Few towns can boast a dramatic setting quite like that of Stanley, an important and historic fishing port on Tassie’s northwest coast. A narrow strip of land juts into the Bass Strait and as you drive across, you may not even notice the stunning beaches on either side because your eyes will be glued to the hill looming up ahead. This is The Nut, at the foot of which you’ll find a small town with a fascinating history.
The original inhabitants of the area were Tommeginne-speaking people who called the large flat-topped volcanic plug Moo-Nut-Re-Ker. When George Bass and Matthew Flinders circumnavigated Tasmania in 1798, they saw this landform that to them looked like a Christmas cake and named it Circular Head. This was also the name given to the settlement that developed here in 1826 on a large area of land given to the Van Diemen’s Land Company the year before. Only in 1842 did the town’s name change to Stanley after Lord Stanley, who was Britain’s Colonial Secretary at the time and later served three terms as the country’s Prime Minister.
From 1827 Edward Curr managed the Van Diemen’s Land Company’s operations from Circular Head. He had the area explored, surveyed and developed for the Company. In 1832 Highfield House was completed. It was built for Curr and his family and the original design was by Henry Hellyer, who was a surveyor for the Van Diemen’s Land Company. During the 1840s additions designed by Tasmania’s first colonial architect, John Lee Archer, were built. The property is now the Highfield Historic Site and you’ll find the graves of both Hellyer and Archer in the Circular Head Cemetery.
At the Discovery Centre Folk Museum you can find maps and information about Stanley’s historic buildings. For example, the Plough Inn dates from 1842 while John Lee Archer also designed the Van Diemen’s Land Store, which was built between 1843 and 1844. The bluestone for the building was brought to Stanley as ballast. Another building that got here in an unusual way is the St James Presbyterian Church, which was prefabricated in England. The bill, which included the purchase price, the transport costs and the cost of erecting the building, came to less than £400.
Stanley’s most famous son was Joseph Lyons, who went on to become not only Premier of Tasmania but later Prime Minister of Australia. He was born in Stanley in 1879 and you can visit his family home, Lyons Cottage.
Of course you can’t visit Stanley and not enjoy the views from The Nut. You can climb to the top but it’s much quicker and much more fun to take the open chairlift up. You’ll need something warm because it can become quite chilly up here and you may also want to pack a picnic and make a day of it.
With all that sea around, there’s plenty of action near or on the water too. Stanley boasts stunning beaches like Godfreys Beach and there is a penguin rookery here too. In summer you can also go on a boat trip to view seals. If you’re craving seafood, you can head to one of the area’s many good fishing spots or simply buy your meal. After all, Stanley is renowned for its delicious fish and chips.
Stanley has a very good selection of accommodation options, no matter what your budget, and makes the perfect base from which to explore Tasmania’s northwest.