Sarah’s pieced together a week long road trip of lutruwita / Tasmania’s northwest corner that takes you on a cultural and historical tour of the palawa people.
We acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the Countries on which these adventures takes place who have occupied and cared for these lands for thousands of years. We pay our respects to them and recognise that sovereignty was never ceded.
- Insight into an ancient culture that still survives in Tasmania through the palawa people
- Nature at its finest – ocean views, muddy trails, and greenery as far as the eye can see
- A chance to support tourism businesses run by Indigenous Tasmanians
Indigenous Culture and History of lutruwita / Tasmania
It’s not a history often talked about in tourism brochures, especially in Tasmania, but visiting the island without learning about Indigenous Tasmania is to ignore thousands of years of rich culture, which continues to this day.
As I travelled Australia with my family, we found that some parts of Australia are making strides in acknowledging the troubled history. They seem to prioritise learning together to combine modern technology with millennia-worth of Indigenous knowledge. While others are not embracing this kind of partnership and are instead trying to brush a not-so-nice history under the carpet – along with surviving Indigenous cultures.
We’ve enjoyed learning about each area’s culture, history, and the way the modern Indigenous communities navigate today’s Australia. From the fish traps tour in Brewarrina, NSW to learning painting techniques in Katherine, NT, we found there’s so much to learn once you start looking for it.
When we got to Tasmania we were told there wasn’t much Indigenous history there, which could not be further from the truth. This seven-day road trip around the northwest corner of Tasmania will give you an introduction to the expansive history and the ancient cultural practices that still exist, mixed in with a little adventure and exploring as well.
Day 1 & 2 – Stanley and pinmatik / Rocky Cape National Park
A quaint town on Tasmania’s north coast, Stanley is well-known for The Nut. Once the plug of a volcano, now an excellent place for a relaxed walk in the sea air and the first stop on your cultural tour of Tasmania.
The Nut Plateau Walk
To reach the top of The Nut you can either take the short, but steep, 10-20 minute walk or the five-minute chairlift ride. Once at the top, enjoy the incredible views and walk the two-kilometre circuit around the plateau. Along the walk, you’ll read about the history of the local palawa people, with details of how they lived before the arrival of the Europeans.
There’s interesting information about the yearly mutton bird/moonbird hunting (which continues today) and the canoes they made from rolls of paperbark. These canoes are very different from the carved bark canoes and dugout canoes made by Indigenous groups in other parts of Australia.
Some of the rolled paperbark canoes were so strong they could be used to visit neighbouring islands to hunt mutton birds and seals, and the tradition of building these canoes continues today with some of the palawa fishermen on Flinders Island and truwana / Cape Barren Island.
Rocky Cape National Park
From The Nut you can see many other sites that have cultural and historical significance for palawa people including pinmatik / Rocky Cape which has caves with shell middens and stone tools thought to date back 8,000 years.
Rocky Cape National Park is a 50-minute drive from Stanley, and there are some excellent walks to the front of the caves and through the national park with plenty of information to read along the way.
You can also see Highfield House from the top of The Nut, a reminder of the not-so-nice local history. Built in 1832 as the headquarters of the Van Diemen’s Land Company who were responsible for the Cape Grim Massacre and thought to have murdered or displaced over 700 palawa people. Cape Grim is still owned by the Van Diemen’s Land Company to this day.
Day 3 & 4 – Arthur River and takayna / The Tarkine
An hour’s drive west of Stanley, Arthur River is rugged, remote, and windswept, with lots of excellent outdoor adventuring to be had.
Edge of the World Lookout
Start with the short walk to the Edge of the World Lookout. Here you can find information about the different Aboriginal nations that lived in Tasmania and more details on the four clans that lived around Arthur River. Head to the parks office to get maps and find out about track conditions for your next few days hiking and driving in the area.
laraturunawn / Sundown Point
A short drive from the parks office, laraturunawn / Sundown Point has ancient petroglyphs carved into the rock. Petroglyphs can be found all over Tasmania and are thought to mark the places where ceremonies were held, the boundaries between nations or to tell Dreamtime stories. When bushwalking at sites like this, remember not to touch or disturb shell middens or petroglyphs to help preserve them.
As you walk along the shore you’ll see bull kelp washed up. Before European arrival this was used to make water containers by Indigenous Tasmanians. It’s now used to make fertiliser and extracts are used in everyday cosmetics such as toothpaste.
preminghana Indigenous Protected Area
Among other significant historical sites on the West Coast is preminghana, an Indigenous Protected Area north of Arthur River which has some of the best-preserved petroglyphs ever discovered. Last year the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery agreed to return a section of petroglyphs to the palawa community which were carved out of the rock at preminghana over 60 years ago.
Ask at the parks office about current access info to preminghana as it can be closed to the public for certain cultural ceremonies.
Day 5 – Strahan and langerrareroune / Sarah Island
Gordon River Boat Tour
Strahan is a 3.5-hour drive from Arthur River and the hopping off point for your boat trip on the Gordon River. During the boat trip, you’ll hear pre-recorded information from palawa woman, Trish Hodge, about the history of Indigenous people in the area.
The all-day adventure includes sailing through Macquarie Harbour up to Hells Gates, past the salmon farms, and down the Gordon River with stopovers to get off and have a look around the remote rainforests that line the river. Here you can see the trees the bark comes from to make the rolled bark canoes and read about other uses for the bark.
langerrareroune / Sarah Island
There’s also an opportunity to visit langerrareroune / Sarah Island, a penal settlement that long predates Port Arthur. It was used not only to keep convicts imprisoned, but Indigenous people as well.
In 1832 and 1833, toogee people from the West Coast of Tasmania were captured and kept on Sarah Island before being transferred to Flinders Island. Many died soon after being sent to the island and it’s a place of great sadness for palawa people.
Day 6 – kooparoona niara / Great Western Tiers
A three-hour drive from Strahan, the tranquil riverside town of Deloraine could not be more different to the rugged West Coast of Tasmania.
Kooparoona Niara Cultural Trail
‘kooparoona niara means Mountain of the Spirits (Great Western Tiers) in our language, palawa kani. It’s not our traditional original language, but a language that we have reclaimed and created,’ Greg explains.
‘There were originally about 14 different dialects around Tasmania from nine different nations, which are broken down to bands, clans, and tribes.’
‘Creating the cultural trail as a joint community project, for me, was about educating non-Aboriginal people about our culture. How my people survived over two ice ages, from the bitter cold highlands right down to the East Coast where they used to traverse depending on the season. This project was about cultural education and cultural awareness to those that didn’t know that we [Indigenous Tasmanians] still survive today,’ said Greg.
The cultural trail includes sculptures, information boards, bush tucker and bush medicine plants, and finishes at a traditional Yarning Circle. The Yarning Circle was designed with nine stone boulders around the edge, representing the nine Indigenous nations of Tasmania.
The lid of the fire pit in the Yarning Circle includes a design by local elder Aunty Dawn Blazeley, who believes that sitting around a yarning circle such as this one and thinking about the past and what the future holds will be the thing that will bring everyone together as one.
‘The answers are here in the circle of belonging,’ she writes. ‘Don’t worry about being black or white, this is a new journey for all of us.’
Greg runs tours around the Meander Valley in his luxury minibus, sharing his knowledge of bush tucker, bush medicines, and palawa culture. Greg can guide you through the cultural walk in Deloraine, the tulampanga / Alum Cliffs State Reserve, and the Marakoopa Caves, among other places.
On the 1.6km walk through tulampanga / Alum Cliffs State Reserve, Greg teaches about local bush tucker, points out the cliff-side ochre collection site, and shows you the amazing views of the Mersey River from the top of the cliffs as it makes its way through the narrow gorge. He’ll also introduce you to some lovely cafes and wineries to try a local tipple between cultural stops.
Day 7 – Launceston
The last stop on your Tasmanian adventure is at the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery’s ‘First Tasmanians: Our Story’ exhibit in Launceston. Entry to this exhibit is free and there’s a lot of great information that’ll help consolidate everything you’ve learnt on your trip so far.
There’s a model of the paperbark canoes built by a palawa man, interactive displays, and videos with recordings from local elders telling stories about their experiences.
Have more time up your sleeve? Check out this 4-day/3-night walking tour in the Bay of Fires in Tasmania’s North East, run by local palawa people.
How To Get There
Fly to Launceston or Hobart from many mainland Australian airports or catch the Spirit of Tasmania from Melbourne. The ferry takes approximately 12 hours. There are day and night sailings and you can travel with a vehicle or as a foot passenger, with or without a cabin.
- A Tasmanian Parks pass
- Layers and comfy shoes — Tasmanian weather is very changeable and most of your adventure involves walking outdoors
- Sunscreen and zinc — even when it’s cold the Tasmanian sun is very strong, bring lots of sunscreen and zinc for your face to protect your skin
- Camera — you’ll be visiting some amazingly photogenic locations so don’t forget to take a snap or two
Read more: Remember to leave no trace!
Distance Covered / Time Taken
550km driving / 7 days
Feature photo thanks to Simon Sturzaker