Not many cities have seen such a dramatic transformation as Burnie on Tasmania’s northwest coast.
Throughout the 20th century, it was a gritty industrial hub, dominated by a paper mill and Australia’s fifth-largest container port.
Port Burnie is still active, but much of the heavy industry has disappeared, leaving the city on a new path.
One of Bernie’s biggest attractions right now is its nature, with a colony of little penguins on its foreshore and platypus can be seen paddling in the Emu River.
1. Little Penguin Observation Center
The smallest penguin species, the little penguin, has a habitat on Bernie’s Foreshore, just a short walk from the CBD.
There is an observation center on the boardwalk here, staffed by volunteer guides.
You will have the opportunity to learn about the seasonal life of this little penguin, from courtship to feeding the little penguins and then moulting at the end of the breeding season.
In the fully accessible viewing area, your guide is on hand to provide additional insights and answer questions about the penguins, their diet and habits.
You’re sure to see some adorable baby penguins between October and March, and there are extra volunteers at the centre on evenings during this period
2. Burnie Regional Museum
Bernie’s 200 years of European history are showcased in this superb museum, which has the third largest collection in the state.
The exhibit is on Commonwealth Street, taking you into the Burnie street scene of the early 20th century.
Every business you see here was once part of Bernie, including blacksmiths, dentists, photographers, printers, harness and boot manufacturers.
You can also trace the city’s roots in the early Bernie exhibition, learn about the European exploration and settlement of Tasmania and the story of the Van Diemen Land Company.
There is a wealth of information on forestry and papermaking, which were Bernie’s main industries for most of the 20th century.
3. Hellyers Road Distillery
Tasmania is an island dotted with wineries, making the most of the grains nourished by its pristine mountain streams and temperate climate.
Despite the competition, Hellyers Road’s single malt whisky has been hailed as the best in the country by the Australian Malt Whisky Association.
Named after early European Tasmanian explorer Henry Hellyer, the winery is less than ten minutes from Burnie’s CBD.
There, you’ll find a visitor center for tastings and sales, as well as a café serving comfort dishes such as slow-cooked beef cheeks with a whiskey glaze.
You can also tour the distillation process of the new batch, visit the American oak barrels in the bond store, and then pour and seal your own Hellyers Road bottle to take home.
4. Burnie Park
Burnie’s main city park was once a private garden, bought by the city in the 1920s.
There are neat flower beds planted with annuals, strolling walkways and lawns flowing under mature exotic and native trees.
The Highlands also provide Burnie Park with some great views of Bass Strait.
Tasmania probably doesn’t have a prettier city park than this, and it’s no wonder it’s home to seasonal events like Christmas Candlelight Carols and Easter Park Children’s Day.
The city’s oldest building, the old Burnie Inn, is also within these boundaries.
Dating back to 1847, this was Bernie’s first licensed venue.
5. Burnie Regional Art Gallery
Another way to tap into Burnie’s vibrant arts community is at this gallery, serving Tasmania’s north west and west coasts.
True to the city’s heritage as a center for papermaking, the area galleries bring together the nation’s important collections of print and art on paper.
This has grown to over 1,300 works, and you can check out a selection in the exhibition.
The gallery also curates solo, special and traveling exhibitions, as well as a range of community and school projects.
Openings, lectures and workshops are held throughout the year, and every two years, the prestigious Bernie Printmaking Awards highlight the gallery’s national reputation.
6. Fern Glade Reserve
On the east bank of the Emu River, before Emu Bay enters Emu Bay, there is a beautiful reserve in the valley.
The riverside paths at Fern Glade Reserve are home to a wide variety of natural creatures, from wallabies to lush tree ferns, orchids, unusual fungi and birds such as native Tasmanian hens.
But the stars of the show are the platypus, which tend to be shy but can be seen floating in the river or dragging along the banks.
This is considered one of the best places to see this species anywhere in the wild.
7. Wizard Falls
Be sure to make time for a drive to Burnie’s idyllic hinterland to discover this stepped waterfall in a pristine nature reserve.
The bottom of Guide Falls is just a 10-minute walk from the car park, with a steep staircase leading up to the platform with stunning views from above.
The setting here is nothing short of sublime, with tree ferns crowded with creeks and waterfalls, and peculiar basalt formations at the main drop and the falls below.
The falls are at their best in winter and spring, but the flow is steady throughout the year.
The reserve provides facilities such as picnic tables, two barbecues and toilets.
8. Emu Valley Rhododendron Garden
If you are in Burnie between the end of August and January, you must take a short tour of this garden in the natural amphitheater just outside the city.
Over 22,000 rhododendrons and companion plants grow on the 11 hectares, blooming during these months.
For more than three decades, the Emu Valley Rhododendron Gardens have been landscaped by volunteers and feature features such as waterfalls, bridges, four lakes, dry stone walls and pavilions.
Around October, you can also see the cherry blossom trees in the gardens in full bloom, and there are annual celebrations to mark the event, including Japanese-themed displays, booths and plant sales.
April and May are another beautiful time for the garden, thanks to the brilliant fall foliage.
9. Guide to Falls Farm
For families visiting Guide Falls, there is a working farm where visitors are welcome to meet animals.
The paddock self-guided tour takes about two hours, during which you will encounter deer, alpacas, peacocks, emus, rabbits, sheep and pigs, just to name a few.
You will be able to hand feed these animals, as well as the abundance of trout in the farm’s ponds.
Depending on when you come, there will also be critters in the nursery.
You are free to stay for a picnic and watch the lambs and calves frolic in the fields, and the farm shop sells seasonal produce and free-range eggs year-round.
10. West Beach
Also known simply as “Burnie Beach,” West Beach is just one block from the CBD and is connected to the Little Penguin Observation Center by a boardwalk.
It’s a delightful place to stay on a sunny day, with a wide arc of sand and a wide foreshore with picnic tables and BBQ facilities.
About half has a children’s playground, while the Surf Club building has a waterfront restaurant and café.
People come to West Beach on December 31st to light bonfires and watch New Year’s fireworks.
11. Round Hill Observation Deck
Emu Bay is surrounded by steep hills and cliffs, so there are some nearby highlands with stunning views of Burnie and Bass Strait.
The best of these is Round Mountain, which dominates the city from the east.
It’s a short, comfortable walk from the car park to the observation deck, which has two observation decks and an observation tower.
From here you have stunning views of Burnie Harbour and Table Cape, 30km along the coast.
You can also look east to the idyllic Bryce River Reserve and the suburbs of Burnie.
12. Odak Falls
Burnie Park even has its own waterfall, which is located on Stoney Creek and can be found on the high slopes at the upper end of the park.
On the paved track, you’ll leave the park’s uncluttered landscape for slightly wild, overgrown scenery.
Oldaker Falls has some signs of human intervention to control the water flow, which can be very violent after prolonged rains but shrink to a trickle during droughts.
A staircase will take you next to the splash pool and intermediate waterfall to the bottom of the main waterfall in the picturesque little canyon.
13. Upper Burnie Lookout
Closer than Round Hill is this high ground next to Hill Street a few kilometers south of the port.
If you want to see the sun rise in Emu Bay, this is the place for you.
The harbor also has perfect views, and you can spend an hour watching all the action below.
The view to the west is blocked by a row of trees, but there is plenty of grass space, benches and picnic tables for a budget family outing.
Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Burnie, Australia
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