Can you keep a secret? Whether intentionally or otherwise, the Flinders Island locals have managed to keep quiet about this extraordinary isle off north-eastern Tasmania.
The main island in the Furneaux Group offers an incredible range of spectacular beaches, walks, produce and flora and fauna. It is like stepping back into 1950s Australia on arrival at Whitemark. Every passing driver acknowledges with the laconic island wave. The broad empty main street disappears off into the paddocks and windrows frame the majestic Mt Strzelecki in the distance. Whilst stocking up on local produce at the Taste of Flinders, mums on the school run bail us up on where we would absolutely have to visit. It’s a long list and as the locals say, if you go to the beach and people are there, pop around the headland to the next perfect bay.
Our accommodation for the visit are the architecturally designed Sawyers Bay Shacks. The two shacks have decks on three sides and expansive views across Bass Strait. Wandering across a field of succulents and springtime wildflowers, your first glimpse of the local beach is truly breathtaking. Large granite boulders covered in orange lichen create aquamarine swimming pools. The cosy shacks are centrally located on the island, perfect for trips to the south or north, and an idyllic retreat after a day of hiking, kayaking or snorkelling.
At the southern tip of Flinders Island lies the hamlet of Lady Barron with views across Franklin Sound to Cape Barren Island. For birdwatchers, there is a bounty of activity in the Furneaux Group and on the lagoons of Flinders Island. In spring the Short-tailed Shearwater (Muttonbird) return en masse from the Aleutian Islands to their breeding burrows. Across the marshes and estuaries it’s possible to observe large flocks of pelicans, ducks and waders.
Mt Strzelecki is the iconic hike on the island. From this 782-metre summit the view to the south is across the Furneaux Group to Tasmanian mountains in the distance. Flinders Island stretches some 80 kilometres to the north with ancient granite peaks falling away to the lagoons and estuaries to the east. Close by us the striking Trousers Point is fringed by another turquoise bay and offers a rewarding swim after a strenuous hike.
Just as colourful and welcoming as the vistas are the island locals. We were taken under the collective wing of cattle farmers Jo and Tom Youl and treated to a feast of island fare and care. Jo is a dynamo and has a plan to create a hub at Whitemark’s wharf. In partnership with the group behind Victoria’s Brae, the existing shed will be renovated during 2018 and include a providore for island producers, a gathering point for locals and visitors, and the Furneaux Distillery. A Scottish island style whisky will be produced from island grown barley on saltladen paddocks and unique local peat sourced from the wild east coast.
On yet another stunning morning we headed out to sea with Tom and his farming mates Mick and Macca in search of dinner. Below the surface of the mighty cliffs of Mt Killicrankie a fecund world appears. Stingrays lazed on sandy patches whilst in sheltered crevices we spotted fan coral. The lads soon had the quota of crays and abalone and we headed around to snorkel at Stacky’s Bight, just another aquamarine bay and sublime beach!
The boat crew were typical of many locals who have historical connections to the island or by chance have arrived over the last couple of decades and will never leave. Mick’s cattle farm is midisland and his beach shack offers sweeping views across Killiecrankie Bay. Come February 2018, Mick’s Cray Shack will be available to rent in time for the inaugural Food and Crayfish festival in mid April.
Again we rose at dawn in Sawyers Bay to the pademelons feeding blissfully in the dewy paddocks, A large slab of granite shaped like a humpback whale is the perfect perch for the morning cuppa whilst viewing the first rays strike Mt Strzelecki and pheasants scratching about in the coastal scrub. We headed north and joined Jo for a trek to the top of Mt Killiecrankie. The track wends its way past enormous granite tors and dips down into melaleuca gullies. In the distance Deal Island rose and way beyond in the haze is the Hogan Group stretching on to Wilsons Promontory.
We were lucky to enjoy a spectacular run of late spring weather and to avoid the fierce westerlies of mid-winter. But no matter what the conditions, the locals will point you in the right direction to a secluded bay or protected trek. They have been keeping a secret but are now more than eager to share it.