Tasmania's islands: Chips off the old block

Windswept and storm-lashed, Tasmania's offshore islands cling to the edge of an island clinging to the edge of the world. While they may be home to some of the most beautiful, fine, white-sand beaches in the country, these not-nearly-as-small-as-you-might-think specks of land are about as far away from your typical island paradise as you can possibly get, but if you want to play castaways there's no better place. Mix together jaw-dropping scenery, fine food, unique wildlife and a rich seam of convict history and you've got all the reasons you need to island hop your way around the island state.


KING ISLAND

GO THERE FOR... THE FOOD

When most people think of King Island they think of its famous cheese and melt-in-the-mouth beef. But there's much more to this island in the western waters of Bass Strait than just its gourmet produce. Beautiful beaches, towering lighthouses and a fascinating history of shipwrecks are just some of its attractions.

WHAT TO SEE AND DO

Take a guided tour inside Currie's lighthouse. Next door, the King Island Museum is housed in a former lighthouse keeper's cottage and has displays on the island's history and shipwreck relics. Hire a car, drive round the island, walk the beaches and along the clifftops and throw your diet to the wind as you enjoy the most sinfully indulgent range of soft cheeses, yoghurts and creams, all made in the King Island Dairy. Less calorific options worth seeking out include local seafood and crayfish, island honey and meat and locally bottled Cloud Juice ("pure rainwater sourced from the cleanest air in the world") – local supermarkets will pack you a picnic hamper of local produce on request.

WHERE TO STAY

For holiday houses with a view try Shannon Coastal Cottages in Currie (doubles $150-$170; boomerangbythesea.com.au) or OceanViews in Grassy (doubles $240, kingislandholidayvillage.com.au).

HOW TO GET THERE

There are no vehicle ferries to King Island. Regional Express operates daily services from Melbourne to King Island (rex.com.au); from Tassie you can fly from Launceston and Burnie with Sharp Airlines (sharpairlines.com.au)

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FLINDERS ISLAND

GO THERE FOR... THE BEACHES

The beaches are beautiful on Flinders Island. With more than 100 beaches for less than 800 people you're almost always guaranteed to find an empty one. Flinders is the largest of the Furneaux island group – 52 islands that once formed a land bridge between Tasmania and mainland Australia. It's part of the same dramatic rocky mountain range that forms Wilsons' Promontory in Victoria and the Hazard mountains of Freycinet​ Peninsula on Tassie's east coast.

WHAT TO SEE AND DO

Do the one-hour walk along the rocky coastline between Trousers Point and Fotheringate Beach, or if you're feeling really energetic, the five-hour climb to the summit of the Strzelecki Peaks. There's a nine-hole golf course that has only ever been parred once in its 40-year history (could have something to do with the distracting ocean views – or maybe it's those challenging sea breezes); diamonds to be found washed up on the beaches (OK, they're actually white topaz but you'd have to be an expert to tell the difference); and the remains of Wybalenna​ Historic Site to explore – 135 Tasmanian Aboriginals, many the last of their tribes, were forcibly settled here in 1835. Tragically, almost all died. Don't miss the excellent Furneaux Museum at nearby Emita.

WHERE TO STAY

Palana Beach House has stunning ocean views and is just metres from the beach. $195-$230 per couple. flindersislandbeach.com.

HOW TO GET THERE

Sharp Airlines has daily services from Launceston and Melbourne. sharpairlines.com.au

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MARIA ISLAND

GO THERE FOR... THE WILDLIFE AND CONVICT HISTORY

Steep and mountainous in the interior and ringed by stretches of white sandy beaches and limestone cliffs, Maria Island is essentially two smaller islands joined by a narrow sandy isthmus. It's tiny – less than 20km long and 13km at its widest point – but it's home to a staggering array of birdlife and large populations of possums, penguins, wallabies, pademelons, echidnas, kangaroos and wombats. With no cars allowed, no shops, beautiful beaches, fascinating history, fantastic walking trails and stunning scenery, it's the perfect back-to-basics-escape.

WHAT TO SEE AND DO

Originally settled by whalers and sealers, the island became a penal colony in 1825 and you can wander around the extensive convict settlement ruins and through the small museum at Darlington, which is one of the five Tasmanian World Heritage convict sites. The Fossil Cliffs – an easy stroll from Darlington – contain thousands of fossils embedded in the limestone and the Painted Cliffs, around a 90-minute walk in the other direction, feature beautiful patterns in the sandstone. If you're feeling fit you can tackle the tough, five-hour climb to the top of the nearby mountain called Bishop and Clerk, or join a guided four-day walk that traverses the island from south to north and includes luxury safari tent accommodation and a stay at historic Bernacchi​ House. mariaislandwalk.com.au. You can also hire bicycles from the folk who run the ferry.

WHERE TO STAY

There is a large open camping area close to the creek at Darlington ($13 per site) or you can bunk down in the Old Penitentiary ($15 per adult for a bunk in a shared room or $44 per room for two). Bookings essential. Tel: (03) 6256-4772.

HOW TO GET THERE

There is a twice daily 30-minute ferry service between Triabunna​ (88km north of Hobart) and Darlington in summer, less frequent crossings in winter. mariaislandferry.com.au.

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BRUNY ISLAND

GO THERE FOR... A GOURMET GETAWAY

Wild, lonely, beautiful and remote, Bruny Island is the type of place you go to when you want to hide away from the world in a cliff-top house and spend your days staring out to sea. Practically cut in half by a narrow sandy neck of land called The Neck, the south features dense forests, national park and spectacular cliffs, the northern half rolling farmlands. It's also home to some of the best artisan food producers in Tasmania.

WHAT TO SEE AND DO

Climb to the top of the dune at The Neck for great views of the isthmus and the long curve of white, sandy beaches stretching south on both sides. There's a viewing platform at the bottom of the steps where you can see little penguins come back to their burrows at dusk. Learn all about the island's illustrious past visitors (Abel Tasman, Captain Cook and William Bligh in the Bounty) at the Bligh Museum of Pacific Exploration in Adventure Bay, and drive down to the southern-most point of the island and climb the hill to the lighthouse for views across the cliffs to the southern edge of Australia. Follow the Made on Bruny Island food trail for berry ice cream, smoked trout, salmon and quail, hand-made cheese, freshly shucked oysters, chocolate fudge, single malt whisky and cool climate wines, all grown, caught, harvested or produced on the island.

STAYING THERE

Perched in the treetops 70 metres above the beach on the very northern tip of Bruny Island, the three-bedroom timber and glass eyrie at Bruny Shore has fantastic ocean views. Rates start at $300 per couple. brunyshore.com.au.

GETTING THERE

Access to Bruny Island is by vehicle ferry from Kettering, around a 40-minute drive south of Hobart. It takes 20 minutes to cross the D'Entrecasteaux​ Channel to North Bruny Island and ferries depart regularly throughout the day. Return fares for a standard car cost $30 during the week, $35 on public holidays and long weekends. For timetables see brunyislandferry.com.au.

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SARAH ISLAND

GO THERE FOR THE... CONVICT HISTORY

This infamously brutal gaol was the first penal colony in Tasmania, established in 1822. It was also the most remote: any convict trying to escape had to swim across Macquarie Harbour and then hack his way through impenetrable forests only to find themselves stranded in the middle of wilderness on the unpopulated west coast. It was a place of banishment for the 'worse description of convicts' until it was closed in 1833, replaced by Port Arthur in the east. It's part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area.

WHAT TO SEE AND DO

You can wander around the ruins but not much remains. If you really want to get a feel for what life was like for the convicts incarcerated on the island, join the guided tour by Round Earth that is part of the full day Gordon River Cruise.

STAYING THERE

Strahan Village has motel-style rooms high on the hill overlooking the harbour from $139. strahanvillage.com.au.

GETTING THERE

Full day cruises up the Gordon River include a visit to Sarah Island, where you can wander around the ruins. Prices start at $85 per adult. Several cruises depart every day, twice daily during summer, from the wharf area at Strahan. gordonrivercruises.com.au; worldheritagecruises.com.au.

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BONNET ISLAND

GO THERE FOR THE... PENGUIN PARADE

They don't call it Hells Gates for nothing. Take a twilight tour out to tiny Bonnet Island at the mouth of Macquarie Harbour and learn about what it was like to live in one of the wildest, wettest and stormiest places on Earth.

WHAT TO SEE AND DO

The island, which is not much bigger than the lighthouse that's on it, is home to around 250 pairs of little penguins and a highlight of the tour is watching them return to their burrows at dusk after a day spent hunting at sea.

STAYING THERE

See Strahan Village above.

GETTING THERE

The Bonnet Island Experience is a two and a half hour evening tour from Strahan and costs $105 for adults, $45 for kids.

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Lee Atkinson travelled with the assistance of Tourism Tasmania.

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