By Tilly Smith Dix
Be captivated by Flinders Island
Some weeks ago, my beloved started drawing up charts and slacked off on the house renovations. The reason? Dear friends from the UK were visiting Tasmania and were keen to meet us somewhere midway from their current base in Launceston, Tasmania, and our home in the Yarra Valley of Victoria.
As we’d not flown any length of time across the ocean before in our South African made Sling 4 aircraft, I became rather agitated, trying to find reasons not to take such a risk. Yes, I know many ships were lost in the Bass Strait in past centuries and since then several light houses have been lit between 1848 and 1861. However, this is a single engine, four-seater light airplane!
Himself is a strategist of note, one of the many reasons I married him, and, once he’d done all his plotting, planning and charting of the proposed flight, he pointed out we’d be flying along a row of islands, starting off the mainland of Victoria’s verdant Wilsons Promontory and its islands, which eventually lead to the Tasmanian islands. Therefore, if we were in any trouble, we’d have access to land and nearby airfields, while we’d also be in sight of the vigilant Melbourne air traffic controllers.
As I again opened my mouth to protest, he informed me he’d borrowed wet suits, life jackets and an inflatable dinghy from an assortment of friends and our local Coldstream Aerodrome Club management, all of which would be deployed and utilised in flight should we experience any trouble ‘up there.’
I decided to take my chances by declining the wetsuit during the two-hour flight, especially on a warm day; after all, my biggest worry was being shark food and last time I looked, a wetsuit was not going to stop them snacking on my 47kg of blond sweet sweaty meat! I also figured I needed to get the heck away from my home office and this was as good a time as any. The fact that our equally eager to see us friends also happen to be superb chefs and had told me to relax as they would be doing all the cooking, had nothing to do with my decision to trust my husband, again, this time, in unchartered (for us), waters.
Oh, joy, jubilations and a mind’s picture of popping champagne and Pete and Judy (our pals)’s fabulous food, freshly prepared in the delightful, unpretentious, comfortable cottage at Castle Rock, with views of ocean and glorious mountains, put me into a catatonic state over the Strait, only responding to my captain’s commands, such as, “put away that chart, pass me the other one,” and, finally, “put away the charts, thanks for being my flight desk, tighten your seatbelt, we are landing at Whitemark in five…”
Needless to say, neither of us realised the force of a crosswind coming in to land over the bay might shock me out of my mind-freeze, to utter something along the lines of “you foolish man, are you trying to create a new runway when there is one the size of a highway ahead,” when thank the gods of every life-loving soul in the world, he, superb pilot that he is, miraculously, beat that evil wind and there, in the distance, were our personal chefs and wonderful friends, waving enthusiastically. Yes, they saw that wind and were just so grateful we could get out of the plane, walk away, and fly it again afterwards! In aviation terms, a GREAT landing.
Once the aircraft was secured and nobody was injured in that breezy process, we unpacked the foodstuff we’d brought and were off to the supply stores in the town of Whitemark, not far from the airport. Driving in the rental car hired by our friends at the airport on their arrival earlier that day, we saw magnificent livestock, large sheep and glossy cattle as the feed is ideal, I am told. Free range everything, even the enormous crayfish, which we did not indulge in as the price was out of the park. Two days later, when we met a friendly software developer building a dream home for him and his missus in Killiecrankie, did we realise we needed to befriend the right people in the right cove to pay less to savour the fresh catch of the day.
However, the ever-resourceful Pete and Judy, I did mention they are superb chefs, were buying the fresh produce on the island, which included chicken breast, steak, and of course, fresh fish of the day. I should have photographed the fabulous meals they cooked during our stay but as they have a global following already, to the extent of beating their fans off with a long stick, I’ll park that for now.
I further came out of my catatonic state of flying over the sea for an hour (an hour from Coldstream over land prior to that,) when I heard mention of a lady who lets strangers pet her wombat in her shop in Whitemark. Yes, this sounds dodgy but I believe hand-reared rescued wombats love being cuddled, so, Judy and I high-tailed it to the shop as she’d never seen a wombat before, and that after spending some weeks in Tasmania. Sadly, the lady with the wombat was away.
However, walking along the road, discovering this tiny bustling town, where everyone has the time to greet you and chat, I spotted a pretty white cat on the hotel balcony above me and it was right pleased to have a stranger coo and chat to it, it even tried to find its way down to me.
Flinders Island, one of some 60 islands of Tasmania’s Furneaux Island Group, is the largest in the Bass Strait, famously sailed by George Bass and Matthew Flinders back in 1798-9, in their search for Van Diemen’s Island, now known as Tasmania. The Bass Strait is 250 km wide and 500km long. This island is 75km long and 40km wide, with plenty unspoilt beauty to explore.
Suffice to say if you want fine-dining restaurants, bright lights and boho chic, stay away, as you’ll just be spoiling it for those wishing to truly enjoy nature in its most magical form on Flinders Island.
Picture high, granite mountains, lush vegetation, grasslands, golden beaches, panoramic walks, azure waters, blue skies and a sparsely populated island, offering vineyards, olive groves, and hospitable people. Blue Lagoon? This is the cherry on the cake of paradise. The fact that movie producers of the world have not heard of this eden is a bonus. On one hand, it would create a tourism influx, yet, on the other, it would spoil the sublime tranquil beauty.
We hiked along forests, bushland, cliffs and beaches with quirky names like Trousers Point, where someone did land after losing their trousers, hence the title, clambered along Castle Rock, which does not resemble a castle at all but proved equally impressive, and bathed in a welcoming cove in the bay at Killiecrankie.
The roads, whether tarred or dirt, are mostly in excellent condition.
Sheep, milk-fed lamb, wool, cattle, crayfish, abalone, local wine, olive oil and wallaby complement the local produce, and often, the Post Office is in the supply store, which is also the bank. No worries.
Some of the Flinders Island history includes the sad demise of Aboriginal people exiled here to survive disease from mainland Tasmania, who ended up dying of those very perils, mostly. Just as we were exploring such a little chapel and graveyard dedicated to the fallen, our sombre mood was lightened by a sign on the chapel door, directing people to enter at the rear as the front door was closed to keep wallabies and wombats off the sacred premises. Obviously, those animals can read…
The Furneaux Museum at Emita is an attraction, but as it was closing for the day, we decided we’d visit another time.
We met a yachtsman from Melbourne at the Lady Barron Tavern, where we decided to enjoy a mid-morning coffee, watching fishermen and yachtsmen braving the choppy waters on that windy day. Judy got chatting to said sailor and once she’d decided he was interesting and not a serial killer or smuggler of who-knows-what, invited him to dinner. This turned out to be a convivial, fun evening, with many stories shared and lives dissected.
He has since become one of our new Facebook friends and following his lone sailing in the Strait, we have come to respect the guy’s determination to do things he has always wanted to do – solo. With a loving wife and child back home, he plans to do a more champagne-styled cruise in Europe eventually in which to include his family. Just another interesting interlude on Flinders Island, where you really start believing everyone’s a friend. With only some 800 residents, it’s worth the visit.
En route to our cottage, Pete slammed on the brakes to our 20km an hour drive as there, gracefully slithering across the road, was the biggest, fattest tiger snake. I had my camera zoom at the ready, keeping a safe distance from this poisonous local and within stepping distance of the car, door open for a quick escape should it change course in a hurry.
The prolific birdlife here includes the spectacular green rosella, a parrot I sadly could not capture on film this time but spotted several times in flight. We saw lyrebirds, the yellow wattle bird, superb wren, Pacific gulls and beautiful, but aggressive Cape Barren Geese. The geese, we are told, don’t like human interference and will gang up and run at you. Our sailing friend, who had found himself amidst such warmongering geese on a previous trip, was saved by a large wallaby that came dashing out of the bushland, sending the birds on their way. These are just some of the over 200 bird species recorded on the island to date.
Plenty of wallaby crossed our path, sadly, they often become roadkill (I have to warn you as this was upsetting), however, just around the next corner, one will make its escape from prying eyes, whilst another will shyly stay put in the bush to ascertain if you are friend or foe, which is when your camera will capture yet another special moment on this extraordinary island.
We were captivated, seemingly far from the madding crowd, yet only a one-hour flight from Melbourne on scheduled flights.
Vicki Watson-Green of Flinders Island Travel Centre in Killiecrankie booked our charming cottage for us, which had all we needed, including utilities. All we needed to bring was food, drinks, and a Telstra Next G Mobile for internet and phone use. We hear the residents mostly use UHF radios, and there are public phones in the major towns.
For flights and ferries to Flinders Island from Melbourne, go to visitflindersisland.com.au for information.