Wild coast, crays, a calcified forest and other King Island treats

Most of us know King Island for its delicious cheese and beef, but adventurer Andrew Bain explains to Citro why this rugged island nestled in the tempestuous embrace of Bass Strait offers so much more for travellers and might just be worth your time to visit.

By Andrew Bain

On King Island, it seems prophetically appropriate that the only town of any note – Currie – sounds like a restaurant dish. After all, what most people know about the island has usually been gleaned from supermarket shelves, where its premium cheeses and beef promise a land of plenty.

But Bass Strait’s second-largest island goes beyond the aisles, with its fertile farmlands rimmed by wild shores, shipwrecks, one of the world’s best surf breaks and two of Australia’s best golf courses.

Straddling the 40th parallel – the line of the notorious Roaring Forties – King Island is lashed by wind and fierce seas.

More than 100 ships have been wrecked around its rugged coast, including the Cataraqui on which 400 people died in 1845 in Australia’s worst peacetime maritime disaster, and the southern hemisphere’s tallest lighthouse stands sentinel near its northern tip at Cape Wickham.

That such gentle flavours can be coaxed from within this natural ferocity seems almost a miracle, even if legend does credit King Island’s gourmet ambitions to a shipwreck, with the lush grasses that carpet most of the island reputed to have sprouted from seeds washed up inside a sailor’s mattress.

Suitably, the 48-metre-high lighthouse at Cape Wickham rises above the graves of crew members from two wrecked ships, but it’s no longer lighthouses and lost lives that draw visitors to this northern tip of the island.

Also wrapped around the base of the lighthouse is Cape Wickham Golf Links, a fiercely beautiful coastal course that opened in 2016 and is quickly staking a claim as one of Australia’s best courses. In 2022, it was ranked the second-best course in the country by Golf Australia magazine. One of the few to come near it was Ocean Dunes, the partner King Island course little more than 30 kilometres to Cape Wickham’s south.

Drive five minutes from Ocean Dunes and King Island’s gourmet platter begins to lay itself out like a picnic spread. Here, tucked behind a beach with another name direct from a menu – Porky Beach – King Island Dairy has long been at the forefront of the island’s gastronomic reputation, with a tasting room serving up cheese alongside Tasmanian wines and beers from the island’s King Island Brewhouse.

Further afield, the Brewhouse has its own taproom, set among paddocks east of Currie, while the King Island Distillery is crafting gin, whisky, vodka and limoncello. The island’s famed beef is likely on the menu at quality restaurants such as Wild Harvest (in the town of Grassy) and Oleada (in Currie).

While farmland dominates the island landscape, it’s the coastline that draws most visitor attention.

In the far north, behind Tasmania’s longest parallel sand dune system, is the one thing that rivals food as King Island’s headline act: the surf at Lavinia Beach.

The break at this beach was once ranked among the world’s 10 best waves by Surfing Life magazine. It’s drawn world champions such as Kelly Slater, Tom Carroll and Sunny Garcia to the island, but it never draws a crowd – the unwritten rule on this island of just 1700 people is that if somebody else is at a beach when you get there, you go to another.

King Island’s second and most scenic coastal star is at the opposite end of the island. Seal Rocks State Reserve protects the island’s highest cliffs, as well as the otherworldly limestone features of the Calcified Forest.

The 30-minute walk through these dunes and the boneyard-like ‘forest’ (which is calcium carbonate deposits and not a forest at all) is one of Tasmania’s 60 Great Short Walks.

It's the cliffs at nearby Seal Rocks, however, that are King Island’s most spectacular sight, rising 60 metres above a fury of white water. Come at sunset and they rise strong and bronzed from the sea, catching the last of the day’s light.

Stand here as the Southern Ocean slams ashore and it doesn’t seem odd that the world’s first tow-in surfing championship was held nearby in 2000.

It’s that kind of island: tough and tasty at once.

Citro travel tip:

The best way to get to King Island is to fly - some people charter a group flight but you can also get commercial flights from Burnie (Wynyard), Launceston, Hobart and Melbourne.

Use King Island Tourism's quick guide to find accommodation.

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Enjoy 15% cashback on your Citro Card when you purchase any Freely travel insurance policy. See terms and conditions. The offer is only available to those who pay through their Citro Card. Want your own card? Get the Citro App (it's iPhone only - Android is coming soon).

Andrew Bain is an award-winning travel writer specialising in outdoor adventure, who can usually be found cycling when he should be working. He has published several Australian adventure tourism books.
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