Low Head is one of the prettiest places in Tasmania. It’s also one of Tasmania’s oldest settlements. Named by Bass and Flinders because it is, well, a low headland, Low Head has had a pilot station in operation since 1805. It’s still in operation today. All large ships entering the Tamar River (usually commercial vessels heading to Bell Bay) are piloted into the river due to the narrow channel, which is deeper than Bass Strait in places, and the dangerous Hebe reef between Low Head and West Head. The reef was named after the first ship to be wrecked on it and it’s thanks to this reef, and the many ships wrecked on it, that such excellent artifacts can be found in the Low Head Pilot Station Museum.
Low Head Pilot Station Museum
Housed in the 1835 Pilots’ Row, which was designed by colonial architect John Lee Archer, the museum pays homage to the maritime history of the Tamar River, with a particular focus on the Port Dalrymple region. It has 13 rooms, each with a specific focus (lighting, diving, signaling and so on). Each room has an impressive array of well-displayed local artifacts, allowing you to imagine what life aboard a ship would have been like during a variety of eras. The ingenuity of some of the inventions, such as Walker’s “Cherub” log, which measures the ship’s speed via a spinning brass log dragged behind the ship, is staggering.
My favourite thing about the Low Head Pilot Station Museum is that it’s more hands-on than most museums. No, you can’t touch the diving suit or climb into the canvas trousers of the life buoy (even though you will probably want to!) but you can practise your Morse code… it turns out that I’m terrible at it! Look out for the button to set off the light display (to satisfy the child in us all).
The museum is located in the larger Low Head Pilot Station precinct, which is very beautiful. You can have lunch in the cafe, visit the church or even stay the night in one of the cottages.
Low Head Lighthouse
A very short drive from the pilot station is Low Head Lighthouse, the pinnacle of the signaling system. Built in 1888 (to replace the original 1833 lighthouse), the tower is very photogenic. The light station is the third oldest in Australia (second oldest in Tasmania). From the lighthouse precinct, you have views of East Beach, Bass Strait and Low Head, as well as access to (very) short walks in the Low Head Coastal Reserve. At noon every Sunday you’ll even have the privilege of hearing the restored fog horn sounding loud and clear! Penguin tours take place in the Low Head Coastal Reserve.
From Launceston, drive north on the East Tamar Highway to George Town. Keep driving north to Low Head. The way to the pilot station and lighthouse is clearly signposted (if in doubt, follow the river north!). The drive from Launceston to Low Head takes approximately 45 minutes and is lovely. We stopped for lunch on the way at Hillwood Berry Farm which was delicious!
You’ll always receive a warm welcome at the Low Head Pilot Station Museum. The volunteers are friendly and give you more than your money’s worth of information. Entry costs $5 for adults, $4 for concession and $3 for children or $13 for a pass to the museum plus the Bass and Flinders Centre and the Watch House Museum in George Town. Access to the Low Head Lighthouse precinct is currently free (but you can’t, unfortunately, climb the lighthouse). The museum is open from 10am – 4pm everyday except Christmas.
While in Low Head, walk at least some of the trail along the river, passing the leading lights, Lagoon Beach, the Pilot Station and, finally, reaching the Lighthouse. It’s a very picturesque area! We stopped to help a driver in distress and, as a passerby said while we were waiting for the tow truck, “enjoy the view!” We did.
To view other posts about Tasmania’s north, click here.