In contrast to Stanley, its sleepy neighbour, Smithton is a busy little place, being the regional centre of one of Tasmania s most productive fishing, beef, dairying and potato growing areas. It is home to timber mills, the state s largest dairy produce factory, Duck River oysters.
The Apex Lookout (Massey Street) on Tier Hill, behind the town, gives a full panorama of the Duck River estuary and offshore islands.
Don't be put off by some of the names in the area - like Cape Grim and Dismal Swamp. There is nothing grim or dismal about the extreme north west corner of Tasmania, which can be explored with ease when using Smithton as your base. The Bureau of Meteorology has measured the air here as the cleanest the world and you d can help believing the local farmers when they say the grass their cows feed on is the greenest in the country.
The are's famed dairy industry can be inspected at the Lacrum Dairy at Mella (6 km). It is possible to watch the afternoon milking session and to taste some of the cheeses produced. Contact (03) 6452 2322 for more details. Visitor Centre: Tarkine Forest Adventures, Bass Hwy, Smithton. Ph (03) 6456 7199
Where Is it?: 135 km north west of Devonport, 86 km north west of Burnie, 22 km west of Stanley, 50 km north west of Marrawah, 240 km north west of Launceston.
Woolnorth (40 km) is located near the northwest extremity of Tasmania on Cape Grim. It is still owned by the Van Diemen's Land Company which acquired the land in 1825. It is the last Royal Charter Company in the world. Visitors can explore the 22,000 hectare property on full day and half day guided tours, taking in the old farm buildings, the wind farm and Cape Grim, where large turbines harness energy from the Roaring Forty winds.
Cape Grim, at the extreme north west tip of mainland Tasmania, is where the Great Southern Ocean and the Roaring Forties collide with Bass Strait. Cape Grim was discovered by Matthew Flinders on 9th December 1798. The discovery of the isolated point and coastline confirmed to Flinders that Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania) was an island. Cape Grim is not named after the massacre there (see below), but was given that name by Matthew Flinders to describe the terrible sea and weather conditions he encountered there. The name proved to be uncannily suitable for later events.
Cape Grim was and still is the western boundary of the VDL Company's huge Woolnorth property, originally a massive wool-growing enterprise but today the site of Australia's biggest dairy farm. It is also the location of the Cape Grim Baseline Air Pollution Station which is operated by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology in a joint programme with the CSIRO. The station was established in 1976 and has been operating ever since.
One of the lesser known incidents of violent conflict between Aboriginal Tasmanians and colonial era white settlers was the massacre of local Aboriginal people at Cape Grim in 1828. The massacre was part of a spiral of violence known as the "Black War", a period of conflict between British colonists and Aboriginal Tasmanians from the mid-1820s to 1832. The Pennemuker and Peerapper people often came to Cape Grim as it had plentiful supplies of seafood and mutton bird. The massacre occurred on 10th February, 1828 and the estimate of death was 32 members of the Pennemuker people. Clans of the North West had experienced violent conflict with European settlers since 1810 when sealing parties abducted women. In 1820 a group of sealers sprang from hiding in a cave at The Doughboys near Cape Grim and ambushed a group of Pennemukeer women collecting muttonbirds and shellfish, capturing and binding them and carrying them off to Kangaroo Island. Pennemukeer men responded with a reprisal attack, clubbing three sealers to death.
Further conflict developed after the arrival of the VDL Company in late 1826. Ships then began arriving to offload livestock and indentured convicts who would work as shepherds and ploughmen on sheep stations at Cape Grim and Circular Head, occupying key Aboriginal kangaroo hunting grounds. Four convicts who were tending a large flock of sheep lured some Peerapper women into a hut for sex. When the Peerapper men objected, a skirmish developed during which one of the shepherds was speared in the leg and several Peerapper men including a chief were shot dead. A month after the clash, a party of Peerapper returned to seek retribution, destroying 118 ewes from the company's stock, spearing some, beating others with waddies and driving the rest over a cliff and into the sea.
Suicide Bay and The Doughboys. Photo: Tourism Tasmania & Kraig Carlstrom
On the day of the massacre, the Peerapper men were down on the beach watching the children as their women swam out to the offshore island outcrops known as The Doughboys to harvest mutton birds. Although there is no single definitive narrative, it is believed the same four shepherds came to a cliff top, later referred to as Victory Hill, and began firing down on them. One group - thought to be all men - were killed near the edge of the 60 metre cliff and their bodies then thrown to the rocks below. The site of the massacre is thought to be present-day Suicide Bay, facing The Doughboys. Between 400 and 500 Aboriginal people were living in the region before the company's arrival, but by 1835 their number had dwindled to just over 100.
Today Cape Grim is known for its excellent beef. Given that it rains at Cape Grim for 187 days a year on average, the pasture there makes for perfect grazing land. Cape Grim cattle, lungs full of clean air and bellies full of tasty pasture, have a reputation for providing some of the best grass-fed beef in the world.
Hunter Island Group
Hunter Island (Muttonbird Reserve), Three Hummock Island, Robbins Island, Albatross Island (Wildlife Sanctuary) and Walker Island are the most visited of the Hunter Island Group, which is offshore from Smithton. Hunter Island shows evidence of 23,000 years of continuous occupation by Aboriginal people and has been inhabited by non-Aboriginal people for approximately 170 years.
Three Hummock Island has been described as a coastal wonderland. It has dozens of beaches, some magnificent with breakers and sand dunes, others as small as 20 metres, protected by jutting granite boulders and seething in life. The eastern and northern coasts of Robbins Island offer a variety of sights and wildlife. There are hills, cliffs, rolling paddocks, a lagoon, sand dunes, and surf beaches and a six square km inlet that dries entirely twice a day with every low tide.
Irishtown in the 1880s
A small rural town on the Irishtown Road, it was first settled by Mr. Patrick O'Halloran and his family. A strong dairy-farming district, it is thought to be one of the best in the state. Originally it was named Upper Duck Creek while Duck River even though it does not flow through the locality, but several of its tributaries do. Irishtown is 8 kilometres south-east of the town of Smithton.
Opening of the Smithton-Irishtown railway, 20th October 1921. Official train at Smithton. W Winslade photo
Smithton to Irishtown Railway
A railway line between Irishtown and Smithton was opened in 1921. The Tasmanian Government Railways extended its Western line from Burnie to Myalla in two stages in 1913. In 1919, an isolated line was opened from the Bass Strait port of Stanley, south to Trowutta to tap the timber and farming industries. Two years later, this line was extended from Irishtown Junction west to the major centre of Smithton. In 1922, the missing section – from Myalla to Wiltshire – was completed.
From the 1980s, the dominant traffic on the line was outbound logs from Black River (just east of Wiltshire) with some supporting traffic to/from Stanley for the King Island shipping service, and to/from Smithton for the local processing industry. In 1990 the two extremities of the line were closed due to dwindling traffic. The remainder of the line closed to traffic in 1996. In 1999, the line was reopened again, but only for a few years.
Interestingly, 4 km up the road from Irishtown is the locality of Scotchtown (4.8 km south of Smithton). The locality was gazetted in 1973 as an officially named unbounded locality. As of May 2001, it is an officially named unbounded locality. The Duck River flows through from south to north, and forms much of the western boundary. The 2016 census determined a population of 254 for Scotchtown, compared to 301 for Irishtown.
Within the extensive Smithton dolomite deposits of north-western Tasmania a small area of limestone exists at Scotchtown. Through quarrying in March 1942, an infilled cave was exposed that provided the first assemblage of Pleistocene megafauna from a cave in Tasmania. The quarry was operated by Mr F. Archer to provide lime for the paper mill at Burnie. The feature became known as Scotchtown Cave. In more recent times, it re-emerged as a site of interest because of the discovery of the same type of giant kangaroo remains at Mt Cripps between 2000 and 2005, by members of the Savage River Caving Club.
Thylacoleo carnifex (Marsupial Lion)
Another first for Tasmania was the discovery within the Scotchtown Cave deposits of bones of Thylacoleo carnifex, the “pouched lion”. No remains of extinct giant marsupials such as Diprotodon, Nototherium and Thylacoleo had been previously found in either bone cave breccias or the older alluvial beds in Tasmania. The 1942 Scotchtown Cave discovery was the first Tasmanian cave to provide an assemblage of megafauna.
Thylacoleo was one of the first fossil mammals described from Australia, discovered not long after European settlement. It may have been an ambush predator or scavenger, and had enormous slicing cheek teeth, large stabbing incisor teeth (replacements for the canine teeth of other carnivorous mammals) and a huge thumb claw that may have been used to disembowel its prey.
The Tarkine Wilderness is Tasmania's largest unprotected wilderness area. It is hugely diverse extending from thundering west coast beaches, through giant sand dunes, across rolling button grass plains, to towering eucalypt forests. It hosts the only wilderness landscape dominated by rainforest in Australia. Its rainforests form the largest continuous tract of rainforest in Australia, they being the largest temperate rainforests in Australia.
There is a rich pioneer/exploring history of the Tarkine region, which was regarded as one of Tasmania's toughest and most impenetrable regions. Prospecting and Mining was one of the biggest drawcards to the region for early settlers, with tin mining set up at Balfour, Gold at Corinna, and Tin at Waratah also. Prospectors often searched the rivers in years between 1850 and 1950 quite unsuccessfully.
Tarkine Forest Drive
This 205 km drive commences and finishes at Smithton, and is without doubt the easiest way to get a taste of what Tasmania's Tarkine Wilderness Area is all about. You can travel in either direction - allow a full day as there is plenty to see along the way. It's a sealed road all the way these days, is easy to negotiate and covers an amazing diversity of landscapes. Its a good idea to take a picnic lunch as there are not many shops along the way, unless you stop at Arthur River where there is a nice cafe.
If you choose to travel inland from Smithton rather than follow the coast first, initially the drive is through mixed farming country and forests before entering the Tarkine Wilderness. You are then driving throiugh and past temperate rain forest, mountain ranges, button grass moorlands and much, much more. Allow time to admire the view from Sumac Lookout and to have a rest and forest walk at Julius River Reserve. This walk on a raised boardwalk is easy and allows you to get a real feel for the forest. After working your way south, the road heads towards the coast, meeting it just north of Couta Rocks and Temma. Drive north to the coastal settlements of Arthur River and Marrawah when you re-join Bass Highway for the final leg of the drive back to Smithton.
Some of the places you will encounter on this drive are detailed below. Keep in mind, this is a drive through virgin rainforest, so the beauty here is the pristine, untouched condition of the landscape that is disected by isolated, fast flowing rivers, and not snow-covered mountains, cosy beaches or picture-postcard vistas that are found elsewhere in Tasmania.
Trowutta Arch and Caves
The Tarkine region of North West Tasmania contains a number of unique cave systems. There are a series of extraordinary magnesite karst systems, including unique cave and pinnacle formations at Lyons River and the Arthur River-Victory Springs area, including warm springs. These cave systems are not only unique in themselves, but are also home to extraordinary cave dwelling creatures, such as the bizarretroglodyte (cave dwelling spider) and other fascinating creatures.
Trowutta Caves are located south of Smithton, beyond the beautiful Allendale Gardens, Trowutta and Milkshake Hills. The Trowutta Arch track begins soon after the Trowutta Caves State Reserve is reached. A short 10 minute easy well defined walk leads to the park s most interesting geological feature - the Trowutta Arch. The reserve protects an area of sinkholes covered in temperate rainforest full of myrtles, sassafrass, blackwoods, massive manferns and a variety of other ferns.
Don't let the name of this place put you off - going there might have been a dismal experience for the surveyors who named it back in 1828, but for today's visitors it offers a unique eco-tourism adventure. Dismal Swamp is actually a sink hole created over time with the dolomite slab dissolving in the wet area. Early last century its timber was used for making kegs and more recently was on a logging, clearing and draining list. Locals realised its importance and fought to preserve its destruction. In 1976 they had success.
The Circular Head region boasts Tasmania s finest Blackwood swamp forests. Viewing these forests from above and below the canopy of the trees will be possible through the construction of a Visitor Centre and Maze at Dismal Swamp, located 20 km west of Smithton on the Bass Highway.
Enjoy a coffee or light snack at the Visitor Centre where tickets may be purchased for entry to the maze. Either slide or stroll to the maze entrance and lose yourself in the blackwood forest. Try and spot the homes of the small burrowing crayfish. Free picnic and barbecue amenities will be available at the entrance to the Visitor Centre. Opening Autumn 2003, please call 6434 6345 to confirm operating hours.
A hidden gem, Lake Chisholm is a flooded limestone sinkhole, one of the many sinkholes in the area, but one of only two filled with water. A gentle half hour return walk meanders through a majestic old myrtle forest to the tranquil waters of the lake. This can be a fantastic photo opportunity, especially in the early morning, so remember to bring your camera.
Allendale Gardens (10 km south of Smithton), located on the road to Edith Creek, are an interesting mixture of rainforest, botanic gardens and pleasant walkways. There are 2.5 hectares of landscaped gardens set in 26 hectares of rainforest. Paths weave through lovely tree fern glades, eucalyptus and blackwood trees. In the gardens, 16th and 17th century roses are featured. This is a hidden gem, a beautiful, tranquil and fragrant paradise away from the everyday stress. Here you can take in the tranquillity and silence and the sensory delights of fragrant flowers, roses and the rainforest walk is a delight. Open Open from Tuesday 6th October until the last Saturday in April, 10am until 4pm. Ph (03) 6456 4216.
How to get there: At Smithton take the B22 just inside the Smithton town boundary via Irishtown or the C217 two kilometres further on at the roundabout on the Marrawah road.
Milkshakes Hills Forest Reserve
Milkshakes is a magical picnic spot. Picnic facilities are nestled among the eucalypt and rainforest trees. There are two walks, a basic 10 minute nature walk through the forest which is relatively flat, or you can climb to the top of one of the Milkshake Hills (45 minutes return). Shelters, picnic area and barbecues are available at the car park. A signposted track leads to the lookout on the Milkshakes Hills; a worthwhile climb.
The Milkshakes Forest Reserve free campsite is located app. 26 kilometres to the north of the Julius River campground, some 6 kilomtres south of the Tayatea Bridge. Turn off, follow the well signposted area for just over 3.5 kilometres where you will find this very appealing free camping ground. Make sure you walk through the rainforests on the tracks provided. Please note, this site is not ideally suited for tent-based camping; recommended for campervans, campers, motorhomes and caravans. For further information please contactForesty Tasmania - 03 6452 4900.
How to get there: Travel south from Smithton on the B22 to Edith Creek through excellent, fertile, dairy country. Take the C218 to Kanunnah Bridge over the Arthur River. Travel east via Julius River and the Rapid River Road and follow the signage to the Milkshakes Forest Reserve. Total distance is 80km.
Julius River Forest Reserve
This site has recently been upgraded and has excellent picnic facilities. A half hour return walk winds through the cool temperate rainforest. Interpretive signs provide an insight into the nature of this forest.
Julius River Rainforest Walk: From Milkshakes Hills, continue on to the 30 minute Julius River Rainforest Walk, situated in a beautiful reserve, set in sinkhole country. There are two easy walks into the mossy, myrtle forests, found throughout the Tarkine. BBQ facilities, picnic shelter and a toilet are provided.
South Arthur Forest Drive
The South Arthur Forest Drive is a safe and easy way to have a taste of the Tarkine region of Tasmania s north west with a minimum of fuss and without having to do the whole 4-wheel drive thing. The drive begins at Smithton and is an easy 130 km round trip. A mix of sealed and gravel roads give access to a number forest reserves on the way. To begin, take the turnoff which indicates South Arthur Forest Drive from the road between Stanley to Smithton. The following features are visited on the South Arthur Forest Drive.
Dodds Creek Falls
Dodds Creek Falls are in the Wes Beckett Reserve, 61 kms south of Smithton. The walk is short and the 1.2 kms return track is barely definable in has steep rocky sections and is sometimes close to the edge of the ravine. The falls are small, but pretty and the walk takes 30 - 35 minutes. It is not suitable for small children. Wes Beckett Reserve is 61 kms south of Smithton. After turning left at Kanunnah Bridge onto Sumac Road, drive 16 km before branching left onto Mount Bertha Road. There are five more signed intersections in the final 10 km. Take a left turn at each one.
Water Wheel Creek Timber Heritage Experience
Water Wheel Creek Timber Heritage Experience is located on 20 hectares (49 acres) of forested land at Mawbanna, community 25 minutes south east of Stanley (27 km), en route to Dip Falls. Here you can take a guided tour to see Tasmania's only working example of a timber tramway. Discover the spirit of early pioneers in the Heritage Museum and browse the displays of restored pioneer machinery, artefacts, photographs and memorabilia to gain an insight into life in the early timber communities of Tasmania s north west.
You can also take a guided Forest Experience Walk. On this gentle, tracked walk through native forest you will discover a complex eco-system and the diverse wildlife it supports. See Tasmanian rainforest trees including blackwood, sassafras and myrtle and walk in the shade of giant tree ferns. You may even catch a glimpse of an elusive platypus or giant Tasmanian freshwater crayfish. Visit the Bushman's Cafe to try freshly made cakes and scones, sustaining snacks and steaming tea and coffee. Soak up the atmosphere of the surrounding forest on the outdoor deck.
The Big Tree
Another attraction in the forest near Mawbanna is The Big Tree, a 400 year old browntop stringybark tree standing head and shoulders above all the other much smaller trees in the surrounding rainforest. The Big Tree is 62 metres tall, and at 16 metres, it definitely has the widest circumference of any tree in Australia.