Tasmania North West Road Trip – the best travel guide

Tasmania’s North West is a land of contrasts.  From the busy towns of Devonport and Burnie to the rugged coast, the rainforest of the Tarkine region and the quaint villages of Penguin and Stanley, this region has something for everyone.

The North West of Tasmania is the perfect start to a Tasmania Road Trip.  If you’ve come from the mainland on the Spirit of Tasmania with your own vehicle, you are already set for adventure.

We recently spent 6 weeks touring Tasmania in our campervan, and in this post we will let you know all the best things to do in Tasmania North West.  There is so much to see in this region, so take your time and enjoy.

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Couple standing in Trowutta Arch, Tasmania North West,

Getting to Tasmania’s North West

Like most mainland visitors doing a Road Trip around Tasmania, you’ll probably arrive in Devonport.  There are several roads you can drive to head along the north west coast of Tasmania. The main road is the Bass Highway but there are some lovely detours you can take to see some of Tasmania North West’s hidden gems.

If you’ve flown into Tasmania you can hire a car or campervan from Hobart or Launceston airport.

Where to Stay in Tasmania North West

You’ll find an abundance of accommodation options in the North West of Tasmania.  If you’re on a road trip, then you most likely have your home with you.  Luckily, there are also plenty of caravan parks and campsites.

Free Camping in North West Tasmania

Tasmania is renowned for the abundance of free camps.  We stayed at several free camps and here’s our recommendations for North West Tasmania camping:

Midway – Sulphur Creek

This camp is located right by the main road and next to the train line.  Despite that, we had a really peaceful nights sleep.  There is a walking/cycling path that you can use to get down to a beautiful beach, or into the town of Sulphur Creek.  Our friend saw penguins just in town there.

Smithton – Tall Timbers RV Stop

Located just outside Smithton on the main road between Stanley and Arthur River, you’ll find the Tall Timbers Free Camp.  We didn’t stay here as we wanted to see the penguins in Stanley and knew that would be a late night.  When we drove past this camp, we wished we had stayed here.  The campsite is a large grassy area, and as the name suggests, it is nestled amongst some tall trees.

Julius River Motorhome and Caravan Site

This small campsite is located within the Julius River Forest Reserve.  There is space for 4-5 vans, and we nabbed the last one when we arrived.  There are no facilities here but there are toilets a couple of hundred metres up the road at Julius River Picnic Area.

North West Tasmania things to do

Devonport

Devonport is a major port town, providing a connection between Tasmania and mainland Australia.  Bass Strait is known for it’s rough seas and if you sailed over on the Spirit of Tasmania, you may have experienced this for yourself!

Devonport is a large town with all the usual services.  If you’ve travelled over from the mainland on the Spirit of Tasmania, you would have had to dispose of all your fresh fruit and vegetables.   You can stock up in Devonport before heading off on your road trip.  There is a Coles and Woolworths supermarket here (right next to each other).  We found the prices of fruit and veg slightly higher than what we are used to paying in on the mainland recently.  

We got delicious Sourdough bread from the Hill Street Grocer which is like an upmarket IGA grocery store.

You’ll also find Bunnings, Anaconda, BCF, Harvey Norman in Devonport. If you need to get any other supplies before you head off all these stores are conveniently located together in the Home-Maker centre.

Things to see in Devonport

While in Devonport, you might like to check out the Bass Strait Maritime Centre to learn more about maritime history of Bass Strait, including the over 1500 boats that have been lost in these waters.  The museum is open 7 days a week from 10am – 3pm and costs $10 for adults, with concession, child and family prices available. 

Train enthusiasts will want to check out the Don River Railway which runs along the Don River to Coles Beach.  The train runs from Thursday to Sunday and costs $17.  The train usually runs with a steam or historic diesel engine, however this is not guaranteed.  There is also a museum where you can see the historic trains.

If you’re spending the night in Devonport, head down to Lillico to the Penguin viewing platform.  The little penguins come in to their rookery just after dark.

Where to stay in Devonport

There is a variety of accommodation options in Devonport, including hotels and BnBs. Check Booking.com for the latest deals and availability.

If you’re looking for the perfect place to stay in your van after arriving late off the Spirit of Tasmania (or departing early), Girdlestone Park offers overnight stays for self-contained vehicles for $10 (plus booking fee through the ParkEasy App).

Woman standing with the big penguin, tasmania

Penguin

Penguin is just one of the quaint seaside villages along Tasmania’s North West Coast.  The scenery is beautiful and the locals are friendly.  It’s a great place to stop off for the afternoon.

This town was named after the little penguins that roost here, by botanist Ronald Gunn in 1961.  There are several penguin rookeries along this section of the coast. If you’re lucky you can see them coming in to roost just after sunset.  

If you’re going penguin seeking, be sure to wear dark clothes and shoes, use only red lights and keep 5m away from the penguins. Other best practices include not taking flash photography or using lights with video.  Keep quiet to avoid frightening the little penguins.

It’s not just little Penguins the town is famous for, they also have the Big Penguin.  The Big Penguin was made in 1975 to celebrate the centenary of the town.  It stands 3.15m tall and is the symbol of the town.  Local lady Shirly Good has taken on the responsibility for dressing the penguin in seasonal outfits.  He wears a Santa suit at Christmas and a pink outfit for Breast Cancer Awareness month in October. 

Penguin has an interesting art trail, with murals and sculptures throughout the town and the penguin rubbish bins are especially iconic. 

The Penguin Beer Company has a tap house right in the middle of town, with a great outdoor deck overlooking the ocean.  You can get a tasting paddle of four of their craft beers and sit outside to enjoy the view.  Just be careful of your hot chips – we saw seagulls swoop down and pinch them from the basket at the table next to us.

Man with a beer tasting paddle, penguin brewing company, tasmania

Stanley

Stanley is a small historic town nestled at the bottom of a volcanic plug, known affectionately as “The Nut”.  With it’s relaxed small town feel, great beaches and quaint cottages, Stanley is a great place to spend a couple of days. Stanley is our favourite town on the North West Coast of Tasmania.

You can take the chairlift to the top of the Nut (or walk up), stroll through the town, watch penguins just after dark and eat the best fish and chips in Tasmania.

There are many small cottage BnBs in Stanley, along with a caravan park right on the coast.  We stayed at the Golf Club self-contained campsite, which was $10 per night.

couple at the Stanley lookout, tasmania north west

Arthur River

Arthur River is (almost) as far west as you can get in Tasmania.  This is a remote and sparsely populated area, with beautiful beaches and breath-taking natural scenery.  While the village is very small, people come for the wilderness experiences in the area.  

We were excited to stand on the “Edge of the World”.  The seas can be wild here!  A good indication of the power of nature is the huge logs that wash down the rivers and onto the shore.  We were amazed at how they become perched up on top of the rocks.

As you look out from the Edge of the World, remember that the next land mass is Argentina!

This is a very popular spot, and the carpark isn’t huge.  We got lucky and managed with our large van on a Saturday in January.  There’s an interesting poem on a plaque and a lookout with indigenous names for the local animals and plant life.  There are long drop toilets here and a dump point.

Standing at the edge of the world, Arthur River, North West Tasmania

Nelson Bay

Nelson Bay is a couple of kilometres down a single lane unsealed road. However, the road condition was great and no need for 4wd.  There is a campsite here and around 20 beach shacks.  We had lunch on the beach just near the campsite. Then we drove further up the beach and walked out to Sundown Creek to see the Aboriginal Petroglyphs.  

This is a short walk along the beach and over rocks.  The AllTrails app wanted to send us inland, but we couldn’t find a trail. We figured walking along the beach would be more interesting.

Van parked at Nelson Bay, North West Coast Tasmania

Tarkine Drive

The Tarkine Drive is definitely a highlight of any North West Tasmania road trip.  You’ll wonder at the ancient rainforests and untamed beauty of this little-visited area. There is a loop road through the Tarkine Forest. This drive features short walks through the rainforest, lakes, sinkholes and lookouts over the Arthur River.

This road was built in 2013, and is sealed all the way.  It was hoped that visitors would learn about the area, the rich aboriginal cultural connection to the land and the untouched natural beauty.  There were some concerns about disturbing the natural habitat of wildlife species, especially the rare Tasmanian Devil.  This area is one of the few remaining areas where the Devils are free of the devastating Facial Tumour Disease which has almost wiped them out in other parts of the state.

The highlights of the Tarkine Drive include Trowutta Arch, the Sumac Lookout and the Julius River area walks.

Man standing in Trowutta Arch, Tarkine Drive, Tasmania

North West Tasmania Road Trip Itinerary

Here’s our suggested 4 day itinerary for Tasmania North East. Starting in Devonport and finishing with the Tarkine Drive.

Day 1 – Devonport to Penguin

Spend the morning in Devonport stocking up on supplies, then drive to Penguin for the afternoon.  Walk along the beach, check out the Penguin Public Art Trail and have a beer at the Penguin Brewing Company Taphouse.  Overnight in Penguin or at the Midway Sulphur Creek Free Camp.

Day 2 – Penguin to Stanley

Enjoy the rolling hills and coastal scenery as you drive from Penguin to Stanley.  Cross the narrow isthmus and wander around this quaint village.  Take the chairlift to the top of the Nut and walk to the Lookout.  Overnight in Stanley or at the Smithton Tall Timbers RV Stop.

Day 3 – Stanley to Tarkine Drive

Head for the West Coast!  Explore Arthur River, stand on the Edge of the World and take a walk on the beach at Nelson Bay.  Then head inland into the forest.  Overnight at the Julius River Motorhome and Caravan Site.

Day 4 – Tarkine Forest Drive

Enjoy a full day exploring the Tarkine Forest.  Stroll through the rainforest at Julius River, visit Lake Chisholm and stare with wonder at Trowutta Arch.  Take your time today, this forest is beautiful and little visited.  In the late afternoon head back to Smithton or head down the Western Explorer Highway towards Corinna.

couple at the Nut Lookout, Stanley, Tasmania

Essential information for North West Tasmania

Fuel Stops

As you drive into the more remote areas, fuel stops become less common.  There is fuel in Marrawah and then none in Arthur River or on the Tarkine Drive.  We use the Petrol Spy App to help us find the best prices on fuel.

Food and Water

You’ll find a Coles or Woolworths in Devonport, Burnie and Smithton. As you head more remote larger supermarkets become rarer.  There is an IGA in Penguin and Stanley.

We filled our water at the Golf Club Campsite in Stanley.  There are also a couple of places to fill your water in Smithton. As we headed further south down the west coast, we found it difficult to get water.  We had to pay $15 to fill our tank in Zeehan – the most expensive water on our whole 3 year lap of Australia!

Phone and Internet

Phone and Internet service is honestly, not very good in Tasmania.  We struggled to get a good connection, even in the towns.  We figured it was due to us being there in peak season and the networks being overloaded.  There was no reception on the Tarkine Drive.

Pets

You can bring your dog along parts of the Tarkine Drive, but not others.  You can take your dog into Julius River but not to Lake Chisholm or Trowutta Arch.

Watch our Tasmania North West Travel Films

We produced a travel film for the drive along the north coast to Stanley, and another as we went into the wilds of the Tarkine Drive.

FAQs

When is the best time to visit North West Tasmania?

Peak season is in the summer and January can be especially busy.  The weather is a lot warmer in January and February and we even swam in the ocean at Stanley.  We recommend visiting Tasmania during February and March as it becomes a little quieter when school goes back.

How many days should I spend in Tasmania North West?

We recommend 4 days to really see Tasmania’s North West coast.  The driving distances are short and the roads here are in great condition.  See our 4 day North West Tasmania Itinerary for more details.

What should I pack for a North West Tasmania Road Trip?

Tasmanian weather can be unpredictable and changeable.  We began in Devonport in a heatwave (literally, it was 25 celsius and there were extreme heat warnings!) and by day four in the Tarkine Forest it was raining. They don’t call it the rainforest for nothing.

One thing we learned in Tasmania was to always be prepared, so we always carried a rain coat and warm jacket with us.

We recommend packing plenty of warm clothes, even if your travelling in the middle of summer.  

Need help planning your Tasmania Itinerary?

We would love to help you plan your North West Tasmania Road Trip Itinerary (or any part of your trip to Tassie). Drop us a comment down below or send us an email.

Where to next?

Continue south down into the West Coast Wilderness to the town of Strahan, or head to Cradle Mountain for iconic Tassie views.

4 thoughts on “Tasmania North West Road Trip – the best travel guide”

  1. Hey Sue & Nigel!!
    I love seeing all your travels and this one was exceptional! You both look amazingly well.. van life really does suit you both.
    Much love to you both and happy travels!!
    Elaine xxx

    Reply
  2. I liked that the article included tips for finding gas, food, water, and cell service. This is something that I always consider when I am planning a road trip, as it can be difficult to find these things in remote areas.

    The article also recommends packing warm clothes and rain gear, which is a good idea as the weather in Tasmania can be unpredictable.

    Reply

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