Wildlife Encounters in Tasmania’s North West
From enchanting little penguins and elusive platypus to endangered Tasmanian devils, the North West Coast offers opportunities for the whole family to get up close and personal with native wildlife.
With a town called Penguin you can be guaranteed that the region is a prime spot to see the real thing in the wild. This quaint seaside village is a lovely place to explore during the day - have lunch in one of the cafes, take a photo with the Big Penguin or go shopping in the undercover market on Sundays - but it's also one of the many beaches where you can see the world's smallest penguin return after a day of fishing in Bass Strait.
Also known as fairy penguins, they are only around 30cm in height and weigh in at just a kilo. For a more comprehensive insight into the lives of the cute critters two great locations are the Lillico Beach Conservation Area, a 10-minute drive from Devonport, and the Burnie Penguin Observation Centre, just behind the Makers' Workshop visitor information centre on the edge of the city.
During the day you can head to either colony and take in the coastal sights from the viewing platform and boardwalk while learning about the penguins from the interpretive information. But time it to be there later in the day and that's when they really come to life, both with knowledgeable volunteers and the little penguins themselves, as they come ashore about dusk, waddling their way up to their nests where their chicks are waiting to be fed.
Devil of a time
The state's most iconic native animal is undoubtedly the Tasmanian devil and despite a fearsome reputation thanks to their screeching howls and mouth full of sharp teeth, head to one of the Coast's wildlife parks for a close encounter with the world's largest carnivorous marsupial.
In the perfect location to combine with a trip to the national park, Devils @ Cradle is located on the edge of the world heritage area, where it conducts conservation and breeding programs for the species. Visit the sanctuary during the day to get to know more about these extraordinary animals. In the Visitors Centre check out the educational displays where you can look into a devil’s den from the comfort of the indoors.
For an even more close-up encounter join an experienced tour guide who will walk you through the sanctuary and share information about the devils’ lifecycle and the current threats they face. If you are planning a longer stay in the area visit of an evening to observe the amazing night time antics of the animals being fed. The mainly nocturnal species is far more active at night, so the sanctuary uses environmentally sensitive lighting to allow visitors to experience a rare opportunity to see Tasmanian devils in a group feeding situation.
Spot a platypus
It's no wonder early European explorers were laughed at when they bought specimens of the platypus back home. For a glimpse of this strange and elusive creature head to one of the North-West and West Coast waterways and lay quietly in wait to see if one breaks the surface.
Only about a 15-minute drive from Devonport, Latrobe is billed as the Platypus Capital of the World. Make your way to the Platypus Encounter in the Axemen’s Hall of Fame to see the big platypus and book a guided tour at the Information Centre. Or if you prefer to do your own thing you don’t need to go far. Head to Warrawee Reserve, about a kilometre from town and look for tell-tale ripples for a glimpse of the monotreme (egg-laying mammal) in the wild.
If you're near Burnie, Fernglade is another popular platypus-spotting location. Just a five-minute drive from the city centre the peaceful spot offers walks along the banks of the Emu River. There is even a Burnie Platypus Festival on January 28, from 10am-4pm at Havenview Primary School, including platypus tours, wildlife presentation, face painting, children's activities, live music, food and market stalls. The event is free but tickets are required. Limited tickets will be available on the day at the gate or head to Eventbrite.
Tips for viewing little penguins
- Summer is a great time for viewing the world's smallest penguins, with opportunities to see them waddle ashore to nest in their burrows or witness their chicks noisily compete for food.
- Plan to head out as close to dusk as you can. Volunteers will be on hand to talk about these amazing creatures and their habitats at Lillico Beach Conservation Area and the Burnie Penguin Observation Centre. The later you can stay out the more you will see, as the penguins tend to make their way up the shore after it gets dark.
- Don't take photos using flash photography as it will disturb the penguins. If you can, bring your own torch to help you see them better but be sure it is covered with red cellophane. The volunteers may be able to provide some.
- Stay quiet and still and wear dark clothing if possible. Don't approach or touch the penguins or walk through their colony. You could damage burrow areas and prevent parents from getting to their chicks.
- Never take your dog for a walk near known penguin burrows and certainly do not take your pooch with you to watch penguins coming home.
- Make sure you have warm clothing, as the temperature can drop once the sun goes down, even in summer.