The Spirit of Tasmania, the ferry service from the mainland, docks at the mouth of the Mersey River in Devonport.
There are breathtaking headlands and beaches along the rugged coastline where you can set your gaze to the north, as well as a museum all about the Bass Strait from its ecology to history of shipwrecks.
Devonport is the nearest major settlement to the staggering natural scenery Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park, and at just over an hour away it’s a journey that needs to be made.
1. Bass Strait Maritime Centre
Where better than the mouth of the Mersey River to discover the natural and human history of the strait separating Tasmania from the Australian mainland.
With a combination of interactive displays, clear information boards and artefacts, the centre goes into detail on topics like prehistory, European exploration, settlement, shipwrecks, shipbuilding, naval history, maritime industries and the development of Devonport.
Among the hands-on experiences, you’ll be able to navigate a turn-of-the-century steamer into the Mersey River or Melbourne’s Port Phillip Bay.
The centre also maintains the recently restored Julie Burgess ketch, sailing out into the Bass Strait from October to late-June.
2. Mersey Bluff Lighthouse
From the Maritime Centre you can follow the Devonport Cycle and Walking Track west to Mersey Bluff, a peninsula poking into the sea.
Atop the rocks at the northern tip stands the historic Mersey Bluff Lighthouse, which was erected in 1889, replacing a succession of beacons that had been placed at this site.
When it was completed the lighthouse dramatically reduced shipwrecks in the area, and was automated relatively early, in 1920 when it converted to electricity.
The first thing that will strike you about this structure is its use of vertical red bands instead of horizontal.
Pay a visit for knockout coastal views and a blast of sea air.
If you’re in luck you may see a wallaby in the bush, and from here you’ll be able to stay on the trail west to Bluff Beach, strewn with rocky outcrops at low tide.
3. Don River Railway
The branch Melrose Line opened in 1916 and ran from Don Junction at the mouth of the Don River to Paloona, some 20 kilometres to the south-west.
The line was closed in 1963, but in 1976, a 3-kilometre portion between Don Junction and Don Township was reopened as the Don River Railway.
This normally operates from Wednesday to Sunday.
Enjoying views of the river and the picturesque suburb of Don, you’ll ride in a 1940s-era car, pulled by a steam or vintage diesel locomotive.
The attraction is staffed by well-informed volunteers who will be happy to answer any questions.
You’ll also be able to look around the workshop where historic rolling stock is being restored, as well as a signal box, turntable and a small museum.
4. Home Hill
Tasmania’s only Australian Prime Minister, Joseph Lyons (1879-1939) resided at this charming weatherboard house in Devonport with his wife Dame Enid Lyons and their 12 children.
Commissioned by the family in 1916, Home Hill is now run by the National Trust and has been kept exactly how it was when Dame Enid last lived here in 1981. She was the first woman to be elected to Australia’s House of Representatives, and the house reflects her tastes and is replete with personal effects and fascinating mementoes.
On a tour you’ll be given a privileged insight into the political and private lives of two key figures in Australian 20th-century history.
5. Southern Wild Distillery
North-west Tasmania’s exceptionally pure mountain streams and fertile soils are conducive to high-quality liquor.
At Southern Wild Distillery on Oldaker Street the speciality is gin, made with that pure water and the freshest local ingredients.
Expertly distilled with careful blends of native botanicals, the award-winning main range features the London-style Mountain Gin, Meadow Gin, infused with herbs and citrus from local gardens, and Ocean Gin, which boasts fresh rose petal and Takame seaweed from the Tasman Sea.
The cellar door/lounge bar in Devonport is attached to the distillery and open seven days a week for tastings, sales, or if you just fancy a drink.
Tours are available by appointment and there are food trucks and live bands on weekends.
6. Tasmanian Trail
Devonport is the northern terminus for a 460-kilometre multi-use trail snaking down Tasmania’s spine to Dover in the south-east.
Making its way across testing but exhilarating terrain, the Tasmanian Trail is broken down into 15 sections, each designed to be completed in a day and normally ending at a campsite or town.
The route does tend to use rural roads, and for that reason is best suited to cyclists and horseback riders.
The beginning is light, along the banks of the Mersey River, but a world of raw but glorious scenery will be in store at the Cluan Tiers, the Great Western Tiers, the Central Highlands, the Derwent River and the lower slopes of Hobart’s Mount Wellington.
7. Coles Beach
East of the Don River mouth, Coles Beach is peaceful and unfrequented despite being served by the Don River Railway.
Awaiting you is a long and clean sandy bay, well-protected by headlands.
The surf is brisk here with rolling waves that break a long way out, so there’s a big shallow area for kids to splash in.
When it’s too cold to swim you could still visit for a scenic walk.
Coles Beach is well looked after and has decent facilities, with shaded tables and easy access to the Don to Devonport cycleway.
8. Tasmanian Arboretum
A little way out of Devonport in Eugenana there’s a 66-hectare botanical tree park by the Don River.
Growing a wealth of temperate climate species from around the world, the Tasmanian Arboretum was laid out in the 1980s on farmland and remnant forest where Melrose Creek makes its way down to the Don River.
The park is also a showcase for Tasmania’s woody plants, as well as varieties like southern beeches and Southern Hemisphere conifers such as wollemia.
Generally what you’ll get is a glimpse of the kind of vegetation that grew on the Gondwana supercontinent up to the Jurassic period some 180 million years ago.
This environment supports wildlife like platypuses, which you may be able to see in Founders’ Lake, as well as the flightless Tasmanian native hen, which roams the park freely.
9. Spirit of the Sea
The mouth of the Mersey River and the entrance to the port is guarded by a bronze statue weighing 700kg.
The Spirit of the Sea was installed in 2009 and was the state’s most expensive piece of public art at the time, costing $250,000. The work, designed by Aden and Karena McLeod, is posted on a concrete platform and represents the “power and fascination of the sea”. At the lookout you can stare at the enormous expanse of the Bass Strait.
This is also a great vantage point for boat-spotters, watching massive container ships and of course the Spirit of Tasmania coming and going from the port.
10. Devonport Regional Gallery
In 2018 the paranaple arts centre opened in Devonport’s CBD, integrating the historic Town Hall Theatre, the Visitor Centre and the Devonport Regional Gallery.
There’s a medley of modern and historic architecture here, anchored by the old Town Hall from 1899 and the Courthouse from 1902. As for the gallery, this holds the council’s permanent collection, comprising painting, sculpture, textile art, ceramics, glass and works on paper.
There’s a dynamic exhibition schedule, with national touring shows and the chance to see some emerging Tasmanian artists.
11. Spirit of Tasmania
The best way to reach Devonport from the Australian mainland was by the Spirit of Tasmania ferry operator.
The namesake vessel was built at the Perno Shipyard in Turku, Finland in the late-1990s and after a few years in Greece has been running the Melbourne-Devonport route since 2002. On days when the liner makes a double sailing, it will take nine hours to cross the Bass Strait, and this increases to eleven hours on days with single sailings.
Obviously, the Spirit of Tasmania is the way to do it if you want to bring your car, and a deluxe cabin or a simple recliner chair is a more dignified and relaxing alternative to a flight if you have time to spare.
12. Cradle Mountain
Devonport is the simplest point of departure for a natural Tasmanian icon, and one of the island’s most pictured natural landmarks.
Up in the Central Highlands at 1,545m above sea level, the jagged peak of Cradle Mountain climbs above the glacially formed Dove Lake in a scene of untamed natural splendour.
For those who don’t want to miss a thing, the online tour platform GetYourGuide.com offers a guided visit, setting off from the Cradle Mountain National Park’s visitor centre.
Walking around Dove Lake you’ll find out the native plants and wildflowers in this environment, before entering the primeval Ballroom forest where the myrtle beech trees are totally clad with moss.
13. Leven Canyon
On the way to or from Cradle Mountain you could make a detour to Tasmania’s deepest limestone ravine, south-west of Devonport in Nietta.
Here you can watch the Leven River thundering between towering limestone walls covered with high-elevation alpine vegetation.
You can choose from a variety of trails to discover this scenery, lifting you to the dumbfounding Cruikshanks and Leven Canyon Lookouts, out along the canyon cliff walls or down to the floor of the canyon.
You’ll get to see lots of native Tasmanian wildlife, enormous ferns, eye-catching lichens and strange fungi, much of which is explained by information boards.
For a spot of repose you could call in at the cute Kaydale Lodge Gardens close by for high tea.
14. Don Reserve
On the east bank of the tidal Don River, just before it flows into Bass Strait there’s a tract of quiet bushland rich with native plants.
Sawdust-laid trails weave through the bush and alongside the river, with far-reaching views over the mudflats at low tide.
This makes the Don Reserve a great location for bird-watching, and there’s a smattering of facilities to make your stay a little more comfortable, including a grassy space for picnics and a shelter.
15. Devonport Visitor Centre
Back at the paranaple arts centre, Devonport’s tourism resource is obligatory, especially if you’re planning to venture off into Tasmania’s wilderness.
You can get hold of national park passes here, and find out about tours and itineraries across the state.
There are shelves loaded with leaflets and brochures for Devonport and beyond.
You can also book tickets for the Spirit of Tasmania, or simply help yourself to a cup of coffee and the centre’s free Wi-Fi.
And, if you’re stuck for inspiration you can buy souvenirs from the centre and nobody back home will be any wiser!