Looking for things to do in Stanley? We recently spent three days in this gorgeous town and put together this guide to our favourite things to do in Stanley.
Stanley is an adorable little town located on a small piece of land that juts out into the Bass Strait on Tasmania’s north-west coast. Lying at the foot of The Nut – a 150-m high flat-topped ancient volcano, Stanley has spectacular views over the coastline on both sides of town.
The historic centre of Stanley is a perfectly preserved colonial town with cute-as-a-button cottages, stately buildings, quaint boutiques, and cozy cafes.
We didn’t know much about Stanley and added it to our road trip itinerary as a convenient spot for a break between Cradle Mountain and the scenic Tarkine Drive on our north west Tasmania road trip. But the moment we drove into Stanley, we fell in love with it and ended up spending three days in town.
By the way, if you don’t have your own set of wheels or simply don’t wish to drive, you can visit Stanley on a Small-Group Tour from Devonport, Ulverstone or Burnie
With a population of 553 people, Stanley is all about peace and quiet. It is a stunning coastal town straight out of the 1800s. With its quaint colonial charm, it is no wonder that Hollywood filmmakers chose it as a filming location for the old-fashioned drama ‘The Light Between Oceans‘ starring Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander, and Rachel Weisz.
It is equally not surprising that Stanley is recognized as one of Australia’s top tourism towns by the Australian Tourism Industry Council. In 2021, Stanley won the Bronze Award in the Small Top Tourism Town with a population of less than 5,000 category.
A very brief history of Stanley
In 1825 Van Diemen’s Land Company was granted north-west Tasmanian land for establishing a wool growing venture to ‘supply the needs of the British textile industry’. The town of Stanley was named after the British Secretary of State for War and Colonies at the time – Lord Stanley. In 1827 the port opened, and by 1842, Stanley was formerly recognized as a town.
You can explore Stanley’s colonial history at Highfield historic site and by wandering along Church Street in the historic centre of town.
Things to do in Stanley
Whether you are a foodie, an adventure seeker, or a history buff, you’ll find plenty of things to do in Stanley and in the broader region within an easy drive from town.
Wander Stanley’s historic centre
Church Street and Alexander Terrace
Arriving at Stanley feels like stepping back in time and suddenly finding yourself in Tasmania’s colonial era (but with all the modern-day creature comforts). So to immerse yourself in that old-fashioned charm, head straight to the historic town centre. Better yet, stay in one of the cottages on Church Street or Alexander Terrace, as we did. Check out accommodation options at the bottom of the post.
The two streets in the historic centre are pretty short, but they are packed with little boutiques and cafes, and there is a Discovery Museum tucked away at the end of Church Street.
Don’t miss the red phone booth next to the post office. It symbolizes a monumental moment of Stanley’s history as the site of the first telephone line connecting Tasmania to the Australian mainland in 1936. It’s a little ironic that mobile reception in Stanley is quite patchy.
Have Breakfast at Moby Dick Breakfast Bar
5 Church Street. Open 7 days from 7.30 am to 12 pm
Moby Dick took us by surprise. It serves such a fantastic breakfast that it would’ve been a hit in any of Sydney’s trendy neighbourhoods. Eggs Benedict and the freshly squeezed orange and ginger juice are divine, and their coffee will keep you coming back for more.
While you wait for your breakfast, check out the newspaper cuttings from 1871 Stanley Meteor framed on the wall, particularly the advertisement by a young gentleman of prepossessing appearance in urgent need of a wife, offering to meet the candidates at a secluded location at 10 pm each Wednesday.
There is also an outdoor terrace with stunning views of the brilliantly aquamarine waters of the Bass Strait.
Climb The Nut
Browns Rd. The chairlift is open from 9.30 am to 4.30 pm. $17 return, $11 one way
The Nut is an immense ancient volcano plug that rises 150 meters from the Bass Strait. It towers over the town and can be seen from Bass Highway long before you reach Stanley.
It goes without saying that the 360-degree views of the coastline from the top of The Nut are mesmerizing. And the good news is – you don’t have to literally climb The Nut. You can take the chairlift to the top instead. Just don’t miss the last chairlift up (some time between 4.30 and 5.30 pm depending on the season) if you are planning a sunset excursion. It’s easy enough to walk down on the way back, but it’s hard work climbing up to the top. The path is pretty steep all the way up. Check the chairlift operating hours here.
The top of The Nut is a vast flat plateau with a 2-km circuit walking track running around its perimeter. The walk itself is not too interesting as it travels through the plateau’s interior rather than near the edge. But the four lookouts on this walk are gorgeous, with Tatlows Beach on one side and Godfrey’s Beach on the other.
The Nut is an important breeding area for Short-tailed shearwaters (between September and April). You can see their burrows from the trail. The birds use the same burrows each year so please stay on the trail to avoid damaging the nests. Sheerwaters spend their days at sea and return to their nests after nightfall.
Go For a Walk Along the Fisherman’s Wharf
The Nut is just as impressive from below as the view of the coastline from the top of it. To appreciate just how enormous it is, take a walk to the fisherman’s wharf, past the fishing boats and a couple of cafes. If you follow the Wharf road all the way to the end, it will bring you to the base of The Nut, where the rugged rock meets the water.
Here you’ll have to crane your neck to the max to see the top of the ancient rock. And if you time it right, you can catch a view of clouds’ erupting’ from The Nut.
Stanley is the main fishing port in north west Tasmania and a walk along the Wharf road reveals the true heart and soul of this beautiful town. Fishing boats, lobster catching pots and the crystal clear water of the Bass Strait.
Keep an eye on the water’s edge as you walk. The water is so clear you can see any sea critters that might be cruising by.
Have Lunch at Hursey Seafoods
2 Alexander Terrace. Open from 12 pm to 2 pm and from 5:30 pm to 7:30 pm
Stanley is renowned for its fresh seafood, and Hursey Seafoods is one of the best restaurants in Stanley to sample the local catch. Hursey operates its own fleet of fishing boats (you can see their boats at the wharf), so their seafood is as fresh as it gets. It actually started off as a fishing company, and there is a sad story about the restaurant’s establishment. It was opened in 1987 in memory of the owners’ son, who was lost at sea during a rescue attempt of an adventurer rowing across the Bass Strait.
The restaurant is nestled under The Nut, and the dining room overlooks the stunning Stanley Bay. On the menu are the Southern Rock Lobster, Giant Crab, Stripey Trumpeter, Gummy Shark, Flathead and other local reef fish.
As with most things at Stanley, make sure to check the closing time before your visit. Hursey closes at about 7 pm most nights. So lunch might be a safer option than dinner.
Take the Stanley Seal Cruise
Dockside, Wharf Road
One of the most fun things to do in Stanley is the Stanley Seal Cruise. Any reason is a good reason to get onto Stanley’s stunning waterways, but the seals are an adorable bonus of any cruise. The trips leave from Fisherman’s Wharf and take about 75 minutes to cruise around the base of The Nut out to Bull Rock, Calf Rock and Cow Rock which are named purely for their respective sizes rather than for any similarity to bovids.
Sadly, the storm damaged the wharf a while back, and the cruises have been on hold since pre-covid times. We hoped the wharf would be repaired in time for our visit, but we weren’t that lucky.
We asked around and found out that very occasionally, a seal would turn up on Geofreys beach, but apart from that, there weren’t any good spots to see the seals from the shore. You can see the Bull rock from the top of The Nut, but you’d need a telescope to see the seals from that distance.
Check with the Stanley Seal Cruises operator before your trip to see if the cruises have resumed. It would be a really fun thing to do in Stanley.
Go on Tatlows Beach Loop Walk
If you are looking for a chance to stretch your legs (after sampling all that Stanley’s cuisine), a 90-minute loop walk to Tatlows Beach might be just what the doctor ordered. The newly-constructed walk meanders along the scenic shore of the Tatlows Beach Conservation Reserve and returns alongside the Stanley Golf Course.
As you walk along the beach, keep an eye out for the shorebirds. We saw some adorable Pied oystercatchers, Sooty oystercatchers, Masked lapwings, and, of course, some Silver gulls.
The colour of the water in the bay is absolutely gorgeous, so if you are visiting in summer, you might be tempted to dip your toes. It’s too cold for a swim but too pretty to just walk away.
Visit Highfield Historic Site
143 Greenhills Road. Open from 9.30 am to 4.30 pm. $12
Whether you are a history buff or not, don’t miss Highfield Historic Site. The homestead at Highfield is regarded as the birthplace of European settlement in north west Tasmania, and it is a fascinating place to explore. Plus, it has some of the best views of The Nut and the town from its hilltop position.
The immaculately restored homestead provides a window into the lives of the early colonists – the well to do British merchants and adventurers in the 1830s. Brief biographies of some key players are presented tastefully on the walls of the various rooms at the homestead and these short snippets paint quite a vivid picture of the early days of Van Diemen’s Land Company’s ‘conquest’ of Tasmania.
Of course, like most colonists in Australia, the settlers in northwestern Tasmania considered local Aboriginal people to be trespassers on the company’s land and forcefully relocated them to offshore islands.
But if you can look past the brutality of colonial practices, Highfield is an interesting complex to wander around for an hour or two. Don’t miss the printed instructions for making butter when you visit the kitchen.
Watch Sunset at Godfreys Beach
You can enjoy a sunset on either beach in Stanley, but if you want to watch the penguins emerge from the sea and waddle to their nests in the coastal vegetation, Godfreys beach is a better spot for watching the sunset. Because the penguin watching platform is located at the end of the beach.
The 1.1 km-long Godferys beach is striking at any time of the day. It is protected from the strong westerly winds so you can spend hours pottering around this stunning stretch of sand. But at sunset, it becomes even prettier.
Watch Penguins Come Ashore
Godfreys Beach viewing platform
The Tasmanian coastline is true penguin heaven, with an estimated 110,000 to 190,000 Little or Fairy penguins living on the Tasmanian mainland and offshore islands. There are penguin watching opportunities all over the state, from Bruny Island to Stratham to Bicheno, but most penguin watching sites are dotted along the north west coast.
At Stanley, the designated penguin watching platform is located at the end of Godfreys beach. The platform is equipped with red lights that allow you to see the penguins in the dark without harming the birds. As nocturnal birds, penguins are very sensitive to bright light and will avoid it at all costs. So please make sure not to shine your torch at them and don’t use flash photography.
Adult penguins spend their days feeding at sea and return to shore at night, where their chicks are waiting for them. And this is how you watch them – waddling across the beach.
But at Stanley, penguin watching does not end on the beach. We were gobsmacked to discover penguins all over the historic town centre: at the cemetery by the ocean, in the churchyard, and even at the base of The Nut, near the chairlift entry! Stanley becomes practically overrun by penguins at night. There are also dozens of Tasmanian pademelons and rabbits around town. Stanley is quite a lively place after sunset!
Have Dinner at Stanley Hotel Bistro
19-21 Church Street. Open till 10 pm
Depending on when you visit, dining options at Stanley might be far and few between as most restaurants close quite early. Thankfully, one of Stanley’s best restaurants is open late, even during holidays – Stanley Hotel Bistro.
Located in a charming colonial building in the historic town centre (another reason to stay in this part of town!), Stanley Hotel Bistro has a delicious menu with options ranging from traditional pub meals to gourmet seafood, like shark, scallops and lobster, all caught in the surrounding waters by local fishermen.
The outdoors veranda has views of the Bass Strait and the town, and if you are dining at sunset, your food will have to compete with the fiery sky for your attention.
Chill out at Wine & Whiskey bar
14 Church Street. Open 7 Days from12 midday until 7 pm
To wind down at the end of the day in style, head to The Angel’s Share Wine & Whiskey Bar on Church Street. This very cozy bar showcases Tasmania’s finest spirits from ‘big, bold, cask-strength whisky, to the elegance of Sloe gin’. All of these are available for tasting or buying. There is also a selection of Tasmania’s finest wines on offer.
The space itself is very interesting as well, featuring the work of local artisans and craftsmen from bags and knitwear to jewellery and home-grown perfume. It is a very inviting bar and a perfect setting to relax after a day of exploration.
Watch the night sky
Because Stanley is such a small town almost completely surrounded by the ocean, it doesn’t produce much light pollution, and the night sky here can be truly spectacular on a clear night.
For the best view, head over to the base of The Nut, where there is virtually no artificial light. If you are curious to know what stars you are looking at, download the free SkyView Light app and point your phone to the sky. The app will name all the stars, planets and constellations in the sky.
Explore Tarkine Drive
Starts and Ends in Smithton
Tasmania’s north west region is the gateway to some of Tasmania’s most beautiful natural places. Just 21 km south of Stanley, the stunning 205-km Tarkine Drive is one of the world’s last great wilderness experiences. Tarkine wilderness is the largest expanse of cool temperate rainforest in the world.
The drive is a loop that consists of two distinct parts: the cool rainforest and the rugged coastline. The route starts and ends in Smithton and can be driven either clockwise or counterclockwise. It’s best to set aside at least two days for the drive, one for the rainforest section and one for the coast. There are multiple stops along the drive, some leading to lookouts, others to short walking trails. You can stay overnight either at Port Arthur (coast) or at Tarkine Grove cottage (rainforest).
Marvel at Boat Harbour Beaches
Another striking area to explore is the Boat Harbour beaches along the north west coastline. An easy 51-km drive takes you past the Rocky Cape National Park to two jaw-dropping beaches. Coming from the Australian mainland, I am not easily impressed by beaches, but Boat Harbour Beach and the nearby Sisters Beach are some of the most gorgeous beaches I’ve ever seen.
The water at Boat Harbour beach is so aquamarine and so clear that you’d be forgiven for confusing it for the Maldives or the Philippines. And the Sisters beach has a little creek snaking across the beach with its clear tea tree-tinted water until it meets the brilliantly aquamarine water of the beach. This scene is so picturesque it appears surreal.
If you are visiting in summer, the water will be warm enough to wade in. For me, it was too cold for a swim, but the local kids were having a ball jumping into the creek from a swing rope.
And if you have more time for touring the wider region, Stanley is within easy reach of Gunns Plains caves & Leven Canyon, and Cradle Mountain and Mountain Valley Wilderness Cabins are both just over 2 hours away.
Where to stay in Stanley
As you probably already guessed, I am a big fan of Stanley’s Historic Center accommodation. If you are going to visit a historic town, you may as well stay in the historic centre of it! And there are quite a few adorable cottages along Church Street and Alexander Terrace.
We stayed at the gorgeous Touchwood Cottages on Church Street and loved our charming cottage. It’s right in the middle of everything – a 3 min stroll to Godfreys beach, a 5 min walk to The Nut chairlift, a 3 min walk to Moby Dick breakfast bar, practically next door to Stanley Hotel and literally next door to the Discovery Museum.
@ the beach & not quite @ the beach Holiday Cottages
If you are looking for something a little bigger, these cozy Beach Holiday Cottages have two bedrooms and are fully self-contained with a fully-stocked pantry.
The more up-market Gardenia House offers sea views, two bedrooms, a bathtub, a gorgeous garden and a patio to enjoy your morning coffee or an evening glass of wine.
Aston on Church
For a touch of luxury, consider Aston on Church Villa. This is small country town comfort at its best with 4 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms, a dining area, a fully equipped kitchen, and a patio with garden views.
Stamps on Stanley
For something a little quirky, you can stay at the Post Office! At Stamps on Stanley, each apartment has a kitchen or a kitchenette with a microwave, a refrigerator, a toaster and an electric kettle.
Horizon Deluxe Apartments
The one place I will mention that is not in the historic centre is the Horizon Deluxe apartments. When we saw their stunning bathtubs with expansive views of Stanley and The Nut, we considered splurging on a couple of nights, but all apartments were already booked out. If you are looking to indulge, you won’t find a better spot.
How to Get To Stanley
Stanley is located along Tasmania’s north west coastline and can be reached by Bass Highway from Burney (78.5 km), Devonport (124 km), and Launceston (213 km).
The closest airport is in Burnie. It has flights to Melbourne, Launceston, and King Island. There is no public transport available all the way to Stanley.
Final thoughts on Stanley
I hope I convinced you that Stanley is a gorgeous little town that packs a lot of punch for its weight. There is perfectly preserved history, epic nature, and scrumptious food. But there is something else about Stanley that’s harder to put your finger on. It’s the way you feel when you are in town – utterly relaxed, present in the moment and deeply content. It’s virtually impossible not to fall in love with Stanley.
One thing to keep in mind when planning a trip to Stanley is that the town sits in the path of the Roaring 40s – an intense weather system driven by strong westerly winds. Even on a hot summer day, it can get quite cool in the wind. So don’t let the sunshine and the sublime beaches fool you – always pack a warm jacket for visiting Stanley.
Some useful books for visiting Stanley
More on Exploring Tasmanian Nature
- Things to do in Cradle Mountain: Walks, Wildlife & Adventure
- 10 Best Guided Day Trips from Hobart: Nature, Culture & Glorious Food
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- 15 Best Things to Do in Launceston: Where to Play, Eat, and Stay
- North West Tasmania Travel Guide: Iconic Highlights & Local Secrets
- Mountain Valley Wilderness Holidays Review
- Travel Guide to Edge of the World, Tasmania
- Visiting Gunns Plains Caves in North West Tasmania
- Gorgeous Beaches in Tasmania: North-West Coast
- Tarkine Drive: 2-Day Itinerary, Attractions & Accommodation (2022)