Quirky, charming, delightful: These are words that could as easily describe little penguins as they describe the Tassie town named after these creatures.
Penguin is home to about 4,000 people and has become a popular seaside town on Tasmania’s north coast. It lies on along the Bass Highway (National Highway 1) about 30 km west of Devonport and about 130 km northwest of Launceston.
The area was first inhabited by migrating bands of Tommeginne-speaking people. The Dial Range that forms a backdrop to this beautiful little town was named in the 1820s and during the 1850s timber cutters worked in the area, shipping the timber across the Bass Strait to the goldfields of Victoria. Even though Penguin became an important port, it was only in 1861 that a permanent European settler, Edward Beecraft, moved in. Seven years later the settlement, then still known as Penguin Creek, got its first post office.
Penguin briefly became a mining town when the explorer and miner James ‘Philosopher’ Smith found silver-lead and iron deposits here and registered the Penguin Silver Mines Co. in 1870. Mining never really took off in the area but you can still see remnants of the mining era in the magical Ferndene Gorge State Reserve, about 6 km south of town.
In 1875 Penguin was proclaimed a town. Unlike so many other towns that saw economic growth with the arrival of the railway, Penguin went into decline when the railway came in 1901. This was because the railway reduced the need for the port here. Today the old railway station building houses the Penguin History Group.
Penguin has two interesting timber churches. St Stephens Anglican Church was first built in 1874 and when the congregation needed a bigger church in about 1900, they simply sawed the church in two and added the extra bits. Nearby you’ll also find the Penguin Uniting Church, which dates from 1903.
It’s not really surprising that today Penguin is notable for all things …well… penguin! Images of the critters are everywhere, even on the rubbish bins lining the streets! The town is also home to one of those oversized roadside attractions known as Australia’s Big Things: The Big Penguin stands 3 m tall on the foreshore. About ten times smaller, is the real thing, the little or fairy penguins that nest at Penguin Point along the shore between September and March. The best time to see them is when they come ashore at dusk.
Another Penguin attraction is the Dutch windmill in Hiscutt Park and in addition to this the town is also a foodie paradise. This is especially true on Sunday mornings when it’s time for the Penguin Market, Tassie’s largest permanent undercover market, which is housed in an old school building dating from 1925. Penguin has a range of accommodation options, making this quirky little town the perfect place for a weekend getaway.