If you want to explore the Tarkine wilderness, Smithton makes an ideal base. This bustling agricultural town on Tassie’s northwest coast is the last major commercial centre before you reach the Arthur River and the ultimate wilderness experience.
Smithton lies at the mouth of the Duck River on the Bass Strait. The town, home to about 4,000 people, is a little over 130 km west of Devonport and about 230 km northwest of Launceston. The easiest way to get here is via the Bass Highway, which is National Highway 1 until Burnie and then becomes the A2.
The area that would become Smithton was east of the Peerapper people’s territory, which stretched along the coast from north of Macquarie Harbour to Cape Grim and included Robbins Island. By 1825 the Van Diemen’s Land Company was active here too but the town of Smithton was only settled in 1856. At first it grew slowly but like many towns along the Bass Strait coast, Smithton found its fortunes in timber during the Victoria gold rush. Soon the Duck River Valley was known as Tasmania’s timber capital and as the timber cutters cleared the land, the farmers moved in. Beef and dairy farming became a mainstay of the economy, like it still is today, and by 1904 the Duck River Butter and Bacon Factory was open for business. Even though Duck River butter isn’t made in Smithton anymore, the original factory building still stands.
The next year Smithton was officially proclaimed a town and when the Mowbray swamp was drained during this time, there was extra land available for dairy farming. Over the years more swamps were drained, making even more land available, and by the early 1920s Smithton had overtaken nearby Stanley in importance. The town really began prospering in the 1950s, with meat, vegetable and abalone processing plants now major employers here.
The Circular Head Heritage Centre provides some insight into Smithton’s past. You can also visit Gunns Timber Mill by appointment to see how timber is processed, while Lacrum Dairy welcomes visitors who want to watch the cows being milked or who would like to try some of the cheeses produced here. The Allandale Gardens make for a pleasant stroll while there’s good fishing and boating to be had in the Duck River and Duck Bay.
Smithton is also the place where you can sign up for true adventure in the Tarkine. Between September and May, for instance, you can go on a 4WD adventure tour in this wilderness area or get a bird’s eye view with a scenic flight. If you want a little more adrenalin, Tarkine Forest Adventures is an adventure centre about 30 km from town. It used to be known as Dismal Swamp but let’s face it: There’s nothing dismal about speeding down a slide into a sunken blackwood forest.
Another fascinating tour from Smithton is to Woolnorth and Cape Grim, the northwestern corner of Tasmania. Woolnorth is still owned by the Van Diemen’s Land Company, which received the royal charter for the land in 1825. Here you’ll find a large dairy farm as well as Australia’s largest wind farm. Cape Grim claims to have some of the world’s cleanest air, so take a deep breath while you enjoy the spectacular views. Woolnorth is also home to a population of Tasmanian devils.
Smithton has plenty of eateries where you can try the fresh local produce. You’ll also find a good range of accommodation options here.