The road to lunch is a long and lofty one. The blades of the helicopter chop at the sky, propelling us above the vehicles that move below through early morning Launceston.
In 15 minutes I'll hit the ground in coastal Bridport, walk 10 steps and then return to the skies in a Cessna four-seater bound for the mountainous figure that is to be my lunch bowl in the sea: Flinders Island.
"We often see quite a few whales out here," says pilot David, scanning the endless motion of the Bass Strait. I'm flying to this island decadence with Unique Charters, which offers a range of indulgent helicopter experiences across northern Tasmania, flying out from the Peppers Silo Hotel to the likes of lunch on the Bay of Fires or among the convict ruins on Swan Island just off Tasmania's north-eastern tip.
I've chosen Flinders Island for its remoteness, its beauty and the pure pleasure of flying, royalty-like, to an island for lunch. The largest of the 52 Furneaux Islands, Flinders rears out of the sea like Tasmania in miniature, with sharp-ridged mountains towering over empty white-sand beaches and granite shores smothered in flame-coloured lichen.
I fly in along the island's most spectacular edge – the west coast, where its mountains stand tallest and its coast gleams brightest. Smaller islands hover like satellites just offshore.
Most flights to Flinders Island land at its capital, Whitemark, but we continue north, jostled by the Roaring Forties winds as we glide to ground at an airstrip outside of Killiecrankie.
The indulgence of lunch can wait because first I've chosen to work up an appetite. I'm met at the airstrip by Claire and Amanda, the owner-operators of adventure company Mountain Biking Flinders Island. We drive to the low summit of nearby Mount Tanner, and descend on mountain bikes along a sandy fire trail overlooking long Marshall Beach, ending at road's end beside the white sands of Killiecrankie Bay.
From here it's just a few steps up the beach to the Cray Shack, a holiday rental home where Jo Youl from gourmet business A Taste of Flinders is readying my chef-prepared lunch with a bounty of local produce.
While King Island gets all the Bass Strait food plaudits, Flinders Island is no culinary slouch. Produced on the island are the likes of organic garlic, premium beef and lamb, a range of vegetables, honey and even the botanicals for the Flinders Island Gin that is my lunchtime aperitif. From its waters come crayfish, abalone and octopus,
"When I moved here seven years ago, I couldn't believe the lack of local produce," Youl says. "But I knew it was out there – I'd seen the crays and all the prawns in the rivers." So she started A Taste of Flinders, a cafe, providore and promoter of all things Flinders and fresh. It's a business that's about to morph into Flinders Wharf, a produce hub beside the wharf in Whitemark that will feature live crayfish tanks, a honey hive and Furneaux Distillery.
My lunch begins with a beautifully crisp salad with pancetta followed by slow-cooked lamb with locally harvested samphire. Dessert, Flinders Island honeycomb, mascarpone, blueberries and chocolate, is as sweet as the sea breeze that blows through the open screen doors.
The meal proceeds as leisurely as island time, with the dining table looking out over the beach and granite boulders just 20 metres in front of the shack. Oystercatchers scratch about the rocks and a boat of one of Flinders Island's last cray fisherman rolls around on its mooring. Across the brilliant blue bay, the bald grey slopes of Mount Killiecrankie rise direct the sea.
After lunch I take a walk along the beach where the sands wrap in a broad arc around the wide bay, but I don't get to walk far. This tasty moment of island life has been good, but my flight home from lunch awaits.
Andrew Bain travelled courtesy of Unique Charters.
Virgin Australia flies to Launceston from Sydney and Melbourne. See virginaustralia.com.au
Helicopter trips to Flinders Island depart from Peppers Silo Hotel in Launceston, fly to Killiecrankie for lunch and return to the Silo Hotel; $3500 for two ($2600 from Bridport). See uniquecharters.com.au
Mountain Biking Flinders Island offers various tours. See mountainbikingflindersisland.com.au