When you really need to unwind, there’s only one way to do it: find yourself a rugged island where you can spend your days surfing, eating and shooting the breeze. King Island offers the perfect opportunity to do just this, and more.
Located to the northwest of the main island of Tasmania, King Island lies in the Bass Strait, on the way to Victoria. To get here, you need to fly in, which you can do from Melbourne, Launceston or Burnie Airport in Wynyard. There are several airlines that offer flights every day.
Thousands of years ago, King Island was connected to both Tasmania and mainland Australia. There is a calcified forest that dates from about 7,000 years ago. The oldest physical evidence of Aboriginal Tasmanians was found on King Island too, in the form of a skeleton that may be as much as 14,000 years old. However, once the island was formed as sea levels rose, it remained uninhabited until the arrival of Europeans.
The first recorded sightings of King Island, which covers 126,000 ha, were in the late 1700s. It was the adventurous Captain John Black who named the island in 1801, honouring New South Wales Governor Philip Gidley King. The next year, King sent Lieutenant Charles Robbins to claim the island for Britain, since he knew that Captain Nicholas Baudin was planning on claiming it for France. Robbins arrived as Baudin was already moored offshore and was in such a hurry to raise the Union Jack and beat the French that he raised the flag upside down, to Baudin’s amusement. Baudin remarked that he wasn’t interested in an island already inhabited by savages.
In the 1830s the first land grants were taken up but the first permanent settlers only arrived in 1855. They cleared the island of its forests and used the land for agriculture, especially for grazing cattle and sheep. The population remained tiny though, because the island was remote and conditions here were harsh.
Cape Wickham Lighthouse began operating in 1861 and is still the tallest lighthouse in the Southern Hemisphere. In spite of the lighthouse, more than 2,000 people have died in as many as 60 shipwrecks around King Island. Divers can now explore some of these wrecks on the King Island Maritime Trail.
In 1887, John Brown surveyed the island for its resources and the next year, it was opened up for settlement. The population rose dramatically and in 1892 King Island got its first official postmaster. The first store opened in 1896. The discovery of scheelite in 1904 led to some mining activity later on, as World War I loomed. After the war and again after World War II, soldier settlement schemes led to more agricultural activity and the development of better infrastructure. The King Island Historical Museum in Currie provides insight into the island’s history while you can find out more about the soldier settlements by following the Soldier Settler Trail.
Today King Island is a dream destination for lovers of all things dairy, not to mention beef, lamb, seafood and other fresh produce. A great time to enjoy these treats is the Long Table Festival every March. You can also stock up on whatever’s in season during your visit and find yourself a picnic spot with a view. The island has vast, unspoilt beaches with some excellent surf breaks, dive sites and fishing. You’ll also find many hiking trails more inland and in the Lavinia State Reserve there is a lovely suspended lake called Pennys Lagoon. Along the way you may spot wildlife such as possums, pademelons, Bennetts wallabies, platypus, echidnas, potoroos, little penguins and the endangered orange-bellied parrot. The waters around the island are home to many different marine species, including dolphins, whales, seals and sharks.
King Island has three main settlements: Currie, Grassy and Naracoopa. All three of these have a range of accommodation options but you can also choose to stay in a more rural or beach setting.