The 52 islands that make up the Furneaux Group are all that remain of the now underwater land bridge that once linked Tasmania to the mainland of Australia. Flinders Island is the largest of the islands, and is the only one with more than one permanent settlement. It is about 62km from North to South, and 37km East to West, with a total population of around 800 people. A bit over a third is used for farming, with the western side being mountainous and rugged, and the remainder being National Park, bushland, lagoons and coastal reserves.
If arriving by air as most people do, the spectacular scenery starts even before landing, with the mountainous spine on the west of the island contrasting with the eastern shore that has many coastal lagoons that are attractive to an array of birdlife. The white sand of the beaches and the beautiful clear waters are a sight to see.
The airport is near Whitemark, which is the administrative centre of the island (population approx. 170). Just 26km away, on the southern end of the island is Lady Barron (population approx. 130), where fishing boats and the weekly ferry pull into port.
The island has about 70km of sealed roads and 300km unsealed. This encourages you to take it easy, as is probably part of the plan anyway. Slow driving is essential at night due to the abundance of wildlife. A number of lookouts have splendid views and help give you a feel for the place. These are Vinegar Hill Lookout, Tobias Furneaux Lookout and Walkers Lookout. A drive up Mt Tanner gives views over Marshalls Beach and beyond. Million dollar views abound, including skyward at night.
Walks are limited only by your desire, energy and enthusiasm. From a stroll along the beach (keep an eye out for a paper nautilus shell), to climbing Mt Strzelecki, the highest point on the island at 756m. Look for bush and rock orchids which are to be found amongst the great plant biodiversity - more than 800 species discovered so far. Pick up "A Walker's Guide to Flinders Island and Cape Barren Island" at the local shops. The Trouser's Point walk includes unusual rock formations, views to offshore islands, and beautiful beaches, great for swimming or fishing. The walk to the massive granite Castle Rock is a delightful beach walk. There is a short walk from Wybalenna to Settlement Point to a viewing platform overlooking a Short-tailed Shearwater (muttonbird) rookery, which is a very busy, loud place in breeding season (Oct-Mar).
The Furneaux Museum at Emita relates the stormy history of the Furneaux Group. From the 65 shipwrecks that have taken place and the lives of the "Straitsmen" who were sealers, kidnappers of aboriginal women, muttonbirders and maybe pirates, to the sad role of nearby Wybalenna in the demise of the Tasmanian Aboriginal population. A settlement was set up and the last of original inhabitants (approx 300) were gathered up from around mainland Tasmania and moved to Wybalenna 1831-1834 with the idea of protecting them as a people. But the settlement was abandoned in 1847 with only 45 remaining alive. Yet the nearby cemetery has only one aboriginal headstone.
Interested in history? The long drop toilet at Wybalenna was originally dug in the 1830's and is reputed to be the oldest toilet in the country still in use today!
With all the beaches and pristine water, fishing is a delight. Different times of year produce different kinds of fish. You can try beach or rock fishing. Flinders Island Adventures can take you out fishing or cruising to some of the other islands, where you can walk ashore or go snorkelling. They also do 4WD tours and guided walks.
With no foxes or rabbits the island is a refuge for bird and wildlife. Over 200 bird species have been reported. More than 2 million Short tailed Shearwaters (muttonbirds) arrive in September every year to breed having travelled from the Northern Hemisphere. The island is an important stopping point for many migratory birds. Also there are populations of several of Tasmania's restricted-range endemic bird species. Two have been set aside as Important Bird Areas (IBA). Found here in abundance is the rare Cape Barren Goose. If you want to feed and pat friendly wildlife Patriarchs Wildlife Sanctuary has wombats, wallabies, echidnas, potoroos and birds.
At the north end of the island is Killiecrankie, where you can fossick for a great souvenir, a Killiecrankie Diamond. These are actually clear, pale blue or pink topaz. You can hire shovels and sieves and get some advice from the general store, Killiecrankie Enterprises (also the place for fresh or cooked crayfish). Equipment is available free from the caravan park if you are staying there.
If you have had too relaxing a day and need a bit of frustration in your life, you can have a game of golf at the 9 hole course, reputed to have only been parred once in its 40 year history!
Bit of a thrill seeker? Apart from visiting uninhabited islands, or fishing for marlin off the edge of the continental shelf, you can scuba dive shipwrecks with Trackair Adventures. Good rock-climbing abounds and people have been known to abseil down the granite cliffs at The Dock.
There is no public transport on the island, but car hire is available, or bike hire if you wish. Normal mobile phone coverage is unavailable. Telstra's Next 3G works. Public phones are available in Whitemark, Lady Barron and Killiecrankie. Public access to computers is available at the library in Whitemark. There is an IGA supermarket in Whitemark open 5 1/2 days a week, and the Lady Barron Store is open 7 days. Fuel is available at both. Although there are no ATM's, Eftpos is readily available.
EM Bowman is the island's longest established retailer, selling shoes, clothing, fabrics, gifts, stationery, newspaper and magazines, and household goods. It has its own history room with artefacts collected by the Bowman family since their first arrival in 1913.
Farmers here produce beef and lamb, and the harvest from the sea includes crayfish, abalone, scallops, giant crabs and a myriad of fish, so going hungry is not a concern.
To get to Flinders Island, Sharp Airlines fly from Melbourne (Essendon), and Launceston, Tasmania. Note: baggage limit is 15kg
Airlines of Tasmania fly from Launceston to Cape Barren Island.
Furneaux Freight Pty Ltd are able to transport motor vehicles. They operate a weekly cargo service from Bridport, Tasmania to Lady Barron. They can carry up to twelve passengers on their roll on, roll off vessels, but advise that the vessels operated by the company are freight vessels with the ability to carry passengers. Day accommodation only is offered to the passengers and it is a self catering service.
Furneaux Freight Pty Ltd has a weekly service which departs Bridport on Mondays, sailing on the tide. This service arrives at Lady Barron, Flinders Island approximately 8 hours after departing from Bridport. The return service departs Lady Barron approximately 9 hours after arrival, therefore arriving at Bridport on the high tide.