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Flinders Island, TAS

Lonely and beautiful island in Bass Strait north-east of Tasmania

If there are true Cinderellas in the Australian tourism industry they have to be the islands in Bass Strait - Flinders Island, King Island and Cape Barren Island. There is also the smaller islands - Clarke Island, Three Hummock Island, Hunter Island and Robbins Island. They are not easily accessible. There are direct flights from Melbourne and Launceston and given that they are on the edge of the Roaring Forties it is a brave traveller who journeys to the islands expecting reliable good weather. Some small adventure holiday operators (I think of Air Adventure Australia) do regular trips to the islands and in the case of Flinders Island it wears, as a badge of honour, that it has 460 km of public roads, 120 beaches and an area of 1,600 square kilometres. Flinders Island is the largest of the 52 islands that make up the Furneaux group. It is 29 km at its widest point and 64 km long.  Most accommodation on the island is simple but the views are spectacular and the weather can be dramatic. So why visit Flinders Island? Partly because it is very beautiful and has abundant and accessible wildlife (particularly sea birds and wallabies) as well as plenty of ideal places for bushwalking, beachcombing and experiencing nature far removed from the usual tourist crowds.


Flinders Island is located 151 km north of Launceston by air.


Origin of Name

Governor Philip Gidley King named the island after Matthew Flinders. Flinders, with his colleague, George Bass discovered that Van Diemen's Land was an island when they circumnavigated the island's land mass. King also named Bass Strait after George Bass.


Things to See and Do

Getting there
It is possible to catch a weekly ferry from Bridport (http://furneauxfreight.com.au) or to fly. The easiest way to fly is with Sharp Airlines. Either tel: 1300 5566 94 or http://sharpairlines.com.au/airline_services/flinders-island.html. They offer one, two and three day packages to the island which include car hire and modest accommodation.

Activities on the Island
Flinders Island is an idyllic, quiet, unspoilt retreat where bushwalking, exploring the coastline, fishing, and learning about the maltreatment of the Tasmanian Aborigines are central to a peaceful experience. Check out http://www.visitflindersisland.com.au/experiences which lists and details beachcombing on the islands 120 beaches; bush walking on both the mountains and along the shoreline; the 2 1/2 hour Castle Rock walk (there is also a ten minute walk to the rock); drive discoveries of the east coast, north coast and south and central; visiting the Furneaux Museum; watching the shearwaters arrive and visiting Wybalenna as the island's premier attractions.

Planning a Visit
If you plan just to see the beautiful coastline and explore the island this can be achieved effortlessly in two days. If you intend to do some of the many walks on the island or intend to look for "diamonds" (actually it is topaz) around Killiecrankie or go fishing then you will need to spend longer. A two day visit can be broken up into (a) Day 1- journey from Whitemark up the East coast to Sawyers Beach, Wybalenna, Port Davies, Emita Beach and Castle Rock, Killiecrankie, Palana and North East River and (b) Day 2 - journey from Whitemark south to Trousers Point, Strzelecki National Park, Lady Barron, Logan Lagoon, Lackrana Wildlife Sanctuary, the Patriachs and Patriach Wildlife Sanctuary, Patriach Inlet, Furneaux Lookout and Walkers Lookout.

Day 1 - the East Coast north of Whitemark
Whitemark was probably named, rather unimaginatively, after a white survey mark. Today it is the main settlement on Flinders Island. It sits on the flat coastal plain with Mount Strzelecki rising to the south. The town, with a population of around 150 people, has all the basic requirements - supermarket, bakery, cafe, post office, hotel etc - and is primarily used as a central point because of its proximity to the airport. In the evening the hotel is the only place in Whitemark where you can get dinner. In the morning there is a cafe and a bakery.

Sawyers Beach
Only a few kilometres north of the Flinders Island airport is a sign directing visitors to Sawyers Beach which provides excellent views south to Mount Strzelecki and an opportunity to get down onto the beach and explore the remarkable granite rocks with their distinctive red lichen.

Furneaux Museum
Located at 8 Fowlers Road, Emita - 18 km north of Whitemark, the Furneaux Museum contains an extensive collection of artefacts recalling both the Aboriginal inhabitants on the island and the first European settlers. It recalls the events which shaped the history of the island: the geology, the shipwrecks, muttonbirding, farming, island families, the Soldier Settlement Scheme, the Wybalenna settlement and local fauna and flora. For more details check out http://www.flinders.tas.gov.au/furneaux-museum or tel: (03) 6359 8434. Be warned: it is staffed by volunteers and, although it claims to be open from 1.00 pm - 5.00 pm daily it can be closed if volunteers are not available. You should ring before planning a visit although, if it is closed just keep driving to Wybalenna and Port Davies which are more interesting.

Wybalenna Historic Site
The story of Aborigines on Flinders Island is a story of maltreatment and misguided attempts to solve a problem while actually exacerbating it. In 1834 a total of 134 Tasmanian Aborigines, believed at the time to be the last of their race, were isolated on the island in an attempt to (a) "civilise and Christianise" them and (b) protect them from the rape and murder inflicted on them by European settlers and sealers in Tasmania. It was never going to work because the people charged with looking after them - soldiers and brutish men - were, in fact, part of the problem. By 1847 the settlement at Wybalenna was considered a failure and abandoned with the remaining 47 Aborigines, including Truganini (often cited as the last Tasmanian Aborigines although this was clearly wrong), being sent to Oyster Cove south of Hobart.

Wybalenna Historic Site at Settlement Point on the western coast of the island is a remnant of the original settlement. The Wybalenna chapel, a simple Georgian building with a wooden shingle roof, still stands on a site where Aborigines, removed from their homelands, waited to be returned to the main island that was there home. The chapel was purchased and restored by the National Trust in 1973.

There was a bitter and protracted confrontation in the 1970s and 1980s when Tasmanian Aborigines attempted to assert that the land should be protected and the unmarked graves respected. The site, located on Port Davies Road at Emita, was finally returned to the local Aborigines by the Tasmanian Government in the Aboriginal Lands Act of 1995. If you want to learn more about the settlement check out http://www.utas.edu.au/library/companion_to_tasmanian_history/W/Wybalenna.htm and http://www.visitflindersisland.com.au/experience/wybalenna. The appeal of Wybalenna today lies in the small chapel which contains a number of Aboriginal artefacts and some particularly informative storyboards which recount the history of the ill-fated settlement and the lives of some of its most famous inhabitants including William Lanney (recognised as the last full blood Aborigines) and Truganini.

Mutton Bird Watching at Port Davies
The mutton bird, correctly known as the short tailed shearwater, is a migratory bird which flies from the northern hemisphere to nest and breed on Flinders Island between November and April. The Visit Flinders Island website notes that: "Eighteen million of these amazing birds arrive in Tasmania every year with their largest colony (over 3 million burrows) being on Babel Island. The migratory path of these birds is hard to define as they do not come ashore during their migration, but it has been proven that they travel about 15,000 kilometres in each direction (north and south) annually." For more information check out: http://www.visitflindersisland.com.au/experience/settlement-point-mutton-bird-viewing#sthash.udnNH1X2.dpuf. There is a viewing platform at Port Davies 20 km north of Whitemark (take the road beyond Wybalenna) where the birds can be observed between November and April. There is an inevitable problem. The shearwaters tend to head out to sea during the daytime so all you see from the viewing platform are the lumps in the ground where they have made their nests. They return at dusk - similar to little penguins - and can be seen in the evening light.

Emita Beach, Castle Rock and Marshall Bay
The most photographed natural destination on the island is the huge Castle Rock which is about halfway along Marshall Bay (take the turn to Emita Beach north of the Port Davies, Furneaux Museum road). It is easily accessible. The road ends at a car park and there is a track heading south around the rocks. The rock itself is particularly impressive, has patches of red lichen and the surrounding rocks edge around to a particularly beautiful small bay. The sands here are dramatically white.

Killiecrankie Bay
Located 42 km north of Whitemark, Killiecrankie Bay is a place of surpassing loveliness noted for its beautiful beaches, its walks around the bay particularly to Deep Bight Bay and the snorkelling around the boat ramp and in the bay. It is also known for its diamond fossicking on the beach. The pink flowers that abound in the area are known, amusingly, as Naked Ladies. Be warned: in the summer months the march flies are particularly abundant and aggressive.

The main appeal of the Palana is the huge sand dunes which have been blown to dramatic heights by the Roaring Forties. The lonely beach below the dunes is a delightful place for a stroll. The pink flowers that abound in the area are known, amusingly, as Naked Ladies. Be warned: in the summer months the march flies are particularly abundant and aggressive.

North East River
The beaches are impossibly white, the river is home to a rich variety of seabirds with black swans, pied oystercatchers, ducks and Cape Barren geese dominating. This is another area where the contrast between the white sands and the red lichen on the granite foreshores create a particular beauty with the waters of Bass Strait being green and changing to the deepest blue offshore.

Day 2 - the Southern and Western parts of the Island
Trousers Point
Located inside the Strzelecki National Park (there is a National Park fee which should be paid when hiring a car) this is a headland which offers shorter walks at Trousers Point and Fotheringate Bay which pass through casuarina woodland and coastal heath before reaching the coast. The rocky headlands and beautiful white beaches at Trousers Point and Fotheringate Bay are popular holiday spots. Trousers Beach is a beautiful cove protected from the winds of the roaring forties, surrounded by granite headlands covered with distinctive red lichen. Fotheringate Bay has some unusual rock formations and is a favourite with the locals. For more information on the park and the walks, check out http://www.parks.tas.gov.au/?base=3834 which has useful maps.

Strzelecki National Park and Peaks Walk
Strzelecki National Park lies to the south of Whitemark and covers 4216 ha. It was proclaimed in 1972 and named after the Polish scientist and explorer Count Paul Edmund Strzelecki, who climbed a number of the mountain peaks on Flinders Island in 1842.

Characterised by impressive granite mountains and rugged coastal scenery, the park is known for its rare plant and animal species. The park's flora includes forests of Tasmanian blue gum, a dense coastal fringe of tea tree, Sassafras-musk rainforest and rare orchids. Its fauna also includes wombats, Bennetts wallabies, Tasmanian pademelons and potoroos. More than 100 species of bird live in the park including shearwaters (mutton birds) who migrate to the park in summer, the rare swift parrot, forty-spotted pardalote, grey-tailed tattler and hooded plover.

The park offers a number of walks ranging from the daunting Peaks Walk - a day walk which rises from the coast to 756 metres - to shorter walks at Trousers Point and Fotheringate Bay which pass through casuarina woodland and coastal heath before reaching the coast. The rocky headlands and beautiful white beaches at Trousers Point and Fotheringate Bay are popular holiday spots. Trousers Beach is a beautiful cove protected from the winds of the roaring forties, surrounded by granite headlands covered with distinctive orange lichen. Fotheringate Bay has some unusual rock formations and is a favourite with the locals. For more information on the park and the walks, check out http://www.parks.tas.gov.au/?base=3834 which has useful maps.

Lady Barron
The only other town of any consequence on the island (apart from Whitemark) is Lady Barron which has a general store and a hotel (the Furneaux Tavern). It is a small town set on a fishing harbour. There is impressive birdlife in the area.

Logan Lagoon
In dry weather (yes, it can be dry on the island) the lagoon can dry out. When it is filled with water the visitor will see black swans, ducks, Cape Barren geese, a range of migratory birds as well as ducklings and goslings in season.

Cameron Inlet Wetlands
Located 30 km to the east of Whitemark as part of the Lackrana Conservation Area, the Cameron Inlet Wetlands is a series of lagoons - Sandy Lagoon, Bushys Lagoon, Nelsons Lagoon, Toms Lagoon et al - which are noted for their particularly interesting and diverse birdlife. The attentive visitor will see black swans, ducks, Cape Barren geese, a range of migratory birds as well as ducklings and goslings in season. There are impressive displays of wildflowers in the Lackrana Wildlife Sanctuary. Check out http://www.visitflindersisland.com.au/experience/drive-discovery-east-coast for details.

Patriarch Wildlife Sanctuary
Located on the east side of the island 29 km from Whitemark, Patriarch Inlet and Patriarch Wildlife Sanctuary are important shallow wetlands where migratory birds from the northern hemisphere gather. At certain times of the years it is possible to watch as thousands of soldier crabs scuttle across the sand. In spring the coastal heath is awash with spectacular wildflower displays. Check out http://www.visitflindersisland.com.au/experience/drive-discovery-east-coast for details. One guarantee is the presence of very friendly wallabies at the Wildlife Sanctuary. They will actually hop up to you, presumably anticipating feeding. All you have to do is walk 140 metres down a track from the sanctuary gate and they will surround you.

Walkers Lookout
Located east from Whitemark, Walkers Lookout, although it is only 400 metres above sea level, offers superb 360° panoramic views which are easily accessible - unlike the walk up Mt Strzelecki. There's an excellent description of the experience of the view at http://www.roamingdownunder.com/walkers-lookout.php. The view is little short of amazing. The visitor can see the tiny settlement of Whitemark far below on the coast, the vista stretches across to Strzelecki National Park and Mount Strzelecki to the south and across to the west the view extends to the coast around the Patriachs and to Mount Furneaux.


Other Attractions in the Area

The Island and the Mutton Bird Industry
The mutton bird, a short-tailed shearwater, has been exploited commercially since the early nineteenth century. While there were no controls in the early days, today the industry is subject to stringent government regulations. The season lasts from 17 March to 30 April and is primarily a family business with mostly local Aborigines carrying on a traditional activity. Young birds are killed for their oil (which is used for pharmaceutical purposes), their fat (which is sold to local dairy farmers and used as a feed supplement), their feathers (which are ideal as down in upholstery) and their flesh which is commonly salt-cured and sold on the mainland. During World War II the birds were canned and sold in Britain as 'squab in aspic'. Current research has monitored the mutton bird population to ensure that a proper ecological balance is maintained. With a density of up to 6,000 burrows to a hectare it is unlikely that low level culling will seriously affect the population. In recent times a sanctuary has been established on the island. It is also true that some years have been so bad for breeding that the cull has been cancelled.



* About 10,000 years ago Flinders Island was part of a land bridge which joined Tasmania to the mainland. As the ice age came to an end sea levels rose and Bass Strait was formed which resulted in Flinders, Cape Barren and Three Hummocks becoming islands and small numbers of Tasmanian Aborigines being isolated from the mainland.

* The first European to make contact with the islands was Tobias Furneaux, the commander of Captain James Cook's support ship. Furneaux's ship became separated from the Endeavour in fog and it wandered around the east coast of Van Diemen's Land eventually reaching the Furneaux group of islands on 19 March, 1773.

* It was not known that Flinders Island was separate and that Van Diemen's Land was not part of mainland Australia until George Bass and Matthew Flinders circumnavigated the main island between October 1798 and June 1799. Governor Philip Gidley King named the strait which separates Tasmania from the mainland after Bass and the main island in the strait after Flinders.

* The first settlers on Flinders Island were sealers who lived rough and were only interested in killing seals for their oil.

* In 1833 a small group of Tasmanian Aborigines were brought to the island and settled at Wybalenna.

* By 1847 the Wybalenna settlement was abandoned.

* By the mid-1850s grazing leases were established and beef and dairy cattle, sheep grazing and a fishing industry became common on the island.

* In 1888 George Boyes became the island's first permanent European settler.

* Whitemark wharf was built in 1905.

* In 1946 a Melbourne University expedition located an Aboriginal midden near Palana Beach which was estimated to be 7,000 years old.

* In the 1950s a World War II soldier settlement scheme, particularly at Memena and Lackrana, led to an increase in the island's population.

* In 1977 the Furneaux Fishing and Processing Company was established.

* In 1991 an Aboriginal Community Centre was opened at Lady Barron.


Visitor Information

Flinders Island Visitor Information Centre, 4 Davies Street, Whitemark, tel: (03) 6359 5002.


Useful Websites

There is a useful and comprehensive local website with information about travelling to the island and the accommodation options. Check out http://www.visitflindersisland.com.au.

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