How slow can you go? On remote King Island, Tasmania, you can discover an entirely new pace. Find out what it's like to unwind on this pristine island, as well as the best accommodation for families and couples, where to play a round of golf like no other and all the best things to do, from exploring the King Island dairy scene to its incredible surf breaks.
“There’s nothing between here and South America except a whole lot of water,” says King Island local Deb Richardson as she peers out at the wild Southern Ocean.
And that’s exactly why we’ve come here for our family holiday. In a year when so much travel was stripped away, we felt pulled towards something new, something remote and something raw. Somewhere we could ignore technology (and, as much as possible, the news cycle), experience the best of nature and, most importantly, spend time together.
This is the place – KI, as the residents call it. A sliver of an island plonked on the edge of Bass Strait, 80 kilometres off north-western Tasmania. This is the place to gape at natural phenomena such as monster cliffs looming out of the sea, a forest literally frozen in time and a rarefied mirror-like lagoon.
And this is the place to introduce us to the wilds of Tasmania. My husband and I – and our two daughters, aged 13 and nine – decided to blow up our lives in 2020 and move to Hobart. This trip is a taster of what the Apple Isle has to offer. A lifestyle where nature is on our doorstep, bushwalking is a regular weekend activity and things move at just the right pace.
Our gang of four is keen to have an adventure. To do that on KI, we’ll need a car because there’s no other way to get around. The island is easy to navigate, being just 64 kilometres long and 24 kilometres wide. Only a few of the roads are bitumen but the hire cars are accustomed to the dirt tracks. “Beat the hell out of it,” drawls King Island Car Rentals’ Adam Hely, a Queenslander who came to KI for a weekend three years ago and decided to stay on the spot. “Just get out there and have some fun.”
Once we’re on the road, we quickly master the “KI salute”, which means flicking two fingers off the steering wheel to say g’day to our fellow drivers. There are only 1600 people living on the island “and we all know each other”, explains tour guide Matthew Archer, a fifth-generation local. “Once the tourists have been here a few days, they all wave, too.”
Not that we see many cars. Ettrick Rocks (pictured above), where we’re staying, is a brand-new retreat that feels like it’s on the edge of the world. The three architect-designed villas, which are a 15-minute drive south of the island’s main township of Currie, front the Southern Ocean and the kids fling themselves onto window seats that give them a front-row view of the ocean’s theatrics. Because we’ve opted for the three-bedroom Caladenia at the end, with enormous windows in every room, we feel like it’s just us and the waves crashing over the rocks. Well, us and the wildlife.
The island is teeming with Bennett’s wallabies (large and grey) and pademelons (smaller marsupials). In fact, there are estimated to be upwards of 1.8 million wallabies on the island – that’s more than a thousand for each person who lives here – and they’re reaching plague proportions. Still, watching them graze just a couple of metres away never gets old.
There are simple pleasures to be had on KI. Spotting wallabies is one. Finding an echidna on our path and watching it nestle into the undergrowth in an attempt to camouflage itself is another. Then there’s the sweet joy of seeing our city-slicker daughters clamber over one rocky outcrop then hunt for the next one to conquer. The rocks are giant, jagged creations covered with a carpet of green succulents, which are, in turn, dotted with hot-pink wildflowers.
King Island is a mercurial beast and therein lies its magic. One day, it’s sunny and bright, the water mimicking that of a tropical island. Another day, it’s dark and stormy, the ocean the colour of dark slate and the waves ferocious in their intensity. And the wind! The blue cheese for which the island is famous is not called the Roaring Forties for nothing. Although the wind is an infrequent visitor during our stay, when it hits its peak, it comes at us with everything it’s got, threatening to knock us off our feet.
Mostly our days are about spreading the crinkled map of the island out before us and plotting our next expedition. It’s about one sister slinging a jumbo curl of kelp (a key industry on KI) at the other. It’s about hurtling along dirt tracks and stopping the car to contemplate the breeze rippling through fields of grass. It’s about having a beach all to myself at sunset, diving into the frosty water and floating on my back, watching the light slowly sift from the sky.
The island owes its allure to Mother Nature so don’t expect a lot of restaurants or nightlife. But Wild Harvest (pictured above), in the delightfully named town of Grassy on the east coast, is one highlight. Chef Ian Johnson’s motto is “ocean to table, paddock to plate” and he serves up a feast of local seafood (including crayfish, scallops and oysters) and, of course, the famous King Island beef. (Fun fact, courtesy of Matthew Archer: “Eighteen per cent of the Tasmanian beef industry comes out of KI.”)
And on the harbour in Currie, artist Caroline Kininmonth (pictured above) has transformed an 1871 boathouse into what she refers to as “the restaurant with no food”. The sunshine-yellow shack is gorgeously kitsch, filled with old fishing nets, brightly painted furniture and a dilapidated piano that the girls delight in. “You can go there with a book, a bottle of champagne or a hamper with cheese and crayfish,” says Kininmonth, who rescued the boathouse some 25 years ago and allows visitors to use it for free, as long as they call her to reserve a spot. “We’re a big family and everyone treats the boathouse as their dining room. Everyone cares about it and looks after it.”
That care extends to the island itself. Carmen Holloway and James Hill run a Hereford beef property, as well as an oasis called Frogshack Farm that features wetlands and a fruit orchard, “lost forest” walk and forage gardens. “We’re farmers but we don’t need to take it all from the land,” says Holloway, who’s passionate about “putting back native species on the island”. She hosts visitors to the farm with enthusiasm and warmth (see opposite) and after spending a couple of hours with her, we leave buzzing with ideas about our new garden in Hobart.
Why do we travel? Yes, it’s to take a break from the routine and familiar, to wind down. But it’s also to share new experiences with the people we love most. It’s to have an adventure and see something stupendous. It’s to open our minds and, perhaps, be transformed. And it turns out that a wild island in Bass Strait is just the place.
Where to stay
For families: Ettrick Rocks
Ettrick Rocks offers three self-contained luxury villas located smack-bang on the coast with two beaches on your doorstep. Owners Sam and Angela Guidice are happy to organise tours, rounds of golf and an on-site chef. They’ll also share self-driving itineraries (with detailed routes) with visitors.
For couples: Kittawa Lodge
Kittawa Lodge has only two luxury lodges on its 40 hectares of oceanfront land. Aaron Suine and Nick Stead, who opened Kittawa (named for one of the island’s original parishes) in 2019, live on the property and can help guests with daily itineraries and gourmet dinners that feature local produce.
The best things to do
Drive to the northernmost tip of the island to see the tallest lighthouse in Australia. The 48-metre Cape Wickham Lighthouse was built in 1861 and still guides ships across Bass Strait. Also on the coastline is Cape Wickham Golf Links, which has been ranked the 21st best course in the world by the American Golf Digest. Not into the little white ball? The clubhouse has a restaurant with sweeping views of the coast.
The name is terrible – or perhaps it’s genius. This pristine stretch of beach, one of the best on the island, is a 10-minute drive from the lighthouse but you’ll only ever have to share it with one or two others.
Perched lakes – bodies of fresh water held in place by compacted sand and organic matter – are so rare that they’re only found in three locations in the world and Penny’s Lagoon is one of them. Limnology aside, the lagoon is a serene swimming spot with plenty of shade.
King Island Dairy
Cheese is big business on KI and King Island Dairy has modern premises in Loorana, just north of Currie. Visitors are offered a sampling plate of six cheeses to be enjoyed with a Tassie ale or glass of wine. Many of the cheeses are named for locations on the island, such as Phoques Cove Camembert and Seal Bay Triple Cream Brie.
Meat Your Beef
Ana Pimenta and Tom Perry are self-made farmers who started their 810-hectare beef property in the island’s north from scratch. Pimenta’s 90-minute educational tours of the farm focus on the cycle of farming, breeding, pasture management and sustainability. You can add on a home-cooked lunch or dinner, which may include flat-iron steak with chimichurri or the Portuguese version of feijoada (beef and bean stew).
Martha Lavinia Beach
An amazing beach (pictured top) on the northeastern coast, Martha Lavinia (named after a schooner that came a cropper on a nearby reef in 1871) is loved by surfers for its breaks and A-frame waves.
This other-worldy landscape on the south coast has limestone “casts” that were formed by calcium carbonate encasing decaying remains of tree roots. The 7000-year-old “rhizomorphs” aren’t large but it’s a cool lesson in the changing nature of our planet.
Anyone with even a passing interest in gardening, nature or bird-watching will love Carmen Holloway’s “walk and interpretive talk” at her patch of paradise in the centre of KI. She tailors the tour to her guests’ areas of interest and wanders the farm with them, sharing her knowledge of native plants, growing garlic and more.
The Penguins at Grassy
Little penguins spend their days at sea but return to their burrows at dusk, when they’re least likely to be spotted by predators. Grassy Harbour, on the east coast, is the best place to see them. Local tour guide Matthew Archer says the experience rivals Phillip Island in Victoria, “only you can get closer to the penguins here”.
This lookout offers some of KI’s most dramatic views and the adjacent Copperhead Cliffs Walk (about 90 minutes return) is well marked, reasonably flat and has good access to the coastline.
Image credits: Adam Gibson, Stu Gibson, Kramer Photography, Andrew Wilson, Stu Gibson, Kramer Photography