A private jet tour of Australia's southern islands: King and Kangaroo Islands

There's a certain romance about the notion of island-hopping: peeking into the lives of those who live in relative isolation, on often unforgiving droplets of land defined by the ocean that surrounds them.

The great islands of southern Australia — King and Kangaroo Island, as well as those just offshore mainland Tasmania — are no exception. These are elusive destinations linked by element-beaten landscapes, abundant wildlife and the bounty of land and sea. But with limited or non-existent commercial airline connections, accessing these islands in one fell swoop is a logistical challenge that largely puts them in the 'too hard basket' for most travellers.

Which is where an air-cruise comes into its own. Best known for its lavish, all-inclusive journeys in remote overseas destinations, Australian-owned Captain's Choice pivoted during the pandemic, introducing a suite of domestic, all-inclusive itineraries that offer the thrill of diverse and rarely-visited Aussie locations with the convenience and prestige of travel by private aircraft.

Touching down at five different airports in a week, the Southern Islands by Private Jet tour covers ground that would be otherwise impossible to achieve, with brief whistlestops designed as "interludes" — snapshots to entice guests back for more in-depth exploration at their leisure.

"I just did the maths," one of my fellow travellers tells me as we gather at Sydney's Execujet private terminal in preparation for boarding. "We wanted to see these islands, but to do so independently would be more expensive, and take more time than we had available."

Others in our group of 27 passengers — a mix of empty-nesters, cashed-up retirees and solo travellers aged between 50 and a grand 93 years young — are still gun-shy about travelling internationally, and view this local itinerary as an enticing alternative; while some are just happy to be airborne again — anyhow, anywhere — their wings clipped for way too long.

"This trip has already been cancelled twice due to lockdowns," 87-year-old Joan tells me as we sip our first glass of bubbles in the terminal. "I don't think I'll believe it's happening until I set foot on that plane." An avid traveller, this is Joan's 11th journey with this operator; and after the challenges of exotic destinations such as the Silk Road and Africa, Tassie with its relaxed lifestyle fuelled by cheese and pinot, will surely be a doddle. Surely.

But here's the thing: travel can be unpredictable. And the misfortunes that have dogged this tour continue: the Business Class-configured Pionair BAe 146-200 jet slated for our journey has mechanical issues. Instead, we'll be travelling — for the first day at least — on an economy-configured plane. Economy, eww … but in effect, the same aircraft and the same personal service — just a less glamorous and spacious seating configuration.

While there are obviously some rumblings of discontent, the destination outweighs the mode of transport; and while economy travel may not be the captain's choice, there's no way this tour will be stymied any longer. For Joan, third time is indeed a charm.




Flight time: 1 hour 33 minutes

Nautical miles: 496

One hour west of Burnie, Stanley's immaculately-restored heritage-listed cottages overlook the Bass Strait.

Stanley's charming heritage-listed cottages. Photo: Lusy Productions

Over the next week, the dedicated three-member cabin crew, two pilots and even the engineer will become not just familiar faces, but a vital part of the tour experience, greeting passengers by name, presenting us with our favourite beverages without asking, joining us for dinner, even presenting goodie-bags after a shopping spree on Kangaroo Island.

Also accompanying our group are the "two Jos" — indomitable tour manager Jo Taylor, a Captain's Choice veteran since 2007; and tour doctor Jo-Anne Grey, former military and frontline COVID doctor and fifth-generation Tasmanian, with an ingrained love of the Apple Isle.

Travelling with a doctor has been part of Captain's Choice philosophy since its first journeys in 1994. And while it may not seem such a necessity on an Australian tour, having a GP on hand is certainly a comfort for our mature contingent, especially amid a pandemic. The fact that Dr Jo is also a knowledgeable guide is a bonus to her ability to strap twisted ankles and hand out antihistamines (fortunately the extent of the medical requirements on this particular trip).

After introductions, more bubbles and a light in-flight breakfast, there's barely time to reach cruising altitude before we descend into Burnie Airport, catching our first glimpse of the coastline of north-west Tasmania.

Our lunchtime destination is the historic town of Stanley, one hour west of Burnie. The gateway to the Tarkine region, Stanley was established in 1826 as a wool growing base for the Van Diemen's Land Company – a monumental disaster due to cold, isolation, thylacine attacks and conflict with the local Indigenous people
who resided there. And all of this was compounded by the farmers' refusal to acknowledge the reversal of seasons in the southern hemisphere.

The legacy of this doomed venture, however, remains in the picture-postcard main street of Stanley, its heritage-listed cottages overlooking Bass Strait, immaculately restored and rented out as guest accommodation. In the wake of COVID, however, it's a sleepy streetscape indeed, with the only sign of tourist activity a group of horse-riders pottering along the beach.

After our first — and rather spectacular — lunch of Southern rock lobster (locally known as crayfish), we ride the chairlift to the top of The Nut, one of three dramatic, flat-topped volcanic plugs marking this coastline. But time is ticking: and our plane awaits to ferry us to Hobart, with our Stanley experience a fleeting impression of both the charm and challenges of splendid isolation.


Flight time: 30 minutes

Nautical miles: 136

A cheer erupts as permission is granted at Hobart Airport for tarmac access, with both passengers and luggage loaded directly onto a coach that greets our plane. Finally, we feel like rock stars; even more so when we check into Hobart's newest hotel, The Tasman, where every guest has a room with a view of the historic waterfront.



Get Shucked offer plump Pacific oysters from Great Bay, Bruny Island.

Get Shucked's plump Pacific oysters from Great Bay. Photo: Tourism Tasmania

The first of our southern islands — not counting Tassie itself — is Bruny Island, linked by a car ferry from Kettering, 30 minutes' drive south of Hobart. Today, we split into two groups: one to explore the dramatic shoreline of the island, with its soaring sea cliffs and abundant marine life, by boat; the other to delve into the island's epicurean delights on a bus trip with Pennicott Wilderness Journeys.

Roughly the size of Singapore but with just 800 permanent residents, Bruny Island epitomises bountiful Tasmania, a picnic basket brimming with artisan-produced cheese, beverages, honey, seafood and all things delicious. And never let anyone tell you 9.30am is too early for cheese and beer, particularly when it's of the quality of Bruny Island Cheese & Beer Co.

At the cellar door, owner Nick Haddow presents a cheese platter with passion and attention to detail, explaining the processes behind his organic, sustainable operation to produce a range of artisan cheeses, including one of only two legally-made raw milk cheeses in Australia. Intense and complex, this incredible unpasteurised cheese is matured for 12 months, hand-wiped every week to encourage surface bacteria that provides the robust, nutty flavour.

The gourmet bar has been raised — though we meet a worthy contender over lunch, the creamy Pacific oysters from the comically-monikered Get Shucked. Raised in deep-water leases in Great Bay, these certified-organic oysters have a thinner adductor muscle than those farmed in shallow waters, and hence a limited shelf life. Consumed fresh, however, these plump beauties are like a veritable kiss of the ocean.

Back in Hobart, our moveable feast continues as we again split into two groups targeting the city's most exclusive restaurants; and over free-flowing Tassie wine and locally-sourced produce at Astor Grill, there's a noticeable shift in dynamics as the group settles into easy familiarity.

"It's like a Contiki tour for the over-70s," jokes larrikin Nate to his wife Mandy — in their early 50s, the youngest of the group. I can't help but feel sorry for other diners in the restaurant near our jovial gang.

Fortunately, a leisurely Saturday awaits, with the choice of a sedate walking tour of historic Hobart, or a stroll through the famed Salamanca Market. In the afternoon, we join a "Posh Pit" VIP transfer to Hobart's artistic crown jewel, the Museum of Old and New (MONA); and while I'm personally in gob-smacking, head-scratching heaven during our brief visit, MONA's boundary-pushing installations prove a trigger for the more conservative of our group. Desired outcome achieved.



Flight time: 49 minutes

Nautical Miles: 242

A quick stop at the lighthouse at Cape Wickham.

A quick stop at the lighthouse at Cape Wickham. Photo: Tourism Tasmania

Sydney is drowning and our business class jet remains grounded, its repairs unable to be tested due to inclement weather. So it's back to our cattle class aircraft, which by now we are all rather fond of, thanks to the unflappable crew and the ability to spread out over 70 seats.

It's also drizzling in King Island, its first rainfall since November — and the usually emerald cow pastures of this legendary cheese-producing island in Tasmania's north-west are a thirsty golden-brown. A household name due its supermarket-sold cheese, King Island Dairy punches well above its weight in terms of exposure; but I'm disappointed to learn that the company is no longer Australian-owned, with a monopoly that effectively deters any other grass-roots cheese production on the island.

After travelling to the island's bleak northern extremity and the lofty lighthouse at Cape Wickham, we return south for an obligatory cheese tasting at the King Island Dairy shop and its delicious varieties.

Although there is a recent proliferation of luxury coastal retreats and cottage stays on King Island, accommodation options for groups of our size are limited. Our home for the night is the three-star Boomerang by the Sea, which is adequate, clean and with ocean views.



Flight time: 48 minutes

Nautical miles: 392

The orange Remarkable Rocks are a symbol of nature's permanence.

Remarkable Rocks are a symbol of nature's permanence. Photo: Supplied

It's no surprise to learn that we're stuck with our economy jet; but at this stage, care factor is minimal, and is sweetened by the promise of generous compensation as well as a credit towards a future Captain's Choice tour.

Our final island is Australia's third largest, Kangaroo Island, located just off the toe of South Australia's Fleurieu Peninsula. Renowned for its incredible wildlife, spectacular scenery and gourmet delights, KI was slammed during the bushfires of 2020, with two lives lost, countless properties destroyed and more than half of its wilderness scorched in what was described as "an apocalypse". The wildlife losses alone seem incomprehensible: it's estimated that more than 30,000 koalas died in the blaze, along with countless wallabies, kangaroos, echidnas and reptiles; while habitats of endangered species including the tiny Kangaroo Island dunnart and glossy black cockatoo were hugely impacted.

Resilience, however, seems to be part of Kangaroo Island's DNA; and with the natural regeneration of bushland as well as the creation of a predator-proof refuge, it seems KI's precious wildlife is bouncing back. So too is its shattered tourist industry, thanks to the determination of locals to lure visitors back with engaging new products focused on the island's unique elements.

On the brand-new boardwalk at Remarkable Rocks in Flinders Chase National Park — rebuilt after the fire crept up to the ancient rock formations — we can't help but admire the lush, fragrant ground cover, beautifully framed by the armature of charred branches. The orange, weathered rocks themselves are a symbol of nature's permanence, an outdoor sculpture gallery seemingly carved by a transcendent Henry Moore-like genius.

At Admiral's Arch, we are entranced by the antics of fur seals, bickering among themselves as they wrestle for prime space on the wave-pummelled rocks. Later, on the beach at Seal Bay, we'll walk among Australia's second largest colony of Australian sea lions, doe-eyed and irresistible as they galumph out of the surf to flop on the silky sand.

Our visit to this intriguing southern island is capped by the meal-of-all-meals, a celebration of Kangaroo Island produce lovingly presented in an original shearing shed by the private touring group, Exceptional Kangaroo Island. A sensational menu of native delicacies — tiny abalini (runt-of-the-litter abalone, with the texture of mushrooms and the flavour of the sea) garnished with samphire, poached King George Whiting wrapped in grilled halloumi, and ice-cream made from Ligurian honey — served alongside delicious KI wines and gin infused with local botanicals — make this truly a closing night to savour.



Flight time: 1 hour 19 minutes

Nautical miles: 242


Flight time: 1 hour 32 minutes

Nautical miles: 453

Trentham Estate Winery lunch dish. Supplied PR image for Traveller, check for reuse

Delicious lunch stops. Photo: Trentham Estate Winery

Why fly straight home when you can stop for lunch at the riverside Trentham Estate winery outside of Mildura, after a leisurely private paddlesteamer trip along the mighty Murray? Why not indeed – just another advantage to having your own private jet.

Julie Miller travelled as a guest of Captain's Choice.



Built to house managers of the Van Diemen's Land Company, this partially-restored homestead overlooking Bass Strait gives an insight into colonial life in this remote part of Tasmania. See parks.tas.gov.au/explore-our-parks


Located within the historic walls of the IXL jam factory on Hobart's waterfront, Landscape celebrates the artistry of John Glover, who captured the Tasmanian countryside in the 19th century. Winners of the annual John Glover Prize hang in the private dining room of the restaurant. See landscaperestaurant.com.au


Make your way up 279 wooden steps, past the breeding ground for shearwaters and fairy penguins, for incredible views along The Neck, the narrow isthmus linking North and South Bruny Island.


Feast on the famed produce of King Island, including beef and locally-caught crayfish, at this atmospheric, rustic restaurant; or join a cooking class that includes a foraging excursion on the beach for seaweed garnishes. See wildharvestkingisland.com.au


Kangaroo Island boasts the purest strain of the famed Ligurian honey bee, said to create the finest honey in the world. Taste it for yourself at Island Beehive. See island-beehive.com.au








Southern Islands by Private Jet, departing October 26, 2022, seven days by private jet costs from $12,500 a person.

See captainschoice.com.au