On stranger shores
King Island, Ute Junker discovers, is a place where no doors are closed and no beach is crowded.
The sea breeze is blowing wisps of cloud at warp speed as I knock on the front door of King Island’s most distinctive home to have a coffee with two complete strangers.
Artists Dianne and Andrew Blake not only own a spectacular house – its exteriors all sharp angles and timber and cement cladding, the airy interiors of Whale Tail House are dominated by CinemaScope windows that invite the outside in. They also have a wonderful back story. The couple moved here in 2011 after 20 years in Arnhem Land working as arts coordinators at a community arts centre.
“We both love connecting with the environment and with community – that’s why we loved Arnhem Land and why we love it here,” Dianne tells me. “The two places are at opposite ends of the continent, but both have the most amazing coastlines and landscape diversity, and offer a real sense of community.”
We stroll through the house as Dianne and Andrew talk me through the construction process – they worked exclusively with local companies – and show me their art collection, which includes remarkable Indigenous artworks as well as their own pieces.
When I thank the Blakes for opening their home to a stranger, Dianne smiles. “King Island is very inclusive of visitors. It’s a sharing place, and we follow suit.” In this spirit, the couple offer private house and art tours by appointment for any curious visitor.
During three days on King Island, I cram in plenty of memorable experiences – from standing beside racks of giant kelp strands, listening to their soft staccato rattle as they twist in the briny breeze, to an evening harbourside stroll spying little penguins porpoising their way to a convenient boat ramp, then waddling up to their burrows – but paying a house call on strangers is perhaps the most unusual. Yet this sense of connection is quintessentially King Island.
"Here, locals don’t just tell you about things they think you’d like – they pick up the phone and make it happen."
“It’s one of the things that made us fall in love with the place – it’s still untouched, it isn’t jaded about tourism,” says Aaron Suine, who first put me in touch with the Blakes. Aaron and his husband, Nick Stead, moved to King Island from Sydney and opened the island’s first luxury lodge at the end of 2019. Consisting of just two rustic-chic accommodations – both with charred cypress exteriors and floor-to-ceiling windows designed to let you watch the sun sink into the sea – Kittawa Lodge is a haven designed for holing up.
Not that I end up doing a whole lot of that; there’s too much to explore in King Island’s 1000 square km of territory (home to just over 1500 residents). There are farm tours, seafood restaurants and not one, not two, but three links golf courses including the renowned Ocean Dunes and Cape Wickham. The latter scored the number two spot on Australian Golf Digest’s list of Australia’s top golf courses: at the final hole, a beach acts as the bunker. The course, which flows up over outcrops and along the shore, is so beautiful that I’m tempted to take up golf.
Until now, golfers have been King Island’s most regular visitors, but increased flights – including Sharp Airlines’ ongoing trial of direct flights to and from Hobart – have raised the island’s profile.
Its reputation for quality produce, including beef, cheese and crayfish, will appeal to foodies. However, King Island’s biggest attraction is the fact that you can explore its striking landscape without ever encountering another person.
The island’s stunning scenery ranges from melaleuca forests and wetlands, where birdwatchers flock to observe rare species such as the orange-bellied parrot, to fertile farmlands and, of course, spectacular shorelines. You can choose your stretch of coast to suit your mood, opting for sheltered white-sand beaches or more dramatic wave-tossed stretches of shore.
“It’s not that we have so many walking trails and beaches – it’s that you can have one to yourself for the whole day,” Aaron Suine says. He says that just a few days of exploring King Island’s wild beauty leaves its mark upon his guests. “They lose their normal rhythms – their breathing, even their speech starts to slow.”
Aaron is particularly fond of the south of the island, and often sends guests out with a picnic to explore its bays and beaches. “If you keep driving all the way south you come to this amazing beach with this incredibly white sand, and you know the next landfall is Antarctica.”
The island has some fine restaurants, but guests at Kittawa can also have Aaron rustle up a four course dinner for them in their own lodge – a highly recommended experience. From dry-aged porterhouse carpaccio to light gnocchi with sage and walnuts, it’s a meal to remember.
Book Sharp Airlines offers regular King Island flights to and from Launceston and Burnie. A direct Hobart service trial continues until 31 May (pending updates).