Off the Bass Highway in North West Tasmania, Ulverstone is a coastal town that has been spruced up in the last decade to meet an influx of tourists.
It’s no surprise that Ulverstone should be on people’s radars given the breadth of things to do close by.
Go south and you’ll climb into the massive interior, where cave systems, waterfalls and immense canyons are minutes away by car.
Ulverstone is on the tidal Leven River, and you can take a cruise to see the man tree ferns and colourful birdlife on the wild banks.
One loyal summer visitor to Ulverstone is the little penguin, which nests in huge numbers all along Tasmania’s north-west coast.
1. Leven Canyon
At Ulverstone you’ll be in the most convenient spot to reach one of North West Tasmania’s most striking natural sights.
Strangely, Leven Canyon is relatively unheralded despite its splendour, and despite being just half an hour inland from the town.
Here the Leven River courses through limestone cliffs dropping 300 metres.
You can walk to two lookouts on an easy, 1.2-kilometre track, although there’s a steep stairway between the two vantage points if you don’t want to retrace your steps.
Any climbing will be recompensed with staggering views of the canyon, the steep and densely wooded surrounding slopes and the outline of Black Bluff to the south-west.
2. Lillico Beach
All along Tasmania’s north-west coast are rookeries for the world’s smallest penguin.
The aptly named little penguin grows to just 30 centimetres tall and one kilo in weight.
These guys show up from September to May when they come ashore to make their nests in burrows along the coast.
During this time they’ll spend most of the day fishing, and will return to their nests in the evening.
This sight of penguins waddling up the shore can be witnessed just after sunset at the shingle Lillico Beach directly east of Ulverstone.
The beach is a conservation area, and a team of volunteers organises a penguin viewing tour from a platform above.
You’ll be given a factsheet and will hear interesting details about the little penguins and their breeding, nesting and feeding habits.
Remember to dress for the cold, and to wear dark colours.
The beach is also noted for its large rock pools, attracting other birdlife including pelicans, red-capped plovers and pied oystercatchers.
3. Leven River Cruises
From Ulverstone you can make an enthralling journey upriver with this small, family-run cruise company.
Leven River Cruises are nature-oriented, giving you privileged views of the wet sclerophyll forest lining the river banks, paired with in-depth knowledge of the wildlife that lives in it.
You’ll also hear compelling anecdotes about 180+ years of European settlement along the river, from Kim the friendly skipper.
These trips are intimate as the vessel can hold no more than 16 passengers.
As well as one-hour and two-hour cruises you can book a specialised bird photography trip, quietly drifting along the river to snap some of the dozens of species residing on the banks, including the vibrant azure kingfisher.
4. Gunns Plains Cave
This limestone show cave just out of Gunns Plains was discovered in 1906 by one Bill Woodhouse, while he was out hunting for possums.
The section of the cave open to the public is almost 300 metres long, giving you a tantalising glimpse of a system that goes on for another kilometre.
Accompanied by an enthusiastic guide, you’ll get to see some stunning formations along the trail, like flowstones, calcite shawls, helictites, stalagmites and stalactites.
Also putting on a show are the glow worms that dangle from the cave’s ceiling.
The river that hollowed out Gunns Plains Cave continues to flow, and offers a habitat to various species of fish, eels and the endangered Tasmanian freshwater crayfish, while platypus sleep and nest on the sandy banks outside.
5. Wings Wildlife Park
Also waiting for you in Gunns Plains is an award-winning, family-run animal attraction getting you up close to Tasmania’s most famous species.
Some of the stars at Wings Wildlife Park are the Tasmanian devils, wombats, wallabies, quolls, kangaroos and sugar gliders.
Many of these native residents have been rescued following abandonment, illness or injury.
Meanwhile, some of the many exotic animals to check out at the park are koalas, bison, meerkats, various monkeys, marmosets, camels and a great deal more.
There’s a daily schedule of feeds and talks for many of the park’s most popular animals, like Tasmanian devils, meerkats, koalas and all kinds of reptiles.
6. Preston Falls (Delaneys Falls)
Allow extra time on your trip to Gunns Plains for this waterfall on Preston Creek among rolling farmland.
There’s a little car park on the Raymond Road, and a stairway guides you down to the edge of a gorge for superb view of the falls.
The waterfall is around 25 metres tall, dropping over a sheer cliff cloaked in vegetation, with man tree ferns along the course of the creek.
Try to time your visit after a period of sustained rainfall when the waterfall is at its most powerful.
7. Buttons Beach
Beginning east of the River Leven’s mouth is Buttons Beach, facing north and continuing for 2.7 kilometres.
This is where you’ll find Ulverstone’s Surf Life Saving Club, and if you fancy a swim the safest bet is in the patrolled zone right in front of the club, or at mid-to-high tide away from the beach’s rocks.
Beyond that, Buttons Beach shines for the parks and recreation facilities behind it.
In the west is the dog-friendly Bicentennial Park, giving way to the grassy sweep of Fairway Park, where there’s a children’s playground and skate park.
In between is the ever-popular Ulverstone Water Slide and the sunny terrace of Beach Hut Coffee.
8. Pedal Buggies Tasmania
Spend any time on the foreshore in Ulverstone and you’re sure to see a pedal buggy zipping past.
These can be hired from Pedal Buggies Tasmania next to Beach Hut Coffee behind Buttons Beach.
A range of styles and sizes are available, from single-seater to double or family buggies.
Trailers can be attached for additional seating, and baby harness seats are provided.
After that you’ll be free to zoom along the ultra-smooth and mostly flat paths in Bicentennial Park and Fairway Park.
If you want to go further then certain buggies are also adapted for longer trips down the east bank of the River Leven.
9. Ulverstone Cultural Centre
When we wrote this article in 2020, Ulverstone was in the process of building a sleek new cultural hub.
This will be ready some time in 2021, and will incorporate the Ulverstone History Museum, the town’s visitor information centre and a new science centre and planetarium.
The site will also feature spaces for art exhibitions and workshops, as well as a cafe, creating a precinct with much to offer both Ulverstone residents and visitors to the town.
10. Riverside Anzac Park
This wedge of greenery is on the river bend, almost in the shadow of the Leven Bridge.
There’s a smooth waterside path with pedal buggies darting along, and benches so you can take in the views of the River Leven and look west towards Mount Montogomery.
Kids will be thrilled with Anzac Park for its quirky, space-themed playground equipment, including a climbable flying saucer and rocket and a long slide that uses the natural slope down to the riverfront.
Anzac Park has a big swathe of grass, which makes it suited to events like Festival in the Park, an annual food, drink and lifestyle get-together at the end of February.
11. Leven Antique Centre
Ulverstone lays claim to the longest-established antiques shop in Tasmania, a worthwhile stop if you want to make a unique find.
The Leven Antiques Centre on King Edward Street has a massive catalogue, spanning everything from sterling silver to collectibles, art, jewellery, Georgian glass, textiles, ceramics going back to the 1700s, art deco items, books, coins, fine art, retro/kitsch and much more besides.
The owner is a member of the Australian Antiques & Art Dealers Association, and dedicated shoppers could easily pass several hours hunting for that something special.
12. Buttons Brewing
True beer connoisseurs won’t have to leave town for a high-quality brew, as there’s a small batch brewery in a great location in Ulverstone.
Buttons Brewing is based at a microbrewery on Short Street in Ulverstone’s industrial zone, where you can visit the cellar door and pick up takeaways.
The brand has also recently opened a bar/restaurant right next to the water on Wharf Street, putting on live music, sourdough pizza nights and a lot more.
The closest thing to a flagship is the much-loved Hazard IPA, but also in the lineup is a Kölsch, Brown Ale and any number of limited editions.
A ten-minute drive west of Ulverstone will bring you to a peaceful town pressed against the coast by the wooded slopes of the Dial Range.
You don’t need sharp deduction skills to know that little penguins are plentiful on the town’s waterfront! During the breeding season from September to March, penguins come ashore in their thousands, and you take guided evening tours from Penguin Point.
To celebrate these cuties the town erected a Big Penguin in 1975, made from fibreglass and cement and standing 3.15 metres tall.
Another string in Penguin’s bow is the largest undercover market in Tasmania, trading every Sunday by tradition, but also opening on Wednesday and Saturday for smaller markets.
The city of Devonport, just 15 minutes east of Ulverstone, is many people’s first sight of Tasmania.
This port at the mouth of the Mersey River is the southern terminus for the Spirit of Tasmania ferry crossing the Bass Strait from Melbourne.
The foreshore in Devonport has much to recommend it, especially on the west side of the Mersey River where the Bass Strait Maritime Centre tells the fascinating story of seafaring on the channel between Tasmania and the mainland.
High on the headland close by is the Mersey Bluff Lighthouse, raised in 1889 and granting amazing views from its rocky perch, especially at sunrise or sunset.
15. Bass Highway
Tasmania’s stupendous north-west coast is traversed by what must be one of the great scenic highways, running 273 kilometres between Launceston in the east and Marrawah in the west.
The Bass Highway bypasses Ulverstone in the south and, just after Penguin, stays tight to the coast, tracking sandy beaches, rising with cliffs and headland and stooping to the mouths of many rivers flowing from the North West’s rugged interior.
For the smallest taste of what’s in store, you can call in at world-class distilleries, observe platypuses and penguins in their natural habitat, take a detour on a heritage railway, see 200-year-old ruins from the dawn of European settlement and visit lighthouses and lookouts on windswept promontories.