The Edge of the World is a wild and desolate place, beset by churning seas and angry little flies. Rolling waves drag pieces of driftwood the size of whole tree trunks onto the windswept beach. The bare logs are washed by the wind and currents into neat stacks on the sand, bringing a whiff of order to the mayhem. There's no land between this solitary stretch of the Tasmanian coast and Argentina, making it the longest uninterrupted expanse of ocean on Earth. Arriving here also marks an end point of sorts for our trip around the rugged and remote northwest.
On our first trip to Tasmania, we are exploring its loneliest little corner. Tasmania's unspoiled northwest has been largely spared the waves of tourism that have engulfed the state in recent years. But once you've hit the edge of the world, where to from here?
Inscribed on a stone cairn at the Edge, which sits at Gardiner Point, about two-and-a-half hours' drive west of Devonport, is a poem inviting readers to cast a pebble "on the shore of Eternity". Visitors also tend to build makeshift shelters from the detritus that washes up on the beach. My two young daughters slowly erect a ragged fort from driftwood, stones and stray seabird feathers, marking out a front path and welcome mat with a stick in the sand. We're alone on the beach but for an elderly couple from Wagga Wagga, who are soon deterred by the sting of the sandflies. It's a scraggy but strangely beautiful setting – not least for the sheer joy of finding a small, untamed patch to briefly call our own.
It's a short drive to the mouth of the "wild" Arthur River, where vintage tourist boats putter between the pristine rainforest and coastal heaths of the Tarkine wilderness. But instead we head south on the spectacular Tarkine Drive, which is marked by towering trees and a constant spray of speed humps.
The quiet road slowly winds its way back to the northwest coast and the picturesque town of Stanley, a magnet for tourists seeking lolly shops, quaint bed-and-breakfasts and convict relics. The wide roads and well-preserved buildings were a picture-perfect backdrop for the recent period drama The Light Between Oceans.
But we're searching for something less refined. So we stop short at the Stanley Roadhouse, by the highway, for one of its renowned scallop pies. Stuffing sea creatures into savoury baked goods is a peculiar Tasmanian tradition, which seems strange to this mainlander. Why spoil a plump scallop in a pie? But you'll do far worse than the sweet molluscs and flaky pastry found here.
We take the opportunity to fill the car with petrol and push on along the coastal road, passing lush paddocks with a hodge-podge of cows coloured black, white and brown. Our final destination is the seaside town of Wynyard, best known for its annual tulip festival and vintage car museum – which boasts one of the world's oldest Fords, a 1903 Model A.
Wynyard is also home to the world's laziest seagulls, who can barely be bothered flying or even walking. There's a flock of them squatting in the riverside carpark as we arrive at Coastal Pods Wynyard, a wonderfully unconventional take on self-contained accommodation.
The luxury pods are made from decommissioned shipping containers, which have travelled the seas before ending up here, on the banks of the Inglis River. Co-owner Justin McErlain came up with the idea after seeing a shopping centre in Christchurch, which was built from sturdy sea containers to withstand earthquakes.
Our two-bedroom pod is made from containers that once transported goods from China and the United States, with original wood floors and a glass atrium in between. The austere, industrial chic façade is balanced by stylish and smart interiors – from the light-filled reading nook to the glass doors opening onto the deck, where we roast marshmallows over the fire pit and watch fishing boats dock with their daily catch.
Some of their haul travels only a short distance to Wynyard Seafoods on the Wharf, which treats customers to tender fillets of fresh-caught fish, such as trevally and flathead – so long as you order before the kitchen closes, by about 7pm. For sweet tooths, it's a short drive to the rustic Bruce's Café, which overlooks the ocean and serves marvellous slices of banoffee pie.
But we're here to explore some of the more unusual treats on offer in northwest Tasmania. So we sign up for an eccentric tour of Wynyard's little penguin colony. Guide Keith Chung has been offering free evening penguin tours for more than 20 years, for small groups who abide by certain rules: including no bright clothing or misbehaving minors.
He leads us to the Doctors Rocks Conservation Area, five kilometres east of Wynyard, where we wait for the flightless birds to waddle up the sand. We hear them before we see them, pricking our ears in the dark at what sounds like small dogs barking in the water.
"I reckon I might be one of only a few people in the country who can translate penguin-ese into English," Chung says. We are told that common penguin-to-penguin conversations might include: "Hey, where are you?"; "Give us a kiss and a cuddle"; or "Go away or else!"
On a good night, up to 100 little penguins will emerge from the water, he says. Tonight, we see only a handful while walking along the beach, including a hungry chick who has been abandoned by its parents and faces imminent death by starvation. "Penguins are not always cute and cuddly," Chung says.
There's a dark humour to northwest Tasmania. You can sense it in place names, such as Devils Elbow Road, Dismal Swamp and the Road to Nowhere. Just off Murdering Gully Road, beyond fields of tulips and poppies (Tasmania grows up to 50 per cent of the planet's legal opiates), we take a cliff-top stroll along the dirt track to the 1880s Table Cape Lighthouse, the only operating lighthouse open for tours on mainland Tasmania.
From our windswept perch, we can see the towering sandstone cliffs of Wynyard's Fossil Bluff, where the golden rocks have been stripped of thousands of ancient shells by eager collectors. In the other direction are the cool, clear waters of Boat Harbour Beach, where we reward ourselves after our walk with an ice cream at the well-stocked Harvest and Cater cafe.
The small beach, nestled between rocky headlands, boasts rock pools and squeaky-clean sand. We sit by the water trying to spot some of the dolphins, seals and whales that occasionally swim by. Spotting other people on the beach is almost as challenging. This beautiful bay remains sparsely occupied, even on a warm and welcoming day. Somehow, this hidden gem remains unspoiled and solitary.
Stranger still is the sight of northwest Tasmania's most oddball tourist attraction. Tasmazia and the Village of Lower Crackpot sits in the Promised Land, midway between Devonport and Cradle Mountain.
The village motto of "fractis sed utilis" ("broken but useful" – just like a cracked pot) plays out across eight mazes and a model village, which is home to miniature buildings such as The School of Lateral Thinking and the Crackpot Angels Motorcycle Club.
We spend about half an hour in the botanical Great Maze, stumbling past signs for "Mr and Mrs B Hadd" and a memorial statue to plumbers (a toilet), before finding the path that leads to the café, where the kitchen serves plates of super-sized pancakes.
It's where we meet Brian Inder, 86, the resident laird, chieftain, chief magistrate and sheriff of Lower Crackpot. Mazes reveal a lot about people's characters, he says. There are leaders, followers, control freaks and criminal minds.
Women tend to be better at navigating a maze than men. "Men try to be the big boss and end up getting lost. Women navigate by the things that are on the ground, like a tree or root – in a maze you find your way by those little things."
The former factory manager calls himself a "refugee" from Sydney. He bought a dairy farm here in 1973 and set about converting it into a loony land, where "fun and laughter rule". Tasmania's northwest suits eccentrics, artists, composers, poets and "those of a soft and kind nature," he says. "It lifts the spirit and soothes the soul."
He asks whether we have been to the Edge of the World and it's only then that I realise he is the author of the poem we saw inscribed on the stone cairn there, about casting a pebble on the beach. "One day I will be no more, but my pebble will remain here, on the shore of Eternity," it reads.
He asks whether I tossed a pebble into the water and I have to confess that I didn't. "Well, you can always go back," he says, smiling. "There's no end to the edge."
Qantas, Virgin Australia and Jetstar all have frequent flights from Sydney and Melbourne to Launceston and Hobart. Tigerair flies from Melbourne only. Car hire is available at both airports.
Coastal Pods Wynyard has two self-contained converted shipping containers by the Inglis River, about 2 hours' drive northwest of Launceston. Each two-bedroom pod is available from $230 a night. Phone (03) 6442 2351 or see www.coastalpods.com
Wynyard Penguin Tours run at night for small groups, from about late September until Easter. Bookings are essential. Tours are free but donations are welcome. Phone 0417 153 244 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tasmazia boasts eight mazes, the model Village of Lower Crackpot, a gift shop and cafe. The Promised Land tourist attraction is open seven days a week. Phone (03) 6491 1934 or see www.tasmazia.com.au
Peter Munro was a guest of Coastal Pods Wynyard.
See also: Six of the best Tasmanian day walks