Have you met Stanley?
On Godfreys Beach in Stanley, the surf is thundering ashore. Dusk has fallen, and lines of little penguins are beginning their trek home, even if in these conditions it’s less a march than a penguin surf carnival.
As the birds wobble across the rocky shores, I’m standing on Stanley’s new penguin-viewing boardwalk, clipped along the foot of the Nut. Lights along the boardwalk cast a faint red glow that illuminates the penguins without disturbing them as they climb off the beach and pass beneath the boardwalk to their burrows hidden in the coastal scrub.
It’s one of those moments that speaks volumes about the intrinsic beauty of Stanley, the north-west fishing town that co-exists so seamlessly with nature. With its colonial-era buildings as colourful as a bag of boiled sweets, Stanley sits pinched between a pair of long beaches – Godfreys and Tatlows – with the immense volcanic plug known as the Nut towering overhead.
Australian fur seals laze about just offshore on Bull Rock. The 19th-century streetscape could be a period film set, but there are other things here as new and fresh as the air that’s been declared the cleanest in the world.
My own burrow this night is the Ship Inn Stanley. This country inn was a vital part of Stanley’s history. It was built in 1849 (just two years after the Stanley Hotel) by Michael Lyons, grandfather of Prime Minister Joseph Lyons, the only Tasmanian to serve as Australian PM. The cottage in which Joseph was born is next door.
The inn operated as a pub until 1972 before being flagged for demolition. Thankfully, it survived, and in late 2019 was reborn as boutique accommodation, with seven beautifully designed suites telling individual stories of the area.
In September 2020 the two-level, two-bedroom Roaring Tom’s apartment was added to the inn’s offerings. Once the inn’s bar, the apartment blends original features with a modern chef’s kitchen, complete with a three-metre-long island bench, and three outdoor patios that combine to deliver almost wraparound views of Tatlows Beach and the Nut. It’s perfect for two couples or an extended family.
Stanley’s history has been similarly transformed at the Highfield Historic Site, the former headquarters of the pioneering Van Diemen’s Land Company. Built in 1832, the grand house peers down on Stanley from atop a low ridge and is today the setting for cooking classes with a local flavour from Provenance Kitchen.
Run by local vet and staunch foodie Emma Bruce, the half-day or full-day classes, using a commercial kitchen hidden away in Highfield’s barn, bring a unique connection to place. Emma’s family owns and farms the surrounding land, and for a while in the ’80s their property incorporated Highfield House.
The classes focus on Cape Grim Beef, which the Bruce family produces, and include visits to the farm to meet the herd, as well as to the nearby abalone farm and foraging for the likes of samphire, wild garlic and sea lettuce.
"I've always been completely obsessed by food," Emma says. "In this part of the state, we produce some of the best food in the world. We get out here and talk cattle and run people through what we do on the farm and all the things that go into making a piece of Cape Grim steak."
Back in town, Stanley’s 19th-century weatherboard cottages house a string of galleries, stores, B&Bs and cafes as colourful as their facades.
Even when the sun sets and the penguins have signed off for the night, things remain vibrant inside Tasmanian Wine and Food.
This small wine bar, opposite the Stanley Hotel, has the atmosphere of a Prohibition-era speakeasy. The design is eclectic in the extreme – think steampunk sunglasses sitting beside a Victorian-era clock and glowing uranium glass. It’s a fascinating and entertaining space (see if you can find the book about cannibalism on the shelves) in which to enjoy a Tasmanian wine or gin, or a whisky from a small global list.
Owners Michael Pine and Shelley Jackson describe the bar’s quirky design as an extension of their own collector habits.
"We realised we had a problem when we bought a couch – our third one of the day," Michael says. "The main thing we do is have fun, and because we enjoy what we do, people come in and they have fun.
"Our philosophy is that we serve the best that Tasmania offers."