Not many cities have made a transformation as dramatic as Burnie on the north-west coast of Tasmania.
For all of the 20th century this was a gritty industrial hub, ruled by a paper mill and the fifth-largest container port in Australia.
The Port of Burnie is still active, but a lot of the heavy industry has melted away, letting the city to beat a new path.
One of Burnie’s big draws now is its nature, with a colony of little penguins on its foreshore, and platypuses that can be seen paddling in the Emu River.
1. Little Penguin Observation Centre
The smallest penguin species, the little penguin, has a colony on Burnie’s foreshore, a brief walk from the CBD.
There’s an observation centre on the boardwalk here, staffed by volunteer guides.
You’ll be given a rare window on the little penguin’s seasonal life, from courtship to rearing chicks and then moulting at the end of the breeding season.
At the fully accessible viewing area the guides will be on hand to give you extra insight and answer questions about the penguins, their diet and habits.
Between October and March you’re sure to see some cute baby penguins, and there will be extra volunteers at the centre in the evenings throughout this time
2. Burnie Regional Museum
Burnie’s 200 years of European history is revealed at this top-notch museum, holding the third-largest collection in the state.
The exhibition, on Federation Street, drops you into a Burnie street scene at the beginning of the 20th century.
Every business that you see here was once part of Burnie, including a blacksmith, dentist, photographer, printer, saddler and boot-maker.
You can also trace the city’s roots at the Early Burnie Exhibition, finding out about the European exploration and settlement of Tasmania and the story of the Van Diemen’s Land Company.
There’s ample information about forestry and papermaking, which were Burnie’s main industries for most of the 20th century.
3. Hellyers Road Distillery
Tasmania is an island dotted with distilleries, making the most of the most of its pure mountain streams and grains nourished by a temperate climate.
Despite the stiff competition, Hellyers Road’s single malt has been acclaimed as the country’s best by the Malt Whisky Association of Australia.
The distillery, named for Henry Hellyer, an early European explorer of Tasmania, is less than ten minutes from Burnie’s CBD.
There you’ll find a visitor centre for tastings and sales, and a cafe serving comforting dishes like slow-cooked beef cheeks with a whisky glaze.
You can also take a tour to watch a new batch distilling, see the American oak barrels in the bond store and pour and seal your own bottle of Hellyers Road to take home.
4. Burnie Park
Once a private garden, Burnie’s main urban park was bought by the city in the 1920s.
There are neat flowerbeds planted with annuals, rambling walkways and flowing lawns under mature exotic and native trees.
The high ground also gives Burnie Park some lovely views of the Bass Strait.
There may not be a prettier urban park in Tasmania, so no wonder it’s a gathering place for seasonal events like Carols by Candlelight at Christmas and Easter Sunday’s Kids in the Park.
The oldest building in the city, the old Burnie Inn , is also within these boundaries.
Dating back to 1847, this was Burnie’s first licensed premises.
5. Burnie Regional Art Gallery
Another way to tap into Burnie’s dynamic arts community is at this gallery, serving the north-west and west coasts of Tasmania.
True to the city’s heritage as a papermaking hub, the regional gallery has assembled a nationally important collection of print and art on paper.
This has grown to more than 1,300 works, and you can check out selection at exhibitions.
The gallery also curates solo shows, special and touring exhibitions as well as a host of community and school programs.
All year round there are openings, talks and workshops, and every two years the gallery’s national reputation is underlined by the prestigious Bernie Print Prize.
6. Fern Glade Reserve
On the east bank of the Emu River before it swoops into Emu Bay there’s a beautiful reserve bedded in the valley.
There’s a wonderful variety of natural life along the riverside paths at the Fern Glade Reserve, from wallabies to lush tree ferns, orchids, unusual fungi and birds like the Tasmanian native hen.
But the stars of the show are the platypuses, which tend to be shy but can be spotted surfacing in the river or shuffling along the banks.
This is thought to be one of the best places to see this species anywhere in the wild.
7. Guide Falls
Be sure to make time for a drive into Burnie’s idyllic hinterland to discover this tiered-cascade waterfall in a pristine natural reserve.
The base of Guide Falls is an easy ten-minute walk from the car park, and there’s a steep stairway up to a platform for a stunning view from above.
The setting is nothing short of sublime, with tree ferns crowding the creek and falls, and peculiar basalt formations at the main drop and along the cascades below.
The falls are at their best in winter and spring, but have a steady flow all year.
The reserve offers facilities like picnic tables, two barbecues and toilets.
8. Emu Valley Rhododendron Garden
If you’re in Burnie between the end of August and January you have to make the short trip to this garden in a natural amphitheatre just outside the city.
Growing here in 11 hectares are more than 22,000 rhododendron and companion plants, which burst into flower for those few months.
The Emu Valley Rhododendron Garden has been landscaped over more than three decades by volunteers, and is embellished with features like waterfalls, bridges, four lakes, drystone walls and gazebos.
Around October you can also witness the garden’s cherry trees in bloom, and there’s an annual celebration to mark the event, with Japanese-themed displays, stalls and plant sales.
April and May is another beautiful time at the garden, thanks to the brilliant autumn foliage.
9. Guide Falls Farm
For families visiting Guide Falls there’s a working farm that welcomes visitors for animal encounters.
A self-guided tour around the paddocks will take around two hours, during which you’ll meet deer, alpacas, peacocks, emus, rabbits, sheep and pigs, to name just a handful.
You’ll be able to hand-feed these animals, as well as the abundant trout in the farm’s ponds.
Depending on when you come there will also be baby animals at the nursery.
You’ll be free to stay and have a picnic watching lambs and calves frolicking in the fields, and the farm shop sells seasonal produce, as well as free range eggs all year.
10. West Beach
Also known as simply “Burnie Beach”, West Beach is just a block from the CBD and is joined by the boardwalk to the Little Penguin Observation Centre.
Come on a sunny day and this is an agreeable place to linger, with a wide arc of sand and a generous foreshore equipped with picnic tables and barbecues.
There’s a children’s playground about halfway along, while Surf Club building boasts a beachfront restaurant and cafe.
People come to West Beach on December 31 to light bonfires and watch the New Year fireworks.
11. Round Hill Lookout
Emu Bay is enclosed by steep hills and escarpments, so there are a few elevated places close by affording splendid vistas of Burnie and the Bass Strait.
The best of these is atop Round Hill, which dominates the city from the east.
There’s a short and comfortable walk to the lookout from the car park, which features two viewing platforms and an observation tower.
From here you’ll get a great perspective of the Port of Burnie, and the view extends as far as Table Cape, 30 kilometres along the coast.
You can also look east across the bucolic Blythe River Conservation Area and Burnie’s outer suburbs.
12. Oldaker Falls
Burnie Park even has its own waterfall, which is on Stoney Creek and can be found on the high slopes at the upper end of the park.
On paved tracks, you’ll leave the park’s neat landscaping behind for slightly wilder, overgrown scenery.
Oldaker Falls has a few signs of human intervention to manage the flow, which can be quite fierce after prolonged rain but shrinks to a trickle in dry spells.
A stairway will lead you up beside the splash pool and intermediate falls, to the base of the main drop in a picturesque little gorge.
13. Upper Burnie Lookout
Even closer than Round Hill is this rise next to the Mount Street, a couple of kilometres south of the port.
If you want to see the sun come up on Emu Bay, this is the place to do it.
There’s a perfect view of the port too, and you can let an hour drift by watching all the activity below.
The view west is obstructed by a line of trees, but there’s ample grassy space, benches and a picnic table for an economic family outing.