The best way to explore Tassie’s Bass Strait coast is to do it slowly, spending time in the different towns along the Bass Highway. Each town has something special to offer after all. Ulverstone, for instance, is one of the largest centres here and makes for an especially great getaway if you love the great outdoors.
Ulverstone is about 20 km west of Devonport and about 120 km northwest of Launceston. The town lies at the mouth of the Leven River and to get here you simply need to follow National Highway 1, in these parts also called the Bass Highway.
Originally the area was home to Tommeginne-speaking people. When the Europeans moved in, they thought that the land west of the Mersey River was too densely forested to be turned into farmland. In 1840, however, 19-year-old Irish-born James Fenton bought some land west of the Forth River and tried to farm. It was an uphill battle but after a brief stay on the goldfields of Victoria he decided to cut down the timber and sell the palings to builders in Melbourne. This venture was very successful and Fenton used the profits to buy more land in the area, including some property along the Leven River. His workers gradually cleared the land and became his tenants. Fenton moved to Launceston in 1879 and wrote A History of Tasmania From its Discovery in 1642 to the Present Time as well as an account of his pioneer life, Bush Life in Tasmania Fifty Years Ago. The site where his first house stood is marked by a cairn.
The town that developed along the banks of the Leven was originally called The Leven. It got its post office in 1857. Four years later, the settlement’s name was changed to Ulverstone but it remained tiny, with only 25 inhabitants by 1870. Beautiful examples of houses from these early years are Lonah, which was built in about 1875, and Westella, which dates from 1885 and is now a B&B.
Things changed for Ulverstone when the railway came in 1890. This led to rapid development and Ulverstone quickly became one of the most important centres in the area, with elegant buildings like the Furners Hotel, which dates from 1903. The Ulverstone Local History Museum offers a fascinating glimpse into life in the early days, complete with facades of local businesses from the era. One of the most recognisable landmarks in town is the Shrine of Remembrance, an unusual clocktower built in 1953 to commemorate members of the armed forces.
Ulverstone’s greatest strength is the many opportunities it offers for you to enjoy nature. There are great sandy beaches just outside of town and several pleasant parks, especially along the banks of the Leven River. The Leven also offers good fishing and a popular activity is to take a cruise up the river. You’ll find plenty of hiking and bushwalking tracks, among them up to Braddons Lookout from where you can see forever on a clear day.
A good day trip from Ulverstone is to the Gunns Plains Caves and the Leven Canyon. The caves, about 30 km southwest of Ulverstone, were discovered in typically strange-but-true Australian fashion when, in 1906, a possum fell down a hole which marked the cave entrance. To the south of the caves and about 42 km from Ulverstone is the breathtaking Leven Canyon, which cuts 250 m down into the Earth. Here you’ll find several bushwalking tracks through dense rainforest and past scenic waterfalls. There are good picnic facilities at the caves as well as at the canyon.
Ulverstone has a range of accommodation options, no matter what your budget, making this charming town a tempting choice for lingering longer.