Stanley has an intriguing past. Around 70 million years ago, Tasmania was actively volcanic. The island had recently separated from Gondwana land and was taking on the characteristics the landscape bears today. Sea levels rose leaving indigenous people isolated from the Australian mainland. Their stories can still be found in the landscape, especially as you head further into the nearby takayna / Tarkine region or along the coast at pinmatik / Rocky Cape National Park.
Matthew Flinders and George Bass circumnavigated Tasmania in 1798 and on this journey they sited a round lump they described as a ‘Christmas cake’. They named it Circular Head, a name which now describes the whole area. The Christmas cake they found has since been renamed The Nut.
Over the next 30 years, Circular Head became home to sealers with many run-away convicts living off shore on the remote islands of Bass Strait. They had a reputation for being rough and lawless and many stole local aboriginal women for slaves and wives.
Having heard of the agricultural success of this newly discovered part of the world, a group of wealthy London-based merchants, businessmen and politicians established the Van Diemen’s Land Company (VDL Co.) in 1824. They hoped to make a fortune from farming fine merino wool on a large scale and exploited the lucrative merino wool boom however unfavourable land and political changes saw a gradual shift to dairying.
Highfield House sits high on a knoll overlooking the town. It was home to Edward Curr, chief agent of the VDL Company, and portrays a historically accurate vision of a gentleman’s home and farm of the 1830s. Its elegant Regency design, convict barracks, barns, stables, and a chapel are surrounded by a large ornamental garden. Other buildings on the Highfield site include workshops, stables and an abbey. There are also the remains of the quarters that housed the convict workers.
Stanley has one of the prettiest streetscapes, all tucked under the protective shadow of The Nut. The tiny cottages are a mixture of cafes, craft stores, homes and B&B’s, creating a charming village atmosphere. The oldest home in town, Touchwood Cottage (1840), is built from bluestone that came from England as ship ballast. You can stay in the historic cottage, cosy up by the fire and sink into the clawfoot bath.
Want to learn about Stanley through its historic sites? Then arm yourself with a smartphone or a map and have a wander. Fifteen sites throughout the town are included as seen through the eyes of one of Stanley’s most cherished residents, the late Mrs Meg Eldridge. The self-guided heritage walk through the sleepy seaside village is taken at your own pace. It offers a rare glimpse into this very special fishing village. A hard copy map and guide is available from the information centre.
As you wander the town, pick up a new winter woolly at Providore 24, a speciality store in Church Street. Well-aged pinots sit beside crusty bread, gift cards and hand-knitted shawls in this petite Stanley store. Pack a picnic basket, wrap up in your woollens and walk to the top of The Nut. From the top, take in the spectacular 360 degree view of Stanley, the surrounding rich green pastures and Bass Strait. The walking path is steep but the views are wonderfully rewarding. Opt for a chairlift ride to the top if you don’t feel like the walk.
You’ve seen The Nut from land, but there’s no perspective like that from the air. For the most inspiring way to see the north-west coastline, climb into one of Osborne Heli Tours helicopters. The tidal zones are pure artistry, with veins of waterways sweeping through the landscape. Anthony Beach in Parsons Bay offers a WOW moment, and as you pass over Stanley and Bass Strait islands you’ll start to get a sense of the wild and rugged nature of this corner of Tasmania.
Back on solid ground, play a round of golf at the local course with The Nut as your backdrop, or take a gander at Joe Lyons’ Cottage – the historic home of Tasmania’s only Prime Minister, elected in 1931. Enjoy the self-guided Stanley Heritage Walk on your internet-enabled device or pick up a hard-copy map at the Visitor Centre.
Some things never change in Stanley so head down towards Godfreys Beach in the evening for some penguin spotting. Left to themselves, penguins will leave the water at last light so they are under cover of darkness.
Another great thing about small Tassie towns is they are often big on food. There’s the Stanley Hotel serving up hearty pubs meals and Xanders on Church Street highlighting its local connections with farmers.
The heritage bluestone warehouse @VDL Stanley, originally the Van Diemen’s Land Company store in Stanley, is another cosy stay in town and perfect for couples. Aside from comfy armchairs made for lounging around the fireplace, you can sink into a deep tub or explore the township on the bikes provided.