Tasmania appears to move at a slow pace compared to mainland Australia but two island groups in the Bass Strait offer the opportunity to drop back a few more gears. The climate of the Bass Strait islands is maritime and generally mild, with the average rainfall. Winds are predominantly westerlies and can blow unabated for several days during late winter and spring. There are cool sea breezes in summer. For those who want some time out with just themelves and nature, these are the islands to head to.
A large island which lies in the path of the Roaring Forties, the ever-present westerlies that circle the world’s southern latitudes. Its regular rainfall, clean air and year-long green pastures are ideal for raising sheep, quality beef and dairy cows, and as a result, the island is famous for its produce. There are around 1,000 people on the island, and they are proud of their independence and resourcefulness.
The island has thriving wildlife, including platypuses, especially in Lavinia Nature Reserve in the north-east. You ll also find heath, dunes and wonderful beaches in the reserve and a world-renowned wetland bird habitat. In the south of the island there s an ancient calcified forest and a little further round the coast, at Grassy, you can see fairy penguins returning in the evening to their burrows. Wallabies and peacocks abound so be careful driving at dusk. Shearwater rookeries cover tussocky coastal hillsides, and you may sight albatrosses and sea eagles riding the updraughts. The orange bellied parrot stops here on its annual migratory journey to Tasmania s south-west wilderness. Reid Rocks, 12 kilometres (7.5 miles) offshore, is home to a major breeding colony of Australian fur seals.
Australia’s worst maritime disaster occurred here in 1845, when the Cataraqui grounded. There are in fact many wrecks strewn around the island’s shores and the locals are only too happy to point them out to anyone who wishes to dive on them. The island has an airstip and is serviced daily with flights to Melbourne and Launceston. A variety of accommodation types is availble, details on the island’s website.
How to get there: There are a number of airline companies flying into Currie (King Island).
Tasmania’s largest and Australia’s 6th largest island, Flinders Island is located some 20 km from the north-eastern tip of Tasmania, in the Furneaux Group. Flinders is a long, narrow island, 75km long and 40km wide, with the Darling Ranges running along the middle of the island. The islands of the Furneaux group are dominated by ridges of granite, including the striking features of the southern part of the Strzelecki Range Darling Range, Mt Killiecrankie, the Patriarchs (Flinders Island) and the higher parts of Cape Barren Island. The three main population centres on Flinders Island are Whitemark, Lady Barron and Killiecrankie. Whitemark is the main residential and business centre.
How to get there: A trading vessel Matthew Flinders sails weekly between Bridport, on the north-east coast of mainland Tasmania. Airlines of Tasmania flies daily between Launceston and Whitemark and three times a week between Moorabbin and Whitemark. Flinders Island welcomes visitors, and a number of accommodation options are available.
Hunter Island Group
The Hunter Group of Islands lie in Bass Strait off the north-west tip of Tasmania due south of Geelong, Victoria. The largest island in the Hunter Group, Hunter Island lies six kilometres off the north-west tip of Tasmania. The island is 7330 ha in size, approximately 25 km long, and 6.5 km wide at its widest point. Three Hummock Island, another island in the group, is managed for conservation. There are no facilities on these islands; the most regular visitors are kayakers from kayak clubs but can safely be reached by small vessels hired or chartered from Smithton. Sea Kayak
The highest point of the island lies at 90 m above sea level, from where low undulating hills roll away to the coast. The native vegetation is largely intact with only 860 ha cleared for grazing and residential use. Heathlands and coastal scrub make up nearly 80 per cent of the native vegetation, with swamp forests, buttongrass moorlands, native grasslands, woodlands, muttonbird colonies, saltmarshes and lichenfields providing a wide range of habitats. The island is important for six threatened bird species, including the orange-bellied parrot, swift parrot, white-bellied sea eagle, shy albatross, Tasmanian wedge-tailed eagle and fairy prion.
Three Hummock Island
This island has been described as a coastal wonderland. It has dozens of beaches, some magnificent with breakers and sand dunes, others as small as 20 metres, protected by jutting granite boulders and seething in life. Many paths on the island lead to locations of exceeding beauty. Birdlife abounds on the island, with over 90 species recorded. Wild ducks, black swans and eagles frequent the small lakes behind the sand dunes lining the beaches. A wide variety of sea birds are seen around the coast, including international visitors that come to the Island to breed. Shearwaters (Moonbirds) are a spectacular sight as they return in thousands to their rookeries at dusk during summer. Penguins can be observed making their nightly trip up the beach to their nests.
The eastern and northern coasts of Robbins offer a variety of sights and wildlife. There are hills, cliffs, rolling paddocks, a lagoon, sand dunes, and surf beaches and a six square km inlet that dries entirely twice a day with every low tide. The other islands are quite small. The island was used for livestock to graze on, primarily for wool production before the 1850s. Robbins Island is today a source of wagyu beef, which is exported to Japan and mainland Australia.
Albatross Island has many delights but none come near the feeling of awe and inspiration of walking amongst the thousands of nesting birds. The Albatross is strong, confident and totally in control of its environment. The island has four caves, two are concealed by tunnels and easily missed. These caves extend up to 60 metres with ceilings of 15 metres, large enough to accommodate the hundreds of penguins that come ashore to rest there each night.
The centre of the island is cut lengthways by a deep gulch which runs through the short axis; one of the caves runs through the long axis. The cave is usually occupied by a few Albatross that have become trapped.
Made up of Judgement Rocks, South West Isle, Erith Island, Dover Island, Deal Island and North East Isle, these are the most northerly of Tasmania’s islands. They lie off the coast of Mornington Peninsula, Victoria. Judgement Rocks is an important Australian fur seal breeding site, the largest of only five sites in Tasmanian waters. It is especially significant because, unlike other sites, it is secure from the high seas when pups are young and vulnerable. You need permission to land on the Island. Near-shore boating or fishing activity is also discouraged to minimise disruption.
Made up of Hogan Island, Twin Islets (North), Twin Islets (South), Long Island, Round Island and East Island. Round Island is a small, pristine island where a range of seabirds breed, including the little penguin, short-tailed shearwater, fairy prion, common diving petrel and Pacific gull. It is also home to White s skinks and metallic skinks.
Curtis Island Group
Made up of Curtis Island, Cone Island, Sugarloaf Rock and Devils Tower. Sugarloaf Rock s unique shape is a landmark to fishermen and sailors, and of considerable aesthetic value. Fairy prions breed in rock crevices and Australian fur seals are present on a boulder ledge at the south-western tip.
Rodondo Island Group
Made up of Rodondo Island, West Moncoeur Island and East Moncoeur Island. West Moncoeur Island is an important Australian fur seal breeding colony, well-protected from storms. Two smaller islands off the southern end also have breeding populations of Australian fur seals.
The Bass Pyramid Group is made up of Craggy Island, Wright Rock and Bass Pyramid. Bass Pyramid is a spectacular, two-sectioned oval island with steep granite 90-degree rock cliffs rising to more gently sloping, sparsely vegetated areas and a flat summit. The two sections are connected by a rock bridge. The main east to west gulch is cluttered with the remains of artillery shells and missiles. There are steeply sloping wave platforms in the north and south, on which seals haul out. The Australasian gannet has been seen roosting on this island.
The Furneaux Group contains more than fifty islands, situated in eastern Bass Strait. Isolation, a turbulent history, and a free-spirited independence add a unique flavour to the group’s largely unspoiled natural beauty. In 2005, the Group had a population of 897 mostly living on the three largest islands of Flinders, Cape Barren, and Clarke. Major industries are fishing, livestock, and tourism. Access is by air and sea. Flinders Island has two main towns: Whitemark, the administrative centre, and Lady Barron, its fishing centre and main port.
The Islands off Wilsons Promontory
The mountainous spine of Wilsons Promontory is believed to have once been part of the high land that formed an isthmus extending in a south easterly direction, past South East Point, across what is now Bass Strait, through the Hogan, Curtis and Kent Groups of Islands, to Flinders Island, and Tasmania’s north east. The islands which now dot the Promonotory were once part of this ‘bridge’. The high mountainous ridge can be traced back to sometime in the Devonian Period, 395-350 million years ago, when molten rock pushed its way up into overlying rock deposits, where it cooled and solidified into granite. Over millions of years the overlying rocks were eroded exposing the granite mass. This in itself was eroded, although as happens with granite, it eroded unevenly. What was left is a spine of rugged granite peaks and islands of various shapes and sizes.