There’s not much to do on Tasmania’s Flinders Island unless you like road tripping, wildlife spotting, bush walking, beach combing, chilling out and finding time for that favourite book, finds Megan Arkinstall.
We’re driving along a white gravel road to our holiday home tucked away at West End Beach. Up ahead I see a turn-off where a 4WD is waiting for us to pass; as we do, the driver waves his hand.
I peer in my rear-vision mirror to see who he’s waving at but we’re the only ones on the road. Not long after, another car passes and this driver waves, too. Maybe I’ve left my blinkers or lights on, I wonder… but everything seems fine.
And then the light bulb switches on. For the locals, waving hello to everyone you pass is the norm of everyday life.
For folk like us from the mainland, who are used to driving along busy city highways and suburban roads, it’s an extraordinary gesture. By our next encounter, I’m returning the ‘Flinders Island Wave’ like a local.
Bigger than we expected at 75 kilometres long and 40 kilometres wide, it’s an idyllic place for cruisy scenic drives.
There’s almost 400 kilometres of roads that wind around rolling green farmland, through bushy seaside scrub, and along the coast with the waters of the Bass Strait or Tasman Sea as a backdrop.
The Flinders Island ‘Big 5’
We pass countless flocks of woolly sheep and grazing cattle, and try to spot what we’ve dubbed the Flinders Island Big Five (that is, wallabies, echidnas, wombats, peacock and Cape Barren geese).
Wallabies are quite easy to find, simply because there are so many of them, but we’re thrilled when we sight an echidna unhurriedly making his way across the road ahead; a little chubby wombat who spots us then runs away as fast as his little legs can carry him; and a peacock who prances out in front of our car, its magnificent green, oil-slick feathers shimmering in the sun as they bounce up and down behind him.
And that’s all within the first couple of hours of being here.
The rare Cape Barren geese are a little more elusive, but James Luddington of Flinders Island Adventures, with whom we are doing a 4WD tour, has an idea.
He takes us to Patriarch Wildlife Sanctuary, a refuge purposely built for the species, as well as wombats and wallabies.
Unfortunately, we don’t see the geese, but we are surrounded by wallabies who nibble feed from our hands as we coo over the little joey heads poking out of their mums’ pouches.
The irony is in the name
Inside the sanctuary’s visitor hut, James tells us about the island’s history over a cuppa.
Named after Matthew Flinders, who ironically never actually visited, Flinders Island is the largest of the Furneaux Group, a collection of more than 60 islands that stretch across the Bass Strait between mainland Australia and Tasmania.
Its European history is a bleak one: in the late 18th century it was first occupied by sealers (who hunted seals for their oils and skins); it is the location of a European-built township, Wybalenna, designed to ‘civilise and educate’ Tasmanian Aboriginals between 1829 and 1834 – sadly, of around 200 Aboriginals sent here only 45 survived; and the surrounding sea is the resting place of some 69 shipwrecks.
Today, farming is the economic engine of the island (in fact, it produces about 15 per cent of Tasmania’s beef and nine per cent of its lamb) and the pretty-as-a-picture landscape attests to this.
The greatest outdoors
Nature is the hero here, with bush-walking, beachcombing, boating and fishing being popular activities for visitors.
Three of the island’s designated walking tracks were named in the 60 Great Short Walks of Tasmania list, one of which is the trek to the peak of Mt Strzelecki.
The view from the top is amazing, but be sure to take a warm rain jacket; the island is famous for it ‘Roaring Forties’ winds.
And with more than 100 beaches, and just 900 permanent residents, you’ll usually have a long stretch of pristine sand to yourself.
At 54 kilometres from Tasmania’s mainland, Flinders Island is one of the most remote locations in Australia.
Perhaps because of this, we get a sense that time is lagging – in the most charming way possible.
There’s no public transport on the island; mobile phone reception is restricted to Telstra’s service only; the island only receives weekly shipments from the mainland; and nothing is open on a Sunday (remember when that was the norm?). Life on Flinders Island is simple – and that’s its beauty.
My mobile phone has zero reception at our accommodation, which means for the few days we’re here there are no emails, no social media, no text messages… I actually pick up a book that has been left dog-eared for months and settle in to one of the wooden lounge chairs on our deck.
I give a big Flinders Island Wave to the world and zone out for a while.
Getting and staying there: Flinders Island
Sharp Airlines operates daily flights between Launceston and Flinders Island. Guests will need to hire a car when on the island to get around. Prices for West End Beach House start from $260 per night, minimum two-night stay; visitflindersisland.com.au