing here, looking out and realising that the next land is Argentina, is quite mind-boggling.  The huge logs that you see strewn around the rocks are testament to just how wild the weather can get here.  

This coastline is regularly blasted by strong winds called the “roaring forties” after the latitude 40 degrees south.  We visited on a relatively calm day but it was still very impressive.

This is a very popular spot, and the carpark isn’t huge.  We managed with our large van on a Saturday in January.  There are long drop toilets here and also a dump point.

You’ll see this poem on a plaque which was written by tourism pioneer Brian Inder, who named this area the Edge of the World.

Edge of the World Poem by Brian Inder

Nelson Bay 

Nelson Bay is to the south of Arthur River couple of kilometres down a single lane unsealed road.   There is a campsite here and around 20 beach shacks.  We had lunch on the beach just near the campsite and then drove further up the beach to take the walk out to Sundown Creek to see the Aboriginal Petroglyphs.

Campervan parked at Nelson Bay Beach

The road turns inland at Couta Rocks and you head into the forest.  You’ll see signs telling you that this forest has been harvested and regenerated.  Amongst the younger gums you’ll see ancient dead trees, lying on their sides.

Tarkine Forest Drive

After a beautiful forest drive you’ll arrive at the Kanunnah Bridge over the Arthur River.   The views along the river here are beautiful.  This is the start of the Tarkine Drive Loop so turn right onto Sumac Road.  If you turn left here and cross the bridge, you’ll drive directly back to Smithton.  While the road is narrow, it is sealed all the way around and in good condition.  

Views along the Arthur River from Kununnah Bridge

Sumac Lookout

You’ll arrive at the Sumac Lookout after driving up a long hill,.  A short 50m walk takes you to a lookout over the Arthur River.  After spending our first few days along the coast and in towns, this was our first look at the wilderness of Tasmania.  We loved it!

Note:  This will be the last place for mobile phone/internet reception until you finish the Tarkine Drive.

Views of Arthur River from Sumac Lookout

Julius River 

There is a picnic area at Julius River, with toilets, picnic tables and gas barbecues.  Two short walks leave from here, the Sinkhole Walk and the Rainforest Walk.  We did the Rainforest Walk, which leaves from the bottom of the carpark.

The Julius River Rainforest Walk crosses over the Julius River and takes you through the rainforest where you will get a great introduction to the cool temperate rainforest.  You’ll see manferns, myrtles and leatherwood trees.  

The walk is mainly on a raised boardwalk, though there is a small section in the middle where you will be walking directly on the forest floor.  This part of the trail is rough, with lots of exposed tree roots. The signs say this walk will take you 30 minutes, we did it in 20, including filming and stops for photos. 

Rainforest plants, Tarkine Drive
Manfern, Tarkine Drive

Chisholm Lake

Chisholm Lake was created when a sinkhole filled with water.  There are many sinkholes in this area, due to the weakness of the limestone bedrock, which is susceptible to erosion from water seeping through.  

Access to Chisholm Lake is down a 5km sealed road.  The carpark is large enough to turn around, but there are no facilities here.

We found the walk down to Chisholm Lake more interesting than the lake itself.  On the way we passed some HUGE Giant Eucalypt trees, which of course we had to stop and hug.  The energy in this forest is incredible.  

woman hugging tree

The lake is a lot larger than I expected, and the water very dark.  We had read that the surface was smooth and reflections beautiful.  Sadly it was cloudy and windy the day we visited, so the reflections weren’t great.

We would still recommend this walk because the trees made it worthwhile.  The path is somewhat rough under foot, as you will be walking over tree roots.  There is no boardwalk here. This walk took us around 30 minutes with time for photos and tree hugging.

view of lake chisholm, tarkine drive

Milkshake Hills

We couldn’t find a definitive answer on why they are called the Milkshake Hills, some say it’s because they resemble a woman’s breasts.  I couldn’t see the resemblance. Anyway.  The access road is 3km and unsealed and was in good condition when we visited here in January 2024.

This picnic area has recently re-opened after a bushfire came through in 2016.  There is still evidence of the fire damage in the area, with burnt tree stumps however the undergrowth has really regenerated well.

There are two walks here, a short 15-minute rainforest walk and the 1 hour summit walk.  We just did the rainforest walk, which gave us a good overview of the forest in this area.

As you continue along the Tarkine Drive after the Milkshake Hills you will cross the Arthur River again over the Tayatea Bridge.  The rainforest gives way to farmland as you make your way back to civilisation.

Milkshake Hills, Tarkine Drive

Trowutta Arch

The Trowutta Arch is arguably the jewel in the Tarkine Drive crown.  The Arch is the result of two caves collapsing, and the formation of a sinkhole on one side of the arch.  The sinkhole is filled with water and green algae floats on the top.

The front of the arch has many manferns, making for another incredible photo opportunity.  You should definitely walk down into the “cave” to look back out for this view.

The walk down to Trowutta Arch is probably the easiest in the Tarkine area, with a wooden edged gravel path taking you amongst the trees and down several steps.  Walking down into the arch itself is a bit more precarious and we recommend heading to the left and holding onto the rock.

There are some smaller caves around here to explore, and you can walk up and around the arch to view it from the other side.

Trowutta Arch is very popular and we had quite a wait before we could take our photos without other people in them.

Couple standing in Trowutta Arch, Tasmania North West,

Western Explorer Highway – Optional Detour

The Western explorer highway is a 75 km unsealed road that runs from Corinna in the south to the sealed road between Arthur River and the Tarkine Drive. This is a superb scenic drive, taking you through the old growth forest and up into the mountains.

When we drove the Western explorer highway in January 2024, it was in great condition, better than some sealed roads we’ve driven on. we have heard that at times, it can be very rough, especially with potholes.  Several sections of this road are very steep, and these sections are sealed. 

There are quite a few free camps along this road. We stayed at one about 10 km north of Corinna right up high which had excellent 360° views of all of the mountains. Sadly it was raining and quite overcast which affected the views. We also had good enough phone reception to be able to use the Internet and social media on our phones.

tasmania road trip, western explorer highway, van life tasmania,

Wildlife on the Tarkine Drive

The Tarkine Drive is home to wallabies, platypus, echidnas, wombats, and the elusive Tasmanian Devil.  The Tarkine Wilderness Area is one of the last remaining places where Tasmanian Devils are free from the facial tumour cancer that has decimated their population in other parts of the state.

You will come across audible “rumble strips” in the road every couple of kilometres.  These have been designed to warn wildlife of approaching vehicles.  We’re not sure if they work, but we didn’t see any Tassie Devils, alive or dead on the roadside, which was a relief (the latter!)

Tasmanian Devil warning sign
Rumble strips for wildlife warning, Tarkine Drive

Essential information for the Tarkine Drive

Tas Parks Pass

All visitors to National Parks in Tasmania require a Parks Pass.  These are available daily for $44.75 per vehicle (up to 8 people) but we found the best value was the “Holiday Pass” which covers you for all the National Parks for a 2 month period. This pass costs $89.50 per vehicle (includes up to 8 passengers).  If you are staying in Tassie for a longer period you can purchase an annual or 2-year pass.

Fuel

Make sure you fuel up at Smithton, as the only other place to get fuel is Marrawah, and it’s quite a bit more expensive there.  We filled up at the un-manned United Fuels, just off the main road.

Food and Water

Smithton has the only supermarket (Woolworths) in the area.  You may be able to pick up supplies in the General Stores at Marrawah or Arthur River.  The Marrawah Inn has good pub meals, and there is a takeaway store in Arthur River.

We filled our water tanks before we left Stanley, but you can also fill your tanks in Smithton at the Long Vehicle Parking place. 

Phone and Internet

We had decent phone reception at Marrawah and Arthur River, but none at all on the Tarkine Drive Forest Loop.

Watch our Tarkine Drive travel film

FAQs

Is the Tarkine Area worth visiting?

The Tarkine Wilderness Area is one of the largest wilderness areas in Tasmania.  You’ll find both coastal and forest wilderness here, with many different species of plants and wildlife.  A Tarkine Drive Road Trip is a great way to explore this fascinating region.

How long do I need for the Tarkine Drive?

You could easily do the Tarkine Drive Loop in a day trip from Smithton or Stanley.  However, there is so much to see and do here, we recommend spending at least two days exploring.

Is the Tarkine Drive a sealed road?

The main road through the Tarkine Forest is sealed however many of the small access roads to the places of interest are unsealed.  We visited the Tarkine in a busy season, and the unsealed roads were in great condition.

Can I take my caravan on the Tarkine Drive?

Yes, the Tarkine Drive is suitable for caravans.  At Julius River you will find the Caravan and Motorhome site, with sites long enough to back into if you’re towing a van.  You won’t even need to unhitch!

Can I take my dog on the Tarkine Drive?

Most of the Tarkine Wilderness Area is dog friendly (even the Arthur Pieman Conservation Area.  The main exception is Trowutta Arch, no dogs are allowed here.

Where to Next?

Continue exploring the West Coast of Tasmania driving down the Western Explorer Highway to Strahan, or head inland to hike to Montezuma Falls.

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